BUFFALO, N.Y. — Chelsea Thornton’s first car was supposed to represent all of her hard work paying off.
“It's my first car,” she said. “I bought with my own money. I was really excited, and then I only had it for less than two weeks.”
That happiness was stripped away just feet from her house after her 2019 Hyundai Kona was stolen and later returned to her — but not without with a busted ignition, shattered window, and stack of bills.
“I feel as though I'm the one getting punished because I've had to pay to get my car out the impound,” Thornton said. “I've had to pay for the tow truck. They're making me put down my deductible. Insurance kicked me and my mom off.”
Kelsi Schmelzinger wasn’t so lucky and thought she was being punked Saturday night when her brother-in-law came home and said her 2016 Kia Forte wasn’t in their driveway.
Schmelzinger called the police and took to Facebook to ask for help in locating her missing car, which authorities have told her there’s not much they can do about. They believe the offenders are a part of a group of the same underaged individuals who have been repeatedly caught and released.
“It's very upsetting,” Schmelzinger said. “These kids think that they're invincible, and it’s our own laws that are making them think that they can do whatever they want.”
The culprit is the Kia Challenge that, through millions of likes and reshares across social media platforms, has spread like a wildfire in recent months.
Stolen Kia and Hyundai numbers have skyrocketed in Buffalo from 400 all of last year to 350 in just the first two months of 2023 citywide.
These record numbers that brought U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer to Western New York last week.
“All you had to do was put something on TikTok on how to steal these cars, and they started getting stolen left and right,” Schumer said.
The majority leader pointed the blame in one place — calling on Kia and Hyundai to provide drivers with anti-theft kits and develop a universal software to prevent any future stealing of these vehicles.
“Don't put this on the back of the owners, Kia,” Schumer said. “Don't put this on the back of the owners, Hyundai. It’s on your back. You made the mistake.”
But for owners like Thornton, even if those improvements are on the way, they still don’t pay the bills.
“Honestly, at this point, because so many people have the cars are getting stolen, are you going to like compensate everyone who has a Kia or a Hyundai?” she said.
“It's the right step, I guess, but is it enough? I'm not sure.”