No recall issued after hundreds of Kia and Hyundai vehicles catch fire

Mark King's 2011 Kia Sorento is nothing more than a burned up pile of metal. On Friday, July 28 King heard two loud pops from what he thought was outside. Moments later, police were banging on his door telling everyone to get out of the house because the garage was on fire. (Photo courtesy: Mark King/CBS Austin)

Hundreds of cars are catching fire without warning.

The car makers know about the problem, but many vehicles with potential defects are still on the road.

More than 220 families reporting sudden non-crash-related fires in their Kia and Hyundai vehicles. It's a problem car safety groups started investigating in May. "You're driving down the highway, you're driving on a local road, sometimes in your driveway, in a parking lot... it's just catching fire." says Jason Levine, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety.

CAS tracks safety issues and pushes for investigations and recalls. Their work led to recalling 23 million Firestone tires in 2000.

"Get these cars off the road and compensate the folks who have had their car catch on fire," Levine says.

Consumer complaints include:

  • 2011-2014 Kia Optimas and Sorentos
  • 2011-2014 Hyundai Sonatas and Santa Fes.
  • 2010-2015 Kia Souls

CAS wants to see a recall.

"There's clearly something going on here," Levine says.

In June, CAS petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In August, NHTSA opened an investigation, but there's still no resolution.

Both Kia and Hyundai acknowledge they are working with NHTSA on an investigation and said in statements that say:

Customer safety is paramount... nothing is more important than the safety and security of customers.

Kia is using "in-house and third-party fire investigation companies" and consulting with former government defects investigators. Hyundai says they're using "independent engineering and fire investigator experts to determine the cause" and work with customers toward a resolution. Their complete statements are available below.

Consumers can get a heads-up on reported problems with their vehicles long before a recall is ever issued. Each month, NHTSA issues a new report detailing what they're investigating for a potential recall -- some of those investigations last for years.

As of September, there were 39 open investigations into various consumer complaints including spontaneous sunroof breakage, power steering failures and air bags becoming disabled.

Kia Motors America statement regarding the issues:

Kia shares the goals of both the Center for Auto Safety and NHTSA to assure the safety of the vehicles we sell to our customers and which are driven on American roads.
All automobiles contain combustible materials and a vehicle fire may be the result of any number of complex factors, such as a manufacturing issue, inadequate maintenance, the installation of aftermarket parts, an improper repair, arson, or some other non-vehicle source, and must be carefully evaluated by a qualified and trained investigator or technician.
KMA recognizes that customer safety is paramount and is committed to addressing every thermal incident. To quickly and effectively address these incidents, KMA is using in-house and third-party fire-investigation companies, engaged an independent senior fire expert to evaluate the results of such fire event investigations and is consulting with a recent former head of NHTSA's Office of Defects Investigation to evaluate the organization's response to these incidents.
KMA encourages customers to remedy any open recalls as quickly as possible, including certain 2011- 2014 model year Sorento and Optima vehicles identified in June of 2017 (NHTSA Recall Number 17V224) by taking their vehicle to the nearest Kia dealership. Additional information about open recalls may be found by visiting https://www.kia.com/us/en/content/owners/safety-recall or through www.safercar.gov. If a recall is unable to be remedied immediately, KMA will provide alternate transportation at no cost to the customer until their vehicle is repaired or another satisfactory resolution is determined.
Owners are encouraged to contact Kia Consumer Affairs at 800-333-4542 with any questions or concerns related to this matter.

Hyundai response to the issues:

Nothing is more important than the safety and security of Hyundai customers. Hyundai actively monitors and evaluates potential safety concerns, including non-collision fires, with all of its vehicles and acts swiftly to recall any vehicles with safety-related defects.
Hyundai has recalled more than one million 2011-2014 Sonata and 2013-2014 Santa Fe Sport vehicles in two separate actions in 2015 and 2017 (NHTSA 15V-568 and 17V-226) to address a manufacturing issue that could lead to bearing wear and engine failure. In some very rare instances – a rate of less than 1 percent – the affected engines have caught on fire. An exhaustive study has confirmed that there is no defect trend outside of that identified in the related recalls causing non-collision fires in Hyundai vehicles.
Hyundai is working collaboratively with NHTSA on these recalls, which to date have completion rates of 86 and 71 percent respectively, versus an industry average of 69 percent for recalled engines. Hyundai continues to make every effort to contact customers who have not had the recall completed, including through traditional mailings, digital correspondence, owner website alerts, and in-vehicle notification through Hyundai's Blue Link telematics systems and its monthly vehicle health reports.
In the rare case of a fire that resulted from a potential product defect, Hyundai takes immediate action to have the vehicle inspected, often with independent engineering and fire investigator experts, to determine the cause and works directly with the customer on a resolution. That includes covering expenses associated with the incident and offering complimentary transportation through a rental car or ride sharing, among other actions.
Hyundai values its continued cooperative relationship with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and NHTSA. Over the past three years, we have held numerous meetings with DOT and NHTSA representatives, and proactively discussed and identified possible safety items for NHTSA's evaluation, including the engine recalls. NHTSA has been fully briefed and kept apprised of these recalls and low rates of associated non-collision fires.
Customers who have any concern with their Hyundai vehicle should contact the Hyundai Customer Connect Center at http://www.hyundaiusa.com/contact-us.aspx, (800) 633-5151 or consumeraffairs@hmausa.com.

The Center for Auto Safety demands a recall.

In October, The Center for Auto Safety demanded Kia and Hyundai issue a recall for the vehicles experiencing spontaneous fires. They also responded to the manufacturers statements that past recalls ignored by customers could be to blame. However, CAS says that's not the case.

Their response says, in part:

"Based on the data collected to date, and these manufacturers' inability, or unwillingness, to determine the cause of these fires on behalf of the hundreds of Kia and Hyundai customers who own cars which have burst into flames, the Center believes the additional remedy which is warranted is a full recall," responded Levine.

Perhaps even more troubling, the Center has been presented with at least one dozen instances where consumers had an engine related recall performed—only to have the car catch fire at a later date.

This is significant, because in a letter from Deputy Administrator Heidi King of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (FL), it was suggested that two ongoing "recall queries" into a previous recall for engine debris (Recall Nos. 17V-224 and 17V-226) were likely to be sufficient to determine the source of the problem. The letter noted these queries covered the "majority of the non-collision fire related complaints received by NHTSA on the vehicles referenced in the (Center) review."

While NHTSA's review remains pending, it is important to note that not all of the Model Year 2011 and 2014 Kia Sorento vehicles were covered by the engine debris recall, and the Kia Soul was not eligible for the recall at all. In other words, even a completed Recall Query may not suffice.

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