The first complaint the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) received related to apparently spontaneous engine fires in certain Hyundai and Kia vehicles came in July of 2010. Since then some 220 complaints have been lodged against the firms’ two U.S. subsidiaries, Hyundai Motor America and Kia Motors America.
Yet the NHTSA has not ordered a recall nor has either company initiated a voluntary recall of the affected vehicles: model year 2011 to 2014 Kia Sorento, Kia Optima, Hyundai Sonata and Hyundai Santa Fe, and model year 2010 to 2015 Kia Soul.
Complaints of engine fires to the NHTSA have come from across the country and, in one case, a 2017 incident in Ohio is blamed for a death. Here’s just one complaint filed in March 2018 regarding an incident in Michigan (NHTSA maintains summaries in all caps):
CAR WAS DRIVEN ABOUT 10 MILES AND THEN PARKED INSIDE AN ATTACHED GARAGE. NO ISSUES WERE PRESENT DURING THE DRIVE. THE IGNITION WAS TURNED OFF AND KEY REMOVED FROM VEHICLE. AFTER APPROXIMATELY 1 HOUR HAD PASSED THE CAR STARTED ON FIRE. FLAMES WERE VISIBLE BEHIND THE FRONT RIGHT HEADLIGHT AND FRONT RIGHT WHEEL. LUCKILY NO ONE WAS HARMED. THE FIRE CAUSED SIGNIFICANT DAMAGE TO THE GARAGE AND HOME. FIRE DEPARTMENT INVESTIGATION CONCLUDED THAT THE CAUSE OF THE FIRE WAS NOT EXTERNAL TO THE VEHICLE.
Jason Levine, executive director of independent nonprofit consumer advocacy group The Center for Auto Safety, commented:
The number and severity of these complaints, when people are simply driving their cars on the highway, is frightening. It is long past time for Kia and Hyundai to act. Car fires put everyone on the road in significant danger.
According to the center, both Hyundai and Kia have offered minimal responses to its complaints. Kia responded with this:
Kia Motors America (KMA) works directly with customers and if it is determined that a fire is the result of a manufacturing-related issue, KMA will work with customers to address any costs or expenses they may incur.
Hyundai’s response was even briefer: “[I]f NHTSA finds that additional remedies are warranted it will take action.”
Not good enough claims the center’s Levine:
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.
The NHTSA responded to a letter from Florida’s U.S. Senator Bill Nelson by suggesting that two ongoing “recall queries” into early recalls of Hyundai and Kia vehicles “were likely to be sufficient to determine the source of the problem.”
The Center for Auto Safety is not convinced, said Levine:
[T]he volume of fires here make it appear that Hyundai and Kia are content to sit back and allow consumers, and insurers, to bear the brunt of poorly designed, manufactured, or repaired vehicles. … Before there’s another tragedy, Kia and Hyundai must recall these vehicles, determine why they are catching on fire, and remedy the situation.
The Center’s press release, including a link to a spreadsheet of incidents to the NHTSA, is available at autosafety.org.