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More spontaneous fires reported in some Kia, Hyundai vehicles

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Nearly seven months later, Mark King is still waiting to find out why his parked 2011 Kia Sorrento burst into flames and nearly burned his house down in July.{ }(Photo courtesy: Mark King)

Nearly seven months later, Mark King is still waiting to find out why his parked 2011 Kia Sorrento burst into flames and nearly burned his house down in July. It's a story we first told you about in October.

"One investigator had mentioned he'd never seen a car fire where the roof of the car had a hole burned through it," King says.

Fire marshals couldn't pinpoint where the fire started. "It was the worst damaged item in the whole garage," King says of the Sorrento.

The Kings pressed Kia for five months to investigate. When they finally did—they still didn't get any answers.

"They said the car was really, really damaged pretty severely damaged. They were able to only do a few tests to my knowledge and said their tests were inconclusive as to what caused the fire.

Two weeks after the King's fire, a Round Rock family says their 2011 Hyundai Sonata burst into flames on FM 1431. The driver was behind the wheel when the entire car lost power. He barely made it out unharmed. The car was destroyed -- just like the King's SUV.

"I feel bad, too, for anyone else that's been involved in this whole situation," King says.

To date, 280 Kia Optima, Kia Sorrento, Hyundai Sonata and Hyundai Santa Fe drivers have reported similar non-crash related fires in their vehicles -- but those are only the cases consumers have reported to the government.

"It is certainly more than 280. Sometimes we'll see that's a number that should be 2 or 3 times that number. Sometimes it can be 10 or 50 times that number. It really varies," explains Jason Levine, executive director for the Center for Auto Safety.

New government data shows at least twenty-five cases are in Texas -- eight in central Texas spanning from Georgetown to Austin to San Antonio.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened an investigation in August. Their work stopped during the government shutdown. In mid-January Kia and Hyundai recalled 168,000 vehicles for potential engine problems, but car safety advocates say the recall is too limited.

"Our concern is good for Hyundai and Kia for doing a small recall, but there's a much larger universe of vehicles -- somewhere in the millions -- that they've chosen not to recall that continues to put drivers of vehicles at the same risk as those for whom they issued the recall," says Levine.

The recall doesn't include the King's car. The 2011 Hyundai Sonata that burst into flames on FM 1431 in Round Rock was recalled, repaired and still caught fire. Hyundai says previously recalled cars may have been improperly repaired in a way that didn't fix the problem.

"There's both a production issue with respect to these engines and there's clearly also an installation on the repair issue that Hyundai and Kia need to address," says Levine.

"Really this whole situation has just been one big headache. It's consumed a lot of time," says King. He hopes to be back in his house before the one year anniversary of the fire. His family has done all they can to hold someone responsible but they still aren't ready to quit.

"We're not expecting any phone calls or any letters in the mail or even an email replied to at this point, so it's kind of unfortunate," King says.

The makes and models that drivers report spontaneous fires in include:

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

On January 16, 2019 Hyundai issued a recall "to inspect the fuel tube installation of approximately 100,000 2011-2014 Hyundai Sonata and 2013-2014 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport vehicles whose engines were replaced under the previous two recalls. The manufacturer says the recall "is being conducted to inspect and confirm proper reinstallation of the fuel tube to the high-pressure fuel pump."

Consumers can report vehicle complaints to NHTSA at: https://www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/VehicleComplaint/

Kia Motors America Statement

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

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.