Federal highway safety officials have opened an investigation into potential problems with approximately three million Kia and Hyundai vehicles, which have been linked to thousands of non-collision car fires, including several injuries and at least one fatality.
The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) opened a Hyundai and Kia car fire investigation on March 29, aimed at identifying any potential safety defects within the engine components. The action comes after more than 3,100 Kia and Hyundai fires that did not occur following an accident, and growing concerns among consumer advocacy groups.
The NHTSA, Hyundai and Kia have received a large number of warranty claims and customer complaints over the last several years, indicating their Hyundai and Kia vehicles caught on fire during either normal use, or while the vehicle was turned off and stationary.
Last year, the non-profit Center for Auto Safety petitioned the NHTSA to open a defect investigation, citing at least 120 reported non collision vehicle fires at the time.
Since the petition was filed, NHTSA officials and both automobile manufacturers have received a total of 3,125 reported non-crash vehicle fires or reports of the electrical wiring melting and smoldering. To date, at least six victims have been burned and at least one person has died in connection to the vehicle fires.
After a review of the current reports, the NHTSA Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) concluded a preliminary investigation was necessary. It will focus on analyzing various engine components and other vehicle systems that could be related to the overheating and fire issues.
The investigation includes the 2011 through 2014 Kia Optima, Optima Hybrid and Sorento models, 2010 through 2015 Kia Soul vehicles, 2014 through 2015 Kia Soul EV models, 2011 through 2014 Hyundai Sonata and Santa Fe models, 2013 through 2014 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, and 2011 through 2014 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid vehicles.
Although Hyundai and Kia are two separate business entities, they share a corporate parent company, and vehicles often have similar parts, designs, and engineering. The NHTSA investigation involves both Hyundai and Kia 2.4 liter four-cylinder engines which were manufactured at the same plants.
The investigation is ongoing into the root cause of the Kia and Hyundai fires, however the NHTSA believes it could be related to previous engine failure recalls the Korean manufacturers have issued that have impacted over a million vehicles.
In September 2015, Hyundai recalled nearly half a million vehicles due to the potential for debris to restrict oil flow to connecting rod bearings, requiring an expensive engine block replacement recall campaign. In 2017, both Kia and Hyundai recalled more than 1.2 million vehicles for similar engine block failure issues that caused parts of the engine can become extremely hot, presenting a source of ignition for leaking fuel.