The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) just opened two new investigations in an effort to determine the cause of Hyundai and Kia vehicle fires. The agency has received more than 3100 reports of fires that have been linked to over 100 injuries. At least one death has been linked to the fires.
Kia stated that an Ohio driver who died in a vehicle fire had damaged the transmission of the vehicle by pushing on the gas and brake pedals simultaneously, which caused transmission fluid to leak and ignite. It is unclear clear whether the Ohio driver’s death is the one cited in NHTSA’s figures.
Numerous Complaints of Engine Fires Filed with NHTSA
According to documents compiled by the NHTSA, the agency had received numerous complaints of engine compartment fires, as well as fires involving other components including tail light housings, wiring harnesses, and light bulbs. The agency requested information from both automakers last fall.
The investigation affects both Hyundai and Kia vehicles, both manufactured by affiliated Korean automakers, and will examine nearly three million vehicles affected by fires between 2011 and 2014. The vehicles affected include:
- Hyundai Sonata
- Hyundai Santa Fe
- Kia Optima
- Kia Sorento
- Kia Soul
A previous investigation examined recalled Hyundai and Kia vehicles for engine failure and the NHTSA had originally intended to incorporate the vehicle fire issue into that investigation. However, it decided to open two additional probes based on the information it had received regarding fires from consumer complaints, manufacturers, and other sources. The investigation was also requested via a petition filed by the Center for Auto Safety, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group.
Investigation Launched in 2018 by NBC News Affiliate in Dallas
An NBC news affiliate in Dallas had also launched an investigation approximately a year ago into non-crash fires linked to Kia and Hyundai vehicles after two women contacted the station after their Kias burst into flames while they were driving them. An additional report was filed with the station by a Texas man who said he and his daughters had barely made it out of their Hyundai when it burst into flames.
Executive Director of the Center for Auto Safety Jason Levine said in response to NHTSA’s announcement of an investigation that it is “long overdue.”
According to the Center, there are more fires linked to Hyundai and Kia vehicles and SUVs than any other similar vehicle made by other manufacturers.
In response to the investigation, Kia issued a statement saying it will continue to work with the NHTSA and that safety is the company’s highest priority. It reiterated the fact that it has shared information with the agency and will continue to do so. The company also offered its Consumer Affairs hotline number as part of its statement and invited those concerned about their vehicles to reach out with questions or concerns.
Hyundai also issued a statement to a local NBC affiliate in Dallas stating that it too is cooperating with the NHTSA and plans to continue its transparency regarding the fires.
The NHTSA’s investigation will attempt to determine the cause of the fires, how many vehicles in total have been affected, and how the fires affect safety issues.
Both Kia and Hyundai have recalled nearly 2.5 million vehicles since 2015 because of engine failure and fire problems. Additionally, the companies have launched a “product improvement campaign” in which they install the software in vehicles that alert drivers to impending engine failures and trigger the cars to adopt a “limp mode” at a reduced speed.