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| Chaffin Luhana LLP

In October 2018, the Center for Auto Safety demanded a recall of 2.9 million 2011-2014 Kia and Hyundai vehicles because of fire hazards.

The non-profit consumer advocacy organization noted that there had been more than 220 consumer complaints regarding fires that seemed to occur out of the blue. As of December 2018, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) had received 350 consumer complaints related to the issue.

The two automakers have recalled about 1.6 million vehicles between 2011 and 2014 because of this problem, but many of the vehicles remain on the road and on the market. Meanwhile, a group of Kia and Hyundai owners recently filed a class-action lawsuit against the automakers, alleging that there is a defect in the engine that can result in engine seizure and fire.

Reports of Engine Fires Started Coming in 2010

So far, the issue seems to affect 2011-2014 Kia Sorento, Kia Optima, Hyundai Sonata, and Hyundai Santa Fe vehicles, as well as the 2010-15 Kia Soul. The fires are described as “non-collision” fires, as they don’t necessarily occur during accidents, but rather during normal use, such as when the operator is driving down the highway. (There have been some accident-related fires as well.)  At least one man died in a non-collision fire when he got into his mother’s 2014 Kia Soul.

The first complaint related to these types of engine fires actually came in back in July 2010, and there’s been a steady flow since then, with the Center for Auto Safety stating that they’ve seen reports of almost one fire every single day across the five models.

In October 2018, a Senate panel asked top executives at the auto companies to testify at a November 14th hearing on the reports of engine fires, but that hearing was later put on hold. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been investigating the issue since May 2017, but so far has taken no additional steps to encourage any more recalls.

Even Recalled and Repaired Vehicles Catching Fire

There is also evidence that even after previously recalled vehicles were repaired, there were still engine fires that occurred. The Center for Auto Safety reported in October 2018 that they’d seen at least one dozen instances where “consumers had an engine related recall performed—only to have the car catch fire at a later date.”

According to a recent ABC News report, the work done during those earlier engine recall replacements may have actually sparked the fires in some of the Kia and Hyundai vehicles that have burst into flames. They relate the case of one Kia Sorento owner who had his engine replaced in a recall in the summer of 2018, then just weeks later, the vehicle caught fire on a highway, and the owner’s wife and 13-month-old baby just barely escaped.

Investigators spoke to a fire investigator who suspected the fuel pump was leaking and igniting some of the fires. Other owners have had similar experiences of going through recall repairs only to have the vehicles catch fire, anyway.

The NHTSA is investigating the recalls that the automakers have already implemented to determine the source of the problem, and so far has stated that this investigation is sufficient to cover all these engine fires, but if the recalls are not fixing the issue, that may not be the case. Neither are all the currently affected vehicles covered by the earlier recalls.

The plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit point to a defect in the injection engines that prevents proper oil flow to the engine’s vital moving parts, causing premature wear and failure. Once the parts fail, the engine can seize, stop running, and potentially allow fluids to leak and cause a fire. The plaintiffs seek to recover economic losses.

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