Park outside: Hyundai, Kia recall vehicles due to fire risk

Tom Krisher
Associated Press

Detroit — Hyundai and Kia are telling the owners of nearly 485,000 vehicles in the U.S. to park them outdoors because they can catch fire even when stopped.

The recalls from the two Korean automakers are another in a long string of fire and engine failure problems that have dogged the companies for the past six years.

This time the problem is contamination in the antilock brake control module that can cause an electrical short.

Affected are certain Kia Sportage SUVs from 2014 through 2016, and the 2016 through 2018 K900 sedan. Recalled Hyundais include certain 2016 through 2018 Santa Fe SUVs, 2017 and 2018 Santa Fe Sports, the 2019 Santa Fe XL and 2014 and 2015 Tucson SUVs.

The automakers say they have 11 reports of fires in the U.S. but no injuries.

Documents posted Tuesday by U.S. safety regulators say owners should park the vehicles outside and away from structures until repairs are made.

Dealers will replace a fuse. In addition, Hyundai dealers will inspect the control modules and replace them if needed. Hyundai owners will be notified starting April 5. Kia expects to mail letters starting March 31.

The recalls come after U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration stepped up a series of investigations into engine compartment fires that have plagued the Korean automakers.

In December, the agency consolidated two investigations from 2017 into a new a new engineering analysis covering more than 3 million vehicles from the 2011 through 2016 model years. At the time, NHTSA had received 161 complaints of engine fires, some of which occurred in vehicles that had already been recalled.

The first recall from the companies related to engine failures and fires reaches all the way back to September 2015. Since then it has issued at least eight more recalls for a host of engine problems, according to NHTSA documents.

The agency said it’s opening the engineering analysis to evaluate whether previous recalls covered enough vehicles. It also will monitor the effectiveness of previous recalls “as well as the long-term viability of related programs and non-safety field actions being conducted by Hyundai and Kia."

At the time Hyundai and Kia said they are cooperating with the agency.

In separate the automakers said they have undertaken numerous recalls to address engine issues, including recalls, new engine monitoring technology and providing extended warranties.

The vehicle fires under investigation involve the related Korean automakers’ Theta II GDI, Theta II MPI, Theta II MPI hybrid, Nu GDI and Gamma GDI engines. Models covered include Hyundai’s Sonata, Santa Fe, and Elantra and as well as Kia’s Sorento, Rio, Optima and Soul. Model years covered are 2011 through 2016.

In November of 2020, NHTSA announced that Kia and Hyundai must pay $137 million in fines and for safety improvements because they moved too slowly to recall more than 1 million vehicles with engines that can fail. The fines resolved a previous probe into the companies’ behavior involving recalls of multiple models dating to the 2011 model year.

Kia was to pay $27 million and invest $16 million in safety performance measures. Another $27 million payment will be deferred as long as Kia meets safety conditions, NHTSA said.

Kia denied the U.S. allegations but said it wanted to avoid a protracted legal fight.

Data collected by the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety show more than 30 U.S. fire and engine-related recalls from Hyundai and Kia since 2015. The recalls involve more than 20 models from the 2006 through 2021 model years totaling over 8.4 million vehicles.

Many of the recalls involved manufacturing defects that stopped oil from flowing through the engine block. Many involved expensive engine replacements.

Hyundai and Kia also did a U.S. “product improvement campaign” covering 3.7 million vehicles to install software that will alert drivers of possible engine failures.