DENVER -- The director of the Center for Auto Safety says he is aware of more than 250 Kia and Hyundai vehicles which have caught fire unexpectedly, sometimes while owners are driving down the road.
One person was killed near Cincinnati last year.
Ronnie and Ray Kline, residents of Johnstown, Colorado, were driving their 2014 Hyundai Santa Fe when it burst into flames as they were driving through the Eisenhower Tunnel on I-70 in July.
“I couldn't breathe. I had to get out of there. I couldn't catch my breath,” Ronnie Kline said about the incident when smoke filled the passenger area. She, her husband and their adult granddaughter had to bail out of the vehicle in the middle of the tunnel and wait for help.
“Scared me a lot,” Ray Kline said.
About that the same time of the year, the executive director of the Center for Auto Safety was seeing reports of other vehicles made by the same car makers also catching fire.
"What we started seeing here is a pattern, which is unusual, that no crash was involved and there were a lot of them happening in the two manufacturer’s models -- Hyundai and Kias,” Jason Levine said.
He said the problem is so extreme the government should force a massive recall of 3 million cars. So far, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has not required recalls, but he is hopeful.
He says the vehicles his organization is most concerned about are: 2011-2014 Kia Sorentos and Optimas and Hyundai Santa Fes and Sonatas.
He’s also worried about Kia Souls from 2010 through 2015.
"We started finding reports about just one every day for a four-month period,” Levine said.
Kia and Hyundai have recalled some cars for engine debris that Kia says can contribute to a fire -- but Levine says some repaired cars have still caught fire.
Hyundai issued a statement to Denver7 that read in part:
“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.”
The CEO's of Kia and Hyundai refused to show up to a congressional hearing set for Wednesday where lawmakers had asked them to explain what's causing these fires.
Ray Kline said when he called Hyundai, he was told to leave insurance out of it and that the car manufacturer would handle it.
“No one ever said it was their fault,” Ray Kline said.
The Klines said there were repeated delays in them getting their money until Wednesday. After Contact7 reached out to Hyundai, the family received a call and were promised a check would be coming in the mail after they signed paperwork, the Klines said Wednesday night.
Hyundai confirmed it had spoken with the family.
If you know of someone whose Kia or Hyundai has caught on fire, we’d like to know about it. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hyundai gave the following, full statement after questions from Contact7:
“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 vehicles (certain model year 2011-2014 Sonatas and 2013-2014 Santa Fe Sports) 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 certain circumstances the affected engines have caught on fire.
Hyundai is working collaboratively with NHTSA on these recalls, which to date have completion rates of 86 and 72 percent respectively, versus an industry average of 69% 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.
Hyundai has also launched an online resource for the recalls, www.HyundaiEngineInfo.com [hyundaiengineinfo.com], where customers can learn more about the recall condition, what indications and signs to watch for in their vehicle, and what steps they should take so we can fix the condition at no cost. We have also enhanced our customer service response for these vehicles by adding staff and resources so we can more quickly respond to and address any questions or concerns a customer may have.
In the rare case of a fire that results 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."