2 Investigates: Kia models left off recall list also prone to dangerous engine fires

ATLANTA — Earlier this month, Channel 2 Investigates told you about yet another recall of Kia and Hyundai vehicles over fire dangers. That pushes the total number to more than eight million vehicles.

Channel 2 Investigates has been reporting on these fires since 2018. But Channel 2 consumer investigator Justin Gray found models left off the recall lists are also catching fire. And some you could be handed the keys to one as a rental car.

Most customers are not running the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) on a rental car for safety concerns. But for a mother and son on a picture-perfect Hawaiian vacation, even if they had researched the car for problems, it would have come up clean.

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Cell phone video shows how other drivers captured the moment the Carlton family’s life changed forever.

Jordan Carlton was the family adventurer. His mom Becky had become his eager sidekick on those travels.

“We were going to Lanakai, the beach, and just driving down the road,” Becky Carlton said.

The Oklahoma mother and son were in Hawaii, their favorite vacation spot, driving their rental car, a 2019 Kia Soul.

“It was really fast. The black smoke and trying to put the flames out. And the screams,” Becky Carlton said.

The videos show how it all happened in a matter of seconds. The flames starting underneath the car as it enters a tunnel. As it exited, the car was engulfed by fire. The brakes, not working.

“We both yelled that we had to jump. And Jordan made sure I jumped first and flames; we were trying to put the flames out on his legs,” Becky Carlton said.

Jordan was given only a 1% chance of surviving the initial days after his injuries.  But he fought for 14 months in a Houston burn unit before passing away in August 2020. Robert, his father, and Becky were by his side every day.

“But his burns were so severe. From the neck down. He lost his fingers, lost his toes. His body was just; it was horrible. Absolutely horrible,” Robert Carlton said.

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According to Kia and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or NHTSA, the 2019 Kia Soul model the Carlton’s were driving has no abnormal fire danger and no open recalls, even though there have been four recalls for other model Kia Souls and more than eight million Kias and Hyuandais total recalled in recent years because of fire risk.

But Soul model years 2011, 2017, 2018, and 2019 are not on any of those lists.

“And it really comes down to the fact that these engines are not good engines across a wide swath of Hyundai and Kia models,” Michael Brooks with the Center for Auto Safety said.

Channel 2 Investigates has been reporting on fire dangers with Kias and Hyundais for four years.

It was one of those investigations and an interview with Blue Ridge, Georgia resident Ginger Evans after her 2021 Soul caught fire, that convinced the Carlton’s they needed to come forward.

“And I think about just someone’s loved one having to die because Kia, are they taking this seriously?” Ginger Evans said.

“We are the family that has lost a loved one, because of one of these car fires. I would plead. I would beg you. Fix these vehicles,” Robert Carlton said.

Gray took the Carlton’s concerns to the nation’s capital and U.S. Senator Ed Markey.

“We can’t have a federal agency that’s a lapdog and not a watchdog,” Markey said.

Markey wrote a bill signed into law last year requiring faster transmission by automakers of data about defects.

“These family members were in a vehicle that had a fire that has a great similarity to the other fires that this same manufacturer had had to deal with and that’s why we need better information, stronger administration from NHTSA,” Markey said.

The Center for Auto Safety was the first to petition NHTSA about Kia fire safety dangers. Its acting executive director Michael Brooks says Jordan had no way to know of a potential risk when he picked up his rental car.

“There’s literally no way for that person to know, when they walk in there and into the rental facility that they’re going to be getting a car that’s potentially dangerous,” Brooks said.

That’s why the Carlton’s say change needs to come from Kia. And from NHTSA.

“There’s absolutely no excuse for what’s taking place,” Robert Carlton said.

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Markey says he’s working to pass a bill that would require automakers to provide extra information on injuries or fatalities to NHTSA and consumers.

“We just have to make sure that companies like Kia know that we’re going to make them accountable, that we’re not going to allow them to hide any information that could be harmful to families and their safety,” Sen. Markey said.

“There’s nothing that can fill the hole that we have, the void that we have, the broken hearts that we have. And so I’m saying quit being negligent, fix these vehicles,” Robert Carlton said.

Gray reached out to Kia to ask why certain model year Soul’s were not recalled. They provided the following statement:

“At Kia America, the safety of our vehicles is a main priority. We foster a culture of transparency and accountability and are proud of our strong safety record and the integrity of our products. We continuously evaluate our vehicles as part of ongoing monitoring activities, initiate any necessary field action, including recalls and provide quarterly reports to NHTSA regarding consumer complaints, notices and claims as required under the regulations. When determining the scope of a recall, we analyze internal and external data sources to ensure that our actions are appropriate and regularly revisit our updated data to ensure validity. All assessments are based on data and engineering analyses that engages and supports NHTSA’s stated mission of traffic safety for the American public.”