Even after massive settlement, brand new cars are still bursting into flames, investigation finds

ATLANTA — New cars are still in danger of catching fire without warning -- for nearly three years, Channel 2 Action News has done a series of stories reporting on the fire dangers associated with many models of Kias and Hyundais.

Now Channel 2 investigative reporter Justin Gray reports that even after a major settlement with the federal government, more cars continue to be recalled for new fire concerns.

Not much was left of Ginger Evans’ 2020 Kia Soul after it caught fire just down the road from her Blue Ridge home.

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

If it sounds familiar that’s because for three years now Channel 2 Action News has been reporting on multiple late-model Kias and Hyundais catching fire, on an ongoing series of recalls along with numerous federal complaints and settlements.

Many of those fires Channel 2 covered have been Kia Souls. But the company did not include many late-model Souls in recalls or in its massive settlement with federal regulators.

Now a new recall issued April 13, 2021 finally covers 147,249 of the 2020 through 2021 Kia Souls and Seltos that are a fire danger because of a piston oil ring.

Before the Soul, Ginger Evans had a 2021 Seltos in which the motor blew at just 7,000 miles.

And the Kia Sportage she got her mother was recalled by Kia in March because of another, different fire danger.

“You’re a Kia fan. You bought four of them. Will you ever buy another one?” Justin Gray asked Evans.

“No. I just don’t feel safe in them anymore,” Evans said.

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The list of open-fire and engine recalls from Kia and Hyundai is long. More than 40 different recalls covering a variety of models and years and more than 6 million vehicles total.

“It’s not isolated to one model year or one model. So it’s problematic. And it’s a very large,” said Jason Levine, who heads the Center for Auto Safety.

The Center filed the initial complaint with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, warning of these fire dangers in June 2018.

“This seems to be problematic in that it is probably a design problem, as well as a quality control problem,” Levine said.

Many of the Kias and Hyundais rolled right off the line here in Georgia at their West Point factory.

Last fall Kia and Hyundai agreed to 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.

But since that settlement in November 2020, we’ve seen seven more waves of recalls for different fire danger on different model Hyundais and Kias.

“We don’t think they’re done. We think there are more vehicles yet to be recalled from this batch that are catching on fire,” Levine said.

Levine said the automakers have also been slow to fix outstanding recalls.

The guidance right now for Evans’ mother’s Sportage is to not park it near the house. It was Evans’ son who was behind the wheel when her Soul caught fire. But she can’t help but wonder what would have happened if, as was often the case, she was driving her mother.

“My mom, who’s is in her eighties with dementia, it would have caused so much confusion with me trying to get her out of it. I don’t know if I could have,” Ginger Evans said.

Kia sent Gray a statement, saying:

“Kia Motors America recognizes customer safety and satisfaction is paramount, and continuously evaluates the performance of our vehicles as standard practice. When a defect trend is detected, Kia initiates a recall of impacted models within the five days mandated by Federal law and will repair the issue at no expense to our affected customers. Kia has identified the vehicles involved in recall SC206 and will be sending notifications via US mail to owners of affected 2017-2021 Sportage and 2017-2019 Cadenza models beginning April 30. Kia customers with questions regarding their Kia vehicle should contact KMA’s Consumer Assistance Center directly at 1-800-333-4542 (4Kia).”

Hyundai also sent a statement, saying:

“Nothing is more important than the safety and security of Hyundai customers. Hyundai actively monitors and evaluates potential safety concerns with all of our vehicles. When a safety-related defect is identified, we act swiftly and efficiently to recall the vehicle and fix the problem at no cost to affected customers.

“Vehicles sold by Hyundai are among the safest in the industry. Hyundai has seven models with a TOP SAFETY PICK+ or TOP SAFETY PICK from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) for 2021 – one of the automotive industry’s most recognized and rigorous tests. Hyundai quality is also among the best in the industry, ranking above the industry average in J.D. Power’s 2020 U.S. Initial Quality Study (IQS) and third among mainstream brands in the 2021 Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS).”