Even insurers are taking note of these engine fires.
Hyundai and Kia may be facing a serious issue after the Center For Auto Safety, a nonprofit auto safety group, demanded a recall of 2.9 million cars and SUVs due to an engine fire risk. Since 2010, over 200 complaints have been filed and the Korean automakers have recalled 1.7 million US-built vehicles, 618,000 of which are Kias. Owners still demand more recalls from Hyundai and Kia and have filed a class action suit against the automakers.
While the lawsuit is still ongoing, people are starting to take notice of this issue. In fact, according to the Associated Press, The Highway Loss Data Institute found that some Hyundai and Kia models equipped with four-cylinder engines have double the non-crash fire rates as comparable vehicles.
The Virginia-based institute handed its findings over to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which is in the process of investigating the engine fires - the NHTSA won't be able to analyze the data right away due to the current government shutdown. The results showed that the 2011 to 2015 Kia Optima, 2011 to 2014 Hyundai Sonata, the 2011 to 2015 Kia Sorento, the 2011 to 2012 Hyundai Santa Fe, and the 2013 to 2014 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport all had higher fire claim rates per 10,000 vehicles insured.
The issue stems from bearings in the 2.0-liter and 2.4-liter four-cylinder engines, which can wear and cause engine fires. In order to repair the issue, a complicated engine block replacement may be required. Alarmingly, the study showed an infrequent but higher-than-average fire risk with Hyundai and Kia's 2.0-liter turbocharged engines as well.
Both companies are trying to stay ahead of this issue and have also issued recalls for a fuel injector pipe. In a statement, a Hyundai spokesperson said, "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."
Kia's James Bell issued a similar statement saying the company is working with the NHTSA "and will take any necessary corrective action in a timely manner." He added that many of the reported vehicle fires included recalled vehicles and could have been prevented if owners had done the repairs. We will continue to update this story as more details emerge.