161 Hyundai Kia Engine Fires: NHTSA Gets Serious With Investigations

For the last six years, there have been spontaneous fires occurring with Hyundai and Kia vehicles, some of which had already been recalled. To this point, US safety regulators have been monitoring the Hyundai and Kia fire complaints. It has received 161 complaints so far. Now, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is stepping up its examinations by conducting an engineering analysis investigation. 

What Hyundai and Kia engines and models are being investigated?

2016 Kia Rio
2016 Kia Rio | Getty

The investigation will look at over three million Hyundai and Kia vehicles built between the 2011 and 2016 model years. It has also received many complaints about engine failures. These will also be part of this investigation. 

The vehicle fires involve engines shared by Hyundai and Kia that include the  Theta II GDI, Theta II MPI, Theta II MPI hybrid, Nu GDI, and Gamma GDI engines. The Hyundai Sonata, Santa Fe, and Elantra; and Kia’s Sorento, Rio, Optima, and Soul all used these engines. 

Manufacturing defects in the block and heads interrupted engine passages, according to an NHTSA investigation. At the time, both Kia and Hyundai replaced engines in some cars, which proved costly. 

What will the Hyundai and Kia investigation do?

2016 Hyundai Elantra
2016 Hyundai Elantra | Getty

The NHTSA will try to uncover is first, whether Hyundai and Kia recalled enough vehicles for engine failures. Then, the engineering analysis will look at previous recalls and the “long-term viability programs and non-safety field actions being conducted by Hyundai and Kia.” 

Hyundai and Kia have issued a gang of recalls for problems related to its engines. There have been at least eight recalls, based on documents on the NHTSA’s website. The first engine failure recall was issued in September 2015. 

“Hyundai has taken numerous proactive actions to address engine issues, including conducting several recalls, launching a new engine monitoring technology, providing extended warranties, and enhancing our customer service response,” the company said in a statement. “Hyundai fosters a culture of transparency and accountability as the safety of our customers is the top priority in everything we do.”

Large fines issued by the NHTSA

2016 Kia Optima
2016 Kia Optima | Getty

Last year the NHTSA fined Kia and Hyundai $137 million for their lack of promptness in recalling the more than one million vehicles with the suspect engines that are failing. The fine was related to previous findings by the NHTSA and the company’s behavior surrounding earlier recalls. 

Kia was required to invest $16 million in safety performance protocols, and was fined $27.1. If Kia followed through on the safety conditions the NHTSA would defer another $27 million. At the time, Kia denied the allegations but paid the fine to avoid a costly legal fight. 

Part of the response from Hyundai and Kia was to launch a “product improvement campaign” which covered more than 3.7 million vehicles. To alert drivers if there was a possibility of an engine failure, software was installed. The companies say that as of now they are aware of three people that received eye and burn injuries from engine failures. None required medical treatment. 

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