Federal auto safety regulators said they are “reviewing” reports that certain Hyundai and Kia vehicles are catching fire for unknown reasons, sometimes burning into unusable, charred ruins.
That’s what happened to a Virginia woman’s 2012 Kia Soul. Michelle Belcher told Richmond’s WTVR Channel 6 that her son Bailey was driving the Kia Soul home from work when he noticed smoke coming from the vehicle and pulled over. Outside the vehicle, he noticed the glow of fire underneath the vehicle and “the whole car went up in flames, it was crazy,” Bailey Belcher told WVTR.
Neither Hyundai, which owns about a third of Kia, nor Kia itself has acknowledged there is a fire problem with their vehicles, yet driver complaints are mounting, prompting the Center for Auto Safety to step in.
On June 11, the consumer advocacy group petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to investigate complaints of fire in certain Hyundai and Kia vehicles. The letter, addressed to Deputy NHTSA Administrator Heidi King, says federal transportation data shows “at least 120 owners have reported that their 2011-2014 Optima, Sorento, Sonata, or Santa Fe caught fire without a preceding collision.”
“There are also 229 separate complaints regarding melted wires in the engine bay, smoke, and burning odors, indicating potential fires,” the Center for Auto Safety wrote. “The vast majority of complaints which discuss the origins of the vehicle fires state that smoke and/or flames are first seen emanating from the engine bay, then the car is quickly engulfed.”
Although the Kia Soul wasn’t included in the list of combustible cars, the auto blog Jalopnik notes that NBC Dallas/Fort Worth reported on a 2014 Soul catching fire on the highway, with flames emanating from under the vehicle.
“Last October, Linda Creech and her son were driving down the LBJ freeway when another driver started flagging them down,” NBC DFW reported. When she and her son saw the flames under the car, they ran.
“And the next thing the car just exploded,” said Creech. “Like a Mission Impossible movie without Tom Cruise.”
NHTSA’s investigations of certain car complaints can take months, even years, to result in an enforcement action or recall. Just this month, federal auditors ripped NHTSA over its slow and sloppy response to the Takata airbag defect, which has killed 23 people and injured about 300 others.
Despite the poor performance review, a NHTSA spokesperson told Jalopnik that “the agency takes all potential safety defects seriously.”
“NHTSA is reviewing the issue and will take appropriate action to protect the American public,” the NHTSA spokesperson told Jalopnik.