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Hyundai, Kia Fires Spark Calls for Probe of Turbo Engines at Large

img1733278190 1548271451410 jpg 2014 Hyundai Sonata | Manufacturer image

Hyundai and Kia are coming under fire for, well, fires. The automaker recently recalled a slew of vehicles due to the risk of engine fire, and now the Highway Loss Data Institute says the turbocharged engines in those cars call for a closer look by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — along with turbocharged engines in general. According to HLDI, owners of five Hyundai and Kia cars and SUVs report non-crash-related fires at a rate much higher than average.

Related: Is Your Car in One of the 5 Biggest Recalls of 2018?

In 2015, 2017 and then again in mid-January, Hyundai recalled the 2011-14 Sonata and 2013-14 Santa Fe Sport to fix faulty engine components; the 2011-14 Kia Optima, 2012-14 Sorento and 2011-13 Sportage faced similar issues and were also recalled. Overall, more than 1 million vehicles have been affected by these recalls, Hyundai said.

The engines in question are the turbocharged 2.0-liter and 2.4-liter engines, which the vehicles share. In HLDI’s study, Hyundai and Kia vehicles with the turbocharged 2.0-liter engine had the highest non-crash fire frequency: 4.2 claims per 10,000 insured vehicle years compared with 1.7 for the control vehicles, which is roughly 2.5 times greater for risk of fire. The agency also said that the fire risk went up “dramatically” as the vehicles aged.

Cause Still Undetermined

img 2096821874 1489675767744 jpg 2014 Hyundai Sonata | Manufacturer Image

What HLDI doesn’t know is why, and it appears that Hyundai may still be trying to figure that out.

“Analysis by HLDI suggests that the companies are correctly targeting vehicles with small and/or turbocharged engines, though it’s unclear whether their proposed remedy will eliminate the additional risk of fire that these models carry,” the agency said in a statement.

The first related recalls were to remedy premature bearing wear within the engine. The mid-January recall was to remedy an issue that may have happened during the initial fix.

“In some cases, during engine replacements, the high-pressure fuel pipe may have been damaged, misaligned or improperly torqued during the engine replacement procedure, and this could allow fuel to leak,” Hyundai said in a statement.

The automaker also said it was not aware of any fires caused by this issue and is monitoring the situation. “In the rare case of a fire that results from a potential product defect, Hyundai takes immediate action to have the vehicle inspected, often with independent engineering and fire investigator experts, to determine the cause and works directly with the customer on a resolution,” Hyundai spokesman Michael Stewart said. “That includes covering expenses associated with the incident and offering complimentary transportation through a rental car or ride sharing, among other actions.”

What the Automaker Is Doing About It

img 1359433116 1491579588375 jpg 2014 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport | Manufacturer image

Hyundai has a couple of plans to address the problems. In addition to the engine component recalls, the automaker also announced a new engine-monitoring software update that’s being rolled out through a free product-improvement campaign to approximately 2 million Hyundai vehicles, including all model-year 2011-18 Sonata and 2013-18 Santa Fe Sport vehicles with engines produced in the U.S. The new knock sensor detection system continuously monitors for symptoms that may precede an engine failure.

Hyundai has upped the vehicles’ warranty coverage, too: It extended the powertrain warranty to 10 years and 120,000 miles (up from 100,000 miles) for original and subsequent owners of 2011-18 Sonata and 2013-18 Santa Fe Sport vehicles for engine repairs needed because of excessive connecting rod bearing damage.

Related: More Recall News

img681926401 1491578591225 jpg 2014 Kia Optima | Manufacturer image

Lastly, the automaker has also launched HyundaiEngineInfo.com, an online resource for the recalls and product-improvement campaign. Stewart said customers can learn more about the recall condition and software update, what indications and signs to watch for in their vehicle, and what steps they should take to ensure a fix. Owners can also contact the Hyundai Customer Care Center online, by phone at 800-633-5151 or by email at consumeraffairs@hmausa.com.

Stewart said Hyundai is committed to safety and that the automaker actively monitors and evaluates potential safety concerns, including non-collision fires.

“Hyundai would like to assure our customers that the majority of Hyundai models included in the [HLDI] reports are already under recall and subject to additional actions to ensure customer safety,” Stewart said.

Evidence Points to Broader Problem

img 1530866283 1548280946385 jpg 2014 Kia Sorento | Manufacturer image

But HLDI’s study goes beyond Hyundai and Kia’s turbocharged engines. The agency’s research also points to an increased risk of fire for turbocharged engines regardless of brand. According to the report, non-crash fire-claim frequency was 36 percent higher for turbo- and supercharged engines.

HILDI turned over the results of its report to NHTSA, which oversees and enforces recall campaigns — however, NHTSA has been mum on the issue to due to the ongoing partial federal government shutdown.

According to Stewart, Hyundai has “proactively discussed and identified possible safety items for NHTSA’s evaluation, including the engine recalls. NHTSA has been fully briefed and kept apprised of these recalls and associated non-collision fires.”

Normally, NHTSA sends vehicle owners a notice in the mail when their car is recalled. You would also be able to visit the agency’s website and use its vehicle identification number lookup tool to determine if your car is under recall (you can find the 17-character VIN on the lower left of your car’s windshield or your vehicle registration card). Since the government shutdown is impacting NHTSA’s operations, however, concerned vehicle owners should check with the automaker first.

img 440430281 1548281004162 jpg 2013 Kia Sportage | Manufacturer image

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Photo of Jennifer Geiger
News Editor Jennifer Geiger joined the automotive industry in 2003, much to the delight of her Corvette-obsessed dad. Jennifer is an expert reviewer, certified car-seat technician and mom of three. She wears a lot of hats — many of them while driving a minivan. Email Jennifer Geiger

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