FOX13 Investigates fire problems with some Kia and Hyundai car models

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Imagine driving down the road when your car’s engine suddenly bursts into flames.

It’s happening in some of the most common cars on the road: Kias and Hyundais.

FOX13 has been investigating the issue for years, and it’s sparked several recalls, including a new one this year.

However, some drivers say models not included in the recalls are also catching fire, leading to narrow escapes and at least one tragic death.

In just a moment, the Carlton family’s life changed forever.

The Oklahoma mother and son were vacationing in Hawaii when flames started shooting out of their rental car, a 2019 Kia Soul.

“The black smoke and trying to put the flames out. And the screams,” Becky Carlton recalled the terrifying fire.

Video taken by another driver showed how it all happened in a matter of seconds.

The fast-spreading fire severely burned 33-year-old Jordan Carlton, Becky’s son.

Jordan was burned from the neck down, his father said. He lost his fingers and toes. After a 14-month fight in a Houston burn unit, Jordan died in August 2020.

FOX13 has been telling you about fire problems with Kias and Hyundais for years, including a 2012 Hyundai Sonata in Washington state, a 2012 Kia Sorento in central Florida, and a 2015 Kia Soul in downtown Atlanta.

“It really comes down to the fact that these engines are not good engines,” said Michael Brooks with the Center for Auto Safety.

Since 2018, more than eight million Kias and Hyundais have been recalled because of engine fire risk, including four recalls for certain models of Kia Soul.

But, according to Kia and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Carltons’ rental, a 2019 Kia Soul, poses no abnormal fire danger.

Kia recalled Souls from 2012 to 2016, but not more recent model years, including the 2019 driven by the Carltons.

“The cause is, basically, the engine dries up because of a design problem, and it causes the connecting rods to punch through the engine block and causes a fire,” Steve Berman, principal at Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro law firm in Seattle, said.

Berman filed a class-action lawsuit against the automakers over the fires and reached a $760-million settlement.

“I’ve never had a situation where I’ve gotten so many clients who’re driving their cars, and the cars just catch on fire,” Berman said.

There was a recall and a remedy available at the time for owners of those cars.

But according to Carfax, in 2020, Hyundais and Kias were being sold at used car lots with that important recall item unfixed.

“That’s why it is important to ask the dealer for the paperwork, to have documents that the car’s been done,” said Mo Aliabadi with South Tacoma Auto.

Currently, no law requires used car dealers to inform consumers about open recalls when selling vehicles. So it’s on the consumer to do their homework. Auto experts suggest using tools like the Carfax app, which has a free recall check.

But remember, the Carlton family’s rental car was not recalled, meaning even if they had researched the vehicle for problems, it would have come up clean.

That’s why U.S. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) wrote a bill signed into law last year requiring faster transmission by automakers of data about defects.

“And these family members were in a vehicle that had a fire that has a great similarity to the other fires that this same manufacturer had had to deal with,” said Markey.

He’s working to pass a bill that would require automakers to provide extra information on injuries or fatalities to NHTSA and consumers.

“We just have to make sure that companies like Kia know that we’re going to make them accountable, that we’re not going to allow them to hide any information,” Markey said.

The Carltons are sharing their story now because they’re desperate for any change that may save another family’s heartache.

“There’s nothing that can fill the hole that we have, the void that we have, the broken heart that we have,” Robert Carlton said. “I would plead, I would beg you: fix these vehicles.”

FOX13 Investigates asked Kia why certain model years of the Soul were not recalled. In a statement, the company said it continuously evaluates vehicles and provides quarterly reports to NHTSA.

“When determining the scope of a recall, we analyze internal and external data sources to ensure that our actions are appropriate and regularly revisit our updated data to ensure validity,” a Kia spokesperson said.

To find out if your car has any safety issues or recalls, CLICK HERE.

Statement from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:

Kia Motors America and Hyundai Motor America recommend that owners of select model year 2014-2016 Kia Sportage, 2016-2018 Kia K900 and 2016-2018 Hyundai Santa Fe vehicles park their vehicle outdoors and away from other vehicles or structures due to a risk of fire, even if the vehicle is turned off.

Kia and Hyundai have identified an increasing risk of an engine compartment fire. Although the cause remains unknown, the manufacturers believe an electrical component in the anti-lock brake system may experience an internal electrical short circuit that could increase the risk of fire both while the vehicle is being driven or parked.

The Kia recall notice is available here, and the Hyundai recall notice is available here.

Kia and Hyundai will notify owners by mail with instructions to bring their vehicles to a Kia or Hyundai dealer for a free repair. Dealers will install a fuse designed to mitigate the risk of fire.

Vehicle owners can visit or call NHTSA’s Vehicle Safety Hotline at 888-327-4236 and enter their 17-digit vehicle identification number to see if their vehicle is under recall. If it is, the owner should park their vehicle outdoors until the recall repair is completed. Owners may also contact Kia customer service at (800) 333-4542.

NHTSA encourages everyone to download its SaferCar App to stay informed on current recalls.