Why So Many Hyundai and Kia Vehicles Are Getting Recalled for … – Consumer Reports

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More than 7 million vehicles have been recalled. If you own one, here’s what you should know.
Since 2010, more than 3,100 Hyundai and Kia vehicles have caught fire, injuring 103 people and killing one, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the government agency investigating both automakers. These fires may be related to a type of four-cylinder engine used by both automakers. 
But those numbers reflect just a fraction of the millions of Hyundai and Kia vehicles that are at increased risk for catching fire for other reasons—including faulty wiring and brake system and battery problems—and aren’t part of this current NHTSA probe. In fact, according to tallies from Consumer Reports and the Center for Automotive Safety, over the past 12 years the automakers have sent recall notices for over 7 million cars and SUVs to fix problems that could cause vehicles to catch fire.
In some cases, the automakers have been unable to immediately address the underlying issues and have instructed owners to park their vehicles outside and away from structures to minimize property damage if the vehicles catch fire.
In other cases, owners have had to wait for the automakers to develop a free recall repair. Both automakers face a class-action lawsuit, which could benefit owners of the vehicles.
The following information will help Hyundai and Kia owners (and those thinking of buying one) navigate this complex situation.
Hyundai and Kia entered the U.S. market decades ago with forgettable fleets of economy cars. Since then, the companies have increased their market share and improved their vehicle lineups significantly. Today, many Hyundai and Kia models are on CR’s list of recommended vehicles. 
Although Hyundai and Kia are separate brands, the Hyundai Motor Company is the largest shareholder in Kia Motors, with 33.88 percent ownership. The two brands share many of the same parts from the same suppliers, including some of the parts at risk of catching fire.
The fire-related recalls have been ongoing for some time. In 2018, the Highway Loss Data Institute found that some Hyundai and Kia models were more than twice as likely to have a non-crash-related fire insurance claim than similar vehicles from other brands. In 2019 NHTSA opened an investigation into the fires after a petition from the Center for Auto Safety, a consumer advocacy group. A group of state attorneys general launched a multistate investigation the same year. 
In 2020, NHTSA announced civil penalties for the companies—totaling $210 million—for not recalling vehicles in a timely manner. In 2021, a whistleblower who provided NHTSA with information that led to those penalties was awarded $24 million, the agency’s first-ever whistleblower award.
In 2022 alone, both automakers have recalled over 1.2 million vehicles for fire risks so far, including additional repairs for vehicles that were recalled earlier.
A NHTSA spokesperson told CR that the defect investigation remains open and that the agency generally doesn’t comment on such investigations.
Photo: Hyundai Photo: Hyundai
There have been more than 60 individual recalls involving Hyundai and Kia vehicle fires. Many of them are either related to problems with specific engines, which the automakers call Theta II, Nu GDI, and Gamma GDI.
Hyundai and Kia say that many of the engine problems have to do with a faulty connecting rod bearing. The connecting rod is a vital component between the engine’s piston and crankshaft, and the bearing is located between the connecting rod and the crankshaft. If one of these bearings fails, the driver might first notice a knocking sound, excessive vibration, or even an engine stall. Severe engine damage could result. In some cases, a connecting rod could puncture the engine block and cause an oil leak that could start a fire. 
To fix the problem, Hyundai and Kia installed software on certain vehicles and model years—called a “knock sensor detection system (KSDS) update”—that can sense a failing connecting rod bearing and prevent potential engine damage. If the KSDS picks up on specific engine vibrations that indicate connecting rod bearing problems, the check engine light will illuminate on the instrument panel behind the steering wheel, and the vehicle will be able to be driven only a short distance and at reduced power, enough for the driver to pull off the road and call a tow truck.
Learn what to do if your vehicle has a recall that can’t be repaired yet.
Many other recalls involve a component in the antilock braking system (ABS) known as the hydraulic electronic control unit (HECU, shown below).
Although the cause is still under investigation, the ABS and HECU recalls may be related to short circuits within electrical parts that could cause a fire. These fires may occur even when the vehicle is parked, which is why Hyundai and Kia have advised some owners to park outside and away from structures and other vehicles until a recall repair is done. Hyundai and Kia have replaced components on some vehicles and are still working on a fix for other models.
Source: NHTSA Source: NHTSA
Other fire risks are due to a wide variety of causes. In the case of a recent Kia Telluride recall, a contaminated circuit board could be at fault. Michael Brooks, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, says that some of these problems are caused by software that wasn’t tested properly, while others are related to mistakes made during the supplier’s manufacturing process. “That suggests they’re not doing the proper quality control in their facilities,” Brooks says. 
Compounding the problem is that both automakers have so many parts and designs in common that when something goes wrong it affects a large number of vehicles. 
Both Hyundai and Kia provided written statements in response to CR’s questions about the recalls.
“Hyundai actively monitors and evaluates potential safety concerns, including non-collision fires, with all our vehicles,” Hyundai’s statement read in part. The company also noted that “the number of recalls does not mean there were actual vehicle fires, rather an analytical fire risk.” 
In its statement, Kia said it continuously evaluates its vehicles, including “the investigation of allegations of vehicle fire, determination of cause and origin where possible, evaluation of the potential for more fires from the same identified cause, and initiation of a recall if the data shows a previously undiscovered defect trend poses an unreasonable risk of harm to members of the public.” 
Both automakers have also made recent safety-related investments, including the development of new safety data analysis programs and research facilities. Some of these initiatives were mandated by NHTSA and partly paid for through civil penalties levied by the agency.
Source: NHTSA Source: NHTSA
Recalled Hyundais include the Accent, Azera, Elantra, Genesis, Ioniq, Kona, Palisade, Santa Cruz, Santa Fe, Santa Fe Sport, Santa Fe XL, Sonata, Tucson, and Veloster. Recalled Kias include the Cadenza, Carnival, Forte, K5, K900, Niro, Optima, Seltos, Sedona, Soul, Sorento, Spectra, Sportage, Stinger, and Telluride. The Genesis G70, G80, and GV80 are also included. (Genesis is Hyundai’s luxury brand.)
Documents that Hyundai and Kia have submitted to NHTSA show that hundreds of thousands of owners have not yet had crucial recall work done on their vehicles, including some cars and SUVs that shouldn’t be parked near structures or other vehicles.
“If you have one of the affected cars or know someone that might have one, make sure the recall gets done,” says Jake Fisher, senior director of CR’s auto test center. “It may not be convenient, but it could save your property and even your life.”
Learn more about how car recalls happen and what to do if your car is recalled.
To find out if your car has an open recall, enter your car’s vehicle identification number (VIN) at the official U.S. government recall website: nhtsa.gov/recall. (The VIN is a 17-digit combination of numbers and letters usually found at the bottom of the windshield on the driver’s side.) If there’s an open recall on your specific vehicle, it will appear on the NHTSA website. In addition, if there’s a fire-risk recall or a vehicle shouldn’t be driven until repairs can be made, a red box will appear at the top of the page.
You should check even if you’ve already had recall work done. Some vehicles, such as the 2014 and 2015 Kia Soul and 2013 through 2015 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, may have been recalled multiple times to deal with different fire risks. In a case involving more than 10,000 Hyundai Ioniq hybrids, the automaker learned that some dealerships had not performed the recall repairs they claimed to have done, so the vehicles had to be recalled again.
If your car does have an open recall, contact your local dealership and make an appointment to have it fixed free of charge.
Photo: Kia Photo: Kia
If you’re in the market for a used Hyundai or Kia—or any used car, for that matter—check the specific vehicle you’re planning to buy to make sure it doesn’t have any open recalls. Don’t take a dealership or seller’s word for it. Instead, get the VIN and enter it at nhtsa.gov/recalls.
“Unfortunately, you can’t rely on representations [made by dealerships],” says Rosemary Shahan, president and founder of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety (CARS), an auto safety and consumer advocacy group. She’s heard many stories of car dealers who promised customers that a car had a multipoint inspection and met the dealership’s strict standards, even though it still had an open recall.
Photo: Hyundai Photo: Hyundai
As with all recalls, the repair work necessary to correct any of these problems is free when done by a dealership.
Some Hyundai and Kia vehicles that have received a KSDS update may be eligible for a lifetime engine warranty. These include some vehicles with 2.0-liter and 2.4-liter Theta II four-cylinder engines. You can check if your vehicle or the vehicle you’re planning to buy has had this specific repair done at Hyundai’s recall website or Kia’s recall website. If it hasn’t, make sure to have the work done as soon as possible.
In addition to free repairs, owners of some Hyundai and Kia vehicles equipped with Theta II, Nu GDI, and Gamma GDI engines may be able to take advantage of recent a class-action lawsuit that could offer cash reimbursement for some prior repairs and expenses related to vehicle repairs and breakdowns, such as towing and rental cars. The settlement will also offer free inspection and repair or replacement of damaged engines that are still within their 15-year or 150,000-mile extended warranty for certain qualifying engine repairs as well as potential compensation for customers whose vehicles required lengthy repairs, caught fire, or were sold or traded in due to loss of faith or other provisions. (This lawsuit is in addition to a prior class action settlement from 2021, which is closed, meaning that owners can no longer join it.)
Owners of the following vehicles may be eligible for those benefits: 2011-2019 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid sedans, 2016-2019 Hyundai Sonata Plug-In Hybrid sedans, 2010-2012 Hyundai Santa Fe SUVs, 2010-2021 Hyundai Tucson SUVs, 2014 Hyundai Elantra coupes, 2014-2016 Hyundai Elantra sedans and hatchbacks, 2014-2020 Hyundai Elantra GT hatchbacks, 2012-2017 Hyundai Veloster hatchbacks, 2011-2020 Kia Optima Hybrid sedans, 2017-2020 Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid sedans, 2011-2013 Kia Sorento SUVs, 2011-2013 Kia Sportage SUVs, 2010-2018 Kia Forte sedans, 2010-2016 Kia Forte Koup coupes, and 2012-2019 Kia Soul hatchbacks, all with 2.4-liter Theta II MPI Hybrid, 2.4-liter Theta II MPI, 2.0-liter Nu GDI, 2.0-liter Nu GDI Hybrid & Plug-In Hybrid and 1.6-liter Gamma GDI four-cylinder engines.
Owners who have had serious issues may want to consider the pros and cons before joining a class action. “Usually, people who do their own individual litigation or kvetching come out better than class members,” Shahan says. “But sometimes they’re really good settlements.”
Hyundai and Kia say they have entered into an agreement to resolve the class-action litigation. Once the settlement is approved by the court, owners will be informed about how to submit a claim. Remember that there are deadlines to meet if you do want to participate in the class-action settlement.
Stay informed about recalls that might affect your vehicle by using our Car Recall Tracker. Create a free account now to become a CR member.
Correction: This article, updated Dec. 7, 2022, mistakingly identify the Telluride as a Hyundai. It is a Kia model.
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