Hyundai, Kia recall: Houston resident looks back on frightening moment when her car caught fire

Hyundai and Kia are recalling nearly 500,000 vehicles and warning drivers to park them outside amid reports that they could catch fire. This is part of an ongoing series of fire-related recalls for Hyundai, Genesis, and Kia vehicles.

BACKGROUND: Owners of 485K Hyundai, Kia vehicles told to park outside due to fire risk

Hyundai and Kia, which share the same parent company, say don't park these recalled cars in the garage or even next to a home or building because they could catch fire. And they say keep an eye out for an ABS warning light, a burning smell, or smoke coming from the engine.

"I just remember standing there, I’m pulling up to the scene and looking like, This is my car? This is my whole life!" said Ashanti Brown.

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Brown says her brother had just started driving her car when it caught fire.

"The fire started in the engine. By the time he got out, the hood was in flames, and it was burning," said Brown. "And it spread to the dashboard, the dashboard started burning and that’s when the whole care was in flames."

Her 2018 Hyundai Accent is not included in recalls regarding fires in Hyundai and Kia models, but she wonders if it should be.  

After reports of some cars catching fire, Hyundai and Kia just recalled nearly 500,000 of these vehicles:  

Hyundai2016 - 2018 Santa Fe SUV2017 - 2018 Santa Fe Sport2019 Santa Fe XL2014 - 2015 Tucson SUV

Kia2014 - 2016 Sportage SUV2016 - 2018 K900 sedan

"What’s concerning is this very specific problem with the ABS units that are catching fire on these cars," said Sean Kane with auto safety research firm Safety Research & Strategies. "The latest two will now make a total of 14 recalls just for ABS control unit fires, and they’re all essentially the same kind of problem."

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Kane says the problem goes back even further.

"They’ve had a whole host of problems leading to fires under the hood, that range from fuel system to electrical to complete engine failures," Kane added. "That has resulted in 41 recalls in the last decade or so, covering an excess of 5 million vehicles."

In 2020, NHTSA slapped Hyundai and Kia with $210 million in civil penalties for not conducting recalls in a timely manner.

"I think Hyundai and Kia have done a very poor job at keeping these fires under control in their vehicles, and they’re late in doing a lot of these campaigns," said Kane.

Brown wants to see a further investigation of more models, like hers.

"To think that in the split of a second, I could have lost my brother," said Brown.

We reached out to Hyundai, which responded with this statement:

"Our customer service team has been in contact with this customer, and we are currently working towards a satisfactory resolution. 

"Nothing is more important than the safety and security of Hyundai customers. Hyundai actively monitors and evaluates potential safety concerns with all of our vehicles and acts swiftly to address any safety-related issues."

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We also contact NHTSA, which writes:

"The 2018 Hyundai Accent is not currently covered by any open investigations related to non-crash fires.

"NHTSA is empowered with robust enforcement tools to protect the public, to investigate potential safety issues, and act when we find evidence of non-compliance or unreasonable risk to safety. We urge the public to let NHTSA know if they think their vehicle may have a safety defect that isn’t part of a current recall. They can contact NHTSA online or call the agency’s Vehicle Safety Hotline at 888-327-4236, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET. Vehicle owners can visit NHTSA.gov/recalls and enter their 17-digit vehicle identification number to see if their vehicle is under recall. You can also search for complaints by vehicle."

Vehicle owners can check for recalls by entering the VIN on the NHTSA website.

Owners should also check with their vehicle's dealership or manufacturer for recalls or customer satisfaction campaigns.

Here are safety tips if a vehicle catches fire from Consumer Reports:

  • First, pull over and shut off the engine. This stops the flow of fuel.
  • Get yourself and your passengers out of the car as quickly as possible. Make sure to stay a significant distance away—100 to 150 feet or more—and never go back into the vehicle to retrieve personal property.
  • Call 911 or have another motorist make the call to get emergency services on their way as soon as possible.
  • Attempt to put out the fire only if you have clear access to the source, have a suitable fire extinguisher, know how to use it correctly, and can maintain a safe distance from the car. Only use an extinguisher approved for Class B or Class C fires; a label on the extinguisher will identify which kind of fire it’s suitable for.
  • Never open the hood or trunk if you suspect there’s a fire there; the additional air flowing in could cause the fire to enlarge.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. Never stand on an active roadway. If you’re parked by the side of the road, stay far behind the vehicle to avoid being hit if another car strikes your vehicle.