Millions of Recalled Hyundai and Kia Vehicles With a Dangerous Defect Remain On the Road

A 2013 Hyundai Elantra Coupe is shown at the Chicago Auto Show in Chicago on Feb. 8, 2012. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)

DETROIT (AP) — In September, Hyundai and Kia issued a recall of 3.4 million of its vehicles in the United States with an ominous warning: The vehicles should be parked outdoors and away from buildings because they risked catching fire, whether the engines were on or off.

Six months later, most of those autos remain on the road — unrepaired — putting their owners, their families and potentially other people in danger of fires that could spread to garages, houses or other vehicles.

Hyundai and Kia have acknowledged that there’s little hope of repairing most of the affected vehicles until June or later, roughly nine months after they announced the recalls. (Hyundai owns part of Kia, though the two companies operate independently.)

The two companies attributed the delays, in part, to the huge number of vehicles involved, among the largest recalls they’ve ever done. The fires, they say, have occurred when brake fluid leaked onto the circuit boards of antilock braking systems, triggering an electrical short and igniting the fluid.

The companies say they’ve been unable to obtain enough of the needed parts — fuses that reduce the boards’ electrical currents — to fix most of the affected vehicles. Among them are some of their top-selling models for the 2010 through 2017 years, including Hyundai’s Santa Fe and Elantra and Kia’s Sportage and Forte.

Hyundai and Kia have urged the vehicles’ owners to contact the companies or dealers if they see dashboard warning lights or smell something burning. In the meantime, both companies contend that despite the ongoing risks, the cars remain safe to drive.

When they announced the recalls in September, the two automakers reported that the defect had caused 56 vehicle fires and “thermal incidents,” which include burning, melting and smoking. No injuries or deaths have been reported, either before or since the recalls were announced.

While awaiting repairs, owners of the affected vehicles need to park outside and away from other vehicles to minimize the risks. In the meantime, safety advocates note that if too much brake fluid leaks, it could impair braking or lengthen the distance required to stop a car.

The long-delayed repairs mark the latest in a long series of recalls involving engine fires on Hyundai and Kia vehicles that have bedeviled the two Korean automakers since 2015. All told, 13 million of their vehicles have been recalled for engine problems since 2010.

Some complainants say they were confused by Hyundai statements saying the recalled vehicles can be driven even though they can catch fire while the engines are running.

“This safety recall sounds urgent and incredibly dangerous,” an owner of a 2012 Hyundai Accent from Burbank, California, wrote in a complaint to NHTSA in December. (People who file complaints aren’t identified in the NHTSA database.) The owner couldn’t understand why Hyundai would say the Accent is safe to drive yet admit that it can still catch fire while being driven.

Both companies said that while fires remain rare, if they do happen, owners would smell smoke or see warning lights on the dashboard. The warnings would “allow for a safe exit from the vehicle,” Kia’s statement said.

But the Center for Auto Safety argues that it’s irresponsible for the companies to assure owners that the vehicles are safe to drive when they know fires are possible. If smoke or warning lights should appear, the companies can’t predict how long the occupants would have to escape or free children or other passengers who might be unable to get out on their own.

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