What would you do if your car just went up in flames while you were going down the road? For people in our area and across the country, that was their scary reality leaving them shaken, fearful, and full of questions.
Shirley Boyers from Hiram, OH helps students in the Cuyahoga Heights School District, but late last month it was she who needed the help.
While driving home on August 21, smoke started pouring out of her 2012 Kia Rio.
“I was scared to death,” she said. "I put the car in park, began to turn the ignition off and it burst into flames…right up from the hood."
She ran from the car. She was safe but shaken and in tears. "I was such a mess. I was on the ground," she recalled.
Boyers said in the six years she's had her Rio Hatchback, she never had a problem with it until that day. "It's a tough thing to go through,” she said.
Our research shows it's been tough on several Kia Rio owners. We found a complaint to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration this year claims his just "blew up.” Another from 2016 in Georgia reported "everything was on fire," and another claim from Florida, showed "flames coming from the right side of the engine."
There are more fires reported from other Kia models including the 2011-2014 Optima and certain Sorentos. Many of those are under a recall for problems with their Theta II engines, problems unrelated to the fires.
"Seeing pictures that look just like ours...it makes you sick,” said Christina Adams from Florida. She and her husband Daniel had their Sorento engine replaced under that Theta II recall.
"And it still burned down,” said Daniel.
"’They're happening with significant regularity....and at a rate we haven't seen in a long time," said Sean Kane about Kia car fires. He’s the President of a company called Safety Research & Strategies out of Massachusetts. It specializes in motor vehicle and consumer product safety.
He pointed out a different recall in 2015. Thousands of Kia Fortes where "a cooling fan resistor may overheat and melt". Reports show the company noted "several incidents of engine fires" involving "owners of vehicles with a 1.8 liter engine. He said he feels that recall didn't go far enough. “In our research, we have identified other vehicles that do share similar or, substantially, the same component parts that were part of a recall for other models in the Hyundai, Kia line-up,” he said.
Kane said there have been issues with a cooling fan for Kia engines that have gasoline direct injection or GDI.
Boyers' 2012 Rio had a GDI engine and it was a 1.8 liter engine.
Kane said GDI engines run hot to begin with, and Engine Builder Magazine reported "a lot of (GDI) engines are experiencing...flash burns in the cylinder."
Boyers called an attorney.
"Her story is very, very similar, and it's a very, very scary story,” said Nick Migliaccio. He’s a lawyer out of Washington DC who said about 20 people including Boyers have contacted him about fires in Hyundais and Kias.
Boyers found him because Migliaccio already has a class-action suit filed against Hyundai and Kia about the Theta II engines which, by the way, are also Gasoline Direct Injection — GDI engines.
"Is there a common part? Is there a common failure mode?" said Migliaccio as he was tossing around questions that his firm is asking.
While he and his team investigate whether or not another class-action suit needs to be filed about the car fires, Boyers dedicates her time to teaching children with learning disabilities.
Boyers said she’s done the math on her car fire experience. “I never knew about any of these issues prior to this happening to my car," said Boyers. “Somebody needs to be accountable. These cars are dangerous. They can't be on the road. This is not safe."
As it stands now, no one knows what exactly caused Boyers' car fire.
We reached out to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. We’ve heard nothing back.
Kia released this statement to 5 On Your Side Investigators:
All automobiles contain combustible materials and a vehicle fire may be the result of any number of complex factors, including a manufacturing issue, inadequate maintenance, the installation of aftermarket parts, an improper repair, arson, or some other non-vehicle source, and must be carefully evaluated by a qualified and trained investigator or technician.
Kia Motors America (KMA) works directly with customers and will provide inspection results directly to those customers. If it is determined that a fire is the result of a manufacturing-related issue, KMA will work with customers to address any costs or expenses they may incur.
KMA has been in communication with the owner and has requested to inspect the vehicle. The customer has explicitly stated she does not give KMA permission to inspect the vehicle and therefore KMA is unable to dispatch an investigator.
Claims involving damage to a Kia vehicle, including fires, are reviewed on a case-by-case basis and if a fire is determined to be the result of a Kia manufacturing issue, KMA will work with the customer to reach a satisfactory resolution to the matter. Kia customers with questions regarding their Kia vehicle should contact KMA’s Consumer Assistance Center directly at 1-800-333-4542 (4Kia).