5 On Your Side Investigators been on top of recent fire problems with certain Kia and Hyundai cars with reporting that helped lead the companies to issue recalls. Now, we have a Scripps exclusive interview with a former Kia employee who said he warned Kia about the cause of the flames as far back as 2017.
“I am coming forward because people's lives are at risk,” said Jason Vaughn. He worked for Kia's Warranty Department at its headquarters in Irvine, California. “I discovered, in the course of performing dealer audits, a safety concern that I believe is causing the Kia vehicle fires,” Vaughn said.
Canton Native Jakob Moyer's 2013 Kia Optima went up in flames as he was driving. “I see my buddy fly up, left lane, pass me, swerve me off the road. He's yelling, 'Get out of the car! It's on fire!” Moyer told us.
In 2017, Vaughn said he found Kia dealers performing engine recalls improperly which he thinks led to dangerous fuel pump leaks. “It’s like hitting the car with a flame thrower,” said Vaughn.
5 On Your Side Investigators have highlighted hundreds of fires in Kia and Hyundai models all over the country.
Vaughn said he warned Kia corporate leaders he suspected faulty recall work is causing so many of these vehicles to burst into flames. “The Warranty Operations Manager was not receptive at all,” said Vaughn. “She didn't think it was something we should look at.”
Both Kia and Hyundai are not admitting this issue has caused any fires and said the recall is merely a safety precaution.
Shirley Boyers from Hiram told us the recall doesn't go far enough. Her 2012 Kia Rio is not involved in the recall, but it caught fire while she was behind the wheel back in August. "I never knew about any of these issues prior to this happening to my car,” Boyers said. “Somebody needs to be accountable. These cars are dangerous. They can't be on the road. This is not safe."
“This needs federal attention!” Vaughn told us.
Vaughn left his job at Kia in December. He said he was pushed out for raising his concerns and has now registered as a federal whistleblower with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
“You know about the problem and you've handed [customers] the keys to the car that could potentially start on fire and burn to the ground in 10 to 15 seconds,” said Vaughn.
Since that interview, Kia and Hyundai now say they plan to recall tens of thousands of cars and SUVs for fuel pump issues. Kia's recall plan is dated just days after our Scripps investigators contacted the company about this whistleblower.