US car users sue Hyundai, Kia, claiming defect caused fires

SEOUL • Hyundai Motor and Kia Motors have been sued by US drivers over an alleged defect that could cause certain engines to catch fire, adding pressure on the South Korean carmakers being probed by the US authorities.

More than 350 consumer complaints were reported to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) over non-collision fires in Hyundai and Kia vehicles as result of the carmakers' "concealment of the defect", according to the class-action lawsuit filed last Friday in the US District Court for the Central District of California by law firm Hagens Berman.

The US auto-safety regulator started probing the timeliness and scope of the carmakers' recalls related to manufacturing errors in "Theta II" engines, while the US Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York has opened a criminal investigation into the matter, according to a Reuters report.

Hyundai and Kia have recalled about 1.6 million vehicles in the US, made between 2011 and 2014, related to engine problems. The customers' lawsuit argues that a defect restricts oil flow to core engine parts, causing premature wear and failure, and eventually resulting in engine seizure and fire.

Hyundai Motor declined to comment on the lawsuit specifically, but in a statement, the carmaker said that "nothing is more important than the safety and security of Hyundai customers", adding that the company is cooperating with the US Department of Transportation and the NHTSA.

The carmaker said it had held meetings with the authorities over the past three years and identified "possible safety items" for evaluation.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 18, 2018, with the headline 'US car users sue Hyundai, Kia, claiming defect caused fires'. Print Edition | Subscribe