TAMPA BAY, Fla. — A major automaker says it's proud of its safety record, but the I-Team found dozens of fires in two models in recent years — figures that auto safety watchdogs call alarming.
Thomas Clinard says his Kia Optima caught fire as he drove down Highway 19 in New Port Richey. Clinard fought with the door locks and escaped shortly before the flames torched the interior.
The I-Team did some digging and found 22 other reports of fires in Optima models made in 2012 to 2014. All of the reports were filed with the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.
In comparison to the competition, we found zero fire complaints for the 2013 Toyota Camry and two for the 2013 Honda Accord.
In searching NHTSA data, we discovered another Kia model prone to dozens of more fire complaints than its competitors. A 2012 Sorento caught fire with Susan King behind the wheel near Orlando last month.
And in San Diego Fernanda Kreuger says her 2016 Sorento caught fire on a busy freeway. Between these two fires and the reports we found with NHTSA — a total of 39 Sorentos made between 2011 and 2016 reportedly caught fire.
Now the Center for Auto Safety will formally request NHTSA investigate the fires in these two Kia models. In looking at the competition over a three-year period Ford, Toyota and Honda reported between one and two fires for similar-sized SUVs.
Clinard showed us proof he emailed pictures of the car fire to Kia corporate — but no one was interested in inspecting the vehicle. His attorney hired an independent fire expert to inspect the Optima.
Richard Meier, an engineer who owns Meier Fire Investigations, used the fire pattern and clues to make his conclusion. His report says the fire started in the fan motor area. We discovered Kia recalled a similar fan motor in thousands of Fortes due to a fire hazard.
We emailed Kia’s corporate spokesperson regarding the numbers of fires in both the Sorentos and Optimas. Spokesperson James Hope responded in this statement:
Kia is proud of its strong safety record and the integrity of our products and all Kia vehicles sold in the United States meet or exceed all federal government vehicle safety standards.
Claims involving damage to a Kia vehicle, including fires, are reviewed on a case-by-case basis. A vehicle fire may be due to any number of complex factors which must be carefully evaluated by trained technicians to determine its cause and if a fire is determined to be the result of a Kia quality 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).
NHTSA opened an investigation into some already recalled Sorentos and Optimas after finding that fire may be a secondary problem. But this does not include several of the fires we have reported on. We will continue to press Kia and federal regulators to take action.