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St. Petersburg man escaped burning Kia with seconds to spare

Posted at 7:05 PM, Mar 28, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-28 19:16:48-04

A St. Petersburg man barely escaped his vehicle after it burst into flames as he drove down the road. He says he had no idea his car had been recalled.

RELATED: Study: Certain Kia and Hyundai engines more likely to catch fire

Nick Cleckner says the Kia he bought new in 2013 caught fire just after after exiting I-75 in Fort Meyers earlier this month. He says he couldn't get the Optima to stop.

“I pumped the brakes and there was nothing and so I immediately, I went to the emergency brake,” he said.

He escaped the burning sedan with seconds to spare.

“It took 15 seconds and the whole car was in flames and I ran away and just watched the flames get bigger and bigger."

I-TEAM INVESTIGATIONS | Our latest investigations

Cleckner says he called Kia customer service but was told the vehicle was out of warranty. Then, he searched Google and discovered the I-Team's year long investigation into thousands of Hyundai and Kia fires.

RELATED: Mother of man who died in a Kia fire says new recall came too late

We checked and found Kia recalled Cleckner’s Optima in 2017 over an engine defect. A Kia dealer replaced his engine in October of 2017.

Last November, the I-Team exposed fuel leaks that resulted from improper repairs during those engine recalls, sparking some of these fires.

Then in January Kia and Hyundai recalled more than 150K vehicles including Cleckner’s Optima over improper recall repairs. He told us never received the second recall notice.

He's just thankful his two small children were not in the car that day.

“I thought about my kids and if they were the vehicle how hard it would have been to unstrap them and get them out.”

The I-Team contacted Kia corporate about this fire. The car maker confirmed they are now investigating and have opened a claim. Cleckner says they've also supplied him with a rental car while they work on his case.