Unsafe at Any Speed: Don’t Park Your Kia Sportage or Cadenza in the Garage, or Near Your House, for That Matter

By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.

It’s been years since I read Ralph Nader’s 1965 classic, Unsafe at Any Speed – the book which made his reputation as a consumer advocate and led to the passage of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act the following year and the adoption of seat belt laws by 49 states.

But as far as I can recall, Nader didn’t mean that any quite literally: the dangers he discussed only kicked in when the car was in motion.

Yesterday, Kia seems to have plumbed a new low in the auto safety race to the bottom when it announced a recall of nearly 380,000 Sportage and Cadeniza models, due to fire risk.

Until you get the vehicle fixed, it is unsafe at any speed. That includes parked in the garage or stashed close to any flammable structures.

Jalopnik provides details about the recall:

Kia is recalling many 2017-19 Cadenza sedans and 2017-21 Sportage crossovers, the AP reports. Owners can enter their car’s VIN into NHTSA’s website to see if their vehicle is affected. According to NHTSA, the recall affects a potential of 379,931 vehicles. Here are the details, from NHTSA:

Kia Motors America (Kia) is recalling certain 2017-2021 Sportage and Cadenza vehicles. The electrical circuit in the Hydraulic Electronic Control Unit (HECU) may short-circuit, which can cause a fire in the engine compartment.


Kia will notify owners, and dealers will replace certain fuses in the electrical junction box. Vehicles equipped with an electronic parking brake (EPB) will also receive a HECU software update. Repairs will be performed free of charge. Owners are advised to park outside and away from structures as a precaution until the recall repair is complete. The recall is expected to begin April 30, 2021. Owners may contact Kia customer service at 1-800-333-4542. Kia’s number for this recall is SC206. [Jerri-Lynn here: my emphasis.]

For interested readers, I include a link to recall report issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Now, it’s been years since I’ve driven very much and I no longer own a vehicle. But as best as I can recall, if one’s vehicle is subject to a recall, it’s up to the owner to take it in for servicing. The manufacturer or dealer doesn’t send out mobile units to fix your car.  So, I wondered whether an owner would get any warning that her/his vehicle was about to catch fire?

The answer, via AP:

The company says the recalled vehicles are not equipped with Kia’s Smart Cruise Control system.

Owners could see tire pressure, anti-lock brake or other warning lights on their dashboard before the problem happens. They also might smell a burning or melting odor.

One other warning sign that AP failed to mention that’s included in the original NHTSA report: smoke from the engine compartment.

Not only won’t Kia send out any mobile units to fix your car, but the company is taking its sweet time to notify owners of the problem, according to AP:

Owners will be notified starting April 30. Dealers will replace fuses in the electrical junction box to fix the problem

Why the delay?

It’s not clear to me if an owners who sees press reports and thus knows her/his car has a problem can take the vehicle into the dealer straightaway – I mean as soon as today – and get it fixed. Now, to be fair to Kia, perhaps the company doesn’t regard this defect as a clear and present danger.

Yet if that’s the case, why the warning about where to park the car?

According to AP:

Kia says in documents posted Tuesday by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that it has no reports of crashes, fires or injuries due to the problem.

I also note that these are relatively new cars, so perhaps not enough time has passed for many fires to occur.

And although Kia’s claim may be true with respect to this particular defect. federal regulators have found considerable problems during an investigation spurred by owner complaints about engine fires in Kia and Hyundai vehicles Per the AP:

The recall comes after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began investigating Kia and Hyundai engine fires in 2019. The agency opened the probe after the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety filed a petition seeking the investigation. When the inquiry began, the agency said it had owner complaints of more than 3,100 fires, 103 injuries and one death.

In November, NHTSA announced that Kia and Hyundai must pay $137 million in fines and for safety improvements because they moved too slowly to recall more than 1 million vehicles with engines that can fail. The fines resolve a government probe into the companies’ behavior involving recalls of multiple models dating to the 2011 model year.

Kia was to pay $27 million and invest $16 million in safety performance measures. Another $27 million payment will be deferred as long as Kia meets safety conditions, NHTSA said.

Kia denied the U.S. allegations but said it wanted to avoid a protracted legal fight.

Engine failure and fire problems with Hyundais and Kias have affected more than 6 million vehicles since 2015, according to NHTSA documents.

Time for a Tune Up; U.S. Auto Safety Regulation Is Well Overdue for Overhaul

As I’ve written in a previous post, regulation of the safety of passenger vehicles is pathetic – and well past due for overhaul (Unsafe at Any Speed Redux: Pinto and Takata Recalls Compared; and ). Once a defect is identified, manufacturers can dither and delay in ordering a recall, and once initiated, can drag their heels on letting owners know their vehicle has a problem. This is yet another area where the basic U.S. regulatory framework needs to be substantially overhauled to protect driver and passenger safety, not to mention other road users.

I don’t think Ralph Nader ever envisioned that the 2021 meaning of ‘unsafe at any speed’ would include parking the car in the garage.

Yet until the 380,000 Kia owners whose vehicles have been recalled can get them serviced that’s exactly the warning they’re being told to heed.

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  1. Kim

    Electronic parking brake? What’s wrong with a pedal and cable, which have worked flawlessly for 110 years plus of car designs?

    Does KIA pay for your rental car before your vehicle gets repaired?

    1. Laura in So Cal

      I did get a notification via a postcard from my local Honda dealer (who had sold me the car and with whom I had the car serviced when it needed it) for the Takata Airbag recalls a few years ago. They had to do it in 2 steps due to limited supplies of new airbags. First I took it in and they replaced the driver side airbag and then almost a year later, I got the passenger side airbag replaced. Both for free, but it wasn’t exactly convenient.

      1. johnherbiehancock

        Maybe it was just the dealership, but I had to deal with some pretty aggressive upselling from VW when I brought my Jetta in for a recall issue several years back.

        Their attitude seemed to be “Yeah, it’s a recall and we will fix that part for free, but since we’re talking to you, you should owe us money.

        made me want to deal with them as little as possible

    2. John Zelnicker

      March 10, 2021 at 11:14 am

      Excellent point! An electronic brake is NOT an emergency brake, which is the purpose of having such a thing in a car with an automatic transmission. Electronics are often the point of failure in late-model cars loaded up with chips and sensors, including the ones in the post.

      What if the battery dies? Does the electronic brake still work without electricity? Doesn’t sound like it to me.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        A potential market for minimally digitized maximally analog cars will just keep growing in pressure and opportunity.

        1. Equitable > Equal

          Take a look at inflation in used car prices and you’ll see that the market is in full flow. The national inflation rate is at 9%, and for good examples of analog cars you’re looking at 3x to 10x increases in selling price over the past 5 years. Cars from the 90’s and early 00’s are inherently repairable due to their simplicity.

    3. oliverks

      Electronic parking / hand brakes are nice in manual cars because they hold you on a hill when you are starting off, and then automatically release.

        1. tegnost

          Last year my brother had his brakes done at an LS franchise while on a trip and they improperly installed the brake line so that it rubbed on the tire. A few hundred miles further along near castle crags the big steep hill down into redding on I-5 he put his brakes on and the line blew. He was able to stop because he had a manual emergency brake. This tech thing has gotten out of hand, literally…

  2. Carolinian

    The problem is due to a short in the antilock brake module so the “fire” is presumably melting and smoking electrical insulation down next to the wheel. Since I have a late model Hyundai (car, never an SUV) I’d already heard about this. As the article says you can enter the VIN (visible through the windshield if outside your car) and see all the recalls on your model at NHTSA. The problem models are SUVs, not cars. The garage warning is likely an excess of caution for legal liability reasons.

      1. Carolinian

        Oh for sure and I’m only sketchily familiar with the problem since it doesn’t apply to my car.

        But owners of all vehicles should check the VIN on that NHTSA site and take recalls seriously. You don’t have to depend on notices from the dealer.

    1. Copeland

      Yes, I have a 2019 Hyundai Tucson compact SUV and Hyundai contacted me about the recall quite a while ago and I had it fixed right away. I don’t remember if they mentioned a fire risk or not, but I do remember them using the words “short” and “anti-lock brake module”.

      So, has Kia really dragged their feet on this while Hyundai did the right thing much sooner?

      For what its worth, I’ve received many recall notices by mail over the years, for many of the cars that I’ve owned in the USA.

    2. cnchal

      > The problem is due to a short in the antilock brake module so the “fire” is presumably melting and smoking electrical insulation down next to the wheel.

      To fix the short they are gonna put in a fuse that blows sooner. Some fix.

      Good thing it’s for something one almost never needs and under some conditions is a detriment.

      If I had one of those peices of crap I would pull the damn fuse right now and if it was still drivable, never take it to the stealership again.

      1. Polar Donkey

        I just happened to watch a Scotty Kilmer video last night. He doesn’t have a high opinion of Korean cars, but he has an even lower opinion of Korean car dealerships. He said Kia and Hyundai have the lowest paid and least trained repair technicians. This may be another contributing factor of slow recalls. Wouldn’t be able to fix the cars right even if Kia wanted too.

        1. cnchal

          > This may be another contributing factor of slow recalls.

          This isn’t even a real recall. That would involve changing the defective module, buried somewhere that makes changing it a jawb no mechanic, dealership or manufacturer wants.

          Putting in a lower amp fuse may also have unintended effects, like the module blowing it with regularity and then the ABS light glows, with the customer running to the dealer for a fix and being hit with a $100 + fee to “read the trouble codes”. Or perhaps those are intended effects.

        2. Clark

          I own a 2008 Hyundai Sonata with a 3.6L V-6 engine. Approx. 175,000 miles. The only problem I’ve ever had with this car was when the ignition switch locked up — it had to be towed to a dealer. Including towing, replacement was around $500. … So, based on what y’all have said about the latest in auto tech and the expense thereof, I’m glad I’ve kept this car. I think ’08 was a sunset year of cars that worked without too much tech. …. My car still smokes tho’ …

  3. Generalfeldmarschall von Hindenburg

    I inherited a 06 Mercedes. The level of computerization has become insane. There’s a thing called a SAM (I’m thinking Surface to Air Missile) Sensory Aquisition Module- actually two- one a front brain and another for the back. So the power just goes totally out on all the back lights. When I started researching it, I discovered the model had instances of a short in th tail light causing the whole car to catch fire. So it’s industry wide. Part of the Green New Deal I hear. Computerize cars so much we just give up on them. I’d prefer to ride a mule, frankly.

    1. philnc

      The breadth and depth of computerization may have started as a response to emissions regulation (in VW’s case, as a means to evade those same regs), but it was also about making diagnostics more accurate and useful. Except consumers don’t get to see most of that (in fact mfrs go to great lengths to hide it from them). In recent years it has been increasingly employed to provide opportunities for upselling based on truly useless features that only a plutocrat could love.

      1. chuck roast

        None of this stuff was a problem in an analog world. The digital world…it’s like somebody telling you they are going to provide you with new and improved toast. Excuse me?

        I just sold my old coastal cruiser the other day. It’s all analog and it works fine. But someday, probably someday soon, the old analog parts are going to be hard to find. Radar, chart-plotter, depth finder, GPS…when that day comes the small craft will have to stripped of all of its cruising electronics and equipped with…what else…digital instrumentation. Probably even the auto-pilot. Minimum $15-20K today. An almost complete electronic rebuild and it is not going to improve sailing performance. More likely just more expensive to fix.

        I want my dial telephone back.

        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          This could cause a whole new market to emerge for custom parts-fabricators to fabricate one-at-a-time crucial obsolete parts for people who insist on keeping their analog cars alive.

  4. ambrit

    There was a commenter on the site a few years ago who lived in Las Vegas. He had his late wife’s VW Bug burn up due to a mechanic putting a plastic inline fuel filter in, replacing an original filter, which came all metal from the factory. The engine compartments of the old rear engine VWs got quite hot. The plastic part melted and sprayed gasoline all over a running engine. Poof! Your car is gone!
    I hope he is doing well.
    Automobiles are basically large, mobile, explosive devices.
    Unfortunately, horses and mules can, and do, kick. (I speak from painful experience.)
    Perhaps one day I’ll find a cheap Racing Snail.

    1. Synoia

      My father had a permanent limp due to a Horse kicking and breaking his leg in his Childhood.

      I’ve come off a horse because the horse went under a tree, and only allowed for the horse’s height.

  5. Jen

    Last February, I bought a subaru crosstrek with 6 speed manual transmission specifically to avoid as much of this computerized, self driving crap as possible. It has a key. It has a manual emergency brake. I actually did not know that electronic emergency brakes were a thing until my mechanic, while doing the inspection said “whoa, this thing has a real emergency brake.” It never tells me what to do, and after 12 years of driving an automatic, being able to shift again was like re-attaching a severed limb.

    Now, in the name of “safety” subaru won’t offer manual transmission after this model year. I usually keep my cars until either no reputable mechanic will fix them or the repairs become to frequent and expensive to make it worthwhile. Might trade this one in for a ’21 just to buy another year or two. Either way, this will be the most pampered car I ever own, because you will pry my stick shift out of my cold, dead hands.

  6. Dave in Austin

    Relax everybody. The recall notice was written by lawyers, you know, those people who give you 10 page of warnings not to drop your elecric vibrator in the toilet and then turn it on. The sole purpose of this verbage is to give the manufacturer something to point to when they ask the owner on the stand “But didn’t you read the…”.

    “Don’t park it inside”; “don’t park it near a building”. This is where the American litigation machine has gotten us. I’m not saying there should be no recall. But this doesn’t deserve a long thread.

    Here in Austin I was without electricity for five days. Many of the sheep-like students in the 18 story apartment building had water and electricity but no food at all… and a 3 hour wait at the local Target, which had nothing to sell. So I offered a girl a pot, some utensils and the usual collection beans, vegis, etc to make a stew. When she made it she wanted to put up a “food for free!” sign near the office. The staff, of course, said no: “We have no way of knowing for sure that you are not putting poison in the soup”. ie “We might get sued”.

    1. Starry Gordon

      Food Not Bombs gets away with giving away food, probably in Austin as well as many other places. They do come in for harassment here and there, but it’s mostly because a lot of people don’t like to see hungry people get something for free. It’s like Communism or something.

  7. ObjectiveFunction

    I could never bring myself to buy a car with a maker name that is also a military acronym: Killed In Action

  8. Michael J Smitka

    I checked on Automotive News for details, I’m a subscriber. Sure enough: no actual fires have been reported. That’s not unusual with recalls – the manufacturers more often than not spot an issue internally, but when it’s safety-critical (here, a potential fire) they are required to report it, and may be asked to do a recall.

    I had a car recalled for a mechanical part, which if it failed could cause the car to halt, bad news if you’re on a freeway. It was a materials issue that showed up during a routine internal quality check of a part that isn’t particularly subject to problems. They knew the problem did not exist at the previous quality check, so issued the recall for only a modest number of VINs. No actual failures, the part that came out of my car was not defective. The parts could have gone for years before one failed, but the liability issues are pretty clear….

    In automotive circuits, wires can and do get hot. Rules of thumb for the size fuse you need are, well, rules of thumb. With up to 2 miles of wires in a modern vehicle, leading to them getting routed around all sorts of things, well, some engineer forgot to flag that the external temperature that wire could face meant a smaller fuse should be used.

    Please, editors, don’t post articles of a technical nature that can cause people to panic that haven’t been vetted by someone with technical knowledge.

    1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

      Well, I did ace my thermodynamics final at MIT. But that’s beside the point. The NHTSA says these vehicles are a fire risk. And directs owners not to park them in the garage ’til they’re fixed. Are you really saying you need a degree in combustion science before you follow that advice?

      1. Mike Smitka

        No, but you do need to spot lawyer-speak, and it helps to know something of recalls. Neither are common skills, especially the latter. But don’t ignore the lawyers = I don’t want to be sued, either…

        I did sit through an engineering presentation on vehicle fusing by a supplier, in a visit to Japan just prior to the covid outbreak. Wire harnesses are likely the second most expensive purchase by a car company (the seats are the most expensive), and they’re now heavy enough in the aggregate for efforts to use thinner wire (always multi-strand) and lighter insulation to rub up against [pun intended] the challenge of modeling abrasion with thick wire bundles, put together by hand so not uniform as to which wires are on the outside, and which retain some of the shape from packing so never lie as per the CAD files. Oh, and failing to account for those bends will give you a harness a tad short, with attendant assembly and (expensive) warranty problems from connectors that, well, don’t.

        Oh, and as to lawyers. They’re supposed to be on top of such things, and when they aren’t, the cost to a car company can be $1 billion. I’m thinking of the GM ignition switch example, which led to a purge of GM house lawyers. Now that’s something that really gets a lawyers attention. They don’t mind the nuisance lawsuits, that’s job security…

  9. Patrick

    In 1980 while visiting Ft. Worth, Texas, I remember seeing the blackened, charred remains of a Ford Pinto at rest on a grassy highway median. It was the aftermath of a collision in which it had been moderately rear ended.

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