The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said it is investigating a series of recalls involving millions of vehicles connected to brake fluid leaks that might trigger fires.
It said that the 16 recall reports "contain varying defect descriptions and differing remedy descriptions for the same or similar equipment supplied by Mando," the maker of the two systems.
The agency added that the goal is "to evaluate the timeliness and scoping of Hyundai and Kia’s defect decision making and adherence with reporting requirements; and understand the varying defect descriptions and remedies between these recalls."
In September, the Korean automakers recalled a combined 3.37 million vehicles in the United States due to the risk of engine fires, telling owners to park outside and away from structures until repairs are complete. The automakers said internal brake fluid leaks can cause an electrical short that could lead to a fire.
That same month, Hyundai said it had reports of 21 fires and 21 other thermal incidents since 2017, while Kia has reports of at least 10 confirmed fires and melting incidents.
"Fires can occur whether the vehicle is parked and turned off or while driving," the NHTSA said at the time. No reported crashes, injuries, or deaths have been linked the recent recalls, said the NHTSA.
Kia said the Hydraulic Electronic Control Unit (HECU) in the vehicles may experience an electrical short as a result of brake fluid leaks. Hyundai said the anti-lock brake module may leak brake fluid internally and cause an electrical short.
The September recall covered 1.73 million Kia Borrego, Cadenza, Forte, Sportage, K900, Optima, Soul Rio, Sorento, and Rondo vehicles from various model years for each vehicle from 2010 through 2017.
Hyundai in September recalled 1.64 million Elantra, Genesis Coupe, Sonata Hybrid, Accent, Azera, Veloster, Santa Fe, Equus, Veracruz, Tucson, Tucson Fuel Cell, and Santa Fe Sport vehicles from various model years from 2011 through 2015.
The company said an O-ring in the antilock brake motor shaft can lose sealing strength over time due to the presence of moisture, dirt and dissolved metals in the brake fluid, causing leaks. The new fuse limits the operating current of the brake module, the statement said.
Hyundai said in a statement in September that owners can continue to drive the vehicles and that no crashes or injuries have been reported. The automaker said it was doing the recall to ensure safety of its customers.
Kia said in a statement at the time that an engine compartment fire could happen in the area of the brake control unit due to an electrical short that results in excessive current. The statement says the exact cause of the short circuit is unknown and that there have been no crashes or injuries.
When the recalls were initiated, Kia and Hyundai said dealers would replace the anti-lock brake fuse at no cost to owners. Kia says in documents that it will send notification letters to owners starting Nov. 14. For Hyundai the date is Nov. 21, reported The Associated Press.
Michael Brooks, the head of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety, said that he's not sure why the two Korean car companies aren't fixing the leak issue. He also asked why the firms waited so long to send letters to owners.
“Why not fix the problem?” he asked. “What you’re not doing here is fixing the O-ring and the leak that’s causing the problem in the first place. You’re combatting a symptom or part of the problem without actually fixing the underlying design issue.”
Mr. Brooks told the outlet that the NHTSA should have sent out letters warning consumers of a major problem.
“You would think that you should be notifying those owners right now that they shouldn’t be parking in their garages or their house could catch fire,” he said.