Kia and Hyundai owners in Colorado and around the country may wish to pay especially close attention to scheduled maintenance intervals if their vehicles are equipped with a Theta II engine. Taking additional precautions could be wise because a study released recently by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Highway Loss Data Institute suggests that the 2-liter turbocharged engines fitted to vehicles including the Kia Optima and Hyundai Sonata are far more likely to catch fire than the power plants fitted to competing models.
The IIHS and HLDI researchers studied non-crash engine fires, and they found that Kia and Hyundai models equipped with small engines were much more prone to the problem than vehicles produced by other manufacturers. Vehicles in the control group had 1.7 insurance fire claims per 10,000 auto policies, but that figure rose to 4.2 claims per 10,000 policies for Kia and Hyundai models equipped with the Theta II engine.
Hyundai and Kia have been struggling with quality control issues in recent years and recalled about 1.7 million vehicles in 2015. The Korean manufacturers have also been accused of retaliating against factory workers who spoke up about production problems. While the IIHS and HLDI study reaches no firm conclusions and calls on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to investigate further, it does imply that lax manufacturing processes may be playing a part. Hyundai has conceded that metal shavings left inside Theta II engines could be restricting oil flow.
Manufacturers could pay a heavy price in civil court when consumers are hurt or killed in accidents caused by known product defects. The damages awarded in product liability lawsuits are often high, and media articles about indifferent safety protocols might ruin corporate reputations that have taken decades to build. Experienced personal injury attorneys may point this out to manufacturers during settlement discussions to avoid long and costly legal battles.