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Vehicle owners sue Hyundai and Kia over fire risks

Kia and Hyandai are facing four class actions in Australia over defective brake systems and engines.

Kia and Hyandai are facing four class actions in Australia over defective brake systems and engines. Photo: AAP

Hyundai and Kia’s legal woes have increased as hundreds of thousands of distressed vehicle owners have sued over defects alleged to cause short circuits and fires.

First being alerted to potential problems with a range of their vehicles in 2015, Hyundai and Kia have now been hit with four Federal Court class actions by Australians seeking damages.

At the end of May, Bannister Law filed two of these lawsuits over vehicles fitted with an allegedly defective anti-lock braking system.

Designed to combat wheel lock-up, the system’s hydraulic electronic control unit failed to prevent moisture build-up, leading to short circuits within the engine.

“By reason of the ABS defect, the electrical circuitry of the HECU had the propensity to generate intense heat and resulted in an engine compartment fire, whether or not the engine of an affected vehicle was engaged,” the class action pleadings say.

While the two automotive firms developed a replacement component, some owners were still waiting for their vehicles to be fixed.

The companies are accused of breaching Australian consumer law by falsely claiming the vehicles were reliable, safe, free from defects, comfortable, and of good quality.

According to court documents seen by AAP, a number of recall notices were sent between February 2018 and December 2022 with more than 332,000 vehicles affected.

“There is a risk of an engine compartment fire, even when the vehicle is turned off, as the circuit is constantly powered. This could increase the risk of an accident, serious injury to vehicle occupants, other road users and bystanders, and damage to property,” some of Hyundai’s recall notices said.

The class actions seek damages over an alleged reduction in vehicle value as well as foreseeable costs resulting from the defects, including parking fees, additional wear and tear, excess insurance, higher stamp duty and lost income.

Damages for distress, anxiety, frustration and disappointment are also contemplated.

Those eligible for the lawsuits include purchasers of certain models of Kia Sportage, Sorento, Carnival and Stinger as well as Hyundai Sonata, Grandeur, Santa Fe, i30, Elantra, Tucson and Genesis, iX35.

In February, law firm Johnson Winter & Slattery began two class actions against Hyundai and Kia over vehicles fitted with defective engines.

“The engines have the propensity to exhibit phenomena, including a cyclic ‘knocking’ or ‘tapping’ sound with a metallic quality, the sudden loss of motive power, the emission of engine compartment smoke and, in some cases, the onset of engine compartment fire,” the pleadings say.

The defects are also alleged to lead to broken or disintegrated components, a chemical or metallic smell wafting through the passenger cabin, and smoke coming from the engine.

The allegations against Hyundai and Kia in these proceedings are similar to those in the Bannister Law class actions with the companies being accused of misleading consumers about the safety and reliability of their vehicles.

A slew of recall notices were sent in the United States, South Korea and Australia over these engine defects between June 2015 and September 2021.

In November 2020, Hyundai and Kia agreed to pay civil penalties of $US140 million and $US70 million respectively to the country’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration after more than 1.6 million vehicles were recalled.

Owners again claim they paid too much for their defective vehicles and faced other unnecessary costs such as paying for excess fuel due to poor engine performance and incurring additional maintenance costs.

These cases include a wide range of models including the Kia Cerato, Optima, Proceed, Rio, Sorento, Sportage and Stinger, and the Hyundai Sonata, i30, Tucson, Santa Fe, Elantra, Accent, Veloster, iLoad, i40, Kona, Venue and i30N.

-AAP

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