By on October 11, 2018

2018 Niro Plug-In Hybrid, Image: Kia Motors

Kia will be recalling 27,000 Niro hybrids sold within the United States due a potential defect in its wiring relay that could potentially send the rear seats up in smoke. According to filings with National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Kia reported a few warranty claims involving burn or heat damage to the rear seats. There was also at least one customer complaint alleging that the rear seat actually caught fire.

Affected units are said to come from the 2017 and 2018 model years. The main relay located beneath the rear seats is believed to have poor connections between its contacts on some vehicles. This results in increased electrical resistance and heat. In a worst-case scenario, a fire is totally possible. 

Possible warning signs include dashboard alerts and a vehicle that suddenly has trouble starting. We’d also imagine a weird burning smell could be indicative of a fast-approaching issue. Consumer filings with the NHTSA have been limited to the single digits, however Car and Driver reported that the issue could be more severe on Tuesday, as did we.

From Car and Driver:

Separately, numerous owner complaints reviewed by the Center for Auto Safety and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Florida) indicate that some Hyundai and Kia models may pose a fire risk. The Ralph Nader–backed nonprofit has said it has reviewed “at least” 161 complaints of fires that allegedly started without a collision and quotes owners as reporting “melted wires in the engine bay, smoke, and burning odors.” The group filed a formal petition to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) this summer, requesting an investigation regarding the 2011–2014 Kia Optima and Sorento and Hyundai Sonata and Santa Fe models, many of which were recalled in 2015 and 2017 for engine seizures. NHTSA has not formally opened an investigation into these vehicles for fires but is investigating the original recalls, which covered more than 1.6 million cars, as part of an audit. As of June, Sen. Nelson reported at least 23 “spontaneous fires in Florida” involving Hyundai and Kia models since 2014, including one in May that involved a 2012 Sorento that caught fire on the highway. The Center for Auto Safety also reports that NHTSA’s database shows 23 reports of non-collision-related fires in 2010–2015 Kia Soul models and calls the figure “concerning.”

2018 Niro Plug-In Hybrid, Image: Kia Motors

As worrying as that may be, wiring-related recalls seem to be growing in popularity across the industry. In January, Hyundai recalled 88,000 Sonatas from the 2006 model year and 2006-2011 Azeras to prevent engine compartment fires. That issue stemmed from an electrical short in the anti-lock braking system’s control module, and not an under-the-seat battery relay. Regardless, it was small potatoes compared to some of the other problems from the last 12 months.

BMW announced it was  recalling nearly one million cars and SUVs in North America in November of 2017. Over half of those involved wiring corrosion on the 3-series from 2006-2011. Meanwhile, FCA recalled almost 6 million units this year to fix a short-circuit risk that could make it impossible to disengage cruise control.

Kia is estimating that only 1 percent of the at-risk Niro hybrids are affected but intends to launch the widespread recall to ensure it gets them all. Dealership will pull out the rear seat to take a gander and do what needs to be done. The automaker intends on replacing the entire relay if it’s undamaged and will also repair any potential damages created by a defective unit free of charge. Owners of affected Niros should be notified via mail in late November — once Kia has enough replacement parts to begin repairing all the vehicles.

2018 Niro Plug-In Hybrid, Image: Kia Motors

[Images: Kia]

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