Millions of recalled Hyundai and Kia vehicles with a dangerous defect remain on the road

DETROIT (AP) — In September, Hyundai and Kia issued a recall of 3.4 million of its vehicles in the United States with an ominous warning: The vehicles should be parked outdoors and away from buildings because they risked catching fire, whether the engines were on or off.

Six months later, most of those autos remain on the road — unrepaired — putting their owners, their families and potentially other people in danger of fires that could spread to garages, houses or other vehicles.

Hyundai and Kia have acknowledged that there’s little hope of repairing most of the affected vehicles until June or later, roughly nine months after they announced the recalls. (Hyundai owns part of Kia, though the two companies operate independently.)

The two companies attributed the delays, in part, to the huge number of vehicles involved, among the largest recalls they’ve ever done. The fires, they say, have occurred when brake fluid leaked onto the circuit boards of antilock braking systems, triggering an electrical short and igniting the fluid.

The companies say they’ve been unable to obtain enough of the needed parts — fuses that reduce the boards’ electrical currents — to fix most of the affected vehicles. Among them are some of their top-selling models for the 2010 through 2017 years, including Hyundai’s Santa Fe and Elantra and Kia’s Sportage and Forte.

Hyundai and Kia have urged the vehicles’ owners to contact the companies or dealers if they see dashboard warning lights or smell something burning. In the meantime, both companies contend that despite the ongoing risks, the cars remain safe to drive.

When they announced the recalls in September, the two automakers reported that the defect had caused 56 vehicle fires and “thermal incidents,” which include burning, melting and smoking. No injuries or deaths have been reported, either before or since the recalls were announced.

Safety advocates complain, though, that the repairs are taking far longer than fixes from auto recalls normally do. Typically, such repairs begin in 10 weeks or less, though some can take longer if automakers cannot quickly determine the cause, which isn’t the case with the Hyundai-Kia problem.

While awaiting repairs, owners of the affected vehicles need to park outside and away from other vehicles to minimize the risks. In the meantime, safety advocates note that if too much brake fluid leaks, it could impair braking or lengthen the distance required to stop a car.

The long-delayed repairs mark the latest in a long series of recalls involving engine fires on Hyundai and Kia vehicles that have bedeviled the two Korean automakers since 2015. All told, 13 million of their vehicles have been recalled for engine problems since 2010.

With the current recall, auto safety advocates say they’re mystified about why it’s taking so long for Hyundai and Kia to obtain the necessary fuses, a relatively simple part. Some also question whether a fuse will reliably solve the brake fluid leak. Some critics say the companies may be trying to save money by identifying the solution as a new fuse, which is far less expensive than fixing the fluid leaks.

“They’re putting a Band-Aid on this thing,” said Michael Brooks, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety. “It looks like it’s a cheap fix instead of repairing the entire antilock brake system.”

Advocates say they wonder, too, why regulators at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration haven’t forced the companies to repair the leaks.

A NHTSA spokeswoman said the agency is monitoring the effectiveness of the recalls and “is working with the automakers to ensure the highest level of safety.”

Hyundai has said that repairing the affected vehicles requires an intricate fuse assembly, with new covers and labels. Although just one fuse will be added to each vehicle, both automakers said they must obtain multiple types of new fuses to cover all models.

“To expedite the remedy,” Hyundai said in a statement, “we are working closely with multiple suppliers, emphasizing the high priority of the recall, and ensuring quality for the replacement fuses.”

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