Amid government shutdown, Kia and Hyundai issue recall on cars that may randomly catch fire

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The companies are only recalling a fraction of the cars that safety groups say pose a fire risk

For months, the consumer advocacy group the Center for Auto Safety has petitioned Kia and Hyundai to recall a total of 2.9 million cars that it says are at risk of catching fire while on the road.

Instead, the brands on Wednesday announced that they would recall 168,000 cars over concerns that an engine problem may cause non-collision fires. The recall is taking place while the partial government shutdown is underway, meaning that most officials working for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) aren’t working and are unable to oversee the recall.  

"This is the exact scenario where you should have safety and enforcement people coming in and doing their jobs," Center for Auto Safety President Jason Levine said in a statement.

Recalling vehicles during shutdown

Kia spokesman James Bell told USA Today that the company is proceeding with the recall during the government shutdown due to safety concerns.

“Making our customers comfortable is vastly more important than making sure we’re following additional government processes right now,” he said.

In addition to the recall, Kia and Hyundai say they are also initiating a “product improvement campaign” for an additional 3.7 million vehicles. Under the campaign, drivers can have software installed to warn them of possible engine failures.

Unlike safety recalls, “campaigns” issued by car companies are not regulated by NHTSA and are not supposed to be used to repair defects related to safety.

One person died last year in a Kia that randomly caught fire, his family says, and over 200 other consumers have sent complaints to NHTSA describing non-collision fires in their Kia or Hyundai cars.  

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