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Car engines going up in flames across the country

Posted: 11:49 AM, Nov 13, 2018
Updated: 2018-11-13 17:49:22Z

A Kenosha woman was driving in construction on I-94 when her engine exploded, leaving her unable to stop or accelerate. Smoke blocked her view. Now, she's on the hook for thousands of dollars on a car she can't even drive.

"My first thought was my kids," said Melissa Markoutsis. "Like, they need a mom and I didn't think I would see them again."

Markoutsis said she had a gut feeling that day.

"Honestly, something just told me do not stop," she said.

She had a semi-truck behind her, and another next to her.

"All of the sudden this huge boom happened underneath my engine and tons of dark smoke came from underneath it," she said. "It blurred my vision. Nothing was working."

Markoutsis coasted through the smoke, off an exit and got her car towed. She went home to do some research and learned her story isn't unique. 

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, NHTSA, hundreds of people across the country have had similar issues.

"What I found is that Kia recalled over 1.5 million cars, with different makes and models, with different engines for the same problem- catastrophic engine failure," said Markoutsis.

But her 2012 Kia Soul wasn't recalled. 

"Something needs to be done," Markoutsis told the I-Team. "They need to issue a recall and all of this could have been avoided had they listened to what I was saying to them. Since May 14 I have been telling them this is a problem."

NHTS has gotten hundreds of complaints of Kia and Hyundai engine fires, including 29 from Kia Soul owners describing similar smoke and electrical issues to what Markoutsis experienced.

NHTSA writes in a statement that it "takes all potential safety defects seriously. The agency is reviewing the issue and will take appropriate action to protect the American public."

Jason Levine, the Executive Director of the Center for Auto Safety, said the companies need to take appropriate action too.

"[We've gotten a] lot of reports of people saying they don't feel like they're being taken seriously," he said. "I would also point to the fact that they've not gone ahead and issued a separate recall or increased the size of the recall."

Levine and his organization want answers from the company.

"They need to be forthcoming with the American consumer, with the U.S. Senate and explain what they think is happening, what they know and maybe even what they don't know, but to give some sense that they are taking this seriously," he said.

The CEO's of Kia and Hyundai declined a request they testify at a Senate Hearing scheduled for Nov. 14. 

Markoutsis said that's the accountability she's been fighting for all these months.

"It's hard not to have your own vehicle that you're paying on and it's sitting there," said Markoutsis. "It's hard not to have people listen to you and respect you. It's hard not to see others value you or your life or your opinions. And it's hard not to get your point across when it's so vital for our nation- for everyone. This is very hazardous."

 After months of telling the company she wouldn't pay to replace the engine herself, Kia offered to put a new one in her car for free. She said that's not the issue anymore.

"I don't want a new engine, I don't want a used engine, I don't want a Kia," she said. "I want a totally different car that isn't going to blow up and possibly kill me or anybody else."

Kia writes in part, "Engine failures can occur as the result of any number of complex factors...Therefore, each case of engine failure must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis to determine
the cause and any applicable warranty coverage."

They said Markoutsis no longer had a warranty on her vehicle. 

The Department of Transportation is requesting specific information from Kia about Soul model years 2011 to 2015. 

Markoutsis is working on a class-action lawsuit while she continues to make payments on her car, which she hasn't driven since May.

Click here for a full list of makes and models of vehicles that have been recalled for catastrophic engine failure.