It’s been a year since the car fire…

5 minute read

February 7, 2019, 1:18 PM

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the day that I lost my Kia Soul in a massive fire.  I’ve chosen to commemorate the occasion with a photo set called “Remembering the Soul“, which looks back over the entire life of the Soul, from test drives to the end.  I made the set in part for Elyse, because she had a harder time getting over the fire than I did, and I also wanted to put the fire in perspective with the rest of the Soul’s life in an attempt to somewhat curate the way that she is remembered.  In the past year, it’s been very easy to think of the Soul only for the fire, because the last memories with her involved standing on the roadside and watching her burn to death.  But there were quite a few happy years and wonderful memories made prior to that, and the photo set is a reminder of that, even if she never made it to 100,000 miles.

Meanwhile, in the intervening year, I’ve watched as Hyundai and Kia have gotten some major criticism for other fires in their vehicles, including another 2012 model Soul in Virginia.  From what I can tell, it’s involved the Hyundai Sonata and Santa Fe, and the Kia Optima, Sorento, Sportage, and Soul.  Most recently, I’ve seen a recall that focuses on the above named models, minus the Soul, and it seems to explain everything adequately as far as my fire goes.  According to an article on the subject:

Hyundai and Kia started recalling 1.7 million vehicles in 2015 – about 618,000 of which are Kias – because manufacturing debris can restrict oil flow to connecting rod bearings.  That can cause bearings in 2-liter and 2.4-liter four-cylinder engines to wear and fail.  The problem can also cause fires.  The repair in many cases is an expensive engine block replacement.

It all seems to jive with my experience so far. The Soul’s original engine died when a rod seized, and the problem was fixed with a new engine under warranty.

It continues:

Now the companies are acknowledging that the engine replacements may not have been properly done in all cases by dealers.  A Kia statement says the high-pressure fuel pipe may have been damaged, misaligned or improperly tightened while the engines were being replaced under recall.  That can allow fuel to leak and hit hot engine parts, causing fires.

That seems to agree with everything that happened to me on the night of February 7, 2018.  The engine started to act as though it was not getting enough fuel, only getting power intermittently.  Not long after this started, as the car was in the process of slowing down due to its only receiving fuel intermittently, we saw flames come out of the engine compartment.  And in all of the photos of the fire, there is a large puddle of fuel burning on the road underneath the car.  It definitely sounds like something went wrong with the fuel pipe.

Ultimately, though, in the case of my car, this is all speculation, since the official investigation by the insurance company was inconclusive due to the fire’s burning everything quite thoroughly.  Fire has a tendency to do that.  It makes me think that I was probably right to fault the dealership for the repair work.  Plus the insurance company wrote me a check for the full value of the Soul, which effectively puts me out of the process, since I’ve been made whole again while the insurance company goes after Kia to get their money back.  Meanwhile, as far as Kia goes, I have nothing to say to them.  I will never purchase another Kia vehicle (or Hyundai vehicle, for that matter), and Kia PR has said in the news, more or less, that once the car catches fire, screw you, because at that point it’s no longer their problem, but rather, it’s now the insurance company’s problem.  Nor would they give me my final mileage reimbursement as part of the class action lawsuit about gas mileage, which my car was included in.  Likewise, I cannot, in good conscience, recommend Herson’s Kia (or any other Herson’s facility) to anyone, since they were the ones who did the engine replacement, and were the last shop to touch my car before the fire.

The high occurrence of fires tells me that Hyundai and Kia vehicles are simply not safe cars.  The Center for Auto Safety includes all Kia Souls in the 2010 through 2015 model years in their request for a recall.  By that metric, every single first-gen Kia Soul, such as mine, along with the first two years of the second-gen Soul, is a fireball waiting to happen.  I suppose that when you consider that Hyundai and Kia vehicles cost a whole lot less than other vehicles (Daniel Pinkwater once called a low price on a car “Hyundai money” on Car Talk), perhaps the old saying that you get what you pay for is true in this case.  The Soul ran me somewhere around $17,000 back in 2012, and the HR-V cost me right around $24,000 last year.  Hondas are considered to be very reliable cars, and the high number of old Civics, Accords, and CR-Vs still on the road seems to confirm that.  Kia, not so much.  I suppose that I got my money’s worth out of the Soul – and no more than that.

Meanwhile, I’ve been getting along quite well with my Honda HR-V since then.  We’ll celebrate our one-year anniversary together on the 12th.  Our first year together has been fun.  We’ve been on several trips, climbing a few mountains in the process, plus we do the daily commute together.  I enjoy putting the car in sport mode at times, and have a good amount of fun with that – especially on the way home from work.  That’s not to say that it’s been all fun and games, though.  It took me a while to get used to the HR-V, and I was absolutely miserable with it for the first month or so.  I suppose that it wasn’t the HR-V’s fault.  I was still not over the Soul, and I imagine that I would have been just as miserable in any car during that mourning period.  Now that I’m over the Soul and used to the HR-V, we make a good pair, and I’ve become proficient in the use of many of her features.  I even have my own little nickname for her now: the “Herv”, which basically pronounces “HR-V” as if it’s a single word.  I also got door dinged by someone early on, which was frustrating.  If you look carefully at some early photos of the HR-V, you’ll see the ding on the left rear door.  I got that fixed last August, because that door ding happened on my brand new car through no fault of my own, and there was no question that I was getting that fixed.  But all in all, the HR-V and I are getting along just fine.  I never realized how nice it was to have heated seats until I got this car.  Likewise, I didn’t realize how much I missed having a moon roof until I got this car (the last car that I had with a moon roof was the Previa, which I got rid of in early 2006), as well as having automatic climate controls again (the Sable had them, but the Soul did not).

So all in all, after a rough start to the year bringing an unexpected change (and a brand new car payment), I suppose that things are going well for me again, automotively.  The Soul will forever occupy a special place in my memory, but I’m glad to be making new memories in the HR-V.