A NSW woman has shared the terrifying moment she was forced to protect her house with a garden hose after her car suddenly caught fire.
Anne-Maree Johnston was only 20m away in her house eating lunch with her daughter when her car caught fire in the garage.
More than a year later she claims she has still not been offered an explanation or even an apology from the car’s manufacturer – Hyundai.
“Cars just don’t catch on fire,” she told news.com.au.
“I’ve sent emails, I’ve left messages … they totally ghosted me.”
The car – a Hyundai ix35 Trophy Auto AWD – was purchased new in 2014 and Ms Johnston said it had always been serviced on time at her local dealership.
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The single mother-of-two fought the flames away from her house in Port Macquarie, NSW with a garden hose until the fire brigade arrived.
“It was either I got in there with a garden hose to save the house or we lost the house,” she said. “And they said I wouldn’t have been able to contain it for another five minutes. Five minutes later and it would have just fireballed.”
The last update Ms Johnston said she heard from Hyundai was through her local dealership – someone from the company had come and removed the anti-lock braking system from the car.
Ms Johnston is just one of 26 Hyundai owners who have turned to the consumer advocate business Handle My Complaint in the last year for help with what they claim are engine faults in various Hyundai models.
“It’s not just about losing a vehicle and this is what Hyundai have to understand, losing a vehicle that was the easiest part. It was the trauma that comes along with it, ”Ms Johnston said, adding that she got market value for the car through her insurance company from her.
“The car was worth much more than market value to me. At the time I couldn’t afford to just take that hit as well.”
Ms Johnston also fears ongoing health issues she’s had since the fire may have been caused by smoke and toxins.
She said Hyundai is lucky the situation didn’t end fatally, as her bedroom is above the garage.
“Where it scorched the frame was below my bed. My children would have also been trapped upstairs,” she said, relieved the fire hadn’t happened at night.
Nina Persin, who lives in Brisbane, told news.com.au her partner Marko Birtic had been driving their Hyundai i45 Active Auto MY11 on a highway at 100km/h in February when the “engine completely failed”.
She said there was no warning light before the incident and the brakes and steering wheel became stiff.
“It was really traumatic for him because he had to avoid all the trucks and get to the far left lane,” she said. “It was unbelievable. Very, very dangerous.”
The car was recalled in 2017 over a problem with the engine, which could “cause engine failure, resulting in the vehicle stopping suddenly”.
Ms Persin, who bought the car second-hand in 2018, claimed the previous owner had the car inspected by Hyundai and it passed without being fixed.
After the incident in February, Ms Persin said for two months the couple called Hyundai nearly every day and had no luck in getting a solution. They originally were asking for the company to replace the engine.
It wasn’t until after engaging with Handle My Complaint that the couple said they were offered a replacement engine.
However, Ms Persin now felt even with a new engine she wouldn’t feel comfortable driving the car or selling the car to someone else.
A Hyundai spokesman confirmed the company got in contact with Ms Persin this month and offered to replace the engine free of charge.
“We believe this is a fair and effective solution given a manufacturing defect has not been determined, the age of the vehicle (being five years out of warranty) and it has traveled over 130,000km,” he said.
Handle My Complaint founder Jo Ucukalo told news.com.au she has heard from 28 disgruntled Hyundai owners, 26 of which are complaints related to the engine.
Ms Ucukalo’s business involves providing a free service to consumers in order to, as the name suggests, help handle their complaints and then uses anonymised data to create reports for companies for a fee.
“We believe 28 is just the tip of the iceberg,” she said.
Ms Ucukalo said she has never had to get so involved in a case before until this.
“I’ve been doing this over 10 years and have never found my position so strongly for consumers I’ve had to turn up to a company’s head office (with files detailing the complaints) and ask for them to be reviewed and responded to, ” she said.
Ms Ucukalo has written to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and demanded it intervene.
Queenslander Gordon Anderson, who had bought a Hyundai i45 Premium Auto MY11 second-hand for his daughter in 2018, was the first to get in touch with Ms Ucukalo after he connected with other disgruntled Hyundai owners by starting a Facebook page called “Australian Hyundai Engine Failures” in February.
“We need action on these vehicles before someone loses their life,” he said. “We need to ensure that no other driver has their engine seize on them without warning.”
When questioned about the complaints, a Hyundai spokesman told news.com.au the safety and wellbeing of customers was the company’s number one priority.
“We remain confident in the reliability and integrity of our vehicles and make every effort to resolve issues for owners as quickly as possible,” he said.
He said Hyundai was continuing to check the details of Ms Johnston’s case.
Looming class action
Last month, news.com.au reported the terrifying moment Victorian man Sumit Chugh’s Hyundai Tucson Active X “burst into flames” six months after it was “fixed” following a recall.
A Hyundai Australia spokesman said “a fault in the ABS module subject to the safety recall was ruled out as a possible cause of the fire”, which meant it was unrelated to the recall.
Last year, top-tier law firm Bannister Law announced it would be investigating a potential claim against Hyundai following the safety recall of 93,000 of its popular Tucson models, sold in Australia between November 1, 2014 and November 30, 2020.
The auto giant recalled the popular model due to the risk of an engine compartment fire, even when the vehicle was turned off, as a circuit in the ABS (anti-lock brake system) control module is constantly powered.
With the ABS module remaining charged with an electrical current even when the car is not running, that, combined with the aging of the unit, can potentially allow moisture to enter the module and create a short-circuit and a risk of fire.
The company urged owners to park their cars on the street instead of within closed spaces like garages to reduce that risk prior to the recall repair being applied.
Later that year, the firm also announced it was investigating a potential claim against Kia Motors Australia – which falls under parent company Hyundai – for the losses for owners of 57,851 affected Kia QL Sportage and Kia CK Stinger vehicles subject to a safety recall involving the same fire risk.
In late December 2019, Hyundai also recalled more than 100,000 i30’s from the years 2007 to 2012 due to “improper programming of the Airbag Control Unit (ACU)”, meaning “there is a possibility that the driver, passenger airbags and seat belt pretensioners could inadvertently deploy without impact”.
In 2020, almost 90,000 i30s and Elantras were recalled over a “manufacturing error” which could cause an electronic control circuit board in the Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS) module to short-circuit when the components are exposed to moisture.
Later that year, a handful of Elantra vehicles were also recalled over another airbag issue.
Bannister Law is also now urging the more than 96,000 owners of Hyundai’s 2006 to 2009 model year Santa Fe SUVs, Hyundai i30 hatchbacks sold between November 7, 2006 and December 14, 2010 and Elantra sedans sold between August 17, 2005 and May 14, 2011 to register “in order to understand if any of the owners of the earlier recalls in 2020 of those vehicles suffered losses also and encourage those owners to describe what those losses are”.
Bannister Law principal Charles Bannister said last month his firm would file proceedings in the coming weeks on behalf of affected Hyundai and Kia owners who were the subject of the recalls and who have suffered consequential losses.
“Bannister Law is now encouraging all affected owners … to register on our website and provide any information as to the losses they are or have sustained by having to park the vehicle in open space,” he said.
– with Alexis Carey