2013 Kia Optima driving

Kia is recalling more than 507,000 cars and minivans because the airbag control unit (ACU) can short-circuit, leaving some airbags unable to deploy when needed.

This recall is related to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) investigation launched on March 16 of this year into Hyundai and Kia vehicles where, in six incidents, the airbags failed to deploy.

Four people died in those crashes, NHTSA says, and six others were injured. The agency does not specify which vehicles the occupants were killed in. Kia says there are no  injuries or fatalities associated with this issue. NHTSA’s investigation remains open, the agency said in a statement Friday afternoon.

A safety advocate questions the delay between the Hyundai and Kia recalls.

“NHTSA's investigation should not have even been necessary,” said David Friedman, director of cars and product policy and analysis at Consumers Union, the advocacy division of Consumer Reports.

“Kia should have issued a recall well before today and probably right after its sister company, Hyundai, identified a similar defective airbag controller from the same supplier three months ago," Friedman added. "NHTSA should consider fining Kia for failing to quickly report and respond to the defect.”

Kia didn't comment when asked to respond. 

Automakers are required to begin the process of a recall by notifying NHTSA within 5 days of when they know or should have known about a defect. If they fail to do so, they can be subject to substantial fines for each day they failed to notify the safety agency. 

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Friedman added that the industry's use of similar parts from shared suppliers will continue to lead to large recalls “if they don't get their act together and put safety first in design and quality control.”

The control unit involved is made by supplier ZF-TRW. Because Hyundai owns a big chunk of Kia Motors, vehicles from both companies share some parts and designs. Kia says there is currently no remedy for the situation, but says it will notify owners once the automaker and supplier have settled on a fix. 

The Details

Vehicles recalled: 507,587 Kia vehicles, including:

  • All 2010-2013 Forte cars produced from Feb. 24, 2009, through Aug. 31, 2012.
  • All 2010-2013 Forte Koup cars produced from June 5, 2009, through Aug. 31, 2012.
  • All 2011-2013 Optima cars produced from August 12, 2010, through Aug. 31, 2012.
  • All 2011-2012 Optima Hybrid cars produced from February 15, 2011, through Aug. 31, 2012.
  • All 2011-2012 Sedona minivans produced from March 3, 2010, thru Aug. 14, 2012.

The problem: According to Kia, the airbag control unit (ACU) detects the severity of a crash, then tells airbags and seatbelt pretensioners to deploy when necessary. The ACU in the recalled vehicles may be susceptible to electrical overstress during certain front crashes. If that happens, the front airbags and front seatbelt pretensioners may not deploy as needed, increasing the risk of injury to occupants.

The fix: Kia says there is no remedy currently. Once a remedy is identified and confirmed, affected owners will be notified via first-class mail with instructions regarding a repair, the automaker said in a statement. The recall is planned to begin on July 27, 2018.

How to contact the manufacturer: Owners can contact Kia customer service at 800-333-4542. If Kia does not have a remedy by July 27, or if any customer feels unsafe in his/her vehicle, Kia will provide a rental car until the repair has been completed, a spokesman said late Friday. 

NHTSA campaign number: 18V363000; Kia's number for this recall is SC165.

Check to see whether your vehicle has an open recall: Plug the 17-digit vehicle identification number into the NHTSA website. It will tell you whether your vehicle has any open recalls that need to be addressed.

CR members can stay up-to-date on their car recalls using our Car Recall Tracker.

2013 Kia Optima steering wheel