CLEVELAND, 9:19 a.m. EDT May 7, 2001 – The company says that it's not a safety problem. But NewsChannel5 Ted Hart reports in Special Assignment that if it was your car and the brakes kept wearing out, you might argue otherwise.
Kimberly Carnes just bought her first new car – a Kia Sephia.
"It's not a Mercedes, but I paid money for this just like anybody paid money for their car," Carnes said.
Carnes only drives it to and from work. But after about 10,000 miles, she sensed a problem with the brakes.
"It got to where you'd have to pump 'em to get 'em to stop," Carnes said.
Her corner mechanic, Andy Yano, remembers her brakes well.
On average, automobile brake rotors need replacement at about 50,000 miles. These brakes were prematurely worn, Hart reports.
"They were all rotted – pit marks, big rot marks where it's nice and smooth here," Yano said.
According to WEWS, Carnes' case is not an isolated one.
"They were pulsating. I didn't have but 3,000, 4,000 miles on it and I was having problems," Kia owner Donald Sofonia said. "I could feel 'em thumpin' up when I tried to stop."
Sofonia and his wife, Julie, say that they can't wait to get rid of their Kia this summer when their lease expires. It's been one problem after another, Hart reports.
"I have four sets of brand new brakes on that car in 24,000 miles," Sofonia said.
A NewsChannel5 investigation found hundreds of complaints about brakes on Kia Sephias on file with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
"Wherever Kias are sold, this problem exists," attorney Craig Kimmel said. "It's that widespread."
"Tthe manufacturers are making promises in writing that the cars are being delivered without defects. They do have defects," Kimmel said "There are known defects in this Kia model and they're not resolving them model year after model year after model year – such that consumers are being put at danger."
While NHTSA says that it's monitoring the pattern of complaints on Kias, it cannot call the brake problem a defect because the government doesn't have established standards for how long brakes should last.
Last May, 17-year-old Ashley Wiley died when her Kia Sephia went off the road near Seattle. Investigators never identified a cause for the crash. Her father's theory is that Wiley caught herself left of center and then overcorrected. But now he's left to wonder about the brakes on the car and asks why more hasn't been done about the problem nationwide.
"I don't understand the inaction and my question is how many deaths, how many accidents would it take," Wiley's father, Steve, said.
The company, in a prepared statement, said, "Kia is certain that the Sephia brakes are and always have been safe." The company insists the problem is not a defect and that the "complaints reflect customer satisfaction issues and not safety issues."
But Kimmel says that so far the company has just been throwing more defective replacement parts at the problem, rather than providing a real fix for consumers.
"They pretty much admit they have a problem," Kimmel said. "But they're not buying the cars back. That's wrong. And if they know of the problem, there's no reason not to buy the cars back. They're unsafe."
The lawsuit claims that the brakes in question are on the Sephia 1998, 1999 and 2000 models. Kia says that the brakes comply with federal standards and that the company is expending great effort and expense to improve the brake system to resolve customer concerns.
For more information, call the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration at (888) 327-4236.