WASHINGTON - Federal safety officials are intensifying an investigation of 1998-99 Kia Sephias because of what they call 'a serious, ongoing problem' with gasoline spitting out when cars are refueled.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that Kia Motors America Inc. attempted to correct the problem with changes in vapor recovery and fuel tank check valves, but owners could still be driving cars with 'latent defects.'
The agency upgraded its investigation from what it calls a preliminary evaluation to the more intensive level of engineering analysis.
The agency and the company together have collected 81 complaints about fuel spitting back from the filler pipe during refueling, and Kia told NHTSA it has handled more than 1,600 warranty claims about the problem.
The record of complaints and warranty claims 'indicates that fuel spit-back has been a serious, ongoing problem with the Sephia,' NHTSA officials wrote.
About 83,000 of the cars are in service, the agency said.
NHTSA opened a new investigation of large 1995-97 Chevrolet and GMC sport-utilities because of 16 complaints about batteries that leak acid onto brake lines and/or electrical wiring.
The agency said the leaking acid might lead to loss of brake fluid, malfunction of antilock brakes and vehicle electrical system failure.
NHTSA in its monthly report on defect investigations said it closed several cases after manufacturers agreed to conduct recalls. The cases had been opened because of complaints about the following:
Fuel tank cracks in 1995-97 Ford Windstars.
Headlight switch failures in 1992-93 Ford Thunderbirds and Mercury Cougars.
Headlight malfunctions in 1994-95 Dodge Rams.