Open Letter to Kia

>> Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Kia Corporate Office Headquarters
11 Peters Canyon Rd.
Irvine, CA 92606 USA

To Whom It May Concern,

I am writing this letter to protest the pricing policy your company apparently has with regard to repairs.

On August 22, 2013, I took my 2007 Kia Spectra in to be repaired to the Family Kia dealership in Dickinson TX. I went because that the airbag light was on. I was perfectly aware of what was behind the problem (I am an engineer and can do research on the web) and that I would personally have no use whatsoever for the fix, since the switch is intended to protect children whose parents place them in the front seat so they aren’t injured by the airbag. As I would never do so with my children or allow anyone else to do so in my car, the switch is superfluous. I know this, but recognize why it’s necessary (I’m actually a safety engineer) and also that my safety inspection sticker, due in September, would require the problem to be addressed. I was expecting some level of extra surcharge for a switch likely worth a few tens of dollars (which I have since verified with research). I was expecting to pay a few hundred for the privilege since I have to have a Kia dealer fix it.

I was NOT expecting to be charged $1200, $1088 for the entire bottom seat assembly (which inexplicably must be replaced entire and unbelievably costs about 1/15 the original price of my car) and expected hundred or so for labor. Since it's a safety matter, I have no choice to get it fixed and no choice but to use a dealership.

Which of course provides the rationale for the monstrously overpriced part I have to have for my fully functional car. I have no choice so your company has chosen to use that monopoly to gouge me shamefully for a ridiculously high profit, taking advantage of a safety regulation for your own enrichment.

While I can accept this behavior to a reasonable level, this clearly goes beyond all reason into the fantastical, insulting, and reprehensible. Effectively swindling, with perfect legality, even those who are well aware they are being cheated does not sit well with me. More so, in that I can do nothing to prevent it. Not only did I have no choice but to accept the unreasonable offer, but I left empty-handed (having ordered the ridiculously priced part) and am still awaiting notification that it has come in (I’ve been waiting for 13 days so far for the part that should come in in about a week) so I can have it installed for the quite reasonable labor charge (or at least that’s theory).

I’m a single mother of two special needs children. Fortunately for me, I’m a professional making a good salary and can weather this kind of financial impact, though not entirely painlessly. But my children will have to wait longer for a cedar playset in the back yard. I will not have to wonder how I’ll make the house payment or get my children the medicines they need. No one will go hungry. But, someone, who might be attracted to the relatively low prices for family friendly cars as I was might be devastated by a sudden intractable bill for more than thousand dollars. I’m outraged on their behalf as well as my own.

I am thoroughly disgusted. It doesn’t matter at all that other car manufacturers likely have similar policies. I have not run into this level of price gouging before and, if I did, I would cease all business with them as well. I cannot condone such practices and, although I cannot prevent the fact I’ve already been gouged (but not yet repaired), I can make damn sure it doesn’t happen again.

So, though I have no choice but to fix my car, you can be assured I will never buy any Kia or Hyundai vehicle again nor work with a dealership that sells them. That may not be much of a threat, but I’m letting you know because I’m unlikely to be the only one to have that reaction. While gouging someone because you can is good short term strategy, I maintain it is bad in the long run. Two weeks ago, with a seven year old car (less than 60K miles) that had virtually no functional issues except for a few little blips handled early, I would have been the first to recommend, with gusto, my Kia or something similar to a friend or family member. I shall now be just as vehement to recommend against it (and have already convinced one friend not to purchase a Kia).

Because what I buy next and into perpetuity, what I tell my friends who respect my opinion, is within my control.  Your practices have lost you what would have been a very loyal customer.

I don’t expect my opinion to make any difference to you or to have any effect on your practices. But I thought I would give you the opportunity. Most people I know, they’ll just never have dealings with you again without a word.
Note that I’m also posting this letter openly on my blog and passing it along to as many layers in the Kia organization as I can manage.

Have a nice day.

Stephanie Barr

I think that says it all


  • soubriquet

    I am absolutely in agreement with your disgust at Kia and other like-minded gougers.
    I'm assuming this light is telling you that the actuation mechanism for the airbag is disabled? So, you have a car with seatbelts, which Kia would tell you has passed collision tests satisfactorily? And the airbag is not working. No car I have ever owned has had an airbag.
    I'd expect your car, minus airbag, to be many times safer than a zillion older cars on the roads, which pass their tests without difficulty.

    The Red Dirt Girl recently had a similar problem. Her Chevy was due inspection, and the 'service engine' light and the abs light kept flickering on.
    The test guy said it couldn't pass if the lights were on.
    But it had been serviced.

    She consulted me over the phone, I did research on the internet. It's a common problem on a range of Chevrolet and GM vehicles, and probably due to failed solder joints on an ecu module which costs around 1200 dollars to replace. Or a couple of hours for someone to pull out, repair, and replace.

    In England, my old Land-Rover, being elderly, is brake-tested not on the rolling road, but out in the real world with a gadget called a Tapley Meter recording its ability to stop.

    I asked her to ask the test guy if he could test the brakes and verify they were working within accepted parameters. They were, but if the light's on, the indicator over-rides the reality. Despite the fact that you can leave smoking streaks of rubber and stop as if you hit a brick wall, if the light says the brakes don't work, then the brakes don't work.

    The fix, of course, is to reset the computer, test the car as quickly as you can, and hope it passes before the manufacturer's built-in fault resurfaces. As it did, on the way home.

    Now, I think the electronics in a car should be of decent quality and durable. I think control modules, which have maybe a ten or twenty dollar circuitboard, should not cost 1200 dollars to replace.

    I think manufacturers should take responsibility for their shoddy work even after the warranty folds.

    When I move to the U.S. in the near future I will be buying a car.
    Based on your experience, it will NOT be a Kia.

  • Stephanie Barr

    The light is on because the switch, intended to DISABLE the airbag if someone too light were to sit in the front seat (like a small child or a child in a car seat) has failed. I don't need the airbag disable since I would NEVER put small children in the front seat, but it's there for the parents who aren't quite so smart so their children don't pay the price.

    I could find a new switch (internet says ~$30-40) if I knew the parameters of the switch, which I don't, but, even if I replaced it myself or had someone replace it, I'd still be dependent on the dealership to reprogram it or it won't work and won't solve the problem.

    My options, according to my research, are limited on self-help for fixing this particular problem and even wholesalers are selling the part as a seat cushion at the cost of ~$800 but I'd still have to get it reprogrammed at the dealership.

    Truth is, I actually have enough know-how I could disable the system or the light and pass the test, but, as a defender of safety systems, I can't bring myself to disable it even knowing it is of no value to me personally. There are plenty of stories of dead people working around deliberately disabled safety mechanisms that I just can't contribute to it.

    It sucks being more principled than practical, but I always have been which is why I'll never be a great success. That does not, however, mean I'm pleased to be screwed over or to know that others are being screwed over.

    And, truth is, I shouldn't have to go to such efforts. I should be able to bring my car back to meet safety regulations at a reasonable cost and, if I can't, have the option to seek a repair elsewhere (or fix it myself) instead of being FORCED to work with the dealer.

    So, I'm going to sit her and curse the darkness.

  • Stephanie Barr

    Sit HERE and curse the darkness

  • Relax Max

    Kia has had lots of troubles with airbag items and, in fact, has recalled many 2005-2007 models because of the cracked (failed) child sensor in the seat. The recall was for Rios, not Spectra though. Same thing in your car I'll bet.

    I think the dealer is hiding a known defect recall issue from you and that you should complain (about the dealership's charges) to the Texas Attorney General's consumer protection division. At least make Kia and the dealer answer the AG's my side/your side letter. I think at the very least they should compromise the issue with you.

  • Stephanie Barr

    I noted that, Relax Max, and feel somewhat the same. I half expected that a recall would be applicable, but was told unequivocally it wasn't so (but I bet you're right and its the selfsame part).

    I hadn't thought about the Texas Attorney General's consumer protection division. I'm perfectly fine bringing this to their attention and will let them know.

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