An Open Letter to Ted Lancaster and Kyle Lee, Kia Canada COO and CEO, On Handling of Customers with Major Engine Defect [Updated]

Ted and Kyle,

I never take the time to actually write formal complaints about anything in life. Having started my career over a decade ago in a customer service position, I realize that most companies only ever hear the bad and never the good, so I try to not be “one of those people” and usually just bite my lip if I’m unhappy with something and move on, buy another product, etc.. That being said, my last five months dealing with Kia Canada have been absolutely deplorable, and my Kia being the second largest investment I’ve ever made in my life also isn’t something I can just “bite my lip” on. My Kia is part of my daily life – it takes me to and from work, moves my family around, and has allowed us to have a reliable vehicle to drive and explore our country with over the last 6 years of ownership. What I’ve been seeing here seems to indicate systemic problems with how Kia addresses issues and even worse problems with how Kia is treating their customers who are dealing with car issues that could potentially be life-threatening.

Since late last year, I had fallen victim to the Kia Forte engine problems. I’m sure you’re well aware of these by now – the scratched cylinders that leave Forte’s at risk of dying anytime, anywhere. There’s a class action lawsuit, a “support group” on Facebook over 3000 of us Canadians going through this together, lots of press coverage in Quebec (where the lawsuit has started from), and you even have a dealer in Quebec who’s running a trade-in promo trying to get people in new Forte’s so they don’t have to “deal with their engine problems of their existing one” (my translation is rather loose from their website – but wow, talk about taking advantage of the helpless eh?).

In January, my dealer wanted $6000 to fix my Forte – more than the car is worth in the blue book. I was mere months off warranty at this point, and to my surprise, the dealer didn’t think that complete and total engine failure was maybe something we should talk to Kia about first before slapping me with a quote for the work. I mean, how many people have to change a whole engine in one of their vehicles in their life? I surveyed over 900 people on my social media channels and the answer is none.

I took time to gather my composure after that slap in the face. I spend time searching this on the internet until deep into the night and found incredible amounts of evidence of the fact this problem wasn’t just me, but nearly every Forte owner in the country it seemed, and so I pushed back. I had lots of conversations showing off-warranty replacements on far older, higher mileage, and beat up cars than my own, so I wanted equal treatment from my dealer too.

This is where the communication with my local Kia dealer showed me how little Kia really valued me as a customer.

It took weeks to get an answer back on whether I’d be paying for this work, or whether it would be covered by Kia. I escalated to the dealer GM because I couldn’t continue waking up every morning and wondering if I’d be in for a crippling financial investment of this scale or not. I wasn’t even respected enough to get any “we’re still working on this” type of follow-up emails while waiting week over week. The dealer GM finally called me back – he told me Kia approved the change, the new engine was in the shop already, and their service desk would be calling me in a few hours to schedule my appointment the following week! Yipee!

I waited a weekNobody ever called. Not the service team to schedule me, not even Jeff to follow-up, nothing.

I decided to email, again. The service desk staff told me there was never an engine in the shop, that I was on the waiting list for an engine, and that there was a surprising number of engines ahead of me – it could take months. It did take months. It’s now May (at the time I first wrote this for you before publishing it) and I’ve just gotten my new engine. My Forte was so loud that complete strangers would stop me in parking lots and tell me that it sounds like my car is about to blow up – this was incredibly embarrassing for me as I don’t like attention drawn to myself, much less from strangers approaching me in parking lots!

During this four-month wait, I repeatedly followed up with the dealer because nobody was ever sending me updates. I felt completely forgotten while driving around my suicidal Kia engine. I would ask questions trying to understand the work being done, was it a new engine? Just some new parts? Was there a guarantee? Was the problem fixed? Was the clock just reset? It was clear from the Facebook group that many, many people are on their second and even third engine replacements – so I started to feel like all that was truly being done was resetting the clock. All of these questions were ignored by the dealer and never answered. I’d get little more than one line BS answers on the waiting time in their replies.

Even when scheduling my appointment, the dealer still couldn’t treat me with respect. I was trying to coordinate drop off and pickup times surrounding a surgery because my wife would need to help with some of this while I was bedridden. Again, the dealer couldn’t answer a single bloody question I answered and just gave me a “sounds good!” reply to my email asking details about appointment day for my car. What “sounds good”? I sent him at least three questions I needed to know answers to in order to coordinate this!!

When the dealer GM called me, back at the beginning of the year when this all started, he was great at lying to me. Not just about the engine already being in when it wasn’t, but also about a loaner vehicle that would be provided during the days my car was in the shop. No loaner was provided, and after dropping my car off I had to walk a block to a shopping plaza, call my wife, and have her drive across town to get me home!

Now let’s look at what I had to deal with from when I dropped off my car for its new engine (did you think it was over yet?):

Day 1: I was told it would be done by 5pm the next day – my wife was prepared to pick it up, and we got a call that it would be delayed a day due to a missing part

Day 2: The day it was delayed until nobody ever called. We waited until not long before the dealer service garage closed for the day and called ourselves finally – we were told they were just taking it apart now and it would be ready the next day. So, was nobody going to alert us to this? Why was it just being taken apart now when we were promised it two days prior at this point? WHY CAN’T I JUST GET A STRAIGHT ANSWER FROM THE DEALER ON ANYTHING THROUGHOUT THIS WHOLE EXPERIENCE!?!?!

Day 3: Oh it gets better. I was told I was getting a new engine, but I got a phone call on this day being told that some parts with my CVVT timing were shot. I’d need them replaced, and it would probably be $800. Guess I didn’t get a new engine like I was told if I was suddenly having to pay to fix parts of my old engine? The dealer got Kia to cover parts and labor for me on this one. It would be ready the next day.

Day 4: “Ready the next day?” I should have known not to trust that. Once again, it was getting late in the day and I had heard from nobody. It’s Friday at this point, I need a way to work on Monday because I’m recovered from my surgery, so I call in. My parts were shipped to another city, it would be delayed until into the next week. Oh, but I finally get that loaner vehicle now! I picked up a couple year old Rondo that was the biggest piece of crap I ever drove and was littered with defects, including the passenger window I could hardly get to stay up and stop opening itself automatically!!

Time passes.. the next week I finally get the car back. The paperwork wasn’t ready, so I got that via email two weeks later after, once again, following up myself because I was seemingly forgotten about. The paperwork indicates what I thought, it was just new engine pieces this whole time and never a new engine. Though I figured that out early on based on what everyone in the Facebook group is having replaced.

Ted and Kyle – I’ve never had a company make me feel more disrespected as a human being, and also as a customer of that company, than Kia Canada and Kitchener Kia has. My Kia was my first new car in my life – something I showed off and a brand I bragged about constantly for over six years. I planned on driving this Kia until it was so old it just didn’t make economic sense to continue – I didn’t think this would be six years after I bought it. By not issuing a proper recall of this major defect, Kia Canada is showing your customers how little you care about the investment we made with your company and how little you truly care about our safety and the safety of our families. As your past engine problems show, it seems Kia in general has a hard time accepting major component failure in their vehicles and prefers to allow your customers to foot massive repair bills and have dangerous and life threatening vehicle failures.

The Facebook group shows just how inconsistent this experience is for your customers – it seems like whoever complains loud enough probably doesn’t have to pay for any of their work, whereas others are getting all sorts of random bills and invoices after their engine changes for random parts of the work. Also, by not fixing the problem and so many customers being public with the fact that their first, or even second, replacement engines have already redeveloped the same problem, your company is further slapping us in the face and laughing at us while we’re down. Not a week goes by where someone doesn’t post in that group where their “new replacement” engine is already shot again with the same problem. One guy had it last only 340km!

My wife and I want to start a family soon, and we no longer have the trust in this Kia to keep it as a family car. What if this new engine dies on our way to the hospital to give birth? What if it suddenly stalls on the highway someday and we get rear-ended at 120km/h with a future baby in the car? What if we’ve driven across the country for our family to meet a future child and the new engine suddenly goes three provinces away?

We just bought our first house, we’re planning for our first child, we don’t have the money to be buying a new car, but the sad reality is that we have to. I’ve lost confidence not just in the reliability and ability of my Kia to perform for another 5-10 years, but I also have no desire to ever step foot in any Kia dealer and see their faces ever again. Myself and thousands of other Forte owners for that matter have been continually shown by our dealers that “we don’t matter” to Kia as customers. The problems with our cars that could leave us dead in a highway accident if and when they cease up while waiting for replacement engines, our large cash investments in buying these vehicles, this is all just being pushed under the rug.

Here’s the sad reality: I get my new Toyota in a couple weeks. Our family wasn’t ready for a new vehicle investment but we had lost all confidence and faith in our Kia to continue to perform reliably and keep us safe. I also have no desire to ever see or talk to anyone from Kia ever again. I took a huge hit – everyone and their brothers knows about these engine problems and the Toyota dealer gave me way less than bluebook value. They called around – nobody wants a used Kia, and they gave me what it will probably auction off for. The sad reality is that I’ve just lit money on fire for a five-year loan, and now have only made only make back what I put into new tires, battery, fluids, and general maintenance costs in the last 24 months.

Not just me, but thousands of other Forte owners who are going through this same ordeal are facing the same concerns. Put yourself in the shoes of a teenager somewhere who maybe bought a Forte as their first car, paying their first car loan, and are left with this issue and facing thoughts of just writing off the car? I can show you plenty of those in the Facebook group full of us who have this problem, and I wasn’t much older than a teen when I first bought my new Forte six years ago too!

The ball is in your court Kyle and Ted.  I’m happy to spend the rest of my life sharing this story about your cars, and I can guarantee you there’s at least 3000 people on Facebook who are doing the same until we see a formal recall, or a buy-back program on these like VW had to do. I have less than a week till my new car arrives and am happy to cash sale you my Forte to take less of a loss!

UPDATE June 12, 2018: Ted did tweet me back on Twitter that he’d look into this situation. That being said, he never even asked what dealership it was that caused all the issues, so I’m unsure what he was ever going to look into without messaging me for information. Further follow-ups to Ted have gone ignored – in true Kia customer support fashion. Kyle has never reached out, though he doesn’t appear to have any social media connected with Kia either.

Update June 22, 2018: I have bought a new Toyota Camry Hybrid SE. Good luck to the thousands of Kia owners still fighting this fight with their engines. I continue to advocate for you and spread the word about Kia everywhere I can. Share your story in the comments below!