BURBANK, Ill. -- You may not realize that your car, just like your phone, needs updating or it could break down. But some consumers say they are not receiving critical software upgrade notices.
One local woman said she now has to pay thousands of dollars to fix her engine because she didn't get an upgrade notice.
Cindy Wetzel of southwest suburban Burbank can't drive her 2015 Kia Optima.
"We can't drive it anywhere. I can't sell it, I wouldn't, you know; no dealer's going to take it. I'd have to junk it if it's not fixed. The engine is ready to go," she said.
She said when the car started having engine troubles in January, she brought it in to her dealership.
"They said there was an update that I didn't do and that I received a notice in 2018," she said. "I never received the notice, so I contacted Kia, they said sorry we can't help you, you didn't do the update."
She said after calling the manufacturer, Kia emailed her a software update letter dated July 26, 2018.
"They said they mailed it to me," said Wetzel, insisting she never got it.
That letter also incorrectly said she had a Kia Sorento, not a Kia Optima.
The alert to consumers was part of a class action settlement, giving customers 90 days to get the software update on several Kia models to then qualify for an extended warranty on engines.
Because Wetzel didn't get that update, she said she would now have to pay $7,300 to fix her engine.
In a statement Kia told the I-Team that it sent Wetzel two notices in August 2018 and June 2019, via first class mail.
"I've lived here the same place for 25 years, I've lived here since I had the car, they could've definitely notified me. They had my email address, they had my phone number, they had everything," Wetzel said.
She's not the only Kia owner complaining. The ABC7 data team researched the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's database. Since 2020, there were 39 complaints that KIA owners who say they were denied repairs or coverage due to not completing the software upgrade. Twenty-one of those complainants claimed they never received the notice about the upgrade.
Michael Brooks of the Center for Auto Safety said his consumer watchdog group has also received about a dozen similar complaints.
"The problem here simply, you know, is one of a lack of communication," he said. "When they reach out to us, typically it's right when they've heard from the dealer that they're not going to be able to cover an engine repair."
Brooks said consumers missing software update notices is a common complaint against many manufacturers, because unlike official recalls, update notices are not required to be sent first class mail.
However, Kia said it does send update notices first class mail and added that it is "very proactive in owner outreach on all issues."
"As our cars turn into computers on wheels, you know, there are a lot of software updates," Brooks said.
He added he'd like to see manufacturers utilize texts and emails more to notify consumers but for now drivers should proactively take cars to the dealership for maintenance and ask if there are updates available.
Kia said Wetzel's "engine repair is not covered under warranty or any other provision" because that software update was not done in time.
"My daughter was driving it on the expressway," said Wetzel. "You know 65 mph and it started stalling. You know, she could've been killed."
Kia said if Wetzel does get a new engine installed, the software update can be completed so she can get that lifetime engine warranty. However Wetzel said she is unlikely to pay out of pocket for a new engine.
If you bought a used vehicle, make sure you register your information with the manufacturer so you don't miss updates and recalls.