Three U.S. consumer law firms have filed class action suits in Pennsylvania and New Jersey against Kia Motors America alleging brake defects in the company's 1998, 1999 and 2000 Sephia models. According to Kia, more than 166,000 Sephias were sold in the United States between 1997 and 2000.

The lawyers allege that Kia has known for several years that the brake system in the Sephia model is defective and say that, in the past three years, more than 300 complaints have been filed with the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) for this defect.

This problem, which results in premature wear of the front brake rotors (discs), causes the brakes to grind and the vehicle to vibrate, and requires continuous replacement of the brake pads and rotors.

In 1996 and 1997, the lawyers say, Kia issued technical service bulletins about this problem in subsequent Sephia models.

Since purchasing her 2000 Sephia model in October 1999, Pennsylvania lead plaintiff Shamell Samuel-Bassett has taken her car five times to Kia dealers, complaining of vehicle vibration, excessive grinding and increased stopping distance. As a result of her complaints, the vehicle's rotors and pads were repaired four times, all within the vehicle's first 17,000 miles.

On average, replacement of brake rotors occurs at approximately 50,000 miles if parts are not defective.

Despite constant repairs, Ms. Samuel-Bassett continues to experience brake problems.

She claims she was recently involved in an accident, hitting a vehicle after the brakes failed to properly stop the car.

"I should feel confident in my car, but I don't," says Ms. Samuel-Bassett.

Kia has known for several years that the brake system in the Sephia model is defective

" It's especially frustrating that Kia knows they have a problem and they are doing nothing to fix it."

New Jersey lead plaintiff Regina Little purchased her 1999 Kia Sephia in March, 1999. Ms. Little has also repeatedly returned her car to Kia dealerships, complaining of the same brake concerns: an inability to stop the vehicle, continuous vibrations and rotor defects. Despite Ms. Little's numerous complaints, and the dealers' replacement of brake and rotors, the problem still exists.

Court papers indicate that employees from three separate Kia dealerships informed Ms. Little that Kia Motors America is well aware of the problem, but will not correct it.

"I am very fearful for my safety," says Ms. Little. "Every three months, my brakes start to grind. When that happens, I have to push the brakes hard to get the car to stop.

"I am hoping that this class action suit will force Kia to admit to the general public that this problem does exist."

According to co-counsel Craig Thor Kimmel of Kimmel and Silverman, one of the three law firms pursuing the class action, the problem puts the safety of Kia occupants and other road users at substantial risk.

"You have a car that is inexpensive to purchase and a manufacturer that claims in advertising to have the best warranty in the business. It is no wonder people are buying the car.

"However, with the brake defect so widespread and Kia's refusal to fix the problem, we believe that consumers are not getting what they are paying for with the Sephia."

"Consumers have been complaining of this problem for the last five years," said co-counsel James A. Francis of Francis and Mailman.

"The frequent replacements go well beyond the normal wear and tear of the braking system. Normally, drivers rely on the predictability of brakes for their safety. This is not the case with Sephia drivers."