By on April 29, 2008 reports NHTSA is investigating complaints of rust producing "fist-sized holes" in the subframe on Hyundai Sonatas, resulting in suspension failure. So far the problem has occurred in 1999 – 2002 model year Sonatas. The rust weakens the subframe to the point where it causes "wheel collapse or separation, half shaft detachment resulting in sudden vehicle disablement and or steering anomalies" according to the NHTSA web site. Most of the reports are from states where salt is used to control ice in the winter. Several accidents have been reported, and one car was rusted so badly the insurance company totaled it. If you have a Sonata, you may want to check under it to see if yours is affected. The car comes with a seven-year, unlimited mileage warranty against rust through; depending on how old yours is, you may need to move fast. Or slowly. Or both.

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26 Comments on “NHTSA Investigates Sonata Rust Problem...”

  • avatar

    I guess now I understand why Hyundai takes so much extreme car in rustproofing the new Sonata. I was at the factory, and saw it. Galvanized US Steel. A full 360 degree rotation within the e-tank to ensure no spots untouched. Several e-tank dippings. (More than two, if memory serves). Hyundai cars are improving faster than average, and the prior cars were "average" overall to maybe "slightly better than average" (at least, compared to Detroit Inc stuff). The new car is significantly better in every way. I know, I've had a 2002 and now a 2007. Compare the new 2009 Sonata interior to the 2008 Malibu. Sonata. Compare the new 2009 Sonata to the Chrysler Sebring or Dodge Avenger. Especially the interior. Sonata. Compare the new 2009 Sonata to the Toyota Camry, or the Honda Accord and it starts coming down to a matter of what you prefer. No, I don't work for Hyundai (or any other car company). Hyundai will hopefully come clean on this and do their customers better than, say, Chrysler did in the 1970's with their Aspen and Volare' front fenders lasting about 18 months before rusting clean off. If they don't I'm sure they can look forward to a host of bad publicity, which they need in these "interesting times" about as much as a dose of clap. Or Aids.

  • avatar

    And let us prevent the “Made in Alabama” jokes, those years were make in Korea. As menno said, the current Alabama plant is one of the most advanced in the world.

  • avatar

    I have always thought Hyundai used sub standard metals in their products. I guess this is the proof.

  • avatar

    “Compare the new 2009 Sonata interior to the 2008 Malibu. Sonata.”

    You have got to be joking, right?

  • avatar

    The Sonata frames are rotting menno.Yeah the mid 70s were rusty times for all vehicles Hondas,Dodges F150s how about a 76 Mercedes or a BMW.1999 to 2002 Sonatas?I’m sorry no excuse,skooter has got it right:sub standard metal and enginering.

  • avatar

    Our 2002 Sonata didn’t have any issues with underbody rust, Mikey. I live in northwestern Michigan. Yeah, they throw salt on the roads here oh, about five frickin’ months of the year…

    Seems kind of unfair to (supposedly) have fours seasons on the calendar except up here, we seem to have two.

    Winter and road construction.

    What’s more, we have some of the worst roads in the midwestern US. Kind of ironic.

    No I wasn’t kidding about the NEW Sonata interior, Skooter. Go look for yourself. Make sure the new Sonata is a 2009, not 2008. Huge difference. Compare leather interior to leather interior, and cloth interior to cloth interior.

    Sorry Mikey, I’d take a Hyundai over any Detroit/Windsor 3 vehicles. They’ve come light years in about a decade, whereas the Detroit 3 are stumbling and failing, I’m sorry to say.

    The only people blindly buying big 3 cars are what the coasties in the US call flyover people.

  • avatar

    Oh yeah, Mikey? “We’re so crazy/so far north, we go SOUTH to Canada on vacation, eh?”

    Literally. I’ve gone south to Stratford Upon Avon Ontario on one vacation, south to Sarnia, Goderich, Owen Sound, Kitchener-Waterloo and Toronto on another.

    Yeah I know, I must be nutz to stay here in da nort, eh? (I’m not mocking Canuck – I was a yooper, eh?)

    For doze of yous you don’t know dat means I come from da upper peninsula, above da bridge, kay?

    I’m no troll (“person from the lower peninsula” – living under the (Mackinaw) bridge – getit?)

  • avatar

    I’ve sat in both the Malibu and the ’09 Sonata, and I agree 100% with Menno.

    Sonata. Its interior beats Malibu, Accord, Camry, anything in the class. If they padded the armrests properly, they’d rule the world (although these days, for whatever rea$on, it seems that nobody does).

  • avatar

    That sounds nice and all menno, but I’ll still pass on Hyundais for now. I think I’d rather have the Malibu than the Sonata just by virtue of style. The Malibu has some, the Sonata really has none. I think Hyundai lost something when they lost their quirky Korean styling cues and tack-ons. Now the Sonata just looks like a really characterless appliance, like pretty much everything else with four doors and four wheels from Asia. The Mazda 6 being the notable and excellent excpetion.

  • avatar

    The only people blindly buying big 3 cars are what the coasties in the US call flyover people.

    And ironically, many foreign automakers have made great friends with us flyover people over the last couple of decades (Honda, Mercedes, Toyota, Nissan, BMW, Hyundai…)

    These days I find, observationally, that most people buy based heavily on what dealers are located near them. So while “backwoods” folks might drive mostly Ford and Chevy, that has more to do with the only dealership within 30 minutes’ drive. Similarly, I’ve met people here in AL where the nearest dealer is a Nissan shop, and people drive ’em with none of that archaic “Damn Jap car” mentality…especially since most of them are made in TN.

  • avatar

    The new Sonata ineterior is very nice, but I’m going to have to agree with skooter and say the new Malibu’s interior beats it. Style is entirely subjective, but I remember at the autoshow the Malibu materials feeling higher quality.

  • avatar

    Not sub standard metals or engineering – ask Honda and Toyota about the rusting years ago. They found out it wasn’t the salt being used on the roads here in the States that was the primary cause – it was the boat ride over that was causing the corrosion and they changed the way they shipped the cars over.

    Being that I drove a Hyundai from 12 miles to 117k when I traded it in with no rust problems I’ll gladly buy another. I also find the new Sonota’s styling more appealing than the new Malibu’s, but to each their own.

    Hyundai will move to correct these problems (as witnessed on the new model) faster than any of the domestic 3 would have.

  • avatar

    So let’s agree to say the 2009 Sonata is about the equal of the new Malibu, then.

    Still, for what was until recently considered a “sophomore” auto builder, to build a car the equal of what was recently the world’s largest car manufacturer (and their “star car of the year” Malibu) is a pretty good feat.

    And therein is my point; that the old Sonata may well have these rust issues under some circumstances.

    But I had a friend with a Malibu and before it was 4 years old, it needed a mini-restoration of the body and repaint. (This was the Malibu of 2 generations ago, I think it was a 1999 car).

    So I don’t think Hyundai are alone.

    However, as I mentioned, HOW they handle this is going to speak volumes about the company, and is likely to have repercussions in the marketplace.

    I think we all pretty well know how GM, Ford and Chrysler would handle it if it were their problem, as witnessed by the GM piston slap episodes on V8’s, the Ford flambe’ cruise controls and Exploder SUVs, and Chryslers Ultradrive automatic fiasco, to name but a few. It’s up to Hyundai to be a different sort of car company and prove it with their actions.

    We’ll see, won’t we?

  • avatar

    I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that Hyundai wasn’t using good enough steel back then. But from what menno has said, it looks like they’re fixing that.

    As for the 09 Sonata and 08 Malibu interiors, I think they’re are about equal. The Sonata’s is cleaner, simpler. The Malibu’s is much more artistic, more stylized. They’re both good, and I’d say better than the Camry and Accord, but their just different.

  • avatar

    Honda had a semi-secret operation right here in Halifax-Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada through the 1980’s and 90s to see what could happen with rust. Besides some obscure island off Texas, this was/is the worst place in the world for rust. Stainless steel rusts here, folks. My previous employer made special weather gauges for Environment Canada, and off our coast on Sable Island, lifespan for shiny stainless was about 18 months before it was a lovely shade of orange. Drove the immigrant German designer back in Toronto crazy — “but schtenlus schteel CANNOT rust!” It does here.

    Honda Accords from the mid 1980s, now there was a champ. My colleague at work had a 1984. In 1989, besides being flawlessly reliable up to that point, the engine fell out of it due to subframe rusting. All old Hondas and Toyotas looked like Swiss cheese after a few years. That’s when it was wise to buy VW, they hardly rusted, and Audi was first with galvanized steel in the mid 80s.

    Early 90s Sonatas had rear shocks that would seize with rust round here which made for a choppy ride and caused handling problems, duh.

    As for my compatriot Mikey up in Oshawa trying to tell us how great Malibus are, perhaps he has conveniently forgotten the intake gasket issue. One of my customers had four replaced at great cost, which delayed him from buying a new car for over 18 months due to the financial hit. Intake gaskets, fer crissake, were a fully developed and thought out design by 1932, not 2002.

    There may be various car problems out there, but GM will NEVER get my money.

  • avatar

    Why’d you guys just change the picture from the correct (’99-04) body style to the incorrect, new body style?

  • avatar

    Sorry. I would still take an Impala or Malibu in a heartbeat over a Hyundai. Sorry, can’t shake that “cheap” reputation I guess. Will have to look at an ’09 though.

  • avatar

    Is anybody investigating the prodigious use of salt? In California we don’t use salt in the Sierras where there is significant snow. As far as I’m concerned, that’s one thing that California gets right. I do understand that the salt allows the ice to melt at a lower temperature, but what is the overall benefit? Is it worth the cost?

  • avatar

    I suspect that it could be some of the new de-icing compounds that states started using in the past decade. They have really changed the game on corrosion prevention.

    Highway departments are applying de-iceer more often then they did 10-15 years ago.

    The new chemicals can work their way under rivets or between seams and continue to corrode even after being run through a wash. There is some speculation that the different compounds use accelerate corrosion when mixed.

    The trucking industry has had to change how parts of tractors and trailers are designed.

  • avatar

    Yep, plenty of snow in the Sierra Nevada mountains and neither salt nor other deicers are used. Said roads do, however, have chains required zones when needed. Oh yeah, and lots of snow plows.

    If nothing else, laying down salt by the dump truck load is environmental idiocy.

  • avatar

    “I guess now I understand why Hyundai takes so much extreme car in rustproofing the new Sonata.

    I was at the factory, and saw it. Galvanized US Steel. A full 360 degree rotation within the e-tank to ensure no spots untouched. Several e-tank dippings. (More than two, if memory serves)…”

    While this is commendable it is hardly unusual. all the companies do this now. Chrysler has been doing this since the 80’s. Don’t know about the others but I would guess it’s the same.

    When it became apprarent the early problems with Ultradrive were a serious defect Chrysler waived the $100 deductible on the powertrain warranty and reimbursed room and board costs for owners who were stranded away from home.

    I agree that Hyundai has made huge strides. If I were in the market for a family size car the Sonata would be on my shopping list. But you can still see the affects of their earlier (earned) reputation for poor quality by some of the comments here (I still remember my old girlfriends 88 Excel leaking oil and the window crank comming off in my hand). Some of the domestic cars are just as good as anyones elses but you still have the same perception driven resistence to buying one.

  • avatar

    This is bad for Hyundai, let’s see if they handle it well.

    They have come on REALLY strong in quality and other areas. This shouldn’t set them back if they care for it correctly.

  • avatar

    jthorner :
    April 29th, 2008 at 5:24 pm

    Yep, plenty of snow in the Sierra Nevada mountains and neither salt nor other deicers are used. Said roads do, however, have chains required zones when needed. Oh yeah, and lots of snow plows.

    If nothing else, laying down salt by the dump truck load is environmental idiocy.

    And they lay down crushed rock/sand to improve traction.

  • avatar

    Hi windwards. Yeah, it’s now pretty industry standard, but the 360 degree rotation in the e-tank is something fairly new (don’t know if it is indeed, a Hyundai innovation or not).

    It was American Motors and Ford which started using the e-tank dip-primer systems, but Ford only used it in a few manufacturing plants, whereas AMC used it accross the board (one of the advantages of being smaller – it is easier to innovate).

    Chrysler products rotted so fast starting especially with the 1957 cars, that even with 2 and 3 year car payments being the norm, the cars were worthless junkheaps and half gone back to the earth via rust before the payments were done. I have to wonder if that is one of the reasons that AMC’s Rambler make passed Plymouth as #3 in the US car market in 1961.

    Chrysler fought back and by 1965 through 1968, particularly the full-sized Chrysler cars were rustproofed so well that they routinely could be seen driving around Michigan 30 years later.

    I actually bought a 1967 Chrysler Newport as a daily driver in 1980 and until about 5 years ago, still saw it running around town in daily use. In northwestern Michigan.

  • avatar

    Toyota Tacomas from the late 90s have had frame rust issues also. What matters is how Hyundai handles the issue.


  • avatar

    Since November 2006 I have been contacted by 25 different people who have all experienced a failure with the right front subframe rusting apart and actually breaking. Approximately 18 people have been settled with, either Hyundai repairing the car or reimbursing for the repair. Most people have been on the eastern have of the United States. I have been working with an attorney building a case for a class action Lawsuit. We are currently looking for anyone who has had this problem and not contacted me. The NHTSA Number PE08029 is an active investigation that report 40 known failures. I am especial interested in anyone from California.

    If you own a 1999-2001 Hyundai Sonata I suggest inspecting your subframe for rust. If you are not sure where to look, you should turn your steering wheel all the way to the right. Look where the A-Arm bolts to the frame. You will probably find severe rust. If you do, I would like to hear from you at Even if it has not failed yet, I suggest taking it to a Hyundai dealer and filing a claim with Hyundai Consumer affairs.

    My hope is that Hyundai, who has admitted to a problem by paying for repairs will soon address this obvious safety issue.

    Tom Baker, Kansas City, MO

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