By on June 12, 2012


JP writes:

Hi Sajeev,

I though myself out of asking this question, then your asked for more questions, so…What’s the best way to sell a beat-up 2002 Hyundai “Satan Fe” without feeling guilty about it?

Not so long ago, I married into a family with an irrational preference for Hyundais. In order of purchase (all new): 2002 Santa Fe 2.7L AWD, 2003 Santa Fe 3.3L FWD, 2006 Santa Fe 3.3L FWD, 2009 Azera, 2011 Tucson. All bought with about as much consideration as I put into buying shoes. The upside: hand-me-downs.

My wife and I are using the two oldest Santa Fes. Both were free to us and get better gas mileage than my first-gen Xterra 4×4 with 180k miles and 31″ ATs, which still in great shape (I maintain it myself) but is now mostly a weekend chores truck in semi-storage. The 2002 Santa Fe is a good car for my wife to drive because the AWD and slightly pokey engine keep it within her driving skills, as opposed to the FWD 2003 Santa Fe (hit the gas at stoplights and the wheels easily break loose). However.

The 2002 now has 143k miles and recently had to have a pile of work (AC line, tuneup, replaced leaking valve cover gasket) from the dealer. I didn’t want that work done, as I thought it was time to abandon a sinking ship. Now it badly needs a power steering line. There are several colors of leaking fluid, so I doubt the power steering work is the only impending expense. I bet the leaking valve cover gasket coated the whole engine in oil at some point, and now anything that can leak is thinking about doing just that. When checking out the leaks, I also found an old spark plug wire dangling in the engine bay. The car has a small dent in the hood that looks like someone sat on it and an equally small but uglier dent in the tailgate from a mailbox connection. Our dog chewed up the nylon tabs that release the back seats for folding. The car is as beige as beige can be considering it is battleship silver. It is an auto(gag-sob)matic.

I am extremely wary of owning any high-mileage vehicle that needs a lot of work, and especially wary of this Santa Fe that seems to be especially expensive to repair. So yesterday we titled and registered it in my wife’s name so the we can sell it ASAP. She will drive the less-safe 2003 Santa Fe, and I will bring my dear Xterra back into the rotation. I don’t drive much these days (I’m a work-at-home writer: of job applications). We could use the little extra cash from the sale. Yet I am also wary of unloading such a vehicle onto anyone else. Times are tough for others, too. I suspect that anyone interested in buying this high-mileage CUV from a private seller is not exactly flush. When something goes wrong, I don’t want the hassle of the buyer coming to me to complain.

We have a couple of weeks to clean up the car before the new title arrives. I have never sold a car before. When we are ready to sell, I was thinking about taking the car to Carmax and seeing what their lowball offer will be, then putting up on Cragislist for a cash price that is higher than what Carmax or a dealer would give us but much lower than the local rate for these things. I’ll be honest in the ad about the good and the bad. If it doesn’t sell in 7 days, I’ll take it back to Carmax. Is this a good idea? Are there better ones?


Sajeev Answers:

You’ve summed up your situation nicely, and unlike many questions tossed down Piston Slap way, I feel comfortable armchair quarterbacking a conclusion.  You musta gotten plenty of A’s in ‘dem grade school classes about English, reading, writing and what not.  Because it shows!

I have no better answer for you. I mean, you really nailed it. Compounding the problems you mentioned, older Hyundai-KIAs have hard-to-find parts, if what I heard from several people at O’Reillys is true.  The 3.3Ls need valve lash adjustments, and much to my personal pleasure, the 2.7Ls do battle with the Piston Slap on occasion. Not that my heart doesn’t go out to people with Piston Slap problems in their rides, it’s just that a writer can fall in love with his schtick!

So yes, get that “Satan Fe” appraised at Carmax.  Ask for about $500 more on Craigslist. You’ll get more cash, and the buyer gets more financial cushion for repairs…compared to your average used car lot where Hyundais of this vintage are cleaned up, marked up and then sold.  Honestly, both parties win.



Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

34 Comments on “Piston Slap: An Irrational Preference for Hyundais?...”

  • avatar

    Great letter, good advice. I wish everyone was as thoughtful and conscientious. Here’s wishing you well in your job search.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Not just an irrational love for Hyundais but an irrational love for CUVs. The Azerea just shows her parents were ready for a Buick. ;)

  • avatar

    I’m skeptical of long term reliability of Hyundai/KIA. Is this just proof that my assumptions are correct? Seriously though, 143,000 miles should be nothing these days. The work that needs to be done sounds like a vehicle that’s well past 200k or has been abused its entire life. What’s the verdict? Poor quality?

    • 0 avatar

      I have been hearing reports/rumors about Hyundai having problems with their transmissions and engines on their newer cars. They handle everything personally and try to make the customers happy so they can hide their reliability issues so I’m really not sure what’s true and what isn’t.

      They offer long warranties, but I wonder how often you need to use their services.

      The new Sonata for example had a serious torque steer issue early on where the car would pull hard to the right.

    • 0 avatar

      My father has a 2003 Santa Fe with about 102k on the clock (last I drove it, probably more like 104k now) that he has owned since new. It has held up exceptionally well. Aside from needing a new control arm at 60k (dealer replaced with no issues), there have been no issues.

      Granted it’s only one car, but based on my family’s experiences, I would not hesitate to own a Hyundai product for the long term. This is coming from a guy who owns a Ford and a 20 year old Plymouth, both of which I would also happily purchase again.

  • avatar

    I find myself attracted to Hyundai’s for their looks and their value. I think Hyundai has totally figured out the non-enthusiast American Gen-Y and Gen-X market who is cash strapped and mostly buying on N.I.N.J.A loans.

    You get a good looking car, with plenty of technology for a reasonable amount of money with them.

    I’ve borrowed the R-Spec Genesis, Veloster, Elantra, Equus and Sonata. Loved em all.

    The older Hyundai’s however, I wouldn’t want to be caught dead in.

    • 0 avatar

      I feel pretty much the same way. I think any of them after about 2005-2006 are pretty solid. Before that I think they are just too problematic.

      I’m sure some website will have the actual reliability data, this is just seat of the pants recollection. Before I’d buy one, I’d have to go take a look.

      As for that family buying just Hyundai’s, two questions. Is the family Korean? I was talking to a dealer who said that any Korean family gets a break on loans, or even with bad credit they can still get a Hyundai with Hyundai financing. He said he never saw a Korean family turned down. So I wouldn’t be surprised if the loyalty goes both ways.

      2nd question, did they just find a dealer that they like a lot and it doesn’t matter what brand of car is being sold there? They just like the people and the service?

      • 0 avatar

        If Korean customers were getting preferential financing treatment Hyundai of America executives would be on TV doing the perp walk into a Federal courthouse. The government is very serious about any kind of discrimination regarding financing, and if this was actually happening a disgruntled ex-finance manager would have spilled the beans a long time ago. Lots of ex-car dealership employees would be more than happy to throw their former boss under the bus if there was an opportunity to do so, and every F&I person knows giving any kind of ethnic preference would bring the feds out in force.

        Korean families are probably getting their financing approved because they are responsible enough to have good credit and/or have family members who will co-sign a loan and make good on it.

        Be careful about buying into conspiracy theories.

      • 0 avatar

        In the case of the person writing to Sajeev, maybe they should be happy that they have a used car to drive around in. After all, new cars costs money and if you’re unemployed, lack of money could be an obstacle to overcome. Things don’t look all that rosy for the US economy and employment prospects in 2013 either.

        You can keep any car running as long as you replace the worn out or failed parts in it. I did that for decades with all my domestic brand cars like the Silverado, Towncar and F150.

        That may be cheaper than buying a new car as well, especially if you can’t get what you want in trade for the old Hyundais, unless you trade for another Hyundai.

        As for the quality and value of Hyundai cars, my own involvement is with the purchase of a 2011 Elantra for our grand daughter for her HS graduation gift. Her Elantra has been a perfect car and now has almost 20K miles on it, mostly because of long commutes to/from college. No warranty issues.

        From that perspective, I would recommend Hyundai. Selling a used one to a stranger might bring out the caveats for the stranger since they don’t know the history of these automobiles unless they’re a Hyundai fan.

        Without any prospects for employment or higher income in the immediate future, I’d ride this Hyundai wave for as long as I could.

      • 0 avatar

        You hit it with the 2nd question.

      • 0 avatar

        I was still working at the auction (in 2004-06) when the 01s and up were starting to come through. Santa Fe’s would get bids but most of them would come through with Christmas lights all over the dash (as did most Volkswagens and Saabs), I was never sure how the non Hyundai dealers and buy here pay here crowd resolved these but I suppose they just called the H dealers if they needed parts. The cars were a little more popular but the quality was iffy, esp on the Enterprise examples. Plastic bits seemed to not hold up as well as your rental W-bodies for example and IIRC alot of the sunroofs I saw had issues.

        I have a friend who kept an ’01 Santa Fe from new to about 155K when it was dumped in 2010, and she swore on it. It started to rust early (this was in Rhode Island) but was nothing major, aside from a few oddball dealer-only type repairs after 100K she was quite pleased with it, although not enough to keep her out of a new RAV-4 as opposed to whatever the Hyundai equivalent is… Tuscon?

        Personally I think some of the new Hyundai cars look sharp, although my building’s parking lot is full of cheaper late model Kia’s and it hurts my eyes.

      • 0 avatar

        That was my first question as well…”Is your wife Korean?” ;) Although, this is not as obvious a question as it would have been a few years ago.

  • avatar

    Don’t know about Hyundai long term, but my 2 previous Honda Accords needed a lot of TLC around 110K. The 87 lasted until 232K + the 98 until 264K. Both needed starters at around 220K.

    All cars need some maintenance because stuff wears out. I doubt there is anything out there that wouldn’t need something in the 100 – 150K range. I’d keep them.

  • avatar

    I’m a Hyundai fanboy, but I can’t imagine buying that many in a row since I like variety.

    My 2001 Elantra has 176k miles on it. I just replaced a power steering hose myself for $87, so your timing for that repair is perfect. What you’re describing is common for any old car. My particular Hyundai nickel-and-dimes me every few months, but it’s a good beater car that’s affordable to run.

    • 0 avatar

      I know some people with Hyundai’s from this time period and to put it simply, they are junk. What is being described is NOT common for an old car. It doesn’t help that many parts are expensive and hard to come by.

  • avatar

    For the record, the 3.3L Lambda V6 dates back to only 2006 and then only in the Sonata. The engine in question here for the 2003 (and the 2006 Santa Fe) is the Mitsubishi-derived 3.5L Sigma V6. And the link provided was mostly about the Lambda, not the 2.7L Delta V6. The person claiming on that forum to have a 2009 Santa Fe GLS with the 2.7L is either grossly confused or not in North America.

  • avatar

    Sajeev, say it ain’t so!

    A paid-for 10-year-old car with a known service history and weak resale value should be SOLD because it has a fluid leak and might require a valve adjustment some day? Or because some guy on the internet reported a problem with his? I’m feeling the Kimchi Hate here.

    Point of correction: The 3.3 engine first appeared in the 2007 model. I believe we’re talking about the 3.5 in this context.

    • 0 avatar

      Thank you both for the V6 engine correction. That changes a lot…but not for this person.

      When you have too many old cars and could use some cash (i.e. he’s currently unemployed), he needs to sell some Hyundais! This is a no brainer!

      Unemployed people need less Hyundais and more cash!

      • 0 avatar

        This fellow doesn’t sound like a DIY’er, and I know most people aren’t, but there’s nothing on his laundry list–aside from the dents and dings–that couldn’t be fixed in an afternoon for minimal cash. The only spendy thing might be that power steering hose, and only if it’s leaking on the high-pressure side.

        IMHO, 143K is not “high miles”. for $200 in parts, that thing could probably be running near new. And it would be easier to sell without the nickel and dime stuff hanging out.

      • 0 avatar

        I’m sorry for that typo. The newer Santa Fe has the 3.5. My Xterra has a 3.3. Regardless, the one I want to sell has a 2.7.

      • 0 avatar

        I’m sorry for that typo. The newer Santa Fe has the 3.5. My Xterra has a 3.3. Regardless, the one I want to sell has a 2.7.

        Nox, I maintain and upgrade my high-mileage Xterra myself because I plan to keep it forever. I hate working on the Hyundais. The high-pressure PS hose is a pain for DIYers and the forums advise against home-replacement if time is at a premium.

        Sajeev, thanks for confirming my opinion. The 2002 hits the market soon.

    • 0 avatar

      Sometimes there’s more to car ownership than bookkeeping. Honest.

  • avatar

    I have a friend who has the same disease – all they own are Kias. Sheesh…I feel sorry for them.

    My recommendation? Buy a Chevy or Ford and enjoy life a little. Need a wagon? Ford Flex is your only choice and you won’t be sorry. Need a SUV/CUV? Ford Edge, Chevy Traverse, Ford Escape, Chevy Equinox. Need a car? Chevy Impala, Malibu, Cruze; Ford Taurus – I mean Galaxie 500, Ford Fusion, Ford Focus. Done.

    • 0 avatar

      Ford is going to have to be a lot more compelling to get me back into one of their vehicles after my last experience with both their dealer network and my previous car(s) from them.

  • avatar

    JP – Sajeev made fun of it, but I’m going give you advice about something that is far more important to you than what you do with the SUV: your grammar – it’s poor – not terrible – but there are a lot of mistakes in your question.

    From what I’ve read, many H.R. folks throw a resume in the trash as soon as they find a spelling or grammatical mistake. I imagine finding a job is a lot more important to you than what you can get from selling a ten year old SUV. You need a top-notch resume.

    I highly recommend you find or hire someone with good English writing skills to edit your resume.

    • 0 avatar

      I didn’t make fun of it, this is a well thought out argument. But I’m not much of a grammar Nazi, I was a solid B student in that stuff.

      • 0 avatar

        Dear John,

        I am embarrassed by a few small mistakes in my email. I conflated the displacement of my Nissan and my other Hyundai. Most of the other non-grammatical usage was intentional.

        Regardless, you assume that the lighthearted conversational style I used in a quickly-written and unedited email to a car-advice column resembles the style I utilize in carefully-prepared job applications. You are mistaken. Spare the internet your self-assigned superiority, good sir.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    John even *cough* Engineers *cough* can write well with grammar and spell checkers. Said engineers can out-math me from here to next Sunday.

  • avatar

    Why is the ’03 less safe? Because it’s FWD? Do you live in some rural area with minimal traffic and huge snow dumps? It sounds like the thing needs a decent set of tires if you can’t accelerate without lighting them up. Then the thing would be capable of braking and steering properly too. FWD with good tires is as safe and forgiving as it gets.

    I’m a huge fan and proponent of the 4WD/real-AWD with studded tires combo for winter driving pleasure, but in terms of safety it holds no advantage over FWD with the same tires. The ability to accelerate quickly in adverse conditions isn’t necessarily even an advantage for a novice driver. It’s a lot easier to recognize just how slippery it is and stay within those limits when the vehicle can brake better than it can accelerate.

  • avatar

    It is not irrational to like Hyundai’s IF said Hyundai was built after 2005. My next car will almost certainly be a i30, bought second-hand with low mileage. I will love the daylights out of owning it too.

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • multicam: Oh, they make car hipsters too!
  • millerluke: @JMII: Good luck! A local Toyota dealer has by far the best salespeople and experience of any dealership...
  • Socrates77: they’re better cars that gm equinox or gmc terrain. I buy it over a Cadillac also.
  • Varezhka: Yeah, I remember those. Isuzu Rodeo as Honda Passport and Isuzu Trooper as Acura SLX. They even had Isuzu...
  • slavuta: Yankee, family friend here, retired. His shop called him back and gave him everything he requested. As long...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber