Piston Slap: MT 6-speed Hyundai Sonata…Coda?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap mt 6 speed hyundai sonatacoda

TTAC commentator Arthur Dailey writes:


Over 40+ years of driving, I have traditionally changed cars every 2 years and never kept one for longer than 5 years or 150,000km. However I made my most recent car purchase with the intention of keeping it for 8 years or 200,000km.

With the belief that in modern autos perhaps the most expensive item to repair is the transmission (owning 4 Caravans in the preceding 15 years reinforced this), following the truism that “it is more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow”, and being admittedly George Costanza like in my spending habits I ordered a vehicle with a manual transmission. Yes, a manual Hyundai Sonata.

Nobody at the dealership had ever seen one. They even had problems confirming that it came with a traditional hand brake (it does but in return you don’t get heated seats). But find one they did. Unfortunately after taking possession and performing some routine cleaning, I found that the filters were rather dirty for a new car. Checking the manufacturer’s plate I found that it had been made 14 months previously and therefore had been sitting on the lot for nearly that long , exposed to the elements for at least one full winter.

So my questions:

  • Will sitting out on a dealer’s lot for 13+ months reduce the longevity of some parts?
  • Was I correct in assuming that a manual transmission will both last longer and cost less to maintain than an automatic or was I ‘penny wise and pound foolish’?
  • Should I expect a modern car including a Korean one built in Alabama, to be relatively problem free as long as I follow the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule, rust proof it annually and drive like the old fogey that I have become?

Sajeev answers:

Yes! We’re actually discussing the manual 6-speed Hyundai Sonata and its sister ship Kia Optima that I really, reeeeeeally wanted in brown with black cloth. Turns out I needed a 5MT truck more. But I digress…

Shine on you crazy diamond, enjoy your South Korean Unicorn!

Luckily, your first question was previously covered. Assuming it’s been driven after purchase, you’ve cleared the “bad” gas and rusted brakes/flat spotted tires. I think a good detail/cleaning of the vinyl/rubber/leather bits (both inside and outside) is all that’s needed to ensure the patient’s long term health. Maybe do an engine oil change, if you haven’t done it already under normal maintenance. You got nothing to worry about.

Question 2: I can see why you are conditioned to fear transmission/transaxle replacement costs, but you’ve owned older Chryslers. Own something from Germany and the fancy tv screens should absolutely terrify you. Or fixing bent rims. Or a suspension overhaul from years of abuse causing bent rims. I’d be more terrified of any car rollin’ on twankies more than any transmission woe. And is an automatic really more durable than a manual?

I donno, dude. 200,000km isn’t a long time by non-Chrysler-minivan standards. I’ve seen auto transmissions last 400,000km with nothing more than occasional ATF fluid swaps. If you are easy on the clutch, you are fine. If not, you might need a clutch swap and completely destroy the value proposition mentioned. Don’t be that guy!

Question 3: Problems with the Sonata and Optima have been sparse, just look at the TSBs generated. Undercoat/rust proof, follow the owner’s manual, don’t abuse the gearbox (good luck finding a replacement in North America) and you’ll be fine.

And you might love the 6-speed Hyundai Sonata so much that you’ll keep it well beyond 200,000kms. You “old fogeys” (your term) need to understand that most modern vehicles last longer than cars from decades past. Rust proof this one well and I’m confident you’ll agree.

[Image: Shutterstock user NirdalArt]

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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10 of 61 comments
  • Arthur Dailey Arthur Dailey on Oct 20, 2014

    So once again, it appears that I have made the wrong decision. And it was based on 40 years of experience. The manuals that I have owned have all been VW (air cooled), Hondas or older Detroit 'muscle' and never had a problem. Meanwhile, I developed a fear of automatics after having to replace multiple transmissions on numerous Dodge Caravans. As a result, I have purchased a vehicle that will have very limited appeal on the used car market or value as a trade-in, the proverbial 'unicorn. My anticipated savings in maintenance/repair costs were illusory as I burn through my clutch in Toronto's stop and go traffic, on hilly streets in the Beaches area, on slippery, salted and icy roads during the winter. Hyundai's system uses the brake fluid to lubricate the clutch, so brake fluid changes will most likely be more frequent. And due to the placement of the hand brake, there is no room on the console for the heated seat controls, so I have to freeze my butt, as my seats are not heated. What a misguided trade off. What a fool I am. However, I seems that I did spend wisely in getting it Krowned. And at least on those occasions when I am driving along empty country roads in the fall and summer I do get the satisfaction that comes with actually 'driving' a car and working 3 pedals. Yet, I still dream of purchasing a Sonata wagon in brown with a manual transmission.

    • See 7 previous
    • Arthur Dailey Arthur Dailey on Oct 21, 2014

      @krhodes1 Good catch. I forgot the calibre of the readers/posters here and provided the type of wording that I would use when trying to explain this to my spouse. Use the dealer for all service, according to the manufacturer's, not the dealer's, schedule while the warranty is in force. After that, off to my local independent.

  • SCE to AUX SCE to AUX on Oct 21, 2014

    My 01 Elantra's automatic went 201k miles without a rebuild, but it had faithful fluid changes for the last 63k miles in which I owned it. The Sonata stick was the $22k entry price model that Hyundai advertised so prominently when the '11 design was introduced. If you're only keeping a car for 5-8 years, just about any automatic will go that distance. But the stick will never complicate engine diagnosis, and it will give you more control in winter driving. I took a break from the stick for 5 years due to knee trouble (12 years driving a 5-speed 85 Lebaron GTS), but then I had no problems when I got my former 05 xB1 with a stick. The driving position and clutch effort were much different. Now my car has no transmission (Leaf EV), and I've gotten used to having no worries about clutches, ATF, or any of that transmission stuff. I think all it has is 2 quarts of fluid in the gear reduction.

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  • Tassos "Baby, Baby light my fire!""Oh God please give me a Kia Forte" --Janis Joplin
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