By on February 20, 2019

2011 Hyundai Sonata

In 2017, United States safety regulators opened a formal investigation into the recall of roughly 1.7 million vehicles built by Hyundai Motor Co and its affiliate, Kia Motor Corp, after being tipped off by a former employee. The informant claimed the automaker wasn’t handling the issue properly. That same year, South Korean civic group YMCA filed a complaint with local prosecutors alleging the automakers delayed fixing engine defects that prompted the same recalls.

According to Reuters, South Korean prosecutors raided the offices of Hyundai Motor Group’s quality division in Seoul on Wednesday. While the investigation concerns the company’s Theta II engines, both investigations seek to nail down a timeline of the recalls and establish whether or not Hyundai handled the situation responsibly. 

Kim Gwang-ho, the former Hyundai engineer who flew to Washington tell the NHTSA the company should have recalled more vehicles, also reported several alleged safety lapses to both U.S. and South Korean authorities — citing internal documents.

Hyundai recalled 470,000 U.S. Sonata sedans in 2015, claiming potential engine failure could result in stalling or even a fire. While most consumer complaints didn’t mention fire, engine seizures had become uncomfortably common. The automaker attributed the problem to metallic debris left behind from the manufacturing process — an issue that had cropped up before, forcing Hyundai to alter its deburring process several years earlier.

By March of 2015, the company expanded its recall to include 572,000 Sonata and Santa Fe Sport vehicles, while Kia tacked on 618,160 Optima, Sorento, and Sportage vehicles equipped with the Theta II four-cylinder.

At this time, it’s unclear what Hyundai did or didn’t know about the engines. Both it and Kia have denied allegations that they mishandled the recalls, pledging their cooperation with authorities, but the quality control problem remains a longstanding issue. The debris problem had become common knowledge prior to Kim’s whistleblowing; Hyundai vowed to improve the way it handled safety-related defects in 2014 — after the NHTSA lapped with with a $17.35 million fine over brake defects.

Kim alleges the problem with the Theta II have as much to do with the debris issue as it does its design. He believes Hyundai intentionally delayed recalls because it knew the costs needed for a comprehensive fix would be astronomical. While the manufacturer denies this, it was good enough for South Korea’s transport ministry to issue a compulsory recall of over 240,000 vehicles and apparently raid Hyundai’s corporate offices in Seoul.

[Image: Hyundai]

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29 Comments on “Hyundai Raided in South Korea Over Theta II Engine Recall...”

  • avatar

    Just curious… do Hyundais have magnetic drain plugs?
    That’s the kind of inexpensive technology that pays off in long-term longevity, but gets dropped in the quest for penny-per-unit savings. Hyundai might have been able to save a huge amount of money here.

    • 0 avatar

      If it’s from the engine block or heads, it’s probably aluminum and magnets won’t catch that.

    • 0 avatar

      Everything is aluminum in these modern machines, so that magnet won’t do anything for you.

      • 0 avatar

        “Everything is aluminum…”

        Sure, except for crankshafts and camshafts and connecting rods … and valvesprings and tappets and rocker arms and piston pins … and timing chains and oil pump drive shafts and …

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      I’ve had 6 H/K cars, and the only magnetic drain plug I’ve noticed is the transmission drain plug. Then again, I don’t recall ever seeing a magnetic drain plug for engine oil in any vehicle I’ve owned.

      As for the engine recall:
      1. The problem originated at a 3rd party supplier, not Hyundai per-se. However, Hyundai’s QC wasn’t intact enough to detect this for a very long time, so shame on them.
      2. I once saw a pile of bad engines behind the garage of my local dealer, stacked like cordwood. The problem is real; I know at least 3 people whose engines popped because of this.
      3. Inexplicably, my 13 Optima Hybrid’s 2.4 falls into a very small window of time that is not covered by the recall. Not sure how I feel about that.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    My mother has a 2012 Hyundai Sonata Limited with the N/A 2.4-liter Theta II engine, and neither she nor I is impressed with how it’s held up over 110,000 or so miles. It’s had all manner of issues and recalls. Now, the YF Sonata and its TF Optima sister were certainly game-changers when it was released–with a content-for-dollar quotient that few could match. But hindsight tells us that these weren’t especially well-engineered cars.

    Just the other day, she told me over the phone that Hyundai issued yet another recall (this must make ten or eleven in the past few years) that would put the car in “limp mode” under certain conditions in order to save the engine.

    • 0 avatar

      She needs to “limp” it on down to the Honda/Ford/Mazda/damn-near-anything-else dealer and drop it like it’s hot.

      I’m sure she could get a very good deal on a new Taurus, I saw new SELs going for ~$25k. I know I’m a bit biased, but it’s a solid car, and a lot of car for the money. 125k on my mom’s 2012 and it’s been very good (owned since ’12).

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        To be fair—and as you know, I owned a 2014 MKS—the D3/D4 vehicles are veritable land barges relative to their interior space, and I don’t think she would be comfortable in one.

        But the Taurus is a great value, to be sure.

        I know for a fact she wants a crossover. Likely, she’ll go for the Murano, Edge, Passport, CX-9 or new Blazer (my vote is the Mazda). I told her that under no circumstances should she buy another Hyundai until they sort out their issues, so the new Santa Fe is out. She may also splurge and get an RX or XC60 (which is a bit smaller than the others, I realize). But, yeah, that’s the form factor of vehicle we’re looking at.

      • 0 avatar

        great deals to be had on Buick Encores! I’ve leased one for my wife going on 2 1/2 years not one problem, 20k miles, I’ll probably buy it since it won’t even be close to my allotted 39k miles, GM is always knocking off $5-6 k also.

      • 0 avatar

        John but it is a Ford – it sucks don’t you know that? Just ask EBFlex our own Ford expert. He knows how and why.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX


      It pains me to agree on this. My son’s 11 Sonata has been recalled about 13 times, and a few of them were for the same reason. The only breakdown he had was when the starter quit in his driveway, but I don’t think that is acceptable on such a young car.

      Interestingly, my 13 Optima Hybrid has had very few recalls and no reliability issues. I’m not fond of its driveability, but it never gives us any trouble.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      Wierd. My Wife’s 2.4 Santa Fe Sport at 40k nor the Tuscon 2.0 that it replaced with 175k ever had the slightest problem. The Tuscon only ever got Brake Pads and Rotors, timing belt/water pump (2 I think) and hoses and belts. It needed some front end work when we traded it, but nothing else. It still had the original battery at like 140k…I replaced it due to age and worry, but it was still good.

      • 0 avatar

        No one said anything but a small percentage are experiencing total engine failure, but it’s more than enough for the issue to be well known to anyone paying attention. Still, it doesn’t raise too many eyebrows, set off alarms, since they’re the absolute cheapest cars you can buy, pound for pound. That’s a little different than best value.

        But I agree it’s nuts to imagine H/K knew nothing of the SNAFU.

  • avatar

    What boggles my mind is that Hyundai must KNOW that quality concerns are still the biggest bugaboo people have with their cars. It’s so ingrained a perception that most people don’t even know that that’s what they perceive to be wrong. People don’t say “I’m not sure the quality’s there”; they just say “…it’s a Hyundai/Kia”. It started with the Excel, all those years ago, and they just haven’t done what they need to to remove all doubts…but that’s what they need to do. Their design is competitive, safety is competitive, value is competitive (though not class-leading as it used to be), and I remember an Uber I took in Cambridge with a guy who’s ’11 Elantra had ~190,000 miles on it with nary an apparent mechanical or significant fit-and-finish failing, but they aren’t Toyota-consistent about it, and that’s what people want.

    I don’t know if Hyundai had a Samsung-chairman-smashing-his-TV’s-in-the’90’s moment, but someone has got to knock some sense into the chaebol’s leadership.

  • avatar
    R Henry

    For those of you planning to visit Southern California anytime soon, the location where the lede photo was taken is called Mugu Rock. Almost every time I drive by there, I see white media production trucks there prepping for a shoot. That location appears in lots of Cadillac ads, the old Rockford Files TV show, and countless other auto-related films and advertisements.

    It is a fun place to visit. Map is here:,-119.0541081,3a,75y,298.05h,77.54t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sxQ5OHs-scH8GO5sNbwSbag!2e0!7i16384!8i8192

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    I currently have 2 MY 2011 Sonata’s in the ‘fleet’. A MT with over 180,000kms and an auto with about 100,000kms.

    The auto has been ‘babied’, the MT not so. But both are regularly Krowned.

    Unfortunately the most I have been offered on a trade for the MT is $1,900 so I will have to drive it until the end. The engine does make a discernable ‘diesel like’ sound when under acceleration in lower gears (1st to 2nd or 2nd to 3rd upshifts in particular).

    Other than that and the recalls, they have been ‘decent’ with the exception of very thin paint, a problem with the release wires for the trunk and gas cap filler repeatedly sticking, and an ECM that burnt out in the first 10,000kms (warranty fix).

    Between the two of them, we have had approximately 20 recalls.

    • 0 avatar

      Geez. You have some crummy luck when it comes to ECMs and resale value.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        @ajla, Thanks for reminding me. An ECM in a Hyundai and an ECM in a GM product.

        As for resale, since I refuse to sell privately, and generally purchase a base model or ‘special edition’ when it comes time to trade in for a new one the margins are thin enough that the dealer makes insultingly low offers.

  • avatar

    My wife leases a 2016 Forte SX with the 2.0 liter GDI . It isnt covered by recall , but who knows if it will be ? .. Car has been very reliable so far …. our lease ends in early 2021 , so we have 2 years to see if we want to buy it out (at this point, it will all depend on how this engine recall ” shakes out ” )

  • avatar

    I know only one guy who owned Hyundai and, surprise, surprise, its engine seized in the middle of the long trip. But for the different reason – radiator developed crack and engine overheated. Funny that he did not notice that there is a problem. After that he bought Mercedes E-class. I was not surprised when he sold it after only three years.

  • avatar

    Soon GM and Ford will be out of the sedan business, and companies like Hyundai will benefit.

  • avatar

    The phrases “Hyundai quality” and “handle responsibly” cannot be used together unless a negative modifier is included.

    I can only imagine what the comments would look like if this involved a GM issue.

  • avatar

    Hopefully the next shoe to drop in this saga will revolve around the poor QC of the 7-speed dual-clutch transmission in the 15-17 Sonata/Optima Eco and 16-17 Tucson.

  • avatar

    What, no jokes about a South-Korean YMCA? Either the health clubs or the song would do as the subject…

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