By on December 4, 2020

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Hyundai Motor Co. is recalling roughly 129,000 vehicles sold in the United States over an engine issue that may pose a fire risk. While we’ve been generally kind to the manufacturer of late, thanks to a rather good lineup of well-designed vehicles, it’s been mucking things up with recalls.

Last week, Hyundai Motor Group (including Kia) agreed to shell out up to $210 million in civil penalties after American safety regulators said it was dragging its feet on enacting a recall that encompassed 1.6 million automobiles. Apparently, there was some confusion on what needed to be reported to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. But let’s begin with the latest problem covering the company’s 2.4, 2.0, and 1.6-liter engines.

The recall covers 2015-2016 Veloster, 2012 Santa Fe, 2011-2013 Sonata Hybrid, and 2016 Sonata Hybrid models using the above powertrains. In the report, it’s suggested that the connecting rod bearings inside the engines may wear prematurely and lead to failures. The worst-case scenarios run the risk of throwing a damaged rod through the engine block and oil spilling out, though most drivers should notice a lot of troubling signs (knocking, warning lights, etc.) before this happens.

Hyundai plans on installing an enhanced engine control software update containing a “Knock Sensor Detection System” on the affected vehicles. The program is supposed to keep tabs on engine vibrations that might be indicative of abnormal performance. While we’re getting a little tired of manufacturers issuing software updates as the default remedy for mechanical issues, it’s better than nothing. Fortunately, worn bearings will be replaced “if necessary” once inspections are underway. The manufacturer said it anticipates notifying owners by January 22nd.

As for the fines, Hyundai and Kia agreed to a total civil penalty of $140 million. Fees will include an upfront payment of $54 million, an obligation to spend $40 million on general safety measures, and an additional $46 million in deferred penalties if it fails to adhere to NHTSA rules. The settlement covers recalls in 2015 and 2017 dealing with a highly similar issue where bearings could wear early and result in catastrophic engine failure.

It has actually become a bit of a problem in general.

“When consumers are telling their car company and their government their cars are catching on fire, it should not require a third-party watchdog to force life-saving action, but that’s exactly what happened here,” Jason Levine, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, explained to Reuters in a recent statement. “Far too many Hyundai owners had their horror stories dismissed as freak occurrences or anomalous. Today’s recall demonstrates that where there’s smoke there’s fire.”

“We have been tracking fire and engine related recalls from Hyundai and Kia from the time we called for recalls and federal investigations. Since 2015, there have been 33 such recalls involving at least 20 different models and over 5 million vehicles, covering model years 2006-2021,” he continued. “Based on this history and the fact that the current recall only covers those vehicles which have experienced above average rates of hole-in-block engine fires, despite other Hyundai vehicles having the exact same engines, we think that this recall is not the end of this story.”

It should also be stated that Hyundai has been getting in trouble over fires relating to the Kona Electric. While this has been attributed to battery supplier LG Chem, the supplier is pointing the finger back at the manufacturer. Of course, it’s not the only battery firm or automaker in hot water over vehicles combusting while charging overnight. General Motors called back 68,677 EVs last month and BMW has recalls on vehicles equipped with batteries from Samsung SDI for similar fire risks.

[Image: Hyundai Motor Group]

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37 Comments on “Hyundai Recalling 129,000 U.S. Cars Over Engine Fire Risk, Fined By Regulators...”


  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    The connecting rod bearing thing smells a lot like the crankshaft debris issue, but with a different name. But that problem only covered the 2.4 and 2.0 engines; I don’t remember the 1.6 being part of that.

    No matter what Hyundai’s supplier is doing wrong (as with the crankshaft problem), Hyundai owns this. Not good.

    A blown engine spewing oil shouldn’t be a fire risk unless that oil lights off on a hot exhaust pipe (seriously, but with eye roll).

    Seems like this ought to cover the corresponding Kia models too, which use the same engine.

    • 0 avatar
      SC5door

      The issue is with fuel dilution causing excessive bearing wear. Combined with oil change intervals on conventional oil that push 10K is a recipe for disaster.

      I had a Hyundai 1.6T—it wasn’t made clear that you needed to use a high quality synthetic oil in it.

      130K and the engine failed on it. I sold it at 119K because the engine was losing oil….only found out about the engine failure because the next owner found my info and called me.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        I wonder what the odds are that the dealer is putting synthetic oil in my Stinger (which I do ask for and they claim is being used)?

        • 0 avatar
          ToolGuy

          55-gallon drum of full synthetic works out to a little over $2/quart here:

          https://petroleumservicecompany.com/sunoco-ultra-full-synthetic-5w-20-55-gallon-drum/

          Poking around on the same site, some of the conventional oils cost just as much (wholesale).

          (I’m not saying the dealer isn’t stiffing you, but I think the dealer has less incentive to do so than what I might have thought earlier.)

          Does the dealer list it as “full synthetic” or “synthetic blend”? (and looks like I should’ve gone for 5W-30)

          • 0 avatar
            ajla

            The service invoices just say “applicable oil” which I assume is a CYA for them.
            I’ve been told it is 5W-30 although given my climate, driving style, and the manual’s oil chart the car probably should be getting 5W-40 (maybe even 15W-40 in the summer).
            image.ibb.co/gz3npb/kia_stinger_oil_
            sae_viscosity.jpg

            If I was planning on keeping it long-term I’d fret more about it and likely do my own changes. Although if I had 10+ year ownership plans I probably would have bought something else anyway.

  • avatar
    Imagefont

    In this day and age – failing connecting rod bearings?
    I would expect all crank bearing surfaces to be within tolerance of a new engine after 200k miles with proper oils changes and no overheating. Anything less is crap.
    I’ve learned something – don’t buy anHyundai.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      “I would expect all crank bearing surfaces to be within tolerance of a new engine after 200k miles with proper oils changes and no overheating. Anything less is crap.”

      Agreed. My 09 Sedona 3.8 engine is still tight @ 138k miles. Even my lowly former 01 Elantra only burned a quart every 2500 miles at 200k.

      Add some debris, and no engine can last. That’s why I suspect this is actually an expansion of the infamous crankshaft recall. As much as I like the H/K brands, it’s pretty shameful.

  • avatar
    Null Set

    It’s getting hard to think of who makes truly reliable cars anymore, what with Toyota and Honda recalling hundreds of thousands of their vehicles a year for very serious, life-threatening defects. Hyundai and KIA do make very appealing cars these days – more so than Honda or Toyota, IMHO – but the crappy, combusible, exploding engine thing with them is historic, and seems here to stay. Like Ford and its detaching steering wheels. Add to that the crappy service experience both provide, its hard to see what the appeal could possibly be.

    Which leads to the (for me) ironic conclusion that perhaps it’s a safer bet to go with one of the European makes that have always had iffy quality reputations – like Jaguar. At least their warranties are great and their service experience really is top notch (I owned a late 2000 XF, and loved the service experience, and a SAAB, which is no more, but similar reliability issues, but similar stellar service).

    At least I won’t get screwed coming and going.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      @Null Set

      There was no XF in MY00, it debuted for MY07.

      BONUS: The XF features much higher resale than the predecessor S-Type, despite them being the same platform (DEW98) and using the same motor (AJ30 V6) through 2011.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      In my garage, H/K are at the top for reliability; Honda and VW are at the bottom.

      My definition of reliability is whether the car is available with no unscheduled service required. Loose trim pieces and flat tires don’t qualify for ‘unreliability’.

      I spent a lot of time sitting in Honda and VW service departments waiting for the fix on brand new cars.

      I shopped Honda in 2005 for its brand reputation, and same for VW in 2002. It’s all you can do, and then every buyer is left to experience it for themselves. I can’t discount (or credit) someone’s personal experience with a brand, but neither are broad customer surveys a guarantee of success.

      YMMV.

      • 0 avatar
        remusrm

        I got a 2020 Civic 2.0 manual. I regret getting it since its put together with insane tolerance for panel gaps, inside and out. Everything seems misaligned and flimsy. I never expected this from them… but I won’t get another one ever!

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        My mileage definitely varied. 48k and the motor sounded like an angry gorilla with a crowbar inside the oil pan. Pennzoil Platinum synthetic every 5k from new. I figure even something like an Alfa Stelvio is probably good for 48k trouble free so I won’t be back at the Hyundai dealer anytime soon.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        My mileage definitely varied. 48k and the motor sounded like an angry gorilla with a crowbar inside the oil pan. Pennzoil Platinum synthetic every 5k from new. I figure even something like an Alfa Stelvio is probably good for 48k trouble free so I won’t be back at the Hyundai dealer anytime soon.

      • 0 avatar
        johnds

        Yeah, I am having an issue with my 2007 Honda Accord. Right at 217,000 miles, the check engine light came on. I believe its for an air leak between the air filter and intake. I looked up the part online and I can get it for $30, the old part is visually cracked and air hisses out. I just can’t believe this part would fail before 300,000 miles. Shameful.
        My cousin’s dealing with a small problem with his 2008 Kia Optima. At 135,000 miles, he’s got a small issue with no engine compression on cylinder #1 I believe. It’s a very awesome, reliable car, but unfortunely it’s sitting in his front yard until he decides what to do next. Hyundai and Kia make the best vehicles in the world.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      “It’s getting hard to think of who makes truly reliable cars anymore”

      I just dump all my cars before 100K these days. All the stuff I really knew well is getting old enough to be eligible for classic car plates and I don’t feel like dicking around with the new voodoo.

      Anecdotally, people I know of that owned a used Mercedes or VW have largely ended up okay. On the other hand used BMWs and Land Rovers have been pits of complete despair. Don’t know many people with Audis, Alfas, Jags, Maseratis, MINIs, Volvos, or Porsches. My sister’s Saab was okay but parts were expensive and a pain to find when it did need something

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    There was no XF in MY00, it debuted for MY07.

    BONUS: The XF features much higher resale than the predecessor S-Type, despite them being the same platform (DEW98) and using the same motor (AJ30 V6) through 2011.

  • avatar
    KOKing

    BMW these days considers rod bearings a regular service item.

  • avatar

    Will never buy Hyundai again because they cannot cleanup their act, i.e. engine. My next car will be Kia and only Kia, Kia Telluride at that. Never Hyundai again, never.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    Recommendation: Upgrade to a 2020 Telluride.

    (Oh, and don’t carry carseats and don’t trailer.)

    https://www.cars.com/research/kia-telluride-2020/recalls/

    • 0 avatar
      Jeff Semenak

      If you are trailering while depending on Smart Cruise Control. BTW, only an idiot would do that, the Trailer brake lights would not light under Automatic Braking. Oh noes!!! The Car seat thing, is something to consider though.

      • 0 avatar
        ToolGuy

        Facts to consider:
        a) Idiots exist
        b) Idiots are allowed to purchase new vehicles
        c) Idiots are allowed to operate motor vehicles
        [They also pay taxes and vote]

        The fact that an action taken was taken by an idiot doesn’t mean it didn’t happen and doesn’t need to be taken into account when designing a product.

        Anyway, car seat fits into the same category – because only idiots have children [ask me how I know].

        • 0 avatar
          ToolGuy

          Subpoint A.2: “Idiot” is often context-specific. Very smart people can do idiotic things when in unfamiliar territory.

        • 0 avatar
          johnds

          Not saying that all idiots buy new cars, but from my observation of plenty of idiots who buy a new car and trash it, making it completely disgusting and barely running after 50,000 miles or so by never changing the oil or drive the tires until they are completely bald. Wash, rinse, and repeat.

      • 0 avatar
        ToolGuy

        Serious comment: All the most interesting stuff in the world of engineering/diagnosis/troubleshooting happens out on the margin/fringes/rare-use-cases where this and that and the other all come together and the circles overlap in ways unanticipated by those working in silos.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      “Oh, and don’t carry carseats and don’t trailer.”

      Don’t carry passengers either.

  • avatar
    S197GT

    in 10 months our new to us 2016 Kia Sorento has been to the dealer a handful of times. even before we took it home the first it had to go to the dealer after i smelled antifreeze after the test drive. new water pump. also a shift lock had to be replaced. after purchase brought it in for a well-known “sticky” steering issue. first they did the re-program of the electric power steering and it was still there. our EPS failed yesterday and just got the call today we are getting a new steering rack. also had a radio issue where it would randomly cut out; also a known issue and brought in the TSB where they just needed to add electrical liquid stuff to the connection. the sunroof wouldn’t close but i was able to re-grease that myself. not sure what else i’ve brought it in for but the dealership has been great to work with. they’ve fixed almost everything if they can replicate. we are still under the 5-yr/60k miles warranty. the only issue they haven’t fixed is the hesitation we get from the engine under heavy acceleration; they claim it is carbon buildup from the direct injection and think an injection service will fix it but i know that won’t work exactly BECAUSE it is direct injection. walnut blasting is probably the only thing that will get rid of it.

    i’m active on the forums and there are a lot of happy owners but there are a lot of issues, too.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    I keep telling myself that I would consider another Kia (or Hyundai for that matter) even though my last experience left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. *Cliff’s notes version of the bad taste: awful shifter action, preventing a gear change into 4th, unresponsive dealer, loss of patience. I chalk it up to all manuals being different and saying that I picked a bad one at the time. Since they’re mostly autos anymore, the point is moot.*

    With that said, I’ve more or less fallen into Mazda’s camp.

  • avatar
    petey

    Dont bother buying a h/k brand automobile.
    They care more about blu tooth, touch screens and brand marketing then engineering.
    Its no wonder they have 3 major recalls spanning 7 million vehicles in the usa alone.

  • avatar
    tmport

    My last three cars (including my current 2016 Soul 2.0 and my 2019 Rio hatchback) have been Kias. I’ve had no problems with any of them, but I can’t pretend I’m not worried. I typically like to keep my cars 10+ years, but I’m not sure I’ll make it that long with the Soul. I find it perplexing that the latest recall (similar to the one in this article, but covering Kia counterparts) will only cover the 2014-15 Souls with the 2.0. As far as I know, they didn’t make any engine changes for the 2016 model years and later, so I imagine Kia will eventually have to expand the recall. But software to detect imminent engine failure isn’t going to cut it…frankly, I’m concerned that that’ll cause more problems than it’s worth.

    • 0 avatar
      petey

      Tmport, I think your ok with your kia soul, as the major recall was for the 2.4L engine and their engines seizing.

      But keep yourself posted, because it seems like hyundai and kia dont really know the exact cause for the engine fire recall. Blaiming it on the Abs module, but other sources say it could also be part of the engine seizing problem(2.4L only)

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