Hyundai Recalling 129,000 U.S. Cars Over Engine Fire Risk, Fined By Regulators

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Image: Hyundai

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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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