South Korean automaker Hyundai announced it is recalling 129,000 vehicles in the U.S. to resolve an issue that increases the risk of a fire.
The action covers a variety of 2015-2016 Veloster, 2012 Santa Fe, 2011-2013 Sonata Hybrid, and 2016 Sonata Hybrid vehicles.
The problem centers on connecting rod bearings inside the engine that can wear prematurely. Over time the worn bearings can damage the engine, raising the potential for a fire. The company said dealers will inspect the affected vehicles, at no cost to the owner, and if bearing damage is found, the engine will be replaced, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said.
Additionally, Hyundai said that all the recalled vehicles will also receive an enhanced engine control software update containing a new Knock Sensor Detection System that monitors engine vibrations for unusual patterns potentially indicating an abnormal condition with the engine — like a damaged connecting rod bearing.
Hyundai’s engines have been problematic. Last week, Hyundai and Kia Motors agreed to a record $210 million civil penalty. The fine came because the company failed to recall 1.6 million vehicles for engine issues in a timely fashion, regulators said. NHTSA said the two affiliated Korean automakers agreed to consent orders after it said they had inaccurately reported some information to the agency regarding the recalls.
The company agreed to a total penalty of $140 million, which included a payment of $54 million the company already made. Also, Hyundai committed to spend $40 million on safety performance measures, plus an additional $46 million deferred penalty if it does not meet requirements. The settlement covered recalls in 2015 and 2017 for manufacturing issues that could lead to bearing wear and engine failure. The vehicles in the recall include 2011-2014 Sonata and 2013-2014 Santa Fe Sport vehicles.
Two years ago, U.S. owners of select Hyundai and Kia models sued the automakers in the U.S. trying to resolve a possible defected that may cause some engines to catch fire. The more than 350 complaints filed by vehicle owners with NHTSA constitutes “concealment of the defect,” according to the class-action suit filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District Court of California by Seattle-based law firm Hagens Berman.
The fires occurred for some time but were difficult to separate from fires that occurred as a result of a crash and those that happened before or after a crash. In Florida, more than 400 fires were reported, but just 120 of those fit the description for the lawsuit.
Safety investigators began looking to the problem as a result of those fires and discovered it could be a much bigger problem. NHTSA started probing the timeliness and scope of the carmakers’ recalls related to manufacturing errors in “Theta II” engines, while the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York opened a criminal investigation into the matter, according to a Reuters report.
Ultimately, Hyundai and Kia have recalled 1.6 million U.S.-made vehicles produced from 2011 and 2014 for engine problems. The customers’ lawsuit argues that a defect restricts oil flow to core engine parts, causing premature wear and failure and eventually resulting in engine seizure and fire.