Johnson: Even NHTSA Blames Hyundai/Kia Customers for Lack of Maintenance

March 25, 2024
The role of Hyundai/Kia maintenance in relation to warranties, severe driving, and defects.

Frustrated Hyundai/Kia customers often lament not receiving protection under their 10-year, 100,000-mile warranties. It sounded like such a great deal, especially combined with the advertised low maintenance: Service every 7,500 miles—no problem.  

Then their engines seized, and the automakers told them it was their own fault even when the parts involved were covered by class action lawsuits, recalls, open investigations, and/or Technical Service Bulletins (TSBs).  

Too often, the only remedy associated with Hyundai/Kia engine problems has been an extension of the warranty and a knock sensor detection software update, but that doesn’t help the customer whose engine is already dead when the automaker can get away with blaming it on lack of required maintenance. 

Bottom line: No matter what automakers’ advertisements say or imply, consumers who don’t want to get bogged down in litigation or become engine defects activists should follow the owner’s manual directions on maintenance, and they would be wise to follow the shortest (sometimes called “severe driving”) schedule for everything.  

Kia already acknowledged that many, if not most Kia customers drive under severe conditions—see Kia TSB 219 covering 98 models. Kia and Hyundai use the same engines, so that’s easy math. Get those oil changes early and keep the receipts. For DIY work, keep a detailed log with all product receipts, and remember to check NHTSA’s website for new TSBs

I recently spoke with a lifetime DIYer who has a cracked oil pan on his 2019 Kia Sorento—one of the models from PAMA’s recently dismissed petition for defect investigation of Hyundai/Kia oil drain pan defects. He never used torque pressure as high as the currently recommended 29 ft-lbs on the oil drain plug yet Kia refused to cover the oil pan replacement under warranty.  

They said he must’ve cracked the pan by using too much torque pressure despite having no evidence to prove that. His model has the 2.4L GDI Theta II engine which has been the subject of class actions and defect investigation resulting in a requirement to have the knock sensor detection software. It is notorious for excessive oil consumption. This DIYer’s diligence is the most likely reason he hasn’t experienced engine failure, but now he must gather his log and product receipts and prove he didn’t over-torque the pan. 

None of this is fair, but that’s the current trend in tactics and unfortunately the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is making it worse. The agency closed the investigation into Hyundai/Kia’s oil drain pans after Hyundai published TSB 23-EM-005H (October 2023) acknowledging the stuck gasket factor and setting a single oil drain plug torque pressure recommendation of 29 ft-lbs.

The agency also assumed, in writing, that the cracked oil pan cases were from technicians’ error in using too much torque pressure despite having no evidence to support the assumption and despite their assumption being contradicted by Hyundai/Kia’s original torque pressure recommendation, which went as high as 33 ft-lbs and was applicable to all defect cases considered. 

The agency also recently dumped defect investigation #EA21003, which was spurred by the prestigious Center for Auto Safety against Hyundai/Kia for engine fires. Adding insult to injury, NHTSA’s closing resume states: 

“For the MY 2011 Sorento vehicles equipped with the Lambda II 3.5L engines, ODI believes that future engine failures/fires involving these vehicles will likely be due to a lax in adhering to the proper or scheduled engine maintenance (regular engine oil changes), rather than a design or manufacturing engine issue.” 

This means NHTSA just lowered the bar to accept the idea that inadequate maintenance both causes and excuses the risk of engines bursting into flames. Perhaps Subaru, Ford, Mercedes, Chevy, and Mitsubishi would like to request a do-over regarding their responsible (and probably expensive) actions in making fire risk-related recalls in the last decade?  

As a consumer, I hope not. As an industry professional, I see NHTSA’s decision as putting all drivers at risk of automakers seeing this as a potential way out of paying for engine defects going forward. 

In any case, the combination of NHTSA’s recent decisions and the ongoing pile-up of Hyundai/Kia warranty denial cases scream the same directive: Get your oil changed regularly or else! 


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