Hyundai Motor Co. and its affiliate Kia Motors Corp. have agreed to the South Korean government’s order to recall 240,000 cars for safety issues raised by a whistleblower. This is the first time the country’s transportation authority has mandated a vehicle recall. Previously, Hyundai and Kia had rejected calls for a voluntary recall, saying that the defects – which cover problems with fuel hoses, vacuum pipes and parking brake lights – didn’t involve safety, according to media reports. The country’s transport ministry has reportedly also asked prosecutors to probe whether there is evidence that there was a cover-up at the automakers. Hyundai said in a statement that there were no reported injuries or accidents from the issues behind the recall. “Safety is always Hyundai-Kia’s number one priority and we make decisions on recalls or any other customer protection steps in compliance with regulators around the world and stringent internal procedures,” the automaker said.
The recall affects 12 models, including the Hyundai Elantra, Sonata and Santa Fe, according to news reports. The whistleblower is Hyundai engineer Kim Gwang-ho, according to media reports, who has worked for the automaker for 25 years. He is reportedly the first whistleblower to flag problems in South Korea’s automotive industry and made allegations about 32 issues to regulators there. Kim also traveled to the United States last year to report safety problems to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA); he reportedly said that the company was lagging on addressing an engine problem that raised the risk of crashes.
Kia and Hyundai recently recalled 1.4 million vehicles in the U.S., Canada and South Korea due to a risk that the engines can fail and stall, potentially causing a crash. According to the automakers, metal debris left over from engine manufacturing can clog oil bearings, which causes temperatures to rise in the engines and the bearings to fail, which could make the car stall while running. A worn connecting rod bearing will also make a knocking noise from the engine, causing warning lights to appear in the dashboard, according to the documents. “If the warnings are ignored and the vehicle is continued to be driven, the bearing may fail and the vehicle could stall while in motion,” Kia said in one document posted on NHTSA’s website.
Last month’s recall includes 2013 and 2014 Hyundai Santa Fe Sports and Sonatas, as well as 2011 through 2014 Kia Optimas, Kia Sportages from 2011 to 2013 and Kia Sorentos from 2012 through 2014. The recalled cars all have either 2-liter or 2.4-liter engines, and the vehicles in the U.S. were all made at a Hyundai plant in Montgomery, Alabama. The companies will be mailing car owners, telling them to bring their cars to a dealer, which will inspect and replace the engine assembly, if necessary. The repairs will be free of charge. Owners also will be reimbursed for previous repair expenses.
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