Hyundai, Kia recall 1.2 million vehicles to prevent premature engine failure

The engines in some of those vehicles may have an increased likelihood of stalling, which could dramatically increase the risk of accidents.

Lee Jin-man/AP/File
The logo of Hyundai Motor Co. is displayed at the automaker's showroom in Seoul.

Hyundai and its South Korean sibling, Kia, are recalling nearly 1.2 million cars and crossovers from the 2011 to 2014 model years. Documents from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that the engines in some of those vehicles may have an increased likelihood of stalling, which could dramatically increase the risk of accidents.

The engines suffer from two problems, both of which stem from flawed manufacturing processes. NHTSA's defect report on the Kia vehicles affected by the recall explains that after the engines' crankshafts were machined, their oil passages may not have been completely cleared of metallic debris. Complicating matters is that the engines' crankpins were manufactured with uneven surfaces. 

Combined, the crankshaft debris and the roughness of the crankpins can keep oil from getting to an engine's connecting rod bearings, which can cause the bearings to wear out prematurely. That, in turn, can cause the bearings to fail, forcing the engine to stall.

The good news is that failure of the connecting rod bearings is rarely sudden, and drivers are almost always warned of the issue ahead of time by a very unusual banging noise coming from the engine compartment. (If you've ever had the experience, you know what we mean. It sounds a bit like a Terminator-sized Energizer bunny hopped up on triple espressos trying to break out of a prison cell.) 

Also good news: while engine failures have been reported by owners, Kia has received no news of accidents or injuries linked to the problem. (Hyundai's documents haven't yet been published.)

The recall affects 572,000 Hyundais and 618,160 Kia vehicles registered in the U.S., including:

  • 2013-2014 Hyundai Sonata
  • 2013-2014 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport
  • 2011-2014 Kia Optima
  • 2012-2014 Kia Sorento
  • 2011-2013 Kia Sportage

Hyundai owners should begin receiving recall notices in the mail around May 19. Kia owners can expect them a week or so later, around May 25. After receiving those notices, owners will be able to take their vehicles to their local dealerships, where mechanics will inspect the engine assembly and replace the affected parts, as necessary. The fix will be carried out at no charge to owners.

If you own one of these vehicles and have further questions, you're encouraged to call Hyundai customer service at 855-671-3059 and ask about recall #162, or call Kia customer service at 800-333-4542 and inquire about recall SC147. You can also call NHTSA's Vehicle Safety Hotline at -888-327-4236 and ask about safety campaign 17V-226 (Hyundai) or 17V-224 (Kia).

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