October 4, 2011

∴ @Hyundai, Challenged

I spent a lot of time mulling my choices for a new car a few months ago, eventually deciding on a Hyundai Sonata. It not only looks great, it’s comfortable and the price is at least $10k less than other, similarly equipped sedans. And it’s quite a nice ride, too. But it hasn’t turned out all sweetness and light.

I’ve run across a trio of problems, from minor to safety-threatening. This isn’t what I expected from my new car.

The first problem emerged immediately upon leaving the dealer’s lot. The steering wheel wasn’t straight when the car rolled straight on the road, regardless of lane or road crowning.

The other two issues are more serious. About two weeks after I took delivery I began noticing a moderately loud creaking sound coming from the sunroof, whenever the car was driven slowly over an uneven surface. A surface like our gravel driveway, or the intersection at the end of our street where the road dips through the corner.

The third issue is more annoying, partly because it makes the car somewhat dangerous to operate and partly because it appears to be a software problem. I spend a lot of time diagnosing and fixing software-related problems in my day job. Buggy software should never make it to real-time processing environments. Even before the roof started creaking, the cruise control was failing to recognize a pressed cancel button.

I discovered this problem as I zipped along I-66 in Virginia one afternoon. As I overtook another vehicle I saw that I couldn’t change lanes to pass. I hit the cruise control cancel button, but it wouldn’t disengage. I tapped the brake to disengage and slowed, late, a little more rapidly than I had expected to have to.

The same happened again as I descended a winding hill, when I wanted to slow for the curves. Again, multiple button presses did nothing to disengage the cruise control. This time I hit the master on/off button, shutting it  off altogether.

This has happened several time now, sometimes at higher rates of speed. I’ve also had the cruise control fail to engage, but that’s less of a problem than failing to disengage.

I brought the car to my Hyundai dealer last week. After I assured them twice that I hadn’t hit a curb, and they failed to find any impact damage, they agreed to align the front end free. I’ve since found other Sonata owners online with the same complaint, so I know this is an emerging issue for Hyundai.

The technician was able to replicate the sunroof creak during his test drive, took apart the headliner, but couldn’t identify any broken welds or other problems with the roof assembly. So they’re jobbing out the problem to a local body shop. I’m really unimpressed with the need to put a new car through this kind of service. Even more-so that the car is still at the body shop five days later, without word from them as to what’s going on. Hopefully the direction for this came from Hyundai corporate, and isn’t a shot in the dark to fix an unrecognized issue. Others are reporting the same problem online, and the fix appears to be re-torquing the crossbar bolts. I don’t understand why my car is still at a body shop.

The cruise control problem is intermittent, though. Sure enough, the technician couldn’t replicate the problem and the plan right now is to return the car to me, unrepaired.

This problem rears its head at the precise moment I’ve decided that I need to slow the hell down. It’s a safety issue. A safety issue that others are reporting in online discussion forums, and have managed to get fixed, free, with a control module replacement. So I’m not being served very well at my dealership.

I made that last point clear this morning when I stopped by the dealership. They simply weren’t going to deal with the cruise control problem at all, because the technician couldn’t replicate it during his short test drive. That is, right up until I told the service advisor that I was going to drive the loaner vehicle off their lot and not return until the problem was fixed. He conferred with his manager, and suddenly a field engineer is going to take a look at the problem. I’m waiting on a phone call later today.

Hyundai is fond of their latest ad campaign, calling it the Hyundai Challenge. I’d be pleased if they put a microphone in my car to pick up what I have to say when the cruise control fails to disengage as I’m rapidly approaching another vehicle at highway speeds. It would be decidedly different from what we all hear in the television commercials.

I have a pair of friends looking around for their next car. One is eying the Sonata for the same reasons I did. After finding these three problems I have to say that Hyundai’s initial quality is poor. And their service response to safety-related issues is equally poor. I shouldn’t have to threaten keeping their loaner to get better attention, especially when the problem I’m reporting is an issue known to other customers, who openly discuss it online. My experience isn’t helping Hyundai sell cars to my friends.

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