— Hyundai Theta II engine problems were known to Hyundai at the same time the automaker was saying a safety defect didn't exist, so says a 54-year-old Hyundai engineer who is accused of leaking secrets of the automaker.
The South Korean engineer, Kim Kwang-ho, says Hyundai knew the Theta II engines have problems that cause knocking, noise and a loss of power. Kwang-ho blew the whistle by contacting the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an act that caused Hyundai to petition a court to close the mouth of the engineer.
Hyundai filed documents with the Seoul Central District Court accusing Kwang-ho of leaking secret corporate information to U.S. safety regulators in August 2016.
The engineer has been employed by Hyundai for 25 years and according to Nikkei Asian Review, when the automaker learned about the engineer singing to U.S. safety regulators, Kwang-ho was hauled in front of Hyundai's disciplinary committee.
While Hyundai and a court decide how to handle the engineer, the Theta II engine referenced in the story has caused the automaker trouble in the past that led to recalls and lawsuits.
In September 2015, Hyundai recalled 470,000 Sonatas equipped with 2-liter and 2.4-liter gasoline direct injection (GDI) engines after telling the NHTSA that a safety defect didn't exist. Hyundai's position was that owners received warnings when the engines stalled or failed, but NHTSA had concerns about cars stalling while traveling at high speeds.
Hyundai says the recall was ordered because problems during manufacturing caused metallic debris to interfere with the oil flow through the connecting rod bearings. Hyundai blamed the problem on changes made at the factory about how machining debris was removed from the crankshaft.
The automaker started seeing an increase of warranty claims related to Theta II engines concerning loud noises coming from the engines and warning lights illuminating. Additionally, Sonata owners claim the engine problems have a habit of occurring shortly after the warranty expires.
Then there are the lawsuits, one that was filed in 2015 that went after Hyundai Sonatas equipped with Theta II 2.4-liter engines that allegedly fail due to metal debris from the bearings that contaminate the engine oil.
The plaintiff, who owns a 2011 Hyundai Sonata, claims she heard a loud knocking noise from the engine and was told by a dealer that a blown piston was to blame. The dealer refused to fix the car under warranty, leaving the owner with the possibility of paying $4,500 to replace the engine.
To save a few bucks, the plaintiff says she paid $3,000 to an independent mechanic to have the Theta II engine replaced.
A separate Theta II lawsuit was filed in June 2016 concerning Kia vehicles, including the Kia Optima, Kia Sportage and Kia Sorento, but the plaintiffs say even more models may be affected.
The Kia lawsuit alleges the 2-liter and 2.4-liter GDI engines have problems that restrict the flow of oil through the connecting rod bearings and other engine parts, the same problems that caused the recall.
Have a complaint to add about your Hyundai or Kia? Add your complaint here, about any vehicle.