I have a love-hate relationship with my Hyundai Elantra
1st Six Months:
• The very first week I owned the car, the paint on a foot-long section of passenger side door molding literally fell off — clean, like it had never had any paint applied to it in the first place. The dealer tried to blame it on something I may have hit, but fortunately for me they repaired it at no charge, because I first noticed the missing paint when picking my car up from the service department, because of yet another problem:
• The vehicle had hard water spots all over it when I bought it that would not come off. I had the firsthand opportunity to observe that these water deposits were from the sloppy car washing practices on the dealer lot, in which a small hand towel was used to dry the entire car — which for all intents and purposes amounted to letting their inventory air dry. Consequently, the dealer agreed to give it an "acid wash", at which time they also went over the glass portions with ultra-fine steel wool to remove the mineral deposits. Eventually they removed the water spots, although it took more than one trip to the dealer to accomplish as much.
• Replaced plastic side panel on driver's side of dash, due to discoloration under warranty.
• Replaced strut that was groaning and creaking. I believe this became the subject of a TSB. This too was covered under warranty.
• Replaced burned out dash clock. This was covered by warranty (apparently a common problem).
• Dealer repaired a sticky gas tank door/release.
1st Three Years:
• Performed recall repair on position of brake lines under warranty.
• Inspected exhaust manifold for cracks as a result of an apparent silent recall and/or TSB. No cracks found. Mileage less than 25K, however.
• Measured valve clearances to troubleshoot cold engine/cold weather acceleration rattle that could not be resolved with 10-40 weight oil or higher octane gas. One dealer said there was no problem. A year or two later a second dealer said they were "out of spec" but the factory rep who arrived the next day said they were within specifications.
• Dealer replaced motor mount under warranty at Hyundai factory rep's suggestion. It didn't resolve cold engine acceleration rattle.
• Dealer replaced thrust bearing washer, also under warranty, and at factory rep's suggestion. That didn't resolve cold engine acceleration rattle, either.
• Reprogrammed AT transmission per TSB to resolve shift flare. Covered by warranty.
• Replaced stripped oil plug and pan assembly per TSB, also under warranty. (Note: Dealer mechanic could not reattach oil plug after an oil change due to stripped threads. Dealer tried to blame this problem on an independent mechanic I had used in the past to change my oil once or twice, and though it was their service technician who was unable to reattach the oil pan plug they were going to charge me nearly $1,000 to replace the pan/pug assembly. Fortunately, it occurred to me to check the TSBs for my car, at which point I was able to offer proof that it was a "known issue" for which warranty service applied.)
• Replaced rear brakes at ~20K.
• Performed maintenance including coolant drain and refill, transmission, power steering and brake fluid flush (FYI: Those who are complaining that their brake, cooling system components or transmission have failed need to indicate whether they have performed routine maintenance. After all, the problems that characterize Lemons are far different than the problems caused by failing to follow the maintenance schedule).
• Replaced front brakes at ~32K.
• Replaced a burned out headlight under warranty.
• Replaced drive belts and timing belts per maintenance schedule at 32K due to age of car (7 years).
• Replaced spark plugs. One apparently showed moderate evidence of carbon fouling, but the dealer did not determine whether it might indicate a sticky valve or some other condition. However, they did perform a carbon service on the engine under warranty. My acceleration improved — and I'm sold on the value of this service — but the rattle did not disappear. *
• Replaced thermostat and gasket after it stuck open, causing the car to overheat in Spring 2008. Fortunately, the car was pulled off the road immediately and no other damage was done. From what I have read, thermostat failure is an incredibly common problem, and I was lucky not to blow a head gasket or essentially "total" my car's engine.
• In late 2008 I received notice of a silent safety recall on Hyundai Elantra airbag connections below the driver and passenger seats, which can easily be knocked loose, thereby disabling the airbags. This was one of many problems I experienced several years before the recall notices went out. I would have included my airbag warning light issue in the original posting of this review, but frankly there have been so many problems, that for all my efforts to fully document them, I have lost track of a few.
• The plastic paneling on the back of my driver's seat has what resembles bleached-out splatter marks on the left side. Each mark is about the size of a dime. None of these stains appeared to have been there originally. Or had they? I suspect they may have been there all along for two reasons: 1) Several interior panels were replaced within the first few weeks of ownership for this exact same type of discoloration (as described above); 2) I almost never carry passengers, and when I do they are always adults with no other liquids on their persons other than bottled water. Moreover, passenger windows are never left down at any time, so that rules out anything entering the car from the exterior. Furthermore, there has never been an incident where anything was spilled on the seat or anywhere else. Additionally, none of the fabric or carpeting in the area, or anywhere else for that matter, has been similarly stained as would be expected if a liquid bleaching agent had spilled. I suspect that the plastic in the driver's seat contained impurities and/or was coated with some sort of matching polish, paint or dye to obscure the "evidence" and with time it has resurfaced.
• Over the past 7+ years I frequently find myself having to use Hyundai touch-up paint on the rear bumper. This problem started within the first year or two of ownership. As is also the case for many other Elantra owners, the paint chips off along the crease line that runs the length of the rear bumper to reveal the black undercoating. I have seen many Hyundais with chips in the same place and there are many complaints to the same effect on the Internet and elsewhere on carsurvey.org. Sadly, I continue to notice the chipped areas even after applying the touch-up paint because none of the self-applied paint rises to the same level as the factory applied paint job (not to mention that it lacks a matching clear coat). It's getting to the point where the bumper needs to be repainted.
• With respect to the body of the car, I have also collected a number of unlikely dents. I say "unlikely", because they are NOT located on body panels where shopping carts or other drivers might be expected to strike the sheet metal. Rather, they appear on what should be more impact-resistant areas where the metal is very dense, such as the metal strip that runs above the rear passenger door, or in the heaviest portion of the hood above the grille. What is odd is that each of these dents are uniform — perfectly round indentations, a bit smaller than a golf ball, with absolutely no corresponding scratches or dings to the paint. Never have I heard or witnessed anything hit those areas. Each are too large to be the result of pebbles kicked up by normal driving, and seemingly appear on the car spontaneously, as if originating from the inside out.
On the plus side, I have never seen a check engine light. Likewise, no problem with O2, MAF or other sensors, shimmies, or many of the other issues that are more commonly reported on this make/model.
On the negative side, I've had a lot of work done to this car, and yet there are two mystery problems that are never resolved:
•* On cold days with a cold engine, a rattle is emitted from under the plastic engine housing just as soon as I press the accelerator. It sounds like tiny fragments of gravel tumbling or the mechanical equivalent of a frog-in-the-throat (as if the car needs to spit something out, which of course it never does). This goes on from 5-15 minutes until the engine is warm. It is most pronounced in the winter months, and showed up before the car even underwent its first oil change. During the summer months, it is far less noticeable, except very early in the morning or late at night, providing that the engine and the weather is cool or damp. It is virtually inaudible at idle, but with increasing RPM the noise keeps pace. At about 35MPH it is at the loudest, but after 40MPH, engine noise seemingly drowns it out.
• I have the all-wheel disc ABS brakes, and sometimes, whether stopped at a light or after having pulled into the driveway, I hear a thumping sound that seems to come from the rear wheel area, just slightly toward the passenger side. Hitting the brake pedal harder while already stopped seems to alter things just enough to make it stop THUMP, THUMP, THUMP, THUMPing. However, it can also happen after I pull up the parking brake and have the vehicle in Park. Right before I turn off the ignition, I hear the THUMP, THUMP, THUMP. This seems to be provoked during the first 20 minutes or so of driving, but doesn't go on consistently, or much beyond that point that I recall. It sounds, ironically, like someone trapped in the trunk trying to get out. I asked the dealer to check the muffler and exhaust, but they claim there is no problem (not sure if they did anything to really test it, aside from a visual inspection, however). Meanwhile, my rear brakes had to be replaced around 20K, which one wouldn't expect the rear brakes to go before the front. But apparently, this is a Hyundai characteristic (at least on the Elantras). I've heard other complaints to the same effect. Anyhow, I reported the problem and hoped that they would find the culprit during the brake job. They did not. Changing the brakes had no effect. Finally I took the car for a spin with a tech, and he claimed that it might have something to do with a noisy fuel pump, and to watch for any correlation between how full my gas tank is, and when I hear the thumping/thudding sound. So far, I haven't noticed a connection. The mystery remains unsolved.
The Hyundai Elantra has a nice ride, with decent pickup compared to the other cars I tested at the time I bought it. At the time, Edmunds even bumped a low end BMW and made the Hyundai Elantra a top recommendation. Aside from the buying advice that was out at the time, all of which was favorable to the Elantra, in summer of 2001, my choices in the general price range were:
Volkswagen Jetta: (Too expensive, eats brakes, service horror stories, 115HP with automatic transmission has NO passing or hill climbing power).
Honda Civic: (A bit pricey for the features; horribly uncomfortable seats for a person with a bad low back. A very generic dime-a-dozen appearance.)
Toyota Echo: (Cheap looking, funky dashboard layout, cramped feeling. Unfortunately, there was no Corolla out in 2001, otherwise I would have bought a Corolla and probably never would have found myself on a Hyundai car lot).
Ford Focus: (Recall. Recall. Recall. The typical Fix Or Repair Daily.)
I settled for the Elantra because of its smooth ride, easy handling, relatively spacious cabin, and the inclusion of features found on higher priced cars — power windows, locks, A/C — not to mention 8-way adjustable seats with lumbar support. I also obtained traction control, and anti-lock brakes for under $15,000, which at the time nobody else could beat.
Looking back, this car has had way too many problems. It is to the point where I have lost track of how many early mornings I have driven around with technicians and even factory reps. Just the same, the car has never had a breakdown, that is until the thermostat broke. On the other hand, I had read YEARS ago that thermostats tend to break down, and should be replaced every 2-3 years on ANY car. So I figure it was my own fault for not seeing to it that this very cheap part was inspected or replaced (strangely, few manufacturers recommend this service, which is odd because thermostat failure is inevitable on just about any car if you own it long enough, whereas the results of overheating can be thousands of dollars worth of damage).
In the beginning, none of my friends wanted to see my new car, because they were all convinced that Hyundai was an unreliable make and that I had made a mistake. So I'm determined now to own this car long enough to run it into an advanced age, just to see if the valves are bad, or if I can, by continuing to do the maintenance, discover that it will prove the naysayers wrong. If, on the other hand, my car's compression takes a nosedive or I end up needing new valves or a rebuild of the engine around 80K, you can be sure I won't let the dealer snooker me into paying for those repairs. I'll point to my service history, and say that the problems started before the first oil change, that it appears they were trying to delay and obfuscate me out of a warranty repair due to the severity of the defect, and demand that they make good on it — that, or see me in court. I hope it won't come to that. But at this point, I'm crossing my fingers, checking off the maintenance list, and hoping for the best.
Would I buy a Hyundai again? That all depends. I would NEVER recommend that someone buy a used Hyundai unless they have all available service history, and only if they purchase an extended warranty. As for a new Hyundai, I would say that if Hyundai cuts their factory warranty, which offers a generous 60K/10-year powertrain coverage, I would say steer clear. Without the factory warranty, this car would have cost me thousands of dollars in repairs within three years. Moreover, the two unresolved problems for which I repeatedly sought dealer assistance, would have most likely qualified it for Lemon Law status. But as for the way I've been treated by the dealer? Well, that too is par for the course. The Internet is filled with dealer horror stories. It has no bearing on the make/model. It just seems to go with the territory.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? No
Review Date: 4th April, 2008