Last week I took my car in for a scheduled service. Oil change, tire rotation, blinker fluid top-up, and oh wait. There's an open recall on your car, sir, should I schedule that fix as well?
I don't claim to be the great car-info-all-knower, but I am certainly tuned into both car news and Veloster news enough that I think I would have at least heard rumors about any open recalls on my own car. I asked what the recall was for, and the Service Department Administrative Assistant told me it was for a "pump". Okay, cool, schedule the service, take the car as long as you need it, yes, yes, fine, yes, Tuesday morning is great, okay, bye. I immediately hit the internet to see if I could find out about this recall.
There are several websites that keep records of all open recalls for every car manufacturer, not least of which is the NHTSA itself. I plugged my car's VIN into the database, and...no recalls. Nothing open. I checked a few more websites. Nothing listed anywhere for the 2017 Veloster, Turbo or R-Spec trim. Hmm. Now, Kia and Hyundai are having a bit of recall difficulty at the moment. There are several models under each brand that are having a problem with engine fires, which is a massive, massive deal. The recalled cars are the Kia Optima, Kia Sorento, Kia Soul, Kia Sportage, Hyundai Tuscon, Hyundai Sonata, and Hyundai Sante Fe Sport. Please, if you own one of those vehicles, check the database immediately. The very worst part of this large recall is that Hyundai and Kia are being a little...coy on which vehicles need to be recalled to fix this very serious problem. On their official site, everything is hidden behind a VIN entry search, and more models seem to be added to the recall quietly, with little to no fanfare. Several of the recalled Kia models have also been recalled before for other engine issues, which further complicates matters, because how can any consumer be expected to keep the third engine recall separated from the fourth? People just want to, oh I don't know, drive the cars they bought. The long and short of this string of recalls is that the engine map needs to be altered or the fuel pump or fuel lines need to be replaced to prevent poor fuel/air from mixture causing a rather serious problem quaintly called "engine knocking". However, if the pump or lines have not been replaced, or have previously been replaced incorrectly, the lines may leak, causing engine bay fires, thus the recall on the recall.
Keen readers may remember that the Administrative Assistant said my car was being recalled for a "pump", and that Kia and Hyundai are stealth-adding cars to their recall list. I was concerned. Not just because of the information I had, but also because my Veloster and all those cars that were recalled share a similar engine technology: GDI, or Gasoline Direct Injection. And this is going to go way out past the limits of my technical knowledge, so bear with me. Currently, the recalled cars use one of three engines, the 2.4L Theta II, the 2.0L Nu, or the 1.8L Nu. To me, the Theta II can be put to the side because it's an engine that has been problematic for it's entire production life. So, the two Nu engines remain. My Veloster has a 1.6L Gamma engine, and while I believe the Gamma and the Nu are related mechanically (with the Gamma released one year before the Nu, pioneering the all-aluminum construction, GDI technology, the engine configuration, and the timing chain) and that the Nu may be a larger-bored and longer-stroked version of the Gamma, I can't prove that.
What I can prove is that all the recalled cars and my car share both that GDI technology and varying amounts of "issues" with the fuel pump. Of course, the Nu engines have real problems with the fuel pump. The fiery, recally kind. But the Veloster is also known for fuel pump issues, especially in the tuner community. You see, the factory fuel pump and fuel lines that are used on the Veloster are exactly strong enough to power the engine reliably. But exactly strong enough actually isn't exactly strong enough. Most 1st Gen Veloster Turbos will experience stuttering under hard acceleration that almost feels like interference from the traction control. But it isn't. It's actually the fuel lines intermittently clamping themselves shut for fractions of a second as the engine demands more fuel than can comfortably run from the pump at the back of the car to the engine bay. All of this assorted information meant to me that I was either missing something, or somebody wasn't telling me something. So I tweeted and Instagrammed Hyundai from my personal and podcast accounts. No response. I poked around online, and couldn't find anything definite. I even asked the dealership, and they told me they "weren't sure" if the recall on my car was related to the Hyundai/Kia engine recall. My car was going in a few days later, no big deal. But still: HMM.
On the day I took my car in, I asked the head of the service department to pull up the recall notice on my car so I could see it. He said there wasn't one. HMMMMMMMMMMMM!
What there was, and what there is on all 2017 Hyundai Veloster Turbos, R-Specs, and Rally Editions is an open Technical Service Bulletin. For a vacuum pump. He told me that the issue would have shown up as warning lights, and because I didn't have any warning lights on, there would be an easy fix. Now, I'm stupid, and I don't know shit about car parts, so I just nodded, thanked him and left. Later, I looked up the service bulletin by searching "Veloster vaccum pump recall". TSB ID #5NP-P9V7R-11 reads as follows:
"Hyundai Motor America is conducting a Service Campaign to inspect and (if necessary) replace the vacuum pump cap on certain 2015-17 Veloster vehicles. Service Campaign T3F provides a service procedure to inspect and apply sealant or replace."
Cool! What? That actually doesn't help at all! I will reiterate at this point that I am stupid, and there's probably some of you reading this that are screaming out the information that I'm missing, but the long and short of the rabbit hole I went down is that in this context, the "vacuum pump" (and the cap that sits thereupon), is either related to the brakes, or it's related to the turbo and the fuel system. There's vacuum pumps in each system, and the failure of the pump in each system would lead to warning lights. In this case, I'm leaning towards the vacuum pump in this TSB being in the fuel system, as that is the category heading the TSB is filed under.
But I've got a few nagging questions: Why in the Banarama FUCK was this information so hard to find? Why do I still not have all the information I need after two weeks of looking into this whole "recall" thing as a person with a hefty knowledge base in cars in general, Hyundai Motor Group specifically, and the 1st Gen Veloster Turbo in detail? Why did every single person give me a different answer to the same questions? Just...WHY? Why to all of this? And here's the even worse part: Let's say that the next time I take my car in, there's another TSB, and it also relates to the fuel system. That's how this all started for all of those other cars that are now being recalled lest they burn to the ground. Every single one had nebulous engine and/or fuel system TSBs released, and they didn't fix the problem even for the customers who got the repair work done. What if this escalates from warning lights to car fires for Velosters? That's very much on the table here. And monitoring and digging for answers on TSBs from Hyundai could be a second job, that's how hard this information can be to find. And there's a worst part too: Im actually in one of the better situations for car buyers, because I can mostly trust my dealership, and that's a genuine rarity. First, they bothered to tell me about the open TSB, and second, they didn't charge me a cent for the work.
That header image is a fake recall notice. Predatory dealerships use them to get people in the doors under the pretense of fake recalls, and my guess is that those dealerships link recalls to TSBs in order to get around fraud charges. Doing forum research into this vacuum pump thing, I found people who paid $300, $500, or even up to $2,000 to get some kind of "vacuum pump" repaired, either related to the TSB I found, or related to a possible different one of which I couldn't find a consistent record. Those owners paid just because the dealer told them they had to. They ponied up because the mechanic told them there was a "recall" on their car, and it wasn't covered under warranty. And I find it hard to blame the victims. I know that recalls MUST be covered at manufacturers expense, but I can't blame anyone who caves under a surprise pressure that suddenly puts their lives in the crosshairs. There's truth in every lie, and the truth, typically, is this: TSBs are not technically covered under either the manufacturer's warranty or the legal liabilities of a recall. They are most often guides created by car manufacturers, and intended for dealerships, which detail how to perform certain work for common problems of varying degrees of severity. Of course, there's lot of very obvious problems with that system. Should Hyundai be using the same system to issue repair instructions for faulty Tuscon fuel pumps that they use to issue notifications to mechanics that sometimes Sonatas with high mileage get clunks in the steering rack? No! Should Toyota be able to issue the exact same iterative EVAP system TSB for successive generations of RAV4? No! But it's legal to do that. It's so legal that it's almost impossible to say that car manufacturers are doing anything wrong by issuing TSBs, deeply shitty though it may be at times. And of course, what's the alternative? NOT being told about known and somewhat common problems?
I learned a lot during this whole vacuum pump thing, and almost none of it was complete, useful, or positive. I don't have the investigative chops to go further, and I don't have the car repair chops to fill the gaps in the information I already have. I just know that I really, REALLY don't like having to get my information on Reddit or other forums, especially when it relates to a possible manufacturing defect in my car. But Reddit and the Veloster.org forum are where I got my best free information. Incredibly unscrupulous websites will hide TSB data behind a paywall, or at least pretend to, and then print the full text of the bulletins. Of course the TSBs themselves are universally worded obscurely and awkwardly, often referencing diagrams or manuals that customers don't have easy access to, if that information can even be found on the open internet. How is that fair? When safety is at risk, how is it reasonable for brands to assume that customers either don't care, shouldn't know, or must be a brand-certified mechanic just to know the problem?
As I see it, this TSB/recall/repair nexus is not only a system that's ripe for abuse, it's a system that is actively abused every single day by virulent and predatory dealerships. And here's what haunts me most about what I learned. If, last week, the mechanic had told me that the TSB fix for my car would cost $200, I probably would have paid it without thinking, like pretty much everyone else would do, and I think that's frightening. It's obvious to me that there's a huge problem with how car problems are reported to consumers, and it goes way beyond this Hyundai recall, even if that swollen mess of TSBs and recall notices does grow to include my car too. I don't have any answers for what can or should be done to improve the situation, but I'm going to think on that, and perhaps write a follow-up at a late date. Because if Season Two of the Check Engine Podcast has taught me anything, it's that the three of us can - at least in theory - fix absolutely any problem we see.