Serviceability Report: Hyundai ElantraPosted 09/10/2004
By Craig Van Batenburg, AAM
Let me start by thanking Hyundai on behalf of every technician and shop owner in the country. As a member of the National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF), we have met with all the major OEMs, including Hyundai (and its affilate, Kia). Hyundai is the only car company that posts all its service information on the Web for free, including every wiring diagram, technical service bulletin, body manual - you name it. Hyundai has shown tremendous support for the aftermarket repair shops - thank you!
We will focus on the Hyundai Elantra in this article. As I have said many times, I will not let my bias change the real story. In 1986, Hyundai brought over from Korea its Excel model. I was dating my wife, Deb, at that time, and she had just bought one (too bad she didn't meet me a little earlier, but I will not let that '86 Excel taint this report).
As most techs learned quickly in the late '80s, these cars were poorly designed and built. The American public didn't know that, so Hyundai set sales records back then. But it didn't last. By the early '90s, sales were poor, and the word was out: Hyundais were not very good. Many foreign automakers that had similar problems - such as Fiat and Renault - just went away. But Hyundai was determined to not become one of them. The company studied and improved its cars, and once again, its sales improved.
But the question is, does Hyundai have well-built, technician-friendly cars? Is this a car company to watch? For those of you reading this column for the first time, I compare a new model to its older sibling from six or more years ago. I try to ascertain whether or not this car is getting better for techs to work on. So far, we have reviewed Japanese, American and German offerings. I have learned not to lump all Japanese cars together, and Korean car companies need the same thinking. We often refer to Asian cars in one breath, but they aren't the same.
One big problem for consumers was that many Hyundai dealerships were bought and sold as the sales of Hyundai cars declined in the early '90s. It is hard to find a Hyundai dealership that is more than four years old with the same staff and owner. This affects owners with older Hyundai cars because the techs aren't familiar with the older models.
Moreover, the consumers of newer Hyundai models can be - shall we say - thrifty! Try to sell them any preventive maintenance and they run the other way. This is attributed to two factors. First, these cars are on the low end of the pricing scale and secondly, the Hyundai warranty confuses many new owners into thinking they do not have to pay for anything until their 100,000-mile, 10-year warranty is up. Many a dealership service manager has had to undo the assumptions made by the owners of these cars.
According to a service manager for a dealership south of Eugene, Ore., it takes a lot of patience to help owners understand their role in car ownership. She is patient with the owners of cars bought at her dealership and has seen Hyundai come back with better products.
So, how good are the new Hyundais? As techs, we know it takes time to really know the durability of parts and designs. Everyone I talked to had a lot of praise for the newer models. One look under the hood of the 2004 Elantra shows a well-laid-out design with a four cylinder, 2.0 twin cam engine and room to access most common parts.
Nothing looks hard to do, except the manufacturer did bolt a lot of brackets to the water pump bolts, so water pump replacement will take longer than it should. Timing belt replacement is straightforward. Spark plugs are easy to get to. The fuel filter on the '98 is fairly easy to replace. On the '04, the fuel filter is in the gas tank, where most manufacturers have put it, but the Elantra has an access panel that enables you to get to the fuel pump and filter without having to remove the gas tank. The more I study the Elantra, it looks as though Hyundai has taken a lot of lessons from Honda, and that is a good thing.
On the downside, the automatic transmission requires a special SPF-3 AT fluid sold only at Hyundai. When Dextron is used, the transmission will fail internally. Hyundai either needs to change this design or add warning signs to the dipstick and fill areas under the hood.
The interior is laid out well, the materials look better than in a '98 and the car drives well. My rating for Hyundai is above average. With good technical support from Hyundai to the aftermarket, this is a car line you should go after for service and repairs, but you will need to spend time with the owners to sell any needed work.
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