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The Great Hyundai Stink of 2020

The Hyundai Palisade is an award-winning, three row SUV that made quite a stink with its 2020 debut. Numerous owners reported a smell inside the cabin, particularly on hot days or when the vehicle doors and windows were closed for a long time. This was not the “new car smell” that we all recognize and sometimes miss when it disappears after a few weeks or months. The smell reported by Palisade owners was nothing to be excited about – “a sharp chemical odor with a dash of something organic like garlic or rotten produce” (according to Cars.com) – and it got stronger over time, rather than dissipating like the usual new car smell.

The Hyundai Palisade is an award-winning, three row SUV that made quite a stink with its 2020 debut. Numerous owners reported a smell inside the cabin, particularly on hot days or when the vehicle doors and windows were closed for a long time. This was not the “new car smell” that we all recognize and sometimes miss when it disappears after a few weeks or months. The smell reported by Palisade owners was nothing to be excited about – “a sharp chemical odor with a dash of something organic like garlic or rotten produce” (according to Cars.com) – and it got stronger over time, rather than dissipating like the usual new car smell.

Across the country, Palisade owners spent most of 2020 sniffing various components of their new $50,000 SUV trying to identify the source of the offending smell. Hyundai forums blew up with owners swapping stories about which car parts they had sniffed, and what they were cleaning, spraying, and airing out to try to get rid of the stink. Owner-investigators generally agreed that the smell was coming from the head restraints or seat cavities of Palisades that were outfitted with Nappa leather covering. It seemed to be more common in Palisades with a beige interior finish but could be found in models with a black interior as well. A few owners suggested that it was in Genesis vehicles too. And yet, Hyundai dealers were not fixing the problem. Many owners complained that their dealer wouldn’t even acknowledge that there was a problem.

The Great Stink was then reported by Cars.com in August, 2020, and in September 2020, Hyundai had a suggestion. Hyundai advised dealers to replace the head restraints in affected Palisades but before installing the replacement head restraints, to remove the covering and spray it with Febreze. There were, however, two immediate problems with this fix:

  1. Customers were waiting weeks or longer for new head restraints to be available because of supply chain difficulties; and
  2. The new head restraints had the same smell. Palisade owners were, unsurprisingly, not satisfied.

The Hyundai stink saga continued and, by November, 2020, Hyundai issued a Technical Service Bulletin about the problem. It may be one of the least technical Technical Service Bulletins ever issued. Owners are told to bring their stinky Palisade to a Hyundai dealer, where the headrests and seat cavities will be sprayed with an off-the-shelf odor eliminator (Febreze, pure&clean, or Zep) and … that’s it. Owners are warned not to try to this at home. Only a Hyundai dealer should carry out the highly technical Febreze spraying because it could result in damage to the Nappa leather finish. The TSB only applies to the Palisade Limited and Calligraphy trim levels, which have the Nappa leather interior. If the problem is not fixed with the first treatment, the dealer should try a second treatment. If the stink remains, the dealer should replace the headrests. Hyundai also said that the offensive smell was the result of a problem in the manufacturing process, which has been fixed, and therefore should not be a problem in newly manufactured models.

Given that the original stink often took months to fully mature, we are still waiting to see if Hyundai has really the fixed the problem. If the stink persists, frustrated Palisade owners may begin looking for legal remedies rather than odor eliminator.

When you have a problem with your new vehicle, it can sometimes seem as if the manufacturer and the dealer hold all the power. Perhaps your new SUV smells like rotten garlic, your new minivan moonroof leaks, or your new truck has a death wobble, that your dealership repeatedly dismisses or fails to repair. As a new car owner, you have rights under state and federal law. You may be entitled to cash compensation or a replacement vehicle for a problem that your dealership does not fix. If you are having problems with your new vehicle, contact us at Timothy Abeel & Associates to find out how we might be able to help you.

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