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Whistleblower gets $24M in Hyundai-Kia engine recall case

The National Highway Safety Administration says it's the first payout ever to a whistleblower.

DETROIT — Editor's Note: The video above is from a separate Kia-Hyundai recall from Sept. 2021.

The U.S. government’s road safety agency has paid more than $24 million to a whistleblower who reported that Hyundai and Kia moved too slowly to recall over 1 million vehicles with engine problems. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says the award is the first it has paid to a whistleblower.

It’s also the maximum percentage allowed by law of penalties paid by the automakers. In November of 2020, the agency announced that Hyundai and Kia would pay $137 million in fines and for safety improvements in an agreement to resolve the engine problems. Those fines resolved a three-year government probe into the companies’ behavior involving recalls of multiple models dating to the 2011 model year.

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Under the agreement, Hyundai paid $54 million and invested $40 million to improve safety operations. Another $46 million in penalties was deferred as long as the Korean automaker meets safety conditions, NHTSA said. 

A week after those fines were issued, Kia and Hyundai recalled 130,000 vehicles in the U.S. The complications stemmed from a manufacturing issue that could cause the connecting rod bearings to wear out and the engines to fail, Hyundai said. A damaged connecting rod could puncture the engine block, causing the engine to stall. It also could let oil leak onto hot surfaces, increasing the risk of a fire.

Engine failure and fire problems with Hyundais and Kias have plagued the companies for more than five years, affecting the owners of more than 8 million vehicles.

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