Joey’s a big guy. Nobody is questioning that. What Joey is questioning is why Hyundai is refusing to fix a broken part of his 2015 Sonata under their five-year warranty, and why Hyundai feels that reminding him he’s “large” is justification for not repairing his car. Oh, and they think he gets out of his seat wrong. Let’s look at what’s going on here.
Joey, who felt like he was out of options, emailed us about the saga of the 2015 Hyundai Sonata he bought new. He chose the Sonata partially because he had researched and found that the car was well-suited for people of his scale; Joey is about 5'9" and 300 pounds. You can still find references to the roominess of the 2015 Sonata online.
It seemed like Joey did his homework, and found a car he’d be comfortable in.
It’s not like it was all that hard to find such a car – the 2007 Toyota Camry that he traded in was basically fine, and he also owns a 2006 Dodge Dakota that he regularly drives without issue. Even so, the Sonata seemed to be well-proportioned to him, and felt like a good choice.
Well, almost. On the side of the driver’s seat is a small bit of plastic trim that houses the seat-adjustment controls. On Joey’s car, this part has broken three times. The first two times Hyundai fixed it under warranty, but on the third time they refused.
It wasn’t until Joey filed a Better Business Bureau complaint that Hyundai explained why they were refusing to fix the part, which was documented as part of the arbitration:
“The issue is a direct result of the customer being a large individual.”
The part was replaced under warranty twice prior, and was listed as a warranty repair on the repair documentation:
It’s also worth noting that this particular part has been called out as an issue by others, and the scale of the people and their method of seat exit is unknown.
Hyundai has said they repaired this part as a “courtesy,” though Hyundai’s own description of their Hyundai Assurance 5-year/60,000 mile New Vehicle Limited Warranty, which they call “America’s Best Warranty,” says this:
Covers repair or replacement of any component manufactured or originally installed by Hyundai that is defective in material or factory workmanship, under normal use and maintenance.
That does seem like it should include the ‘Shield Cover-Seat’ component. Of course, Hyundai also hedges their bets by having this statement in the warranty:
JUDGMENT OF ALL WARRANTY MATTERS Hyundai Motor America reserves the right to furnish the final decisions in all warranty matters.
... so, legally, it does seem that they have their ass covered if they don’t want to fix something.
In addition to suggesting that Joey’s size was a factor in the seat control panel breaking, Hyundai also suggested that the manner by which Joey got out of the seat was to blame:
“The panel separates due to Mr. [redacted] dragging himself across the seat instead of standing up. The panel separation is caused by the customer’s manner of removing himself from the vehicle. He is a large person.”
This is worth thinking about for a moment. First, it’s worth noting that Joey’s previous car, the 2007 Toyota Camry, had no similar issues, and was a very similar car in many other respects. It’s also not clear just what Hyundai is getting at when they’re describing how Joey exits the car.
I mean, nobody just “stands up” from their car seat, unless you’re in a Bugeye Sprite with the top off, or something. To some degree, everyone does at least a little bit of ass-dragging across the seat as they swing their legs out from inside the car and onto the ground below.
Maybe it’s just a few inches, sure, but the idea that you can just “stand up” without rotating or moving your bum on the seat so you can get your legs out of the car doesn’t make any sense, physically.
Then there’s the concept that even if Joey is a large guy, he’s still within the range of body types that the Sonata should be able to accommodate. I contacted a Hyundai representative about this very question, and I was told this:
“We target from 5th percentile to 95th percentile human measurements (although our vehicles also accommodate people outside those ranges comfortably.)
4 foot 11 inches to 6 foot 2 inches for Sonata.
Again, persons outside those specs are still comfortable, but we work to make the 5th to 95thpercentile in good shape.”
When I asked about weight specifically, I was told
“Same conditions, but:
About 100 lbs. to about 275 lbs. (again, can also accommodate people outside those ranges comfortably.)”
So, to me, it sounds like Hyundai is saying that Joey, at 5'9" and 300 pounds, is within the acceptable ranges of human size to which they build their cars. He’s past the 95th percentile for weight, but only by 25 pounds, and the Hyundai rep made a point of saying that “persons outside those specs are still comfortable.”
Also, they made no suggestion that parts would break at a specific weight. I know we can’t expect plastic trim pieces to be magic and resist the forces of physics, but if it’s known components in the seat have an upper limit and outside of that, they fail, that information probably should be made available to a customer who is approaching those limits.
So, based on this, I’m inclined to conclude that Hyundai’s reasons for not repairing the seat panel are bullshit.
This isn’t a huge scandal, as far as what’s breaking on the car is concerned. We normally wouldn’t really cover a small warranty claim dispute here. But Hyundai’s reaction and reason is the sort of thing that I think deserves calling out, since it’s potentially an attitude they could take on many other claims. Joey’s physique and the way he interacts physically with his car, are within the limits of what Hyundai says their cars are designed for.
Sure, he’s heavy, but Hyundai never said this was an issue, and they came out and said 300 pounds isn’t a cause for concern. Blaming the owner for a part that can’t do its job is a bad habit for a company to get into.
Based on what I’m reading, I think the seat control plastic panel is just not designed to withstand normal usage that the car may experience. This is not Joey’s fault for being as big as he happens to be, or for how he gets out of his seat; this is an engineering problem that Hyundai should either fix, or be sure not to sell cars to people beyond what their parts are designed to withstand.
If Hyundai is aware of an upper limit to the weight of a person in the seat, or a method of exiting the seat that can potentially cause damage to a part of the car, it’s up to them to make that clear before someone buys the car. No mention of any issues like this, or any warnings at all that Joey’s frame may cause issues with the car happened.
Look, Hyundai, this is a $185 repair job. It’s not critical to the operation of the car, but it’s sure as hell annoying, and the right thing to do here would be to beef up that flimsy part and make something that can work for people within the ranges of size your car is designed for, as your representative described them to me.
Plus, all of this has to be embarrassing to the customer, too. Nobody wants to be told they’re breaking their car because of their size, or to have implied that they can’t even get out of a car seat properly. That’s bullshit. The car is the problem here, not the owner.
Joey doesn’t have a specific plan of action yet. When we reached out to Hyundai, they suggested that Joey contact their Consumer Affairs group. It’s not clear how this may be different than the BBB arbitration he already went through to attempt to resolve the issue.
Also, if anyone wants to start some kind of yoga-based seat-exiting instructional class that can teach a drag-less technique to exiting a car seat, I suspect there’d be many Sonata owners who’d be interested.