As if millions of airbag safety recalls aren’t enough to scare people out of their own cars, recent reports about the safety of seat belts in certain Hyundai Sonata models is definitely finishing the job.
According to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there have been hundreds of complaints regarding the functionality of the Sonata’s seat belts, and official documents from Hyundai show well over 700 complaints and over 20,000 warranty claims to have been reported, all relating to the buckles on the front seats.
As of Friday, December 5, the NHTSA has closed its investigation, which analyzed data from almost 400,000 Hyundai Sonatas, with models ranging from 2006 to 2008.
The conclusion of the investigation has reportedly resulted in a mandatory agreement between Hyundai and the NHTSA, wherein Hyundai will extend the seat belt warranties of any Sonata models from 2006 to 2008 for an additional 15 years, or until the car has reached 250,000 miles (whichever occurs first).
The malfunctioning piece of the buckle appears to be the seat belt pretensioner, which makes sure that drivers and passengers are restrained by the seat belt in the event of a crash, by means of tightening the belt when the device detects a sudden movement in the car.
According to a report by the Detroit News, both Hyundai and the NHTSA have noted that the drivers filing reports had noted increased resistance of the seat belt pretensioner in their vehicles, and although drivers are encouraged to have their seat belts replaced if they feel unsafe, it’s very unlikely that increased resistance of the seat belt would cause complete failure of the restraining function.
In other words, Hyunadi Sonata owners shouldn’t disregard the importance of their seat belts just yet, and shouldn’t ignore the fact that drivers and front seat passengers not wearing seat belts account for well over 50% of all fatal car crash injuries.
Unlike the recent Takata airbag fiasco, in which drivers and passengers were at risk of being showered with shards of glass upon deployment of the airbags, the seat belt issue in Sonata vehicles appears to be more of an inconvenience than a safety issue. And with Hyundai’s increased warranty on its seat belts, if the malfunctioning pretensioner does cause the entire buckle to break, owners have increased assurance that they’ll be able to replace the seat belt at no cost.