2011 Hyundai Tucson - The results of waiting till 26K to change oil

I enjoy the wittiness of your Car Talk columns. Steve’s oil change problem with his 2011 Hyundai Tucson reminded me of a similar event three years ago. I was at the Hyundai dealer having a minor recall item taken care of. While waiting, I looked at the cars being worked on in the service bays. A Tucson was on the rack with its engine out and there was a new engine (in crate) waiting to go in. I asked what happened and the mechanic explained: the owner misread the manual and thought that the first oil change was due at 30,000 miles instead of 3000 miles – the engine seized up at 26,000 miles. When I rebuilt engines I did an oil change at 500 miles and again at 3000 miles just to be safe.

Best regards,
Robert Otwell
Sunnyvale CA

A Hyundai can only go 26,000 miles on an oil change before the engine quits? What a heap! I remember hearing about a Mitsubishi Mirage that ran for over 40,000 miles on the original oil, and that engine started to knock–it didn’t even seize up. (I am of course, totally kidding about the Hyundai, but the story about the Mitsubishi is real–I heard it here on this website.)

The owner didn’t even bother to check the oil - seems he just drove it on the highway until the bearings gave out. The oil filter probably plugged up. Another time at Hyundai service the the manager and a few of the mechanics were looking at an oil filter that had just been removed. It was cut open and inside it was full of black crud. Radial aircraft engines are famous for their ability to take battle damage, spew out oil and keep running. That’s why the US Navy insisted on using radial piston engines - best at getting airmen back home. Now turboprops have mostly taken over because of much higher power to weight.

You don’t suppose Hyundai refused to honor his warranty do you?

Shoulda put some of that Slick 50 stuff in and it’d still be going huh? So the thing is as much as we say to read the manual, you just can’t control what someone thinks they read.

I had an 81 Plymouth Horizon. mu oldest son’s mother and father in law rode with us and liked the car enough to go out and buy one. At 28, 000 miles the engine seized.

The dealer said, you have not had the oil changed with us, bring us your oil change receipts and we will submit a warranty claim.

He went home and found one receipt, at 5000 miles. While he was desperately looking for non existent receipts, the dealer called and said “don’t bother looking for receipts, there is no oil in the engine.”

Did he learn his lesson? You be the judge, his oldest son, now a car salesman, sold him a new Ford Escort to replace the Horizon. A couple of years later, that son was at his parents house and heard the sound of a clattery engine starving for oil and discovered that the Escort was more than 3 quarts down.


Lousy maintenance has ruined many cars…
In 1967 I was involved in rebuilding a 289 in a 1965 mustang. The owner was complaining of poor performance - the V8 had lost most of its power. On tear down the engine was full of sludge. The intake valves had huge carbon deposits blocking the intake ports, and the cam lobes were almost worn off (almost no valve lift). The owner had been adding oil to keep the level up, but never drained the oil or changed the filter (oil had to go through the bypass valve to get around the clogged filter).
BTW… Cars now have “lifetime” fluid in the automatic transmission. The ATF is “lifetime” by definition: when the transmission fails the original fluid will still be in it. It is a bit of a pain to change fluid in a modern automatic - especially since the torque converter no longer has a drain plug. It’s not generally recommended to do a “power flush” - I use repeated drain/fill cycles. Depending on how hard you use the vehicle, ATF should be changed at 50 k to 90 k miles. It takes time, but is a DIY job if you have basic skills.

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That 2011 Hyundai if it has the 2.4 Theta II engine, has been really lucky because even with good maintenance some of these engines end up burning oil.

My dad who was a chemical engineer, was in charge of quality control for the oil industry. But he ignored his own car. So, when I started working on cars, one day I noticed that his engine has a knock. I pulled the dipstick and it was gooey tar. We ended up rebuilding the engine for him.

Problem with that engine was poor workmanship/QC when machining the crankshaft. There is a hole drilled through the crank throws that feeds oil from main bearing to rod bearing. On some crankshafts, this oiling channel was not cleaned out leaving metal chips in the hole which restricted oil flow to one or more rod bearings. Lack of oil pressure in the journal bearing destroys the bearing inserts and results in rod knock.

depends on the brand . . .

Not a good thing, but any else think he let the oil level get too low? And if he’d just topped it up regularly, this wouldn’t have happened?


I would have loved to hear the conversation when the Tucson owner was told they needed a new engine. Odds are they blamed everyone within a 100 miles for that problem.

There was one lady a few years back who bought a new Nissan Altima and never changed the oil or even checked the oil level in 20 something thousand miles. The engine gave up catastrophically and warranty was denied of course.
Her response when told by a number of people that this was on her replied that “If Nissan built good engines you should never have to change the oil in them”.
It’s impossible to reason with stupid…

Some converters have drain plugs. My Lincoln has one accessible by the removal of a small plastic cover in the bellhousing.

Of course. If he had never changed the oil, but kept it topped off, the engine would have probably been ruined and burned way more oil than normal, but still kept running.

Regarding torque converter drain plugs… Once upon a time, torque converters had drain plugs. To change ATF, you remove the pan (being careful not to let the ATF spill all over the place), remove an access cover at bottom of bell housing, rotate torque converter to find the drain plug, drain converter, replace plug and access cover, install new transmission filter, clean the pan, reinstall pan with new gasket, refill AFT through dip stick hole, warm up the tranny and adjust ATF level.
Now we have “sealed” automatic transmissions. There is no dip stick and convenient hole for checking and filling ATF. Some of these don’t have a pan or a replaceable filter (Hyundai). And there is no torque converted drain. On Hyundai there is a drain plug on the bottom of the transmission case, and a fill plug on the front face. Also, there is a “high point” union fitting on the front that is accessed from above. I fill through the high point fitting - it’s a bit slower but it’s convenient. Making sure the car is level, fill until ATF starts to dribble out the front side fill hole (you can watch the hole from above whilt adding ATF). The Honda drain and fill is more complicated, but they do have a removable pan.

There is no such thing as a sealed automatic transmission . . . doesn’t exist

Just because there’s no dipstick and tube . . . still doesn’t make it a sealed transmission

And you seem to be convinced that no manufacturers still have a torque converter drain plug . . . is this based on your knowledge of one particular brand?


Most of the vehicles that I work on have transmissions that are sealed with metal plugs that screw in, the transmissions are not open for easy access to the vehicle owner.

The lack of an oil change might be the problem. But more likely the lack of checking the oil and it got dangerously low is the likely cause.

I’m consistently amazed at how many people never pay any mind to the maintenance of their cars. even basic stuff like checking the oil. Can’t be bothered, I guess.

I have a teen who’s learning how to drive now. One of the first lessons when we got her a car was me going over everything under the hood with her watching and listening. We check the oil in all our cars every Saturday morning. I’m doing my part to prevent one more ill-informed driver from being on the road. :smile:


Nevada_545: You are correct. Newer automatics are “sealed” and not designed for easy access. This applies to planetary gearboxes - dual clutch gearboxes are a very different design. A sealed automatic has an air vent to allow for ATF expansion as it gets hot - the vent is designed to keep out water and dust. The owner’s manual maintenance schedule will not list any transmission service. Ignore this and do (or have done) ATF changes. If you want to DIY first watch YT videos of the procedure for your transmission. Some are not too difficult and others are a pain in the neck - decide if you want to do it or pay the dealer. When setting the final ATF level remember to do this at the specified temperature and double check after running through the gears a few times.

A good friend who is an engineer and a hand’s on DIY’er taught his daughter all sorts of home and auto maintenance and repair skills from an early age. She is one of the few women I know who can do most tasks of car maintenance and repairs and also on household appliances, plumbing, and electrical wiring, house renovations, etc. Not surprisingly, she too is an engineer. She works for a state DOT maintaining, rebuilding, and building new roadways and bridges. We tease her that she found a career that lets her continue her childhood delight of digging in the dirt.