The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) performs many vital roles in protecting motorists and vehicle owners in the United States. As part of the federal Department of Transportation, its’ mission is to educate consumers by authorizing vehicle and vehicle equipment recalls, study driver behavior, and conduct other initiatives that “save lives, prevent injuries, reduce vehicle-related crashes.”
On November 9, the NHTSA announced that it awarded $24 million to a whistleblower who provided information regarding Hyundai Motor America and Kia Motors America, which the Korean manufacturer owns. This amount is the maximum 30% of $81 million in cash collected by the federal government for violations of the Vehicle Safety Act. The combined penalties were $210 million.
The whistleblower provided important information that ultimately led to the recall of 1.6 million vehicles manufactured at an Alabama plant by Hyundai and Kia between 2011 and 2019.
The vehicle defect
The issue revolved around defective Theta II 4-cylinder engines used in Hyundai’s Sonata, Santa Fe, Santa Fe Sport and Tucson models and Kia’s Optima, Sorento and Sportage. The manufacturers also inaccurately reported critical information surrounding the Theta II’s defects, denying that a problem with the engine existed despite many owner complaints regarding loud engine knocks, excessive oil consumption, stalls, and engine fires. The manufacturer dealt with these problems with temporary fixes.
While laws protect whistleblowers, the NHTSA is still developing its whistleblower program. Those with information regarding a motor vehicle (including cars, trucks, SUVs, motorhomes, boats, ATVs, motorcycles and other motorized modes of transport) defects can notify the NHTSA.