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NHTSA Awards Former Hyundai Engineer $24 Million for Whistleblowing

Back in September 2015, Hyundai recalled approximately 470,000 Sonata vehicles equipped with the 2.0- and 2.4-liter Theta II engine. The National Highway Safety Administration learned that manufacturing issues left metallic debris around the crankshaft, interfering with the oil flow through the connecting rod bearings, damaging the said bearings.
2013 Kia Sorento Theta II engine 10 photos
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First of all, premature wear and damage are unacceptable in regular driving scenarios. But more importantly, a failed bearing may be catastrophic because the connecting rod is capable of puncturing the block, allowing oil to leak onto the hot exhaust manifold. Hyundai is aware of multiple fire claims over this problem. By April 2017, 572,000 more vehicles with the 2.0- and 2.4-liter engines were added to the recall. Kia is also affected by this condition, and all told, the recall population exceeds 1.6 million cars.

Over the years, both companies have inaccurately reported crucial information to the federal watchdog about the aforementioned callback. Had it not been for Kim Gwang-ho, a former engineer at Hyundai who reported valuable information to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2016, the NTHSA may have never found out the truth.

For his valiant effort, Kim has been awarded $24 million by the federal agency. “Whistleblowers play a crucial role in bringing information about serious problems that are hidden from the agency,” said Steven Cliff, the deputy administrator at the NHTSA. “This information is critical to public safety and we are committed to rewarding those who bring information to us.” What’s more, this award is the maximum percentage allowed by law of the $81 million in cash penalties collected by the government.

The combined penalties in the consent orders amounted to $210 million.

Protected by the law, whistleblowers who collaborate with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration can play a tremendous role in enhancing automotive safety. Those who have dirt on whatever automaker they work for should refer to the agency’s Whistleblower Program portal.

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