LOS ANGELES -- A lawsuit filed against Hyundai Motor America alleges that the automaker installed faulty clutches in 2003 model Tiburon coupes but refuses to honor warranty claims for them.
The suit, filed in federal court in Los Angeles, contends that Tiburon owners had warranty claims that were denied on manual-transmission vehicles with less than 30,000 miles on the odometer.
Lawyers may expand the suit to include 2004 model Tiburons as well.
The lawsuit could be a black eye for Hyundai, which has been among the leaders in the J.D. Power Initial Quality Study for the past three years.
The stricter Vehicle Dependability Index - which measures problems during the first three years of ownership, rather than the 90-day period of the initial quality survey - will be released this week.
Many of the plaintiffs are outraged that Hyundai promotes a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty but won't pay to repair clutches expiring well before that. Replacement of a clutch can cost as much as $2,000 in parts and labor.
The lawsuit alleges Hyundai knew the clutches installed in Tiburons with 2.7-liter engines were inferior.
Plaintiffs' attorneys are seeking class-action status for the suit.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Web site, Hyundai issued a service bulletin about revised clutch components for the Tiburon's manual transmission. Another bulletin instructed technicians in the installation of the dual mass flywheel and clutch disc assembly. A third discussed the repair policy for the manual transmission.
"There is a recognized failure rate for any component part," said plaintiff lawyer Eric Gibbs, partner with Girard Gibbs in San Francisco. "We believe that Hyundai greatly exceeded that in terms of repairs. They have redesigned the clutch and flywheel mechanisms in the newer models, and we are not seeing the complaint rate of the earlier ones."
Hyundai spokesman Miles Johnson said Hyundai does not honor clutch replacement claims because "the clutch is considered a regular wear item."
He added: "They wear out and need to be replaced depending on how the car is driven, just like brakes or tires. Dealers are not refusing warranty repairs on Tiburon clutches. They are evaluating them on a case-by-case basis. It all depends on the technician's inspection."
Johnson couldn't say how many warranty claims had been honored.
Bill Parfitt Jr., of Pasadena, Md., has a 2004 Tiburon and is trying to join the class-action suit. His first clutch blew at 16,500 miles. He lost his second clutch just 4,000 miles later, and he had to replace the flywheel, too.
Hyundai refused to honor the warranty in either case, although the dealer sold Parfitt the parts at cost.
"I'm 47 years old, driving clutches my whole life, and I've never worn out a clutch," Parfitt said in an interview. "The clutch didn't just slip a little bit and get worse; it just went out in the middle of downtown Baltimore. And Hyundai says it's a wear item. I've never been treated so stupidly in all my life."
You may e-mail Mark Rechtin at [email protected]