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Hyundai extends seat belt warranties on 400,000 Sonatas

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington-- The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Friday it is closing an investigation into nearly 400,000 older Hyundai Sonata cars for seat belt problems after the Korean automaker agreed to extend warranties.

NHTSA said it was closing an investigation opened in July into 394,262 2006-2008 Sonata cars because of thousands of reports that the electrical circuit in the seat belt assembly may experience a failure potentially leading to a malfunctioning seat belt by a failure of a seat belt pretensioner.

Seat belt pretensioners make sure a seat belt restrains a driver or passenger in the event of a crash. The devices tighten the belt during the first fractions of a second in a crash and help keep people in place.

Hyundai told NHTSA it had agreed to extend the warranty coverage for the seat belt issue for 15 years or 250,000 miles, whichever occurs first. “Given Hyundai's action and the minimal safety consequence this issue presents, further use of agency resources does not appear to be warranted,” NHTSA said in closing its investigation.

NHTSA said it had reviewed 884 complaints along with 19,847 warranty claims for the problem after it opened an investigation in July. It has no reports of crashes or injuries related to the issue. Most warranty claims were for warning lights displaying on the dashboard. NHTSA’s initial investigation looked into reports that the issue could prevent air bags from deploying as designed — but the investigation turned up no evidence to support that contention.

Hyundai said its analysis showed that increased resistance in the seat belt pretensioner does not result in a complete loss of pretensioner function. “In the unlikely event that a seat belt buckle pretensioner may not deploy due to increased resistance, the retractor pretensioner would still activate,” NHTSA said.

Hyundai said the vehicles would still give a five-star safety rating using the retractor based pretensioner only.

DShepardson@detroitnews.com