It’s been over a year since Cars.com’s 2020 Hyundai Palisade Limited received a fresh set of head restraints to address one of the strangest — and smelliest — issues we’ve experienced in any of our long-term test cars. A couple months after purchase, our untreated Palisade began emitting a foul odor, likened by staff and other owners to body odor and rotting produce. Throughout 2020, Hyundai investigated the issue with the help of our own Palisade. The automaker eventually blamed a manufacturing process for the imitation-leather head restraints in a small number of Limited and Calligraphy trim levels on the 2020 and 2021 Palisade. (Such trim levels have genuine leather on the primary seating surfaces, but secondary areas use vinyl, a common practice among mass-market cars.) We were evidently unlucky enough to buy a particularly bad example after naming the Palisade our Best of 2020 vehicle.
Our Palisade appeared to be on the up-and-up after the initial fix in November 2020, but a year living with the SUV — and particularly the return of hot weather — unearthed whiffs of the original scent. Not everyone detected the odor even at its worst, and even as I observe its return after the fix, I can report that its intensity has significantly diminished. We’ve communicated with Hyundai’s public relations team throughout this process, and at its recommendation, we scheduled a follow-up with the same local dealership where our Palisade spent six weeks last year.
More About Our Hyundai Palisade Odor:
- CSI: Car Smell Investigation, 2020 Hyundai Palisade Edition
- CSI: Car Smell Investigation, 2020 Hyundai Palisade Edition … No. 2
- 2020 Hyundai Palisade Car Smell Investigation Part 3: Case Closed?
Back at the Dealership
The dealership replaced all seven head restraints, again, to the tune of $2,335 covered by the warranty. That made it the fourth set of head restraints for our Palisade so far. This counts the originals, a set of replacements manufactured the same way and two sets of defect-free head restraints. The technicians also sprayed a deodorizer into the seat cavities through head-restraint mounting holes for at least the second time after also doing so during the Palisade’s first treatment.
During our ownership, the untreated odor varied both with occupant sensitivity and the environment in which the Palisade was parked, escalating during hot and humid days when the car baked in the sun — especially if we left it closed for longer periods. Some thought it was a weird new car smell, while others couldn’t drive the car without opening the windows or airing it out beforehand. After the fix, however, the Palisade’s primary drivers drove it for a year with nary a complaint.
My senses were extra triggered by the untreated smell, and the potency after the fix registered lower on my sniff-o-meter than the untreated smell from last year, about a 3 or 4 on a 10-point scale versus the 10 out of 10 at peak offensiveness. This made the car more drivable, but a sour, sharp smell at a 3-4 intensity is still a sour, sharp smell. Even in cool November temperatures, I found the smell the same, and I observed no perceivable change after the latest set of head restraints and deodorizing.
The Bright Side
But if you ask most of our staff, the car is fixed because of the nature of this whole deal: Individuals perceive scents differently. And that gives us hope that it isn’t an issue for some owners once they receive replacement head restraints. We believe our vehicle’s head restraints are in the clear because we isolated them in a plastic bin to capture their off-gassing, and there’s no offensive smell coming from the updated pieces.