CSI: Car Smell Investigation, 2020 Hyundai Palisade Edition … No. 2

2020 Hyundai Palisade interior 2020 Hyundai Palisade Limited | photo by Joe Bruzek

Editor’s note: After publishing this story, Hyundai took our Palisade in and worked to resolve the smell. Read more details in the first part of our investigation, and read more about Hyundai’s fix for the smell here.

After six months and some 8,000 miles on the odometer, we noticed an unusual odor in our 2020 Hyundai Palisade Limited long-term test vehicle that left a bunch of us scratching our heads — and plugging our noses. When we last left off, our Palisade was awaiting the dealership’s response to the decidedly not-new-car smell. Since that report, most of the activity has been in our email inbox, where we’ve heard from many owners of Palisades — and a few other Hyundai and Genesis models, as well — reporting similar problems. There has been less progress with our Palisade itself, though Hyundai is currently investigating affected Palisade Limiteds.

“Hyundai is taking this issue seriously,” Hyundai spokesman Miles Johnson said. “When we first learned of this problem, we immediately began an investigation into what could be causing the odor noticed by some drivers and passengers of the Palisade Limited. That investigation continues and when we have a remedy, we will share it with” 

Related: More Hyundai Palisade News

2020 Hyundai Palisade front seats 2020 Hyundai Palisade Limited | photo by Joe Bruzek

What’s Happening Now …

An official Hyundai technical service bulletin that gives dealerships a roadmap to a remedy isn’t available because a fix hasn’t been identified, but Hyundai has instructed dealerships how to mitigate misery inside owners’ smelly Palisades in the interim. 

The current proposed remedy involves replacing the head restraints with new ones, but before they’re installed, the dealership is instructed to remove each head restraint’s  covering to apply a scentless Febreze product. That particular product seems to be in short supply: We’ve been waiting two weeks for the followup treatment even though we had the new head restraints installed. 

What’s not great is that the new head restraints without the treatment emit the same odor. To verify, I immediately put one of them in a sealed plastic bin presuming that the odor, if present, would be more quickly noticeable in a small enclosed bin in my garage compared with the large cabin of an already malodorous three-row SUV. (This was more about isolating the component and comparing the odor’s flavor with the original scent than about its intensity.) Two weeks later, our SUV smells the same, so new head restraints by themselves clearly weren’t a fix for our Palisade.

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2020 Hyundai Palisade SEL
71,196 mi.
$27,900 $1,000 price drop
Great Deal | $1,054 under
2020 Hyundai Palisade Limited
64,863 mi.
$33,750 $250 price drop
Good Deal

What’s That Smell?  

What’s typically identified as “new car smell” is the slow release (off-gassing) of molecules from interior materials, glues and solvents that fill the car and give it a unique aroma. Our Palisade’s odor is much sharper — and to our noses, much less agreeable than that of most new cars — but perhaps more peculiar is that it got more intense over time versus slowly dissipating like usual.

While we initially observed online complaints about primarily beige-colored interiors like ours being affected, Hyundai confirmed that it’s received reports from owners experiencing an unusual odor with both black and beige interiors of Palisade Limiteds with the Nappa leather seating surfaces, as have we via email from readers. 

Not all Editorial staffers experienced the same odor intensity. How long the car sits, where it sits, and variables like sun and heat exposure all seem to factor in, as does each individual occupant’s sense of smell. At the worst I experienced, our Palisade was sitting outside in 90-degree weather for more than a day with the windows up. Even in cooler weather, prolonged time sitting and sun exposure seem to exacerbate the problem.

2020 Hyundai Palisade seat upholstery 2020 Hyundai Palisade | photo by Joe Bruzek

What’s Next 

We plan to have the odor treatment applied to our car’s head restraints, the closest piece of upholstery to occupants’ noses — but we remain skeptical. The odor permeates the cabin, and I’ve observed it coming in concentrated form from the head-restraint post holes, suggesting it’s also inside the seats. So, we’re all ears on what the automaker’s investigation turns up. We’ve given Hyundai the green light to investigate our Palisade, if needed, because it’s been a persistent smell for the past few months.

If you’ve experienced any unusual odors in your Palisade or other Hyundai, please drop us a line at

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Photo of Joe Bruzek
Managing Editor Joe Bruzek’s 22 years of automotive experience doesn’t count the lifelong obsession that started as a kid admiring his dad’s 1964 Chevrolet Corvette — and continues to this day. Joe’s been an automotive journalist with for 16 years, writing shopper-focused car reviews, news and research content. As Managing Editor, one of his favorite areas of focus is helping shoppers understand electric cars and how to determine whether going electric is right for them. In his free time, Joe maintains a love-hate relationship with his 1998 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am that he wishes would fix itself. LinkedIn: Email Joe Bruzek

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