Here’s What It Took To Get My $600 Hyundai Running And Driving

Turns out a Hyundai four-cylinder engine is a pain to lift.

Y’all, this Hyundai is testing me.

I anticipated my recently acquired $600 Tiburon being simple to fix, like the Hondas and Toyotas I’ve had in the past. A quick and dirty motor swap, replace the dead one with a decent used one, and send the car on to a new owner. My goal was to get a tidy little profit, hopefully.

Before covid I was a regular at the gym  , lifting weights. When I was flipping Toyotas and Hondas, I’d load and unload the engines by myself. A 1.8-liter 1ZZ out of a Corolla is heavy, but I could still muscle it out of my roommate’s Scion xB. But god, these Hyundai Beta engines are so heavy! In fact the 2.0 in the Tib is a full 100 pounds heavier than a Corolla’s engine. And the junkyard gave me a bunk engine the first time I went to get one, so I had to lift this awkwardly shaped, greasy, coated-in-flaking-paint, iron anvil twice.

Then I opted to replace both lower control arms, it doesn’t make sense to just replace one  –  since everything is out. 

The flex pipe was toast, too. Without a replacement, the Tiburon would sound like someone trying to rev the piss out of a Harley v-twin inside of a Rubbermaid garbage can.

When iPhone’s Sonic the Hedgehog alert sound woke me up, I knew it was my mechanic texting me to tell me some new problem had come up I thought “if I don’t look at the text, nothing is wrong; Lalalalala, can’t hear you!”

Contemplating whether or not I wanted to face reality, I laid in bed and stared at the ceiling. The phone rang again. This time I looked, and sure enough, there was a message from the wrenchman: “Hey, this thing started before you bought it, right?”

Sigh. There was a gaping hole in the engine when I rescued this Hyundai, so no, it wouldn’t turn over. But it started and ran fine, according to the previous owner, before it blew up.

“Yea, it should start,” I said optimistically. But apparently it wouldn’t even click  –  the starter had a frayed connection. The mechanic promised to mess with it some more and about 90 minutes later he sent me a video… the car was running!

Unfortunately, my repair budget had been blown out of the window. The front brakes, flex pipe, assorted fluids, and lower control arms had added 50 percent to my original budgeted labor cost, bringing it to $900. $900 is still a pretty good bargain for the amount of work my mechanic did. Not counting the downtime it took to source a replacement engine, he was able to do replace the front brakes, repair the flex pipe, replace both front lower control arms, complete a timing belt and water pump service, and engine install in about a day and a half. 

At that point the car still carried a palpable heft in smells and garbage, but it fired right up.

I slipped it into first gear  –  the gearstick moved with finesse I didn’t expect from a car that had cheap cinnamon whisky staining every seat. I didn’t have a high opinion of Hyundais, especially ones pre-2012, so I was pleasantly surprised to find an old-school Honda-esque snick-snick shifter.

Things weren’t all good though. The airbag light was still on, the parking brake was weak, the door handles didn’t match the car (the driver’s one was barely hanging on), the trunk still didn’t open, and there was a horrible grinding noise emanating from the rear of the car.

What’s that grinding noise?

A lot about flipping cars involves picking your battles  –  what can I reasonably ignore that won’t be too much of a cause for concern? The groaning, moaning, and horrible grinding had to be rectified on this thing, though. The radio was barely audible above 30 mph.

I traced it down to a rear wheel bearing, on the driver’s side. I hate doing rear wheel bearings on cars. Most are press-in, which means you need to remove the brakes, wheel hubs, and then find a shop with a heavy machine to press a new bearing into whatever holds the bearing to the car. In a rust belt state the potential for bolts to break off or round out pretty high, especially on the rear.

This Hyundai’s wheel bearing job was much easier than I expected, though. The replacement part was only $25 from RockAuto and it’s an integrated bearing that slides onto a stub axle at the rear of the car. It’s an easy-to-replace design: simply slip off the caliper, remove the CV-axle-style nut that holds the bearing assembly to the rear stub axle. Then the bearing assembly will slide off easily. It only took me about 30 minutes to replace the wheel bearing assembly and most of that time was spent looking for the correct sockets in my roommate’s messy garage.

Here’s What It Took To Get My $600 Hyundai Running And Driving Here’s What It Took To Get My $600 Hyundai Running And Driving Here’s What It Took To Get My $600 Hyundai Running And Driving

Diagnosing the weak parking brake

When I purchased this car the seller handed me a 10mm wrench and said “oh, this is to adjust the parking brake thingy.” Dude put it in my palm like a toddler presenting a spit-covered lollipop. The parking brake was weak. The handle ratcheted up just fine, but it barely could hold the car on a slight incline. Steep driveways resulted in the car rolling backward unless I parked the car in gear.

I took a gander underneath, the driver’s side parking brake cable was fine (if a bit stretched) but the other cable was… missing. Gone.

Once again, an easy job  –  only four 10mm bolts held the cable in place, all of which came out with no hassle. The replacement took about 25 minutes, most of which was spent making sure the parking brake cable hooked correctly on the brake caliper.

Fixing the stuck-closed trunk

The Tiburon’s trunk only opens one way  –  via an electronic switch. Inside, on the driver’s door, there’s an electronic release that controls the trunk. True, there’s a keyhole in the trunk door, but it essentially does the same thing; turns a plunger that presses a switch that operates the electronic release.

I could hear the switch operating when I either used the key or the switch. Yet, I couldn’t get the door open.

My roommate and I crawled in the back, trying to see what went wrong. Not even the emergency release was working. The Tiburon’s latch is enshrouded in plastic trim pieces, so removal of the latch from the trunk itself was nigh impossible.

My roommate shined a flashlight down into the lone trim piece we could remove to see the top of the latch. “What the hell is that glimmer?” he said.

Fun fact: When I googled the Tiburon’s VIN, I learned it was sold at auction with a blown-out hatch window, sometime in the summer of 2020. The hatch glass was replaced, but whoever replaced it didn’t even have the care or courtesy to vacuum the shards left behind. Glass pieces  had made their way into the trim pieces surrounding the latch and a few made it in the latch itself, jamming it.

Here’s What It Took To Get My $600 Hyundai Running And Driving Here’s What It Took To Get My $600 Hyundai Running And Driving

My roommate had an idea, “I think if we just beat on the latch, we can loosen the glass enough to pry the trunk open,”. 

Armed with a crowbar and a mallet, he beat on the latch from the inside as I tried to pull the hatch open from the outside. Cubes of old broken glass rained out from the ever-widening opening. After about ten minutes of attacking it, the Tiburon’s hatch flew open. Success!

Here’s What It Took To Get My $600 Hyundai Running And Driving Here’s What It Took To Get My $600 Hyundai Running And Driving

I vacuumed up the remaining glass trapped in the trim panels. I removed the latch, vacuumed out the glass trapped inside, and lubricated the whole assembly. The Tiburon’s hatch opens and closes with no issues now.

Making the door handles match

My roommate didn’t think the black door handles looked bad at all , “compliments the car nicely,” he said. I disagreed, to me the shiny gloss black door handles looked like what they were: Cheap replacement units that were not matched to the car.

Sourcing replacement handles was harder than I expected. My local junkyards did have Tiburons, but none of them were the right color . Painting door handles myself was unlikely to look good and I didn’t want to spend the money for a body shop to do it. I had to scour eBay for the things, getting one from a scrapyard in Wisconsin ($35) and the other from a yard in New Jersey ($55).

Replacing the door handles was straightforward, at least. The interior door panels needed to be removed, which was fine, I wanted to deep clean them anyway. Only three 10mm easily accessible screws hold the door handle to the body. The driver’s side had the lock cylinder installed in the wrong order, which put too much strain on the plastic clips that hold the door handle to the door itself. Thus, the clips (and screw hole) broke, leaving the handle dangling.

It took me about 30 minutes per side to replace the door handles. Most of the time was spent trying to finagle the door latch rod back into its proper position. The handles themselves were a bit more than my budgeted $50, but I feel the improvement in appearance increased the car’s value dramatically.

Here’s What It Took To Get My $600 Hyundai Running And Driving

On to the the ominous airbag light

We don’t have any vehicle inspections in Ohio, so the presence of an airbag light doesn’t necessarily ruin a used car’s value as much as you’d think. Lots of buyers don’t care if that light is on, which is good because most generic OBD-2 scanners can’t tell you how to turn it off. A diagnosis of an airbag light usually means a trip to the dealership, which in a lot of people’s minds, isn’t worth it once a car’s value slips into four-figures.

My roommate’s Autel scanner is pretty damn dope, though. Not only can it read and clear OBD-2 emissions codes, it can also access “body codes” –  codes that don’t cause a check engine light, but still show if other systems are malfunctioning. You can even program keys with it!

With his scanner, I was able to read the Tiburon’s airbag module codes. A few of the codes were “history” meaning they were not present faults but had been recorded. Two of them were active:

  • Hyundai B1361 :  “Front-driver seat belt pretensioner resistance too high”
  • Hyundai B2502 : “Telltale indicator light circuit malfunction  –  passenger side”

I researched online and learned that B1361 is a common Hyundai problem. I guess back in the mid-’00s when these cars were first introduced, it wasn’t uncommon for Tiburon seat belt buckles to break, necessitating a replacement. The Tiburon forum recommends cleaning out the contacts in the seatbelt buckle itself, and then clearing the code. If it comes back, then the buckle will likely need to be replaced. I have plans to get mine fixed, but right now I’m going to drive the car around and see if it clears itself.

The second code was more mysterious. When the car was on, the light that indicated if the passenger side airbag was on or not was not working. Why would the passenger side airbag warning light not be functional? Was there a serious wiring issue at play? Before I jumped the gun to something horrible, I figured I’d check the most basic solution  –  the plug to the indicator lamp. I took off the bezel that surrounds the radio and HVAC controls, and saw the problem :  the stupid little light wasn’t even plugged in. One potential crisis averted!

The Tiburon’s still got a ways to go. I need to detail the interior, the exterior needs a solid detailing too. Still, though, it runs, and the door handles have already made the car look 300 percent better than it did before. 

Wish me luck!

Kevin Williams

Kevin WilliamsKevin's been into cars his entire life, anything from the tiny kei cars in Japan, to the maybe not-so-good American barges of the 1980s. He's flipped more than 25 cars, only lost money twice, and has known how to make his dollar stretch as far as it can. If he ain't talking about cars, he's probably snacking on something sweet and cakey. Contact the author here.