December 5, 2023

DEAR CAR TALK: I have a 2018 Hyundai Sonata Limited Hybrid (not a plug-in). I purchased it new at the end of 2018 and have had all my oil changes and services done according to schedule.

On a cold night this past winter, I turned on my heated seat. The three lights on the dashboard came on, indicating that the seat heat was set to the highest level. Then, within a minute, the lights went off, and the seat did not heat.

I could only get the seat heater lights to turn on again by turning the car off and then on. And even after that, the seat heater would only stay on for a minute and then shut off.

The passenger seat warmer works fine. Any idea what’s wrong? — Marla

DEAR READER: You’re lucky — I only discovered my seat heater stopped working when my wife asked me what ever happened to those nice grill marks that she used to see on my butt.

I’m going to guess you have a faulty heater grid in the driver’s seat, Marla. That’s the heating element under the seat cushion that creates the heat.

There’s an electronic module that controls the seat heating in your car. But if the module were at fault, I’m pretty sure your passenger seat heater wouldn’t work either. So, I’m going to rule that out.

I’m guessing that the grid in your driver’s seat either shorted out, a wire broke or it was just poorly made and didn’t last as long as it should have.

Your Hyundai dealership can use its scan tool on the seat heater and check for an open circuit. If it finds one — and can’t find anything else that explains it — it’ll have to take the seat apart and replace the grid.

I believe the 2018 Sonata came with a 5-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty. So as long as you have fewer than 60,000 miles on it, you can just head over to the dealer, explain the problem, and say, “Please fix it.” And “No, thank you, I don’t also want the $800 fuzzy dice rotating service while I’m here.”

This is exactly what a warranty is for, Marla: stuff that should last for many years but doesn’t. So go get it fixed and enjoy happy, warm-seated motoring.

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DEAR CAR TALK: You wrote recently about the new “matte” paints on some new cars.

Speaking of paint, what’s with the idea that government regulations require car manufacturers to use water-based paint that requires an added cost when you sit down to sign the papers for the purchase/financing?

Is this the new rust-proofing scam? — Steve

DEAR READER: I’m not aware of any required extra charge for water-based paint, Steve. Your dealer may just be ahead of the pack when it comes to the “scamming arts.”

The auto industry — and actually the paint industry in general — has been switching over to water-based paints for the last several decades, for good reasons.

The older “oil” paints were made with lots of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. Those are serious pollutants.

For most of us, they made the air we breathe less healthy. But for people who worked in factory paint shops and auto body shops, they were linked to more acute health problems, including cancer.

So the Environmental Protection Agency was 100% right to force this change.

Put simply, paint is mixture of pigment (color) and a solvent that keeps it liquified until it has been applied to a surface. Once it’s applied, that solvent evaporates and leaves the color.

Compared to older, oil paints, water-based paints replace an enormous percentage of that solvent material with water. Water also evaporates to leave the pigment, but it’s not bad for your health. Unless you mix it with an excessive quantity of bathtub whiskey. Which I’ve tried.

So, what’s the cost? Well, there was a cost involved in the switchover, as manufacturers and body shops had to invest in new equipment, and had to work out the kinks of using the new products.

And water-based paints do tend to cost a bit more than less-desirable oil-based paints.

But there are also savings, because shops need fewer pollution controls to meet air quality regulations and fewer hazmat suits and respirators for employees.

In the end, most auto paint experts think that water-based paint with a clear coat results in a better metallic finish. Look at a new car from 40 years ago and a new car today. Today’s paint job looks much better.

So if a dealer tells you there’s an extra charge for low VOC paints, Steve, tell him it sounds like he’s been breathing too many VOCs and walk out.

Ray Magliozzi dispenses advice about cars in Car Talk every Saturday. Email him by visiting


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