About 16,000 of Hyundai's 2011 Sonatas, built in the same...

About 16,000 of Hyundai's 2011 Sonatas, built in the same month in Alabama, are being investigated for stearing problems. (Undated) Credit: Weick

U.S. safety regulators have opened a preliminary investigation into claims that Hyundai Motor Co.'s best-selling U.S. model, the Sonata sedan, may have steering problems, government officials said yesterday.

No injuries or accidents have been reported to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or to Hyundai regarding the steering issue, NHTSA and company officials said.

Steering could be a problem on 16,300 model-year 2011 Sonata sedans that were built in the same month at Hyundai's plant in Alabama, according to the NHTSA, which also said Sonatas cited in its reports each had fewer than 600 miles driven on them.

NHTSA said it will investigate to verify consumer complaints that "the steering shaft allegedly decoupled from the hand wheel, resulting in a complete loss of steering capability."

NHTSA opened the investigation Friday.

Hyundai spokesman Jim Trainor said two Sonata customers brought their sedans to Hyundai dealerships complaining of steering problems. Those cars were fixed and returned to the owners.

The Sonata is a key to Hyundai's success in the U.S. market, and the South Korean automaker is advertising it as an alternative to the more expensive Japanese sedans of similar size. Through July, the 108,000 Sonata sedans sold accounted for 46 percent of Hyundai's U.S. car segment sales this year. About 8,000 more were sold in Canada, Hyundai said.

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