Roman Glon of Autoblog writes that it was the headrests' imitation leather covering that is the stink-causing culprit
Hyundai has closed its investigation into why some Palisade owners complained about a funky smell in the cabin. It blamed the stench on the headrests, and it explained getting rid of it might require replacing all seven of them.
We first covered this unusual problem in August 2020, after several owners and Cars.com complained about it. Some said the SUV smelled like dirty socks, others argued the odor reminded them of spicy garlic cabbage, and a few settled for describing it as "really bad." What's certain is that no one said it smelled good.
Hyundai analyzed the problem and ultimately traced the scent to the imitation leather it uses to upholster the headrests, according to Cars.com. It explained a flaw in the manufacturing process is responsible for the smell, though it provided no additional details about what went wrong. Getting rid of it requires removing the upholstery from each headrest and spraying it with odor-neutralizing chemicals. Dealers are also instructed to spray the solution into the seatback via the holes that the headrests mount into. If the smell goes away, great. If it doesn't, customers will be asked to take their Palisade back to the dealer for a second round of deep-cleaning.
Dealers will need to replace the seven headrests in extreme cases. Hyundai said it made changes to its production process, so its headrests should again exude a new-leather whiff rather than an garlic cabbage niff.
Owners of a stinky Limited or Calligraphy model are eligible to get their SUV deodorized free of charge. Hyundai is not going to issue a official recall, the smell thankfully isn't strong enough to be considered a safety-related problem, but affected customers are encouraged to get in touch with their nearest dealer.