Car Insights, Feature Story, Features, Mechanics, Profiles, Technicians

How Peter preps Hyundais for the motor media

Hyundai technician Peter Kiourkas explains what working life’s like preparing and maintaining cars for the fussiest of customers – motoring journalists.

Peter Kiourkas has the patience of a saint. Here’s me, a motoring writer, just arrived back in the pits after a dozen full-chat test laps around Winton Motor Raceway. It’s in the updated 2024 Hyundai i30 Sedan N, and I have – once again – failed to properly activate the lap timer, plus I need help going through the car’s many custom menus to select a stiffer adaptive damping setting.

SEE ALSO: Mercedes develops world-first X-ray crash test

The ace technician at Hyundai calmly and knowledgeably takes care of it all, then asks how the brakes are performing and if I need fuel. Next thing I know he’s turned the wheels to full lock, inspecting the inside of the front tyres. “Look how much tread there’s left, you’re not trying hard enough,” he says with a grin.

The 53-year-old is great company at the track, and an absolute font of knowledge about seemingly every aspect of a vehicle. That could be about an old Norton motorcycle motor, the absolute correct tyres and pressures for a 40C track day, right through to the multiple ECU-complexities of Hyundai’s latest battery electric car. A master of all trades, if you will.

Image: Iain Curry

In the know

Peter served his mechanic’s apprenticeship at a garage in Belfield in Sydney’s south-west. “We did everything from lawnmowers to trucks, motorbikes, boats and a whole range of vehicle marques,” he says. “Anything to do with a motor, really. It was a driveway service, so I had to fuel cars, check the oil, check the water. It was great to work on a variety of cars, rather than one type of brand.”

As a kid, Peter had always tinkered with push bikes and small motorcycles, disassembling them to discover how everything worked. “My cousins had little motorbikes, and I’d help take apart the likes of 4-stroke Briggs & Stratton motors to see how to improve them, and what makes them run. It was a great learning process, with a lot of trial and error.”

Image: Iain Curry

After serving his apprenticeship, he stayed with the workshop for four further years, becoming expert in BorgWarner transmissions and servicing fleets of hire cars. He then bought a VIP Car Care franchise so he could run his own business, with one of his clients in the early 2000s being Volkswagen Australia. “I was their mobile detailer, and then I started doing Daewoos and Inchcape (Subaru distributors) cars as well,” he said.

Peter’s professionalism and talent were recognised with a VW contract in 2002, looking after its head office’s cars, and assisting with VW’s racing Beetles and Mk4 Golf R32s. “I was mechanic on the team, and also did everything from fitting stickers to loading the transporter,” he says.

It was here he was first introduced to what’s involved when a new car is launched in Australia.

Lights, camera, action

The media get shipped in from all over the country to test the latest products, and the cars must be at their absolute best to ensure they make a positive impression. Last thing you want is an influential journalist reporting on a new car that arrives dirty, with the wrong tyre pressures, not run in properly or with an annoying squeak or rattle.

Image: Iain Curry

After a decade with Volkswagen helping manage its press fleet of vehicles he moved to Hyundai. This was in 2012, just as the Korean brand was really hitting its stride to become one of the biggest players in the Australian car market. “The Hyundais are strongly-built,” Peter says of his current employer. “I don’t need to change as much on them as I used to with Volkswagens. And with Daewoo, you could see how they were built to a price. When I looked after them and saw how they were put together and the quality, I see why they didn’t last!”

When a new Hyundai model arrives in the country, Peter’s role is key. “A lot aren’t on the market yet, and all-new models may have some teething issues,” he explains. “They’ve come from Korea and may be the first of the right-hand-drive ones. If there are little issues here and there, we report back to the factory for things to get sorted before going on sale. We give them a heads up to have a look on the production line, improve a certain feature or how it’s put together.”

These seemingly small changes can be the difference between a satisfied and dissatisfied car buyer. “A facelifted car is normally already pretty sorted, but if it’s a brand new platform, we check suspension tuning and steering feel, as the Korean tune will be different to what we want in Australia.”

Image: Iain Curry

Hair and makeup

Before the media get their hands on cars, Peter and his colleagues must work fast. “There’s not much time between getting a car and the launch date,” he says. “The engine and brakes have to be run in, we must check everything’s working, all software and maps are up to date, and experience the car ourselves to make sure it performs for what’s it’s been designed. The media are the voice to sample our cars, and explain to your mums and dads what a car can do.”

The job’s not always easy. Transporting cars interstate can open a can of dramas. Bumpers may be damaged loading or unloading, suffer stone chips or worse. “I’ve known a truck driver hit a kangaroo and jackknife, or fall asleep at the wheel and run off the road.” There are no winners there, not least the new cars being transported.

Hyundai’s well-received performance ‘N’ brand vehicles are now well established in Australia, and Peter’s been guardian angel for these cars as journalists track test them to extremes. On our test day at Winton, I take a look over what he’s brought along. There’s a trolley jack, some car stands, a compressor with hose and fittings, a battery jump starter pack, puncture repair kit, windscreen patch kit and spare globes. Being prepared comes with experience. He throws in “a pretty decent tool kit” and easy access things like window cleaners, sprays and lubricants. “You’ve got to be prepared for everything,” he states.

Image: Iain Curry

Typically, tyres and rims are things most likely to suffer damage… these are car journalists after all. “For a track launch, I’ll always send spare tyres to get baked beforehand,” he says. “You never put on fresh tyres at the track or they’ll never last. If it’s a multiple day track event I’ll have wheels and tyres ready, a spare set of brakes, some coolant, front and rear bars and a damper or two in case drivers ride the track kerbs too hard.”

Working ahead

Before each driving day Peter’s out there checking tyre pressures, checking fluids, ensuring everything’s tight and all cables clipped in. He’ll be under the car ensuring there are no leaks, and closely monitoring tyre wear. One thing’s very clear: Peter’s not the type of technician who says something’s not his job. He’s wants to know every aspect about the vehicle, and continuously upskill.

His advice to anyone wanting to tackle a similar line of work is to not focus on just one aspect of a car. “Broaden your horizons,” he suggests. “It’ll expand your mind if you know how everything works; the more you know the better you become at diagnosing. You can then do things quicker and easier.”

Image: Iain Curry

For a man who started in the 1980s when carburettors were commonplace, Peter’s not shied away from the electric revolution. Working for Hyundai, with its expanding fleet of EVs, he’s had to embrace it. “I’d suggest others should learn all the new stuff, especially EVs,” he says. “Do all the EV courses, because it’s a prerequisite to be qualified to work on electric cars, and there are going to be lots of them.”

Sound advice from someone with decades of varied experience on all manner of vehicles. Best of all, Peter clearly embraces the constant evolution of cars and their component parts, and does so with a smile on his face. He even seemed to enjoy changing the i30 N’s front tyres when I finally did as he asked and cooked them properly this time.

Send this to a friend