Kia Reliability: The Drive’s Guide

For those looking at used Kias, The Drive’s informational team put together a handy reliability guide for all the problems you need to watch out for.

byThe Drive Staff| UPDATED Apr 12, 2022 12:21 PM
Kia Reliability: The Drive’s Guide
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Kia is a brand that many online commenters love to hate. You can go to any online forum or comment section, and any praise for the Korean brand will immediately be shot down as propaganda. This is because at one time many years ago, Kia built bad cars. 

Kia’s entrance to the United States and other global markets wasn’t smooth. The company’s initial lineup for the U.S. was littered with poorly built cars that did little to capture the public’s interest outside of being dirt cheap. Facing a reputation in desperate need of a makeover, the company’s execs knew they needed to up the brand’s quality game. The idea that Kia is building bad cars hasn't been the case in more than a decade. On a quest for a brand makeover, the Korean company poured billions of dollars into the research, development, and manufacturing of its cars and has since become a worthy competitor to Toyota and Honda, the kings of reliability. 

Yet, no matter how improved Kia’s cars are, it’s hard to convince people of Kia’s reliability turnaround. That’s not to say there aren’t issues. As with every major automotive brand, there are a number of them. The Drive’s informational team wants to inform you on what to look out for so you can go into your next car search with confidence. 

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What Makes a Reliable Brand?

Reliability depends on a host of variables, but the two biggest structural supports are the development and manufacturing of a vehicle. When auto manufacturers spend the time and money developing a car and its manufacturing line, a car tends to last longer. Hastily designed, poorly manufactured, and cheaply constructed materials will all reduce a car’s longevity and reliability.

There’s also a work ethic variable that cannot be ignored. Honda and Toyota’s cultures of reliability over all embody that ethic and have thus kept each’s legendary reliability in the minds of consumers for decades. Add longer-than-normal warranties and good customer service, and it’s easy to see why these Japanese companies have enjoyed their strong standings for so long.

Yet, once a car leaves the dealership lot, outside factors impact a car’s durability.

What Impacts a Car’s Reliability

The short answer is you. The longer answer is a car’s reliability and longevity are inextricably tied to how you take care of your vehicle, your maintenance schedule, your conservative or brash driving habits, and whether or not you live in climates where extreme weather could affect the car’s construction.

Preemptive maintenance like regular oil changes, fluid flushes, tire rotation, and fuel system cleaners along with keeping the exterior and underside of your car clean will increase the life expectancy of your car. Keeping it out of the harsh desert or tropical sun as well as away from the rust-inducing salted roadways of winter will also extend its life.

Keeping the Mario Andretti driving antics to a minimum will keep your brakes, engine, tires, and chassis happy for far longer than treating every trip to the grocery store as if it’s the Indy 500. 

Which Kia Models Are More Reliable?

Here at The Drive, we’ve driven just about every model in Kia’s lineup. We’ve also had experiences with past Kia models, some of which were not fabulous. Here is a brief rundown of the most reliable Kia models in the past 10 years.

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If you're looking for a new Kia, or new to you Kia, look no further than Carvana. One of the best new and used car websites around, you're sure to find your next car with Carvana. Click here to start searching.

Kia Optima

Kia’s long-served Optima sedan has seen its share of updates and upgrades over the years — and for good reason. It dropped onto the scene at the start of the millennium as something that many would consider uninteresting and quite horrid in both performance, styling, safety, and reliability. 

After the Optima’s initial issues, Kia quickly recovered and has since evolved the car into one of the most reliable options the Korean brand offers. Though The Drive recommends that you stay away from the first and second generations, the third-, fourth-, and current fifth-generation Optimas are fabulous cars that will last years, as long as you take care of them.

Kia Telluride

The Kia Telluride might be the new kid on the block, but based on consumer reactions and praise, it’s one of the best SUVs on the market, if not the new benchmark for all other SUVs. Ample seating, a simple, yet efficient and powerful engine, and the culmination of Kia’s decades of quality improvement, the Telluride is perhaps the best Kia has ever produced. There’s also the fact that the Telluride comes with a five-year/60,000-mile basic warranty and a 10-year/100,000-mile drivetrain warranty. 

Kia Sportage

Before the Telluride, Kia’s go-to SUV was the Sportage. However, like the Optima, it too had dark years at its inception. Poor quality, bad assembly, and a host of mechanical issues relegate the original Sportage to the pile of unwanted cars. Thankfully, it wasn’t long before Kia got its act together. 

In addition to being affordable, easily maintained, and cheaply fixed, the past three generations of the Kia Sportage are among the most reliable SUVs the manufacturer offers. And like the Telluride, new Kia Sportages offer the brand’s fantastic five-year/60,000-mile basic warranty and a 10-year/100,000-mile drivetrain warranty.

Kia Sportage Model, DepositPhotos

Common Kia Problems and Repair Costs

All, however, isn’t rosy with some of Kia’s models. Here’s a quick rundown of common Kia problems and their repair costs so you make the best decision when purchasing your next car.

Kia Sedona Faulty Alternator

Kia’s Sedona has a total of 353 complaints between the NHTSA and CarComplaints. Most stem from the car’s electrical system, with special attention to the alternator. According to multiple complaints, the car’s alternator has a habit of frying itself, and it isn’t cheap to fix. The problem is most commonly seen in 2006, 2012, and 2015 model years.

Customer complaint

One such complaint read, “The alternator broke after warranty was expired two weeks ago. The Kia dealer near my workplace charged $600 to replace the alternator and belt. All right, I need the truck, so I paid and fixed it. But it is not the end of story. The truck broken down again after 100 miles. I needed to call a tow truck to tow to nearby Kia dealer.”

Repair costs

It costs about $600 for the replacement alternator and labor. 

Kia Sorento Catastrophic Engine Failure

When your engine goes boom, that’s not great, but it's exactly what happened to some 2011 and 2012 Kia Sorentos. According to multiple sources, multiple complaints, and a recall, Kia’s GDi engine is to blame. Kia has since recalled a number of parts related to these engine failures, but not all cars have been fixed. 

Customer complaint

One customer told the tale of the engine seizing up while driving down the road. “Driving to work on a same bumpy road yesterday, I thought something flew into a fan since a rattle noise started after hitting a bump. Within a few seconds, there was knocking, and the noise got louder. No warning lights came on. Car completely seized and failed within a few more seconds as I pulled over to a turning lane. Opened hood and smoke began pouring out. Checked dipstick and smoke poured out of the dipstick hole as well. Oil looked fried. Coolant was OK. Tow truck and repair shop said complete engine failure.

“Had to embarrassingly call boss and miss a bit of work trying to get another vehicle. Car has always had synthetic oil changes, and everything done all as scheduled. Had it in for the recall in 2017, and all listed as OK. Engines are back-ordered (looks like back-order has been an issue since at least early 2018), so there's no telling when my car will be fixed. Honestly, this could have been deadly had I been on the highway.”

Repair costs

A number of Kia owners said they had to pay more than $5,000 to replace their Sorento engines, though the parts that failed should be covered in the recall.

Kia Forte Engine Knocking

The Kia Forte has the longest-running issue included in this list, with engine knock being reported in 2010 models all the way up to 2017 Fortes. In total, the NHTSA has more than 100 complaints from customers reporting engine knock with the main culprit being the car’s ignition coils. 

Customer complaint

To show the scale of the issue, one customer reported, “This is the third ignition coil being replaced due to issues, for a total of five replacements. The other two had been replaced under a recall but still giving issues overall.”

Repair costs

According to Kia Forte owners, the dealership will charge $2,500-$4,500 to fix their Forte’s engine knock.

Close up detail of car engine, DepositPhotos

Looking for a New Kia? Look No Further than Carvana

If you're looking for a new Kia, or new to you Kia, look no further than Carvana. One of the best new and used car websites around, you're sure to find your next car with Carvana. Click here to start searching.

FAQs on Kia

You've got questions. The Drive has answers.

Q. Do Kia cars last?

A. They can. As with any car, truck, and SUV out on the open road, how you maintain your ride will determine just how long your car lasts. In the past 10 years, Kia has upped its reliability game considerably and now competes with Toyota and Honda. It’s not unheard of for newer models to last well past 200,000 miles.

Q. Why are Kias so cheap?

A. Kias are now priced similarly to Hondas, Toyotas, and its corporate cousin, Hyundai. They’re still slightly cheaper than those, but don’t feel as cheap as when Kia first came to market. They are, however, a value play for consumers and are far more inexpensive to maintain. 

Q. What's wrong with Kia cars?

A. Nothing. Kia’s cars are some of the best on the road, with the world’s automotive press heaping congratulatory praise on its newest model, the Telluride SUV. Older Kias are less desirable and had a host of issues, including build quality and how cheap their interiors felt.

Q. Is Kia more or less reliable than Toyota?

A. Kias of the last 15 years, are on par with Toyota’s reliability. Again, that depends on how you or the previous owner took care of the vehicle. If you treated it poorly, it’s going to be a basket case. If you treated it like royalty, you’re going to have a long-lasting automobile.

Q. Should I buy, lease, or rent a Kia?

A. Whether or not you buy, lease, or rent a Kia is up to you. The Drive’s informational team suggests that if you’re buying used, get a professional mechanic to make sure you’re not purchasing a grenade ready to explode on a moment’s notice.  

More Information

The Drive has put together a few more resources you can use to educate yourself about Kia’s reliability. Check them out below: