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LAST UPDATED: August 28, 2020

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.

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Your Guide

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PUBLISHED ON August 28, 2020

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Kia is a brand that many online commenters love to hate on. Go to any online forum or comment section, and any praise for the Korean brand will immediately be shot down as propaganda by shrimp-bribed writers. Why? Because, at one time many years ago, Kia built bad cars. The momentum has swung the opposite way, however, as that hasn’t been the case in more than a decade. 

Kia’s entrance to the U.S. and other global markets wasn’t smooth. The company’s initial lineup for America 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. On a quest for a brand do-over, 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 every major automotive brand has, there are a number of them. So let The Drive’s informational team attempt to dispel the myth and conjecture of Kia’s poor reliability while informing you on what to look out for so you go into your next car search with confidence. 

Ready?

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How Reliable Is Kia?

Kia reliability has come a long way since the manufacturer first broke onto the scene nearly 30 years ago. At first, the cars were cheaply and poorly manufactured. Many considered them the new Geo, a hastily put-together cheap car brand from General Motors that became a laughing stock. 

Today, Kias are very reliable. The company has funneled billions of dollars into each model’s research, development, and manufacturing, and the cars are better than ever. From sedans and hot hatchbacks to crossovers and SUVs, Kia introduced a far more reliable lineup to the market on its way to becoming a global juggernaut in the automotive industry.

Recently built Kias are capable of eclipsing 200,000 miles, so long as you properly maintain them and service them at their regularly scheduled intervals. On a granular level, we hear you asking, “Yeah, but which models are the best?” Well, fine sir or madam, let The Drive educate you on the subject.

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.

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. 

Yet, 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 5-year/60,000-mile basic warranty and a 10-year/100,000-mile drivetrain warranty. Sign us up!

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 5-year/60,000-mile basic warranty and a 10-year/100,000-mile drivetrain warranty.

Kia Sportage Model
DepositPhotos

Kia Sportage Model

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 around the car’s electrical system, paying 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 2 weeks ago. The Kia dealer nearby my work place charged $600 to replace the alternator & belt. Alright, I need the truck, so I paid and fixed it. But it is not the end of story. The truck broken down again after ran 100 miles. I needed to call tow truck to tow to nearby Kia dealer.”

Repair Costs

Approximately $600 for the replacement alternator and labor. 

Kia Sorento Catastrophic Engine Failure

When your engine goes boom, that’s not great but exactly what happened to the 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 tells the tale of his or her engine seizing up while driving down the road, saying, “Driving to work on a same route bumpy road yesterday, thought something flew into a fan or something due to a rattle noise starting after hitting a bump. Within a few seconds knocking and noise getting 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.”

They added, “Had to embarrassingly call boss and miss a bit of work trying to get another vehicle to get back to work. 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 backordered (looked at previous complaints and it looks like this backorder has been an issue since at least early 2018) so 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 over $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 over 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 around $2,500-$4,500 to fix their Forte’s engine knock.

Close up detail of car engine
DepositPhotos

Close up detail of car engine

EXTENDED WARRANTY COVERAGE MORE … FOR LESS

Endurance

Save $350 on an Endurance warranty plan with coupon code: DRIVE350

Going with a factory extended warranty is a good option for basic protection, but you can get more and save more with Endurance, ranked the top extended warranty provider by Consumer Advocates, Consumer Affairs, and Retirement Living.

Get a Free Quote

Save $350 with coupon code: DRIVE350

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CarShield

CarShield — USA’s #1 Auto Protection Provider

CarShield pays claims directly to a US or Canadian ASE-Certified® repair facility of your choice. Our contracts have low or no deductibles to prevent stress to your wallet at a critical time. Never worry about being stranded somewhere after a breakdown. All of our vehicle repair contracts include towing services to transport you and your vehicle to a safe repair facility.

Get a Free Quote

<br>

Carchex

Nationwide coverage for cars new and old

CARCHEX has something for everyone. Have an old car? No problem. Live in California? Not an issue. CARCHEX 's plethora of warranty plans includes options for cars up to twenty years old with up to 250,000 miles, regardless of any existing or expired warranties. Click below or call 1-877-207-3304 for a free quote.

Get a Free Quote

Kia Sportage Model in different colors
DepositPhotos

Kia Sportage Model in different colors

FAQs

You’ve got questions, The Drive’s informational team has answers!

Do Kia Cars Last?

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.

Why Are Kias So Cheap?

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. 

What's Wrong with Kia Cars?

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.

Is Kia More or Less Reliable Than Toyota?

Current Kias, and Kias of the last 15 years, are on par with Toyota’s reliability. But 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 basketcase. If you treated it like royalty, you’re going to have a long-last automobile.

Should I Buy, Lease, or Rent a Kia?

Whether or not you buy, lease, or rent a Kia is really down to personal preference. The Drive’s informational team suggests that if you’re buying used, you get a professional mechanic to make sure you’re not purchasing a faulty grenade ready to explode on a moment’s notice. And if you’re buying new, you’ll absolutely be happy with your purchase. 

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:

CarComplaints: Kia Problems

NHTSA: Kia Complaints

Cars.com: Kia Forte Recalls