Hyundai Reliability: The Drive’s Guide

If you’re considering buying a used Hyundai, The Drive’s reliability guide is for you.

byThe Drive Staff|
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So, you want to buy a Hyundai but aren’t sure about the Korean brand’s reliability? Well, you’ve come to the right place. The Drive’s crack informational team is well-versed in all things Hyundai reliability and we're here to share that information. 

Although you may not be familiar with the history of Hyundai, the brand dates back to the late 1960s. After initially partnering with Ford, Hyundai has grown into a global powerhouse and sells more than a million vehicles globally each and every year, with more than 700,000 of those sold in the United States. Part of that success is due to the company leveraging affordability across its lineup. The other part comes down to the reliability and engineering of each car, crossover, and SUV.

As with all manufacturers, there are a few bad apples, and customers may see these as across-the-board issues that mar the brand's reputation. To dispel such myths, The Drive’s team walks you through Hyundai’s lineup. 

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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.

Hands holding steering wheel in Hyundai car, DepositPhotos

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Which Hyundai Models Are the Most Reliable?

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

Hyundai Elantra

The Hyundai Elantra is one of the most affordable vehicles in the brand’s lineup. Starting at just $19,300, the Elantra was designed for a public that needs an affordable car but still wants creature comforts such as CarPlay, good gas mileage, active safety, and driving aids, and space for five. 

J.D. Power has repeatedly given the Elantra four out of five stars for its reliability. Adding further credence, the site RepairPal gave it a 4.5 out of 5 for reliability, while also stating the average annual repair bill is $452, which ranks the Elantra eighth of 36 competing compact cars.

Hyundai Sonata

Hyundai’s Sonata remains one of the best mid-sized sedans available and has routinely been classified as such by the world’s media. Similar to the Elantra, Hyundai’s Sonata sedan has earned itself J.D. Power’s above-average reliability score with customers. And like the rest of Hyundai’s lineup, the Sonata is supported by that fantastic five-year/60,000-mile basic warranty and a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty. 

Hyundai Santa Fe

As one of Hyundai’s best-selling offerings, the Santa Fe is also one of the most reliable crossovers according to RepairPal. With a ranking of four out of five, the Santa Fe takes the second spot out of 26 other mid-sized crossovers. Both the NHTSA and CarComplaints have recorded almost zero complaints for the Santa Fe in recent years. 

Hyundai Santa Fe 2020, DepositPhotos

Common Hyundai Problems and Repair Costs

As with other car brands, not all of Hyundai’s models are built to the same exacting standards as the reliable vehicles mentioned above. Here’s a quick rundown of problematic Hyundai offerings, including the issues, customer complaints.

Tucson Transmission Failure

On the NHTSA’s website, there are a total of 617 complaints about the 2016 Hyundai Tucson, many of which stem from the SUV’s transmission failure. According to a filed recall, “Hyundai Motor Company is recalling model-year 2016 Tucson vehicles manufactured May 20, 2015, through May 31, 2016, and equipped with a seven-speed EcoShift Dual Clutch Transmission. Certain driving conditions and high temperatures may cause the vehicle not to move if the accelerator pedal is pressed and released repeatedly.” 

Customer complaint

One customer complaint read, “Our Tucson shifted down as we pulled into an intersection and would not move more than 5 mph. We were nearly struck by a tractor trailer. This is the third serious incident involving the transmission in this vehicle. We will not drive it until Hyundai replaces the transmission.”

Repair costs

Since the transmission failure is under recall, you shouldn’t be out a dollar. However, if you’re considering a used Tucson, make sure the transmission has been fixed by Hyundai. 

Santa Fe Catastrophic Engine Failure

Though the new Santa Fes have been enjoying fantastic reliability, the 2012 models were prone to spectacular catastrophic engine failures. Along with its corporate cousin, the Kia Sorento, the GDi engines fitted to the Santa Fe were prone to engines randomly seizing and leaving customers stranded. 

Customer complaint

One particular complaint said, “2012 Hyundai Santa Fe — 2.4-liter engine — stalled while driving on Interstate 94 in Montana. Gas mileage plummeted to 10.4 mpg after gas fill and lunch in Hardin, Montana. Engine was totally nonresponsive. Had it towed to Billings, Montana, on a Sunday. Shop provided emergency service. Diagnosis was that fuel was getting into oil, and they think it was because of the failure of an oil pump in the engine. Further examination indicated internal damage and need to replace engine. What is worrisome is the fact that this engine was discontinued after three years (2011-'13). Now my only option is to buy a used engine. Used engines cost about $3,000. Labor will be on top of that. I am going to sell this rig when repaired. Not sure what I will tell a prospective purchaser. I hate the thought of saddling someone else with a lemon.”

Repair costs

Considering the engine was discontinued, the price of a used engine will range depending on whether you source it yourself and/or do the work yourself, versus having the dealership or a professional mechanic charge you for the parts and labor. You may also need to scrap the car completely, meaning you’ll be purchasing a new car. 

Sonata Catastrophic Engine Failure

Just like the Santa Fe, the 2011 and 2012 Hyundai Sonata had the same catastrophic engine failures with engines seizing at random and leaving many customers without working cars. 

Customer complaint

“I was entering an onramp onto a highway and had pressed the accelerator down pretty hard to get up the short onramp,” stated one customer complaint. “Right before the top of the onramp, my car completely stopped. No noise, no warning, no nothing. I was like WTF? My car has 143,000 miles, and so I expect issues to happen but never this. I noticed very high rpm on my tachometer. I called roadside, and through my insurance I had it towed to a place that works on foreign cars. They say my engine is seized and that they can't even hand crank it. So, now my car is at the Hyundai dealership where I bought it. Thankfully, they seem concerned about the issue as I have had it serviced there a fair amount. I am hoping that I will be able to have it fixed even though it is over the high warranty miles by 10,000. They are inspecting it today, and I'll hear back from them soon on how to proceed. I don't want to pay $4,000 for a new engine.”

Repair costs

According to CarComplaints, the average bill to replace the engine is more than $5,000. 

Hyundai Tucson close-up of the engine, DepositPhotos

Looking for a New Hyundai? Look No Further than Carvana

If you're looking for a new Hyundai, or new to you Hyundai, 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.

Hyundai logo in the front of a dealership, DepositPhotos

FAQs on Hyundai

You've got questions. The Drive has answers.

Q. Why are Hyundai cars bad?

A. Past Hyundais weren’t reliable, but it’s been many years since that dark era. Today’s Hyundais are very good cars and still offer fantastic value propositions. 

Q. Why are Hyundai vehicles so inexpensive?

A. Hyundai is a value brand that has been on a continuous path of improvement. In recent years, it’s moved upmarket in both fit and finish as well as price, but overall the lineup is still quite affordable.

Q. Are Hyundais expensive to fix?

A. That depends on what’s wrong. If you need a new engine or you’ve just crashed into the idling Prius in front of you, it will be expensive. If you’re just getting an oil change, it’ll be affordable.

Q. Is Hyundai more reliable than Toyota?

A. Toyota’s legendary reliability is still intact, however, makes such as Hyundai, Honda, and Kia are quickly catching up. 

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

A. The Drive’s informational team suggests that if you’re buying used, get a professional mechanic to inspect the car. If you’re buying new and enjoy the car during your test drive, you’ll likely be happy with your purchase. 

More Information

Here are a few more resources you can use:

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