The Kia Forte is a top contender when it comes to simplicity, usability, fuel economy, and compared to many other sedans, it is also fun to drive! While all those things are essential, we are more concerned with its reliability. This blog lists all the common problems and recalls of an American-sold, Mexican-made Kia Forte!
Avoid the 2011-2015 model years of the Forte. These model years had a lot of severe engine and electrical problems. All model years of the Forte are susceptible to various airbag problems and problems with the steering system. 2017 and 2018 model years Forte’s had major problems with the oil pump.
We are sure you want to know more than just the short answer. If you stay with us, you will learn all about different model year issues, the most common NHTSA owners’ complaints, recalls, and more. So stay with us!
1. Airbag Problems And Recalls
Ever since the introduction of airbags, the safety of the driver and other occupants of the car has dramatically increased. But that is only true if the airbags work and deploy in an emergency.
This problem faced several Kia Forte owners who did experience an accident in which their airbags did not deploy when they should. As you can imagine, this sparked outrage and fear amongst other Kia Forte owners as they suddenly lost faith in one of the cars’ crucial safety features.
Kia recalled more than 500,000 vehicles due to this problem, including the 2010-2013 Kia Forte. In terms of recall size, more than half a million vehicles are considered one of the biggest Kia recalls of all time.
This recall was filed under Kia’s recall number SC165 and NHTSA campaign number 18V363000. According to the recall, the airbag control unit was prone to short circuits, preventing the front airbags and seat belt tensioners from deploying in a crash event.
While this recall did resolve a significant safety issue, the problems with airbag warning lights illuminating randomly and for no apparent reason are an issue that follows all model-year Kia Forte’s. There are numerous NHTSA complaints with owners getting charged 500$ multiple times to resolve airbag sensor issues and other airbag-related problems.
2. Transmission Cooler Leaks
Overheating an automatic transmission can lead to catastrophic damage to the transmission, which is precisely why the cooling of the transmission must always be intact. Check the transmission if you are in the market for an older, 2011 model year Kia Forte. Here is why.
Due to a manufacturing fault, vehicles made between August 27, 2010, and November 11, 2010, suffered from transmission fluid leaks. This resulted from an improperly manufactured transmission fluid cooler hose, which led to multiple vehicles stalling out with major transmission damage. It also posed a significant safety hazard.
Fortunately, Kia launched the SC129 recall (NHTSA campaign number 16V070000) and repaired this issue; however, if you are in the market for a 2011 Kia Forte, we would still recommend a higher level of caution. Make sure the transmission is working flawlessly under all conditions.
3. Engine Problems (Theta II Engine)
If you look at the 2014 model year Kia Forte NHTSA complaints here, you will realize that there are 158 complaints regarding the engine of the Kia Forte. Many of those complaints include reports of complete engine failures and knocking sounds coming from the engine.
The problems reported above were the worst from 2012 to 2015. This was the era of the Theta II engine problems, which unfortunately also plagued the Forte model. There were problems with oil leaks (due to a faulty design of the oil pan and oil pan gasket), and many reports of engine knocking sounds and complete engine failure (both caused by premature wear of the rod bearings).
As if that was not enough, these engines were also prone to spontaneous ignition. And there were a lot of cases of burning Kia’s during that period. This resulted from an electrical short in the Hydraulic Electronic Control Unit (HECU).
To resolve these severe issues for the 2012-2015 Kia Forte, in 2020, Kia launched the SC200 recall (NHTSA campaign number 20V750000), which assured the owners that they would receive a free checkup of the engine, a completely new engine and an update to the Knock Sensor Detection System (KSDS) software. This would all be free of charge.
4. Steering Rack Problems
Steering problems are one of the first things a driver might notice when things are not how they should be. And when it comes to steering, there is no room for errors.
According to Kia’s SC235 recall (NHTSA campaign number 22V304000), certain 2021-2022 Kia Forte’s are prone to steering column problems. Due to a poorly secured bolt in the steering column, the steering column can detach from the steering rack.
This can lead to a complete loss of control and drastically increase the crash risk. If you are in the market for a 2021 or a 2022 model year Forte, ensure that this recall does not affect your desired vehicle or that the recall has been taken care of.
5. Steering Coupler Issues
If you are asking yourself what in the world is a steering coupler, we don’t blame you. A steering coupler is a cross-shaped piece of plastic or light metal that converts the turning of the steering wheel and conveys it to the steering rack.
If the steering coupler wears out, there is a noticeable sluggish response from the steering wheel, and in the worst case, there is a complete loss of steering.
The Forte is allegedly not burdened by this problem; however, there are more than enough NHTSA complaints and forum threads to convince us to think differently. An owner of a 2014 Kia Forte issued the following NHTSA complaint.
“Steering coupler needed to be replaced. There have been warranty extensions for this part on several Hyundai cars as well as Kia Optima. Same issue as I experienced. No recall yet on my vehicle. Had to pay $500 to get replaced. Failure around 78,000 miles.”NHTSA ID number 11463385
For this issue, Kia did not launch a recall campaign, nor did we find any information about a warranty extension for this component. Kia addressed this issue in other models but seemingly left out the Forte.
6. Oil Pump Failure
This engine problem is only related to the 2.0L Nu MPI engine in the 2017 and 2018 model year vehicles. Due to an intrusion of foreign particles into the oil pump, complete oil pump failure and engine damage may be possible.
The oil pump is responsible for supplying and lubricating an engine’s moving parts as it is running. If the oil pump fails, the engine is deprived of oil, leading to severe damage.
Because this also caused many vehicles to stall while driving, it was also considered a safety hazard. Kia launched the SC210 (NHTSA campaign number 21V260000) recall and fixed the issue free of charge.
7. LED Headlight Recall
Specific 2019 model year Kia Forte’s with top-spec LED headlights have come under fire because their headlights fail to comply with federal motor vehicle safety standards. The low beam of the LED headlights is not aimed correctly, which impairs the view of the road during the night.
Due to the problem, the driver could have reduced visibility, leading to a severe accident. Kia immediately launched the SC171 (NHTSA campaign number 18V771000) recall and replaced the sub-standard headlights.
8. Headlight Problems
While sifting through all the NHTSA complaints, I have detected a pattern of headlight problems, especially with the 2014 model year Forte. Many owners complain of complete headlight failure, which seems to occur randomly. However, it is hazardous and should be taken seriously.
One complaint reports that the cost of repairs was 238$ and that Kia’s service center in Macon admitted that this is not an isolated case of failure.
Additionally, I have read numerous reports of owners complaining about having to replace multiple headlight bulbs in a year. No solution has been found for this problem, according to my research.
9. Brake Pedal Stopper Pad Deterioration
By now, it is clear that the least reliable model years of the Kia Forte are those from 2012 to 2014. In 2017, the model years mentioned above were included in the Kia SC158 recall (NHTSA campaign number 17V773000). There was a problem with the brake pedal stopper pad.
As the brake pedal stopper pad deteriorated, the stop light switch plunger would not retract as it should. This means that the stop lights would stay illuminated, and the vehicle could be shifted out of Park without applying the brakes.
Because this poses a safety hazard, Kia issued the recall and immediately replaced the worn-out brake pedal stopper pads.
10. Cooling Fan Resistor Melting
Aside from the more minor and isolated electrical issues, it is necessary to mention an electrical issue that poses a serious fire risk.
Kia Forte’s manufactured between December 5, 2012, and April 17, 2014, were susceptible to overheating and melting of the cooling fan resistor. This could lead to a vehicle fire.
Kia quickly launched the SC113 recall campaign (NHTSA campaign 15V015000) and replaced the cooling fan resistor with the multi-fuse unit.
11. Uncontrolled Acceleration
Based on the number of NHTSA complaints, it is evident that there seems to be a software issue that seems to occur randomly. One of the many similar NHTSA complaints reports:
“On 7/24 my 21-year-old daughter was driving on a side street when the car began to accelerate on it’s own. She applied the brakes (with both feet) and the car would not stop accelerating. She ended up colliding with a wall which disconnected the power and the car stopped about 50 feet from point of impact.”NHTSA complaint number 10888941
No investigation into similar cases has been taken, according to NHTSA records.
12. Additional Airbag Problems
In 2022 Kia issued the SC226 (NHTSA campaign number 22V031000) recall which addressed an airbag-related problem. This recall affects the 2017 and 2018 model year Kia Forte.
The airbag control unit cover may come in contact with the memory chip on the printed circuit board, which leads to damage to the circuit board. As a result, the airbags might not deploy when needed, posing a significant safety hazard.
13. Trunk Latch Recall
Due to potential damage to the trunk latch, the vehicle’s occupants might not be able to open the trunk from the inside. This is not compliant with the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard number 401, “Internal Trunk Release.”
Kia launched the SC216 (NHTSA campaign number 21V62200) recall in 2021 and replaced the faulty trunk latches.
14. The Occupant Classification And Detection System Recall
Certain 2021 Kia Forte vehicles failed to comply with the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 208, “Occupant Crash Protection.” The occupant classification and detection system failed to detect the presence of a child restraint system in the front passenger seat.
This meant that the vehicle would still deploy the front passenger airbag in the presence of a child. This is a serious safety hazard that Kia addressed in 2021 with the SC207 recall (NHTSA campaign number 21V164000).
15. Axle Shaft Recall
There are little to no suspension problems on the Kia Forte; however, certain 2019 model year vehicles came with a front left axle driveshaft that was not heat treated.
The lack of heat treatment caused it to break easily, which increased the risk of a crash. Kia launched the SC195 (NHTSA campaign number 20V459000) recall campaign and inspected the driveshaft axle’s on the affected vehicles. If needed, the driveshaft was replaced.
He is the founder and owner of LifeOnFour.co, where he focuses on transmission-related articles. Furthermore, he finished a 4-year program to be an auto mechanic at the Technical Education Centre of Ljubljana, Slovenia, and worked for six years as a floor manager of a transmission specialist repair shop in Nova Gorica, Slovenia.