What kind of problems does a Kia Optima Hybrid usually have? In this blog, we’ve outlined all the most important things you should watch for when you’re in the market for an Optima Hybrid. However, let’s first start with a quick answer:
2011 – 2014 generations of the Kia Optima Hybrid have problems with an unexpectedly shutting down hybrid system, loud engine knocking, loss of braking, and sudden acceleration when parking. Furthermore, the 2019 model year has issues with the forward collision systems shutting off and airbags not deploying.
However, that doesn’t tell the whole story. In the rest of the article, we’ll discuss every problem in detail. Furthermore, we’ll let you know how to identify it, fix it and how much it costs to fix. What’s interesting to note is that the Kia Optima Hybrid has many of the same problems the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid also has. Since both brands are owned by Hyundai and have similar components, this is not a surprise.
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Also read: The Expected Mileage Of A Kia Optima
1. Severe Problems With The Hybrid System
The first issue is most likely the most severe and most complained about. Earlier models of the American-made Kia Optima Hybrid, especially the 2011 – 2014 models, have severe problems with the hybrid system of the car, which can cause a host of different dangerous situations.
Symptoms include the illumination of the ‘Check Brake System’ and ‘Check Hybrid System’ warning lights. Often, these symptoms occur while the owners are driving on the highway. The car shuts down entirely in severe cases, and only steering stays available. Other critical functions, such as accelerating or braking, are entirely lost.
At the end of 2020, Kia finally issued a recall for this under number 20V750000. It turns out that the vehicles equipped with a 2.4L Theta II Multi-Port Injection engines were the ones experiencing the problems (which is all of the earlier generation Optima Hybrid).
The recall involved checking the engines for potential premature wear and tear, oil leaks, and performing replacements, including complete replacement of the engine, if necessary. Furthermore, the knock sensor detection system was updated to prevent problems from becoming this severe in the future.
2. Loud Engine Knocking
At the end of 2021, Kia issued another recall for engine problems. This was done under recall number 21V844000. It involved a recall for the 2017 – 2018 models of the Optima Hybrid. Instead of malfunctioning of the hybrid system, symptoms included loud engine knocking.
Again, the problem with the Kia Optima Hybrid was the same as with the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. Connecting rod bearings inside the engine were wearing prematurely, which meant they could puncture the engine’s walls. This would result in loud knocking and potential oil leaks that increased the risk of engine fires.
The solution to this problem was primarily similar to the recall for the 2011 – 2014 models. It involved inspection of the engine for worn connecting rod bearings. If this was the case, this part or the engine was replaced free of cost. Also, the knock sensor detection system was upgraded once again.
3. Stalling Or Hesitation When Accelerating
Another problem prevalent in the 2011 – 2014 models was complete and sudden unwillingness to accelerate, quickly turning into stalling of the vehicle. The delay between pressing the accelerator and accelerating would be 1 – 3 seconds, creating dangerous situations.
Kia has never stated this as a problem, and therefore forum members on the internet have tried to figure out what the problem was exactly. It turned out to be a small rubber disk located just below the brake pedal for many owners. These rubber disks would disintegrate and mess up their connection with a brake sensor. The car would then be confused about whether or not the brake pedal was pressed.
The solution involved replacing the small rubber disk with a plastic one. Since this costs $6, it was undoubtedly one of the most straightforward fixes an Optima Hybrid had, although it was a difficult one to figure out for many owners.
4. Forward Collision Warning Malfunctioning
Many of the problems we’ve discussed involve slightly older model years of the Kia Optima Hybrid. However, the 2019 isn’t perfect for sure. One of the main problems this model year has is the malfunctioning of the forward collision system.
In some cases, this system deactivates, which is indicated by warning lights. This system is installed in the car to prevent collisions. However, deactivation has led to crashes in the past. Interesting to note here is that Kia did issue a recall for the regular version of the Optima. They did so under recall number 19V539.
In these vehicles, the FCA software turned out to be the problem. This software was updated, which prevented further issues from happening. However, even though the 2019 Optima Hybrid also has this problem, Kia never issued a recall for this version of the Optima.
5. Loud Noises Coming From Steering Wheel
Owners of the earlier versions of the Optima Hybrid have also complained many times about the build quality of the steering wheel. Especially the 2012 model seemed to have a lot of problems. The 2013 – 2015 models also have issues, however, significantly less.
Symptoms included a popping or clunking noise from the steering wheel when turning, heavy vibrations in the steering wheel when driving over bumps or rough roads, the steering wheel being unresponsive, and the steering wheel getting stuck in a specific position.
Kia never issued a recall for this issue regarding the Optima Hybrid. However, they issued recalls for the 2011 Hyundai Sonata and the 2011 – 2014 Optima. In the case of the Sonata, the problem was faulty construction of the steering column, which meant bolts weren’t appropriately attached.
In the case of the 2011 – 2014 Optima, it was either a software glitch in the Optima’s electronic steering system or a faulty power steering motor assembly. Solving this problem either involved updating the steering system software or replacing the defective motor, whatever was causing the problem.
6. Non-Deployment Of Airbags
Airbags have been a problem for many carmakers in the past ten years. One of the primary reasons for this has been that one of the leading providers of airbags, Takata, manufactured many faulty airbags and that this problem was caught quite late. However, this is not the problem for the Optima Hybrid.
In June 2018, Kia issued a recall for the 2011 – 2012 Optima Hybrid because of the non-deployment of the airbags in case of a crash. The airbag control unit short-circuited in the event of a crash which meant the frontal airbags and seat belt pretensioners didn’t deploy.
What’s interesting to note is that this problem seems to have returned in the 2019 model of the Optima Hybrid. Owners that have experienced a crash with this car complain about non-deployment of the airbags and therefore having more severe injuries. Kia has not issued a recall for this problem yet, which seems problematic.
7. Vehicle Speed Control Malfunction
You’ve most likely noticed that the list of problems with the Optima Hybrid is quite long. Let’s add to that with a problem related to the vehicle speed control. Once again, this is a problem that has been reported mainly with the 2011 – 2014 models. Furthermore, it was also a problem for the Optima in general.
Drivers would experience sudden and rapid acceleration when they were trying to park. This would mainly happen when they were pushing the brake pedal. Instead of coming to a standstill, the car would rapidly accelerate and hit anything in front of it.
In most cases, this led to the car being totaled. In other cases, it resulted in fatalities. What’s worrying is that a recall was never issued for this problem, and Kia launched no investigation to find the root cause.
8. Poor Build Quality
Finally, we want to end the list of problems that the Optima Hybrid has with some general complaints about the car’s build quality. Besides everything already mentioned, it’s good to know that Optima Hybrid (and Optima in general) have problems with the paint peeling off if it has a ‘Snow White Pearl’ color. This problem has occurred throughout all generations of the Optima up until the 2019 version.
Regarding the 2019 model year, owners have also reported the infotainment system becoming a black screen while driving when their phone is plugged-in via the USB port.
What’s The Worst Year Of The Kia Optima Hybrid?
Finally, we have to answer the question of which model years of the Kia Optima Hybrid are the worst and which ones are the best. When we look at the website of the NHTSA, which gathers customer complaints about this car, and the research we’ve already done, the answer is as follows:
The 2011 – 2014 model years of the Kia Optima Hybrid are the worst because they risk an unexpectedly shutting down hybrid system, loud engine knocking, loss of braking, and sudden acceleration when parking.
The 2019 model is the second-worst model of Optima Hybrid because this model year has a malfunctioning forward collision system, non-deployment of airbags, and problems with a sudden shutdown of the entertainment system.
The best model years of the Kia Optima are the 2016 – 2018 model years because these model years have received very few complaints, have strong build quality, and don’t suffer from any engine or hybrid system problems that other generations of the Optima Hybrid do have.
Also read: The Exact Bolt Pattern Of A Kia Optima