The American-made Kia Sorento has become a worldwide staple in the mid-size SUV segment in the past ten years. With its good looks and very long lifespan, it can do many jobs, and it does everything with ease. While we want to point out more positives about the Sorento, there is no denying that specific model years came with many problems. Here is a quick rundown.
Kia Sorento have had severe engine problems (premature failures, oil leaks) that affected all model years. Additionally, numerous NHTSA reports of transmission problems and serious fire hazard-related recalls exist. Lastly, there are many problems with the quality of the sunroof and the accelerator assembly.
Now that we have covered the most common problems in a few sentences let’s dive deeper. Here are the most common problems, recalls, and solutions to these issues. Stay with us!
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1. Significant Engine Problems
Based on our research of all Kia Sorento model years, this South Korean SUV’s most significant pain point is the engine department. Like many other Kia and Hyundai models, the Sorento also carried the infamous Theta II engine, which came with many critical issues.
Theta II Engine Problems
Since the introduction of the Theta II (2.0L, 2.4L MPI, and GDI) engines Kia has gotten a bad reputation for reliability. The Theta II engine was known for many cases of seized engines due to premature failures of the rod bearings.
This issue was addressed but never resolved with the Kia SC147 recall or NHTSA Campaign Number 17V224000 recall. Many owners faced complete engine failure while driving, which also posed a significant safety hazard to the vehicle’s occupants.
As if that is not enough, the 2014-2015 model year Sorento were also prone to spontaneous ignition. Yes, the car’s engine would simply light on fire while driving or while it was locked and parked. This resulted from an electrical short in the Hydraulic Electronic Control Unit (HECU).
Kia eventually resolved this severe issue with the Kia SC212 recall (NHTSA Campaign Number: 21V331000). But before they did, the problem was so widespread Kia urged owners not to park indoors or around structures in case the car went out in flames.
After this, Kia launched another recall (number SC172, NHTSA Campaign Number: 18V907000), addressing the possibility of a fuel leak and a fire hazard. After all the engine replacements in the before-mentioned recall, the high-pressure fuel pipe leading to the fuel pump outlet was at risk of leaking. This resulted from damage, wrong torque application, or misalignment when the engine was replaced.
Despite all the recalls, Kia has yet to solve all the issues with this engine, even in 2015 and newer model year vehicles. There are several reports of seized engines for 2018 model-year vehicles, beware!
2. Oil Leaks And Catastrophic Engine Damage
If you visit the NHTSA website we are listing below under “Sources,” you can immediately see over 200 complaints filed under “Engine” just for the 2011 model year Kia Sorento. There are plenty of similar complaints for other model years as well.
One of the most common complaints is oil leaks. And not just any ordinary small oil leaks that can be easily fixed. The amount of oil that a significant amount of 2011-2020 Sorento owners lost in a short period was devastating for the engine. Many of them were left stranded on the road or the side of the road due to an engine seizure.
This problem sparked outrage amongst the owners, which is the reason behind the NHTSA Action Number DP22003 investigation. It was established that the oil pan assembly was at fault for the sudden drops in engine oil levels.
No recall was ever established for this issue. However, there was a recall for the same issue on the Kia Sportage, which carries the same Theta II engine (Kia recall number SC174). This left owners both confused and angry.
Additionally, several owners also report excessive oil burning by the engine due to a faulty oil pressure switch. This initiated an official NHTSA investigation (NHTSA Action Number: DP21002).
The oil pressure switch is responsible for monitoring the engine oil pressure, and as such, it should inform the driver when the oil pressure is too low. Because it was defective, it allowed the oil to leak, and the driver was never informed on the dashboard. This combined led to several ruined engines.
Kia has offered owners an extended warranty for this part and a form to recover all the costs before this warranty extension.
If you are in the market for a Kia Sorento, ensure these problems were handled in the past and insist on having the car inspected for any oil leaks!
3. Drivetrain Problems On Various Model Years
Older 2009 model-year vehicles have multiple NHTSA complaints regarding sluggish and jerky transmission behavior. No recalls or service bulletins have been released to address the issue; Kia deems part of the problem as normal behavior and isolated occurrences.
Kia did, however, recall 2011 model-year vehicles with automatic transmissions and 2.4L engines (NHTSA Campaign Number 11V258000). These Sorentos were recalled due to noise, excessive wear, and misalignment of the intermediate shaft. Owners who ignored these problems eventually faced catastrophic damage to their automatic transmission.
Drivetrain issues continued with the vehicles made between January 7, 2013, and March 12, 2013. According to the Kia SC099 recall, the front axle is prone to fractures which can lead to a loss of power to the wheels, and it also makes your vehicle susceptible to rolling when parked. This problem only affected front-wheel drive Sorento models.
But wait, the 2013 model years were not the only ones that had problems with rolling away when parked. Due to a faulty automatic transmission shift lever assembly, the shift lever would not lock. This allowed the car to roll away on its own. The recall was filed under Kia recall number SC246 and NHTSA Campaign Number. 22V612000
The newer model years of the Sorento, 2020 and 2021, are plagued by transmission problems. Numerous reports of the transmission failing or operating with significant jerking, lurching forward, or slipping at low mileage. If you are in the market for a Kia Sorento, make use of that test drive!
4. Serious Fire Hazards
Reviewing the engine problems, we already mentioned two serious fire hazards connected to the Hydraulic Electronic Control Unit (HECU) and the 87-octane fuel leaks that could lead to a fire. There was also a recall for 2021 model-year vehicles susceptible to fuel leaks at the connection between the high-pressure fuel pump and fuel rail.
This issue was addressed with the Kia recall number SC214 and NHTSA Campaign Number 21V519000.
However, that is not all. Kia Sorentos, with the OEM tow hitch made between 2016-2022, are all prone to short-circuiting, resulting in a possibility of fire while driving or while the car is parked. This results from debris accumulating in the tow hitch harness module printed circuit board (PCB).
Kia immediately launched the SC249 (NHTSA Campaign Number 22V703000) recall campaign, advising the owners of such vehicles to park outside and out of reach of structures until a suitable solution was found.
5. Stop Lamp Switch Malfunctions
One would think that a relatively simple stop lamp or stop light switch is not a particularly important component of a modern vehicle. One would also be incredibly wrong. SC098 was the number of the Kia Recall (NHTSA Campaign Number: 13V114000) that addressed the malfunctioning stop lamp switches.
The stop lamp switch is responsible for a multitude of things. Without it, the driver cannot shift out of or back into Park, the driver also can’t turn on the engine because the car does not detect that the driver has his foot on the brake, and lastly, the electronic stability control also malfunctions.
Although it is just a simple switch, it is a crucial part of any car with an automatic transmission.
Additionally, the drivers could not disengage the cruise control because the system did not recognize the brake pedal being used. Pressing the brake pedal should disengage the cruise control. This also posed a significant safety hazard.
6. Spontaneous Sunroof Fractures
If you have read any of our other Kia vehicle reviews, you will quickly realize that shattering sunroofs are not uncommon on these vehicles. The same issues with spontaneous sunroof fractures on the 2011-2021 Kia Sportage and others. Not only does this pose a safety hazard, but it can also damage the car’s interior, especially if it happens in rain or snow.
There are numerous reports of this happening on the NHTSA website, but in order to paint a picture, here is a testimonial from an owner of a 2014 Sorento.
“…While driving 60 mph, the sun roof exploded without warning or impact. When the glass was shattered, the driver sustained minor cuts to the right hand and arm that did not require medical attention. The contact stated that this was the second occurrence of the failure…”NHTSA ID Number: 11244429
We would typically not mention issues like this if it was isolated cases, but judging by the amount of NHTSA complaints, this is not an isolated occurrence. It was so widespread that an official NHTSA investigation was launched (Action Number: EA14002). Kia did not launch a recall, and instead, they concluded that most sunroof fractures were due to an impact of a foreign object, which is clearly not true.
Cases of exploding sunroofs have dropped since the 2015 model year Sorento.
7. Accelerator Assembly & Throttle Control System Problems
Getting a positive response from the gas pedal is something that everyone expects when driving a supposedly well-maintained vehicle. However, certain 2016 model-year Sorento owners were met with a different response. Well, no response.
Due to an improperly soldered component in the accelerator pedal assembly, the driver lost the ability to accelerate the vehicle when needed. This was a significant safety concern, and according to the reports, it was much more common than Kia would like to admit.
Despite launching the SC115 recall campaign, plenty of owners were not included in the recall but still experienced the same issues.
At the same time, there is still an open investigation (NHTSA Action Number DP21003) regarding the electronic throttle control system that affects several Kia models, including the 2011-2015 Kia Sorento. The owners of these vehicles initiated this investigation due to an abnormal number of sudden uncontrollable accelerations, runaway throttle conditions, stalling, surging, and complete loss of engine power.
It has been determined that these conditions are brought upon the vehicle due to a faulty electronic throttle control system. No conclusion to the investigation has been announced as of now.
8. A Big Number Of Airbag Related Problems
In all pre-2018 model years of the Sorento, we discovered an abnormal amount of complaints regarding the vehicle’s airbags. Owners are having consistent trouble with airbag warning lights igniting randomly. Some owners report that the warning light that indicates problems with the airbag stays illuminated; however, others report that it illuminates occasionally.
This sparked outrage among the owners, who suddenly did not trust the vehicle’s airbag system.
The Kia Sorento may be a hit in the mid-size SUV market, boasting good looks and a long lifespan, but it’s not without its share of challenges. From severe engine issues across all model years to specific recalls related to fire hazards, transmission problems, and lesser-quality sunroofs and accelerators, the Sorento has its drawbacks. While the car has many strengths, potential buyers should be aware of these issues to make an informed decision. So if you’re considering a Sorento, it’s crucial to weigh the good with the bad—knowledge is power when it comes to long-term vehicle ownership.
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.