Home Automotive AdviceCar Problems and Reliability Hyundai Sonata Reliability – The Most Unreliable Hyundai Yet?

Hyundai Sonata Reliability – The Most Unreliable Hyundai Yet?

by Jordan Harris
Hyundai Sonata Reliability

Not too long ago, we’ve mocked – rather unfairly, I must say – upstart Korean brands such as Hyundai and Kia for making cheaply-built, poorly put-together, and crappy cars. But look where that got them now. Within just a decade or two later, Hyundai – and her sister brand, Kia – makes some of the best cars that you can buy today. But would Hyundai Sonata reliability concerns put you off?

However appealing a brand may be, it’s often hard to ignore their faults, which Hyundai had plenty of back in the day. The Hyundai Sonata is one of the best-selling mid-size sedans on the market, and this includes the US. Despite living in a world of SUVs and crossovers, Hyundai’s most sleek, elegant, and sexy four-door has garnered praise worldwide. Alas, this story had many twists and turns.

The Sonata is among the oldest marques in the Hyundai stable, with its nameplate dating back to its ancestors as early as the mid-1980s. Currently, the Sonata is in its eight-generation, many going to overseas markets in China, Russia, and North America. Perhaps you’re thinking of getting one. In that case, you ought to be acquainted with all the Hyundai Sonata reliability issues and how to fix them.

What’s The Backstory Behind The Hyundai Sonata?

The Hyundai Sonata is, as we mentioned, among the oldest nameplates still in concurrent use to this day. The first-generation Sonata launched in 1985, and it was mostly just a rebadged Hyundai Stellar, aimed at competing in the luxury end of the market. However, the first Sonata only lasted two model years before it got canned. The reason? It wasn’t too far off a cheaper Stellar, and folks didn’t like it.

But it trumped on, as the second-generation Sonata went global. Unveiled in 1988, the Sonata soon found its way Stateside – as well as many other regions worldwide – for the 1989 model year. It was shaped by the famed designed, Giorgetto Giugiaro, and carried Mitsubishi underpinnings. Hyundai’s technical partnership lasted to the third-generation Sonata, with the Galant’s V6 being an option.

The fourth-generation and fifth-generation Sonata started bonding very closely to Kia, with Hyundai sharing this with the first-generation Kia Optima. Or as well called them here, the Kia Magnetis. For the sixth-generation Sonata, Hyundai invested heavily in its production, which included a new styling cue that’s quite bold for a Hyundai. It also saw a hybrid being offered for the first time in a Sonata.

Hyundai’s seventh-generation Sonata came along in 2014, and at this point, Hyundai – as well as Kia – were starting to make a name for themselves. Their cars became more handsome, tech-savvy, well-built, dependable, sporty, and some might even call them aspirational. This has led to Hyundai’s rise and continued competitiveness in the mid-size sedan sphere, rivaling Honda, Nissan, and Toyota.

How Can We Assess And Understand More About The Hyundai’s Sonata’s Reliability?

You don’t have to go far out of your way to find a favorable news snippet on Hyundai and Kia in the present day. In the case of Hyundai Sonata reliability, this would be the consumer’s trust in the two sister brands. Of the newer Hyundai and Kia – which includes their upmarket sibling brand, Genesis – they’re some of the most reliable cars that you can buy. Minimal issues, as well as low maintenance costs.

Somehow, Hyundai and Kia have beaten the Japanese brands like Toyota and Honda as far as scoring for maximal dependability goes. Nevertheless, let’s take a step back and look closer into the Sonata’s history. Is it truly a reliable car? Or, are all these woes and anxieties over Hyundai Sonata reliability issues overblown? Well, that’s a solid Yes and No. To get a better understanding, we need data.

For our Hyundai Sonata reliability guide, we’ll be referencing what owners’ past and present have to say about their Sonatas through CarComplaints.com. Even better, they also cross-reference data with reports made by and to the NHTSA. Our simplest gauge to see how bad Hyundai Sonata reliability is would be using CarComplaints.com’s PainRank, taking first-hand experiences from owners.

PainRank’s ranking system is an algorithm that scores a car’s reliability not just but how frequently one particular issue keeps cropping up. However, it also looks at how significant the issue is, how much is it to repair, at what mileage it appeared, and so on. The higher the PainRank score, the worse a car is to maintain and repair down the line, typically. Plus, CarComplaints.com has an extensive databank.

How Good (Or Bad) Is The Hyundai Sonata Reliability?

So, how does the Hyundai Sonata reliability fare with PainRank? Not good, it seems. Hyundai models commonly have a relatively low average PainRank score of 10.12. This, overall, is a good score. The Sonata, meanwhile, scores a horrifying 74.27. This puts it in dead last, in 25th place out of 25 other Hyundai models sold in the USA. The Hyundai Sonata outright has more than 2,100 complaints.

It doesn’t get any better if we split it up by generational models, either. The sixth-generation Sonata – sold from 2011 and 2014 – is in dead last once more, with a PainRank score of 68.11. Hyundai’s fifth-generation Sonata – sold between 2006 to 2010 – on the other hand, takes 47th place out of 50. Its PainRank score is improved, but still rather poor, 19.96. Suffice to say, you should avoid these.

Additionally, the entire Sonata family across 31 model years tracked by CarComplaints.com accrued 606 TSBs. That’s “technical service bulletins”, where Hyundai (the maker) would document steps on troubleshooting issues for its dealers and technicians. On top of that, the Sonata got involved in over 56 recall campaigns. So, how can we make a quick summary of Hyundai Sonata reliability troubles?

What Are The Most Common Hyundai Sonata Reliability Problems?

For starters, the latest eight-generation Sonata will be excluded. Having been introduced in 2020, it’s far too new with too small of a sample size to make a valid conclusion on its reliability. We also won’t be taking a look at the second-, third-, and fourth-generation Sonatas. That’s everything from 1989 to 2005. Not many of them were sold, and the reporting around problems is quite sparse at best.

That said, we can at least recommend that you avoid the sixth-generation Sonata (2011 to 2014) at all costs, as it’s proven to be highly unreliable. There were significant engine and steering issues, all of which are costly to solve. The fifth-generation Sonata (2006 to 2010) also had numerous woes for the engine. As did the seventh-generation Sonata (2015 to 2019), and its troublesome powertrain.

Here are some of the most common Hyundai Sonata reliability issues that you need to worry about the most for these three generations…

Fifth-Generation Hyundai Sonata Reliability (2006 To 2010)

Across these five model years, a total of 384 complaints were filed through CarComplaints.com, not counting those reports with the NTHSA.

2006 Model Year

Engine – By far the most expensive, owners noticed hearing grinding, clicking, ticking, rattling, as well as various other noises emanating from the engine bay. It turns out that the engine’s connecting rods or pistons are susceptible to failure. The average mileage for this happening is around 100,000 miles, at a cost of $6,800 for a replacement or rebuilt engine. Some were even quoted as high as $10,000.

Airbags/Electrical – The 2006 Sonatas had very brittle seat belt connections with the primary airbag sensors. Moreover, its seatbelt pretensioners were prone to failure, as well. As a result, owners had to constantly stare at blaring seatbelt or airbag warning lights. Replacing the seat belt pretensioners will cost you $400. If that doesn’t work, new airbags and sensors will set you back $1,300 (or more).

Suspension – A frightening issue, certainly, as some owners noted instability while driving, especially at higher speeds. Several owners have lost control of their Sonatas, as they could easily snap sideways. The cause was later determined to be extensive corrosion along the rear subframe. The rust severely affected handling, as the car aged past 100,000 miles. Replacing the subframe will cost you $2,500.

2007 Model Year

Engine – Once more, the engine proved problematic. This time, and despite diligent servicing on the part of owners, the odd clicking, rattling, grinding, and ticking noises appeared. It may be preceded by a check engine light appearing, and a sudden loss of power. Due to poor timing, its engine might blow at 100,000 miles. The only fix is a rebuilt or brand new engine, at a cost of $4,000 or more.

Seatbelt – As with the previous year, the airbag and seatbelts can malfunction. This could appear on cars with mileage as low as 50,000 miles. Consequently, you’ll be left staring at a seatbelt or airbag warning light. Worse, the airbags might not deploy in the event of an accident. It might necessitate a replacement of the seat belt buckle and tensioners, which is at least another $900 for a repair.

Paintwork – The bodywork, paint, and exterior trim could rear its ugly head, even in Sonatas with just 50,000 miles on the clock. Owners have noticed the paint peeling off entire sheets at a time. This happens primarily on the hood, trunk lid, roof, and fenders. The doors might suffer this paint curing problem, as well. The only fix found by owners is a repaint, which can cost upwards of $1,200.

2008 Model Year

Engine – You’ll see a familiar pattern here, and this time, owners reported their 2008 Sonata engines seizing up. This is despite owners performing frequent oil changes. Yet, there are inherent flaws with the engine, causing failure at 100,000 or so miles. Causes include snapped timing chains, broken rods, or faulty tensioners. Either way, you’re going to need a new (or rebuilt) engine, for at least $4,200.

Motor Oil – An extension of the previous problem, the engines in these Sonatas are also notorious for heavy oil consumption. Owners would suddenly notice a check engine light, followed by loud ticking and knocking sounds. However, no ‘low oil level’ light ever came up. Upon checking, folks noticed no oil left in the engine whatsoever. Interestingly, the quote for a new engine is costlier now, at $5,200.

Transmission – Gearbox issues are not as prevalent but can be expensive when they do happen. One owner noticed their clutch grabbing onto the transmission while driving. Subsequently, the clutch had to be replaced, which meant disassembling the entire transmission. It occurred at 61,000 miles, as it required replacing much of the transmission’s internal components. The cost tops out at $2,000.

2009 Model Year

Brakes – Numerous 2009 Sonatas were plagued with odd and premature brake wear. Owners noticed vibrations under braking and heard a loud grinding, squealing, or scrubbing sound. The entire brake system may require an overhaul as early as 20,000 miles. This attributed to sticking calipers, among other miscellaneous faults. Altogether, new calipers, rotors, and pads will set you back $600.

Fuel Pump/System – Quite a few folks have experienced their 2009 Sonatas losing power. Or, they may suffer sudden engine stalling in the middle of the road. In both scenarios, it seems that the fuel pump is just one of the issues. The whole fuel system could break to a point of starting an electrical fire. The average cost of repair is $1,300. Although, it could rise to $3,000 if the electrics need fixing, as well.

Engine – Ah, you didn’t think the engine would fix itself by now, right? Engine knocking remains to be an issue widely reported by many owners as of 2009. Aside from a variety of other unpleasant noises, the engine would also run rough. The underlying faults are carried over from before and could lead to it punching a hole straight through the block. Only a new engine will suffice, costing you $5,500.

2010 Model Year

Door – Oddly, the 2010 Sonatas had a widespread defect with its door handles. Owners documented how all four door handles could break or fall off. Sometimes, this might happen more than once on a particular door. Bad fitment and poorly-made parts are to blame. Hyundai might cover the first door handle replacement. Though, you’ll be left with paying for the others, for $250 per handle.

Engine/Oil – Oil starvation reappeared on the 2010 cars. One owner reported how they saw the RPM needle bouncing back and forth. The car would buzz and vibrate, but no check engine lights came up. At the very last moment, the low oil pressure or level warning light flashed. However, the engine seized up and died instantly, although they pulled over right away. You’ll need to pay up to $4,000 for a new engine.

Paintwork – The Sonata’s poor paint job started peeling again. We’ve now learned that the primer isn’t sitting right with the paint, leading to the top layers coming off. The peeling seems to start with the roof, hood, trunk, as well as panels around the windows and lights. This paint peeling may look like a small chip at first, but it worsens rapidly. Stripping and repainting can be as high as $3,000.

Sixth-Generation Hyundai Sonata Reliability (2011 To 2014)

As we’ve learned already, Hyundai Sonata reliability issues peaked for the sixth-generation cars. The volume of complaints alone takes up the lion’s share for the whole Sonata family, with 1,312 reports. The engine, in particular, is the most problematic. Hyundai’s (and Kia’s) Theta II motors had similar issues that we’ve mentioned earlier for the fifth generation. The worst happened in 2011 and 2012.

These are knocking, excessive oil consumption, seizing up, or blowing completely. The GDI variant of engines built during this time period was also prone to catching on fire. After several class-action lawsuits, Hyundai agreed to extend the warranty. This doesn’t, however, forgive Hyundai for putting these defective engines, which could cost you upwards of $5,000 for a repair if it blew.

2011 Model Year

Engine – Take all the engine-related issues from before, and multiply that. 2011 saw the introduction of Hyundai’s Theta II engine. Poor acceleration led to knocking or clunking noises before the engine would stall outright. There are a variety of causes, from bearing failure to oil starvation, but the best solution would be replacing the engine. If $5,000+ is costly, some owners junked their Sonatas.

Steering – Aside from the horrendous engine problems, the steering in 2011’s Sonatas could fail, too. If your car didn’t stall because the engine seized up, the steering may emit clunking or rattling sounds. This is especially noticeable while cornering, and could appear on cars with just 60,000 miles on the clock. Replacing the steering column coupling will cost between $450 to $1,200 based on severity.

Electrical – Mechanicals aren’t the only faults within the 2011 Sonata, as you’d soon run into starting issues. Some owners noticed that their cars – after a mere 20,000 miles – would have trouble cranking over. The starter appears to be the root of the issue, as was commonly reported by owners. It seems that plastic bits inside the starter broke regularly. Replacing the starter cost owners $350.

Airbag – While the Sonata may have transitioned into a new generation, the airbag warning light still wasn’t fixed. Having to see that light up your dash is annoying enough. But, the airbags themselves could end up failing to deploy in a collision. Replacing the airbag’s clock spring seemed to do the trick for around $700 to $1,000. Some owners, however, found that the sensors are malfunctioning, too.

2012 Model Year

Engine – Unsurprisingly, the 2011 model year’s powertrain woes made it here. As usual, the engine is found to make loud knocking noises. No warning lights appeared until the engine would fail almost instantaneously and without pretext. As the engine seizes up, owners are surprised by how quickly it consumed oil. The bone dry engine can only be fixed with a major rebuild or replacement for $5,000.

Steering – A common complaint of these cars was their steering. Just like in the previous year, there is a clicking sound from the steering anytime you’re turning. It gets worse if you drive over bumps. On average, this appears once cars reach 70,000 to 100,000 miles of age. Replacing the faulty steering column coupling will cost you $350. If more repairs are needed, it could rise to at least $1,200.

Electrical – Peculiar electrical problems seem to haunt this car. Owners noted that their batteries will die after just two or three days, long before a battery replacement is due. This is despite them having driven these cars daily, so they should be getting their charge. The fuses kept blowing too, sometimes causing the horn to blare for no reason. A new battery is around $120, but that doesn’t always help.

2013 Model Year

Engine – Not wishing to sound like a broken record, but 2013 had engine troubles, too. Despite having its oil changed regularly, the design flaws of the Theta II have yet to be fixed by Hyundai. Owners are now accepting that the engine will knock, lose power, stall, and then seize up thereafter. Some cars blew their motors after 50,000 miles. Replacing the engine will leave you lighter by nearly $7,000.

Steering – It’s not just hearing clunking and rattling noises anymore. At this stage, folks experienced a slight stickiness and resistance when the steering wheel is centered. Or, the car might veer left or right dangerously. The common cause remains to be the steering column coupling, and be wary, as it can fail with low mileage of around 30,000 miles. Replacing that will cost you at least $350.

Cruise Control – It appears that a few people have had difficulties with the 2013 model year Sonata’s cruise control. Either it won’t engage at all. Or, it might turn on, but pressing the Resume, Cancel, or Set buttons do nothing. This became a hazard, and it was hard to track down what’s wrong. Dealers replaced the cruise control relay switch and wiring harness, but that doesn’t seem to have helped.

2014 Model Year

Lights – We’re going to ignore the engine problems, as they improved somewhat by 2014. Now, we have the lights to worry about. To be specific, the headlights and brake lights have a tendency to burn out while you’re driving. It started with intermittent flickering, and folks found that using the indicators may also interfere with them. A single replacement bulb should cost you around $100.

Electrical – Speaking off, the electrics on the 2014 Sonata proves to be rather frail. One owner spotted how their dashboard lights were dimming, as they would start losing power. The brake lights would also stay on constantly. There may have been a short circuit or damage within the wiring harness. A replacement isn’t cheap by any means, as swapping out the harness is an eye-watering $2,500

Seventh-Generation Hyundai Sonata Reliability (2015 To 2019)

With 277 complaints, Hyundai Sonata reliability concerns started to wind down considerably once the seventh-generation cars came along in 2015. With that being said, there was a concentration of complaints for its introductory year.

2015 Model Year

Engine – Lo and behold, Hyundai maintained production of the Theta II engines into this generation. The precedent is set in the same motion as the cars in 2011 to 2014 had. You’d notice knocking as the engine begins seizing up. Oil consumption was thirsty with this engine, as it consumed 1 quart every 1,000 miles. This isn’t normal, and it could lead to an expensive $5,000 engine rebuild or swap.

Sunroof – Besides forcing owners to top-up an unreasonable amount of oil, the panoramic glass sunroof is another worry. At speed, the panoramic sunroof emitted creaking or rattling noises as though something was loose or fell apart. It looks like the glass roof is prone to breaking along the seams. A fix would entail adjusting the seals around the roof. Otherwise, a new roof will cost you $5,000.

2016 To 2019 Model Year

We’re going to compile these model years together, as the frequency of issues is repeated. On top of that, its prevalence isn’t as significant as in earlier cars but is nonetheless worth mentioning. It may be a case that these cars haven’t yet been driven around long enough for troubles to occur. The engine troubles from earlier aren’t as heavily mentioned in the complaints, either.

Paint – Several owners of the 2017 Sonata reported the paint peeling off… Again. Bearing in mind, its paint could start wearing off and peeling as early as 30,000 miles. A familiar spot where it started to peel away was around the roof and surrounding the windshield. Some owners spotted bubbling way and chipping before it peeled off. A repaint is the only way to fix this, to a tune of at least $2,500.

Hyundai Sonata Facts:

  1. The Hyundai Sonata is a reliable car with a 4.0 out of 5.0 reliability rating, and it is ranked fifth out of 24 midsize cars by RepairPal.
  2. Compared to other midsize cars, the annual repair and maintenance costs for the Sonata are below average, amounting to less than $500, while its competitors average $600 plus labor costs.
  3. The most reported problems for different model years of the Sonata include safety issues such as seatbelt linkage problems and disabled airbags, seizing engines, shifting problems, faulty speakers, defective lights, steering problems, and premature timing chain tensioner and timing belt failure.
  4. In 2017, Hyundai recalled certain Sonata models due to a seatbelt linkage that’s not properly connected to the pretensioner, and in 2011-2013, they installed external wire filter kits to address this issue.
  5. Hyundai also doubled the warranties on new and pre-owned Sonatas from five to ten years with 60,000 to 120,000 miles, and class members whose Sonatas had more than 120,000 miles were given three months to bring in their vehicles for any kind of repair.
  6. Engine failure in 2011, 2012, and 2013 Hyundai Sonatas was a commonly reported problem, leading to a class action lawsuit where the automaker paid a settlement fee of $8.5 million in 2016.
  7. Many owners of the 2012 Hyundai Sonata had problems shifting their gears due to a faulty speed sensor, which caused their vehicles to grind, shudder, and produce clunking noises when shifting from park to drive.
  8. Some 2011-2016 redesigns of the Sonata required a hard reset to fix a software glitch that’s preventing the CD player, radio, navigation, satellite radio, and telephone calls from producing audio.
  9. When it comes to 2011 Hyundai Sonata problems, steering issues are among the most widely reported, with the most common complaint being a steering wheel that clicks and wobbles when turning due to a faulty steering wheel column coupling.
  10. In 2009, Hyundai recalled certain 2001-2004 Sonatas due to corroded suspension mounting points, frames, and sub-frames, which may cause the lower control arm to detach from the sub-frame.

What’re Our Final Thoughts On The Hyundai Sonata Reliability?

In conclusion, shopping for a used example – given the primacy of Hyundai Sonata reliability issues – is a minefield on its own. We can, at least, wholeheartedly stand by our recommendation that you avoid the sixth-generation cars, from the 2011 to 2014 model years, like the plague. With that Theta II engine, you’re never certain as to how long before the engine would seize up again.

Another 100,000 miles, maybe? It’s better not to take the risk. The fifth-generation Sonatas seemed to have plenty of engine failures, as well. A blown engine is never cheap to fix, no matter the model year, in this case. You’ll be left holding the bag to a repair bill stretching between $3,500 to $5,000 or more. Hyundai’s earlier fourth-generation Sonatas, from 2000 to 2005, also had similar problems.

Things finally start to look better when we got into the seventh generation, barring the 2015 model year. That still carried leftover oil starvation worries and blown engines. From 2016 onwards, we can see a clear reduction in documented problems from the owners. Granted, we can’t yet be certain as to how they might perform in a few more years. So far, they seem rather safe, by comparison.

Just make sure you check the paint, though. To summarise Hyundai Sonata’s reliability, do everything you can to avoid the 2011, 2012, and 2013 examples. These are the worst, by far. Otherwise, it’d be wise for you to look cautiously, especially the pre-2010 units. Hyundai’s Sonata has evolved quite a lot as far as maintainability, servicing, and dependability go. Nevertheless, do be careful.

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1 comment

adrian bertram 03/05/2022 - 6:33 PM

Thank you for this review! I had no idea & was thinking of buying one of these. I’ve changed my mind now. A car’s track record is the best indicator of future performance. That they’ve kept a troublesome engine in this car, is enough on its own to warn me off. I only get 1 chance to get a reliable car or truck.


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