Kia Optima: What Year Is the Best to Buy?

Even before the Genesis brand started taking off, Kia was starting to change American attitudes on Korean cars. That was through stylish and safe models like the Optima sedan. The Kia Optima is also a great choice for back-pain sufferers and has been named a KBB Best Buy. But, while the latest model is incredibly reliable, some used Kia Optimas should definitely be avoided.

Worst Kia Optima model years

Kia redesigned the Optima for the 2011 model year. And, as is often the case, the redesign had its teething issues. CarComplaints ranks the 2011 Kia Optima as the worst model year to buy. And by far the most prevalent issue is engine failure.

Multiple owner reports talk about engines seizing, often on the highway. There have also been numerous reports of cars bursting into flame. The issue was so serious and prevalent, Forbes reports, that there was a class-action lawsuit against Kia. Eventually, the automaker recalled, among other vehicles, 2011-2014 Optimas equipped with 2.0-liter and 2.4-liter four-cylinder engines. However, CarComplaints reports engine failure was still occurring in some 2015 Optimas.

The seizing issue was caused by metal debris that had been left from the manufacturing process. Over time, that debris would get mixed up with the oil, and clog the oil lines. These issues are why Consumer Reports gave the 2012 Optima its worst reliability score.

2014 Kia Optima
2014 Kia Optima | Kia

CarComplaints also considers the 2013 Optima to be one to avoid. Although Motor Trend reported no issues with its long-term 2013 Kia Optima, the 2013 model actually has more complaints than the 2011 model. In addition to the engine issues, 2013 Optimas are known to experience steering problems, with the cars pulling to one side or the steering failing completely.

According to CR owner reports, the steering problems also appear in 2011 and 2012 Optimas. There are numerous reports of the cars pulling to one side, clicking sounds coming from the steering column, and the wheel feeling ‘notchy’ or difficult to turn. It appears, based on one CarComplaints report, that most of these issues relate to the steering column itself.

Other known Kia Optima issues

2013 and 2014 Optimas have also had their share of problems.

There’s currently a recall out for 2013-2014 models equipped with both the 2.4-liter four-cylinder and 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engines. The engines’ low-pressure fuel lines can crack and leak, which poses a fire risk. Kia claims only 1% of vehicles are affected. Still, that’s about 164,000 Optimas. It’s not clear exactly what’s causing the cracking, but engine bay heat appears to be the main culprit.

There’s another fuel-line-related recall, this time affecting 2011-2017 Optimas. However, this only affects Optimas that have already had their engines replaced, or had their knock-detection sensors upgraded. The high-pressure fuel pipe leading from the fuel pump may have been damaged or installed incorrectly, which could lead to a fuel leak.

The Kia Optima was redesigned in 2016, and although it received fewer complaints than previous model years, some issues did crop up. Some 2.4-liter models had to be recalled due to cracking front driveshafts. CarComplaints also reports some owners experienced window regulator failure, although this appears to be a rare occurrence. Finally, CR reports sunroof-equipped models have had issues with their sunroofs failing to close, the tracks warping, or simply rattling due to worn seals.

Recommended model years

Ultimately, the newest Optimas are the ones with the fewest issues.

CarComplaints reports almost no issues with 2017-2019 Optimas. And, with a redesign coming up for the 2021 model year, these will likely be offered at a discounted price soon. That being said, none of the 2016 Optima’s flaws are necessarily deal-breakers, provided proper recall work has been performed.

However, some 2017 and 2018 Optimas have been recalled, but this only applies to the hybrid models. And some 2019 models have also been recalled, due to a software error with their front-collision warning systems. Of these, the 2019 Kia Optima has the highest CR reliability score.

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