Tips, Tricks & Trends

Skip the 2011 Kia Optima on Your Used Car Shopping List

The Kia Optima shares the midsize sedan segment with the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, and the Ford Fusion. Boasting two engine options and a ton of standard features, a secondhand Optima seems like a good buy, especially with fair market prices dipping below $10,000 for some model years.

But you should cross the 2011 Kia Optima off your used car shopping list even before you think about heading out to the dealership. CarComplaints.com has identified this problem-plagued model year as the worst overall.

A terrible year for the Kia Optima

The new Kia Optima is unveiled on April 1, 2010 at the New York Auto Show in New York
The 2011 Kia Optima | STAN HONDA/AFP via Getty Images

The 2011 Kia Optima had only 103 problems as compared to the 2013 model year’s 128, but well over half of the problems involved the engine. Car Complaints gave these problems the highest severity rating of “really awful.”

There were also some serious problems that received this severity rating such as brake failure, dimming low beams, and excessive vibration, yet they were much fewer than the Optima’s engine troubles.

Most of these problems were engine failures that occurred on average at 102,250 miles. So, for a number of these owners, the engine failed not long after Kia’s 100,000-mile powertrain warranty ended.

Typically, owners paid $4,670 out of pocket to fix the problem. Over three-quarters of the owners replaced the engine, since Kia Motors refused to pay for it. A few owners lucked out and were able to replace the Optima’s engine for free under a 2017 recall, but for the rest of the owners, a recall came too late.

Some owners reported engine knocking or clicking prior to the failure. In other situations, owners heard no noises and no indicator lights went on before the engine died. Technicians at Kia dealerships tried to put the blame back on the owners by accusing them of not changing the oil often enough when it wasn’t true.

When engine problems become safety problems

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tp4ayFkK6HM\

For many owners, the Kia Optima’s engine died while they were driving, frequently without warning. In several accounts, the Optima seized up on the highway and owners had to strong-arm the car to reach the safety of the shoulder. More often than not, the car wouldn’t restart and would have to be towed.

Here’s more evidence of the dangers caused by the Optima’s engine failure: the 181 National Highway Traffic Safety Association complaints. Car Complaints counts four crashes and a hair-raising 18 fires among these accounts.

In a few cases, owners were out driving when flames began shooting out from under the hood. The fire department would have to be called to extinguish the fire. These cars sustained considerable damage or, as one owner put it, were “burnt to a crisp.”

NHTSA also lists reports of four injuries and one death that are related to the 2011 Optima’s engine problems. After a close reading of many of these accounts, it becomes clear how many near-misses these Optima owners had due to its engine’s defects. Currently, the NHTSA is investigating Kia for being slow in recalling defective engines for model years 2011 through 2014 not only for the Optima but also the Sorento and the Sportage.

Better and safer Kia Optima years

Before owners experienced such disastrous engine problems in the 2011 Optima, they loved their cars. While it’s sad to know how disappointed the owners were, the Optima still has some good model years with fewer serious problems.

First, however, we recommend avoiding the 2012 through 2015 model years altogether because these cars share most of the same engine troubles as the 2011 model year. 

The 2016 through 2019 model years are mostly free of dire engine problems as well as other showstoppers such as transmission and fuel pump issues. You can still get a reliable, safe Kia Optima that has excellent value for a reasonable price as long as you keep the 2011 model off your shopping list.