Crossover & Midsize

The 2012 Kia Sorento Has a Case of ‘Catastrophic Engine Failure’

If you’re considering buying a used or certified pre-owned small or midsize crossover SUV, rule out the 2012 Kia Sorento. This model year’s owners have reported it suffers catastrophic engine failure.

The problem is serious enough to have prompted a recall, a class action settlement, and warnings from automotive publications for consumers to avoid purchasing this vehicle.

What is catastrophic engine failure?

First, yes, catastrophic engine failure is as bad as it sounds. Often, a technician must disassemble the engine to diagnose the problem accurately. Engine failures usually require either a complete engine rebuild or replacement. And beyond the high repair costs, an engine’s sudden malfunction on the road could cause a severe accident.

An engine can fail for several reasons, including lack of maintenance, engine oil leaks, and over-revving. When you don’t change the oil and filter regularly, sludge accumulates. That reduces friction, causes heat to build up, and damages various engine components. This damage also frequently occurs if a car suffers an unnoticed oil leak. Finally, when a car is pushed over its maximum rpm, dynamic engine components can break down, causing engine failure.

In turn, that can cause blown pistons or rods, holes in the engine block, engine seizures, or a broken timing belt or chain. Typical symptoms of a blown engine include blue or white smoke billowing from the exhaust pipe, knocking or rattling noises in the motor, coolant leaking into the engine oil, and an engine’s failure to start. 

Even if you maintain your car, most vehicles begin to experience significant problems with their engine, transmission, or body before they’ve hit 200,000 miles, according to Car and Driver. These problems tend to occur around 11 years for cars manufactured after 2011, the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics states.

The 2012 Kia Sorento’s engine issues

RELATED: The Kia Sorento’s 2020 Sales Were the Worst Since 2009

CarComplaints.com cites a bevy of complaints from Kia Sorento owners about the 2012 model. Of the 29 consumer complaints, 28 are for engine failure. CarComplaints.com notes, “As long as catastrophic engine failure at under 60,000 miles is the top owner complaint, it’ll be pretty hard to recommend the 2012 Sorento.”  

Now, Hyundai, Kia’s parent company, sells tens of thousands of Kia models per year. So if you’re wondering whether these 29 complaints are indicative of a broader problem, they are. In fact, Hyundai issued a recall for not only the 2012 Kia Sorento but also the 2013 and 2014 Sorento, Optima sedans from 2011 to 2014, Sportage SUVs from 2011 to 2013, and various Hyundai models. All of those vehicles suffered severe engine difficulties. Despite widespread complaints, Hyundai often didn’t honor Kia warranties to cover repair costs for this engine damage when these vehicles were first released, according to Forbes.

Hyundai submitted a report to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 2015 stating Kia engine failures were due to a defect in their manufacturing process. However, the automaker didn’t issue a recall until 2017. Because the company failed to act quickly, angry Sorento owners who’d incurred expenses filed a class-action lawsuit before the recall. The company settled the suit in 2020, according to ABC Action News

Are newer Kia Sorento models safe to drive?

Fortunately, subsequent Kia Sorento models have not experienced the same engine problems. In fact, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety named the 2020 model a Top Safety Pick. And the NHTSA gave it four out of five stars. 

The 2021 model also shows no signs of the defect that plagued its 2012-to-2014 predecessors. And the base model comes standard with several advanced safety features. They include forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, automatic speed limit adaptation, lane-keep assist, and rear-seat occupant alert. Other advanced safety features come standard on higher trim levels or can be added as options. They include automatic rear braking, video blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, and rear and side cross-traffic alert.

Beyond these safety features, the Sorento base model with an eight-speed automatic transmission gets a 2.5-liter inline-four engine producing 191 hp and 182 lb-ft of torque. The most expensive trim comes with a 2.5-liter inline-four harnessing 281 hp and 311 lb-ft of torque. Hybrid and plug-in hybrid models are also available. 

Finally, the three-row Kia Sorento, seating seven, comes with various technology features. They include an 8.0-inch infotainment screen, multiple USB ports, and a wireless charging pad. There’s a lot to like about the latest Sorento, beginning with the fact that it’s relatively safe.