By John Goreham
The Hyundai Sonata is much like a Toyota Camry or Honda Accord in that it is a well-built, sturdy family sedan with some trims that offer power upgrades and near-luxury amenities. Like the Camry and Accord, Hyundai has sold quite a few Sonatas, and they are widely available in the used market.
Overall, the Sonata has been much better than average regarding reliability. However, there are some issues with the 2011 and 2012 Sonata. Just a small matter of the engines seizing.
Malcolm T., of Porter Ranch, CA, wrote into CarComplaints.com and explained what many owners have experienced, saying, "I was driving on the freeway at approximately 65 MPH when my check engine light came on. Very shortly after, the engine began losing power. I was able to coast to the side of the road, as the engine completely seized. Would not restart. Had to call for a tow.”
The problems with the engine surface at an average of about 88,000 miles, but for some owners’ cars the problems start much sooner. Both Nitza Q. and owner GMDSR reported the engine seizure at just 47,000 miles. Unfortunately, there is no “safety point” in this defect. Some owners have gone over 120,000 miles without the failure manifesting itself, then, “poof” it went.
Hyundai has taken action to help owners who have these questionable engines. The 2011 and 2012 Sonatas are covered under NHTSA Campaign #15V568000. NHTSA says that these engines may have had bits of metal left inside after assembly that can cause crankshaft and engine failure. (Sound familiar?) Hyundai recalled the engines to inspect them and also offered first and subsequent owners a warranty expansion to 120,000-miles and ten years. Interestingly, we didn't see any recall for the 2013 Sonatas, and a few of the complaints on CarCompalints.com seem identical to the ones owners of the 2011 and 2012 cars reported. Hmm.
Rather than risk being saddled with this issue, whether Hyundai will help with the repairs or not, we would suggest skipping the 2011-2014 Sonatas unless you make a plan to only own them under warranty coverage. Even then, selling your twice-used Sonata after the warranty expires could be problematic due to this now well-known issue.
The good news is Sonatas from 2010 and earlier are very reliable. CarComplaints.com gives them the “CarComplaints.com Seal of Awesome” award for reliability. We checked out used Sonata prices at BestRide.com and found that Sonatas from the model year 2007 through 2010 are widely available and range in price from about $6,000 to $11,000 depending on condition, mileage, and trim. Older Sonatas all the way back to the 1990s show almost zero complaints.
The present-day Sonata is a car we have test-driven and loved. Ironically, it is the engine we loved most about the Sonata. We would not hesitate to recommend it to a shopper buying new. However, the five- and six-year-old Sonatas in their prime years for second owners give us pause.