As far as the more budget category of cars go, the Kia Soul is certainly among the most popular one on sale. This is largely thanks to the Soul’s distinct styling, which has plenty of, well, ‘soul’. But since it went on sale internationally in the 2010s, it didn’t take long for Kia Soul problems to start appearing. As cute as it may be, the Soul didn’t always have the most robust of hearts.
Kia has certainly proven that affordable cars don’t have to be bland, or cookie-cutter, with the Soul’s adorably angry looks. Its inspiration apparently comes from a boar – an important spiritual figure within Korean culture. Indeed, this writer here certainly agrees that there’s an added coolness to the Soul. Originally, this charming little machine was only a Korean affair, and it remained rather modest at the time.
At the very least, people have complained that the interior was a bit plasticky, and bits fell out. At the very worst, the Kia Soul’s problems extend all the way down to complete engine failure. So, you might ask, is this funky little slice of Korean automotive pop culture worth the trouble? Well, read along our Kia Soul problems guide to learn more on which model years are best, and worst for your soul.
- Kia Soul background
- The most problematic model year
- Problems to be aware of (MY: 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020)
What Do You Need To Know About The Kia Soul?
Before we can dive deep into knowing the extent of Kia Soul problems, we should probably take some time to learn more about what it is. The Kia Soul had its origins back in 2005 as an early sketch, by its design team based in California. Kia’s intent was on creating a car to appeal to the more youthful customers, with the target being unique and colourful. It has since won praise for its quirky and retro-futuristic design.
The covers were lifted off the Soul in the 2008 Paris Motor Show, and was manufactured at its home in South Korea. It went on sale in other markets, such as the US and Europe, in 2010. Since then, the Kia Soul spawned across 3 different generations. The ‘AM’ generation launched in 2008, followed by the ‘PS’ generation in 2013, and then the current ‘SK3’ generation in 2019.
As Kia is part of the same company as its sister brand, Hyundai, the Soul’s platform has been shared with other models. This includes the Hyundai i20, and the Kona. Since the 2nd generation Soul, Kia launched a separate electric version in 2014. It was marketed as the Kia Soul EV, or the e-Soul in some markets. It shares its electrified platform with the Hyundai Kona, and Kia Niro electric vehicles.
Which Model Year Has The Most Kia Soul Problems?
Kia has in the recent years been nominated as among the best car brands in regards to maintenance, and reliability. This recognition extends also to its sister brands, Hyundai and Genesis. However, it’s models, including the Kia Soul, have not always been indestructible. In its early years, the most common complaint made against the Kia Soul was regarding the build quality.
This includes issues such as interior trim pieces falling off, or wearing out faster than usual. However, Kia has addressed this in later generations. That said, poor build quality and overly plasticky trim is hardly the worst issue in the wider scope of Kia Soul problems. In fact, it can very quickly escalate into hugely expensive repair bills. The model years in between 2012 and 2016 had the most complaints overall.
We’re using data compiled by CarComplaints.com to curate this Kia Soul problems guide as best as we can. Users send feedback and complaints directly on their database. While others were taken from the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). This includes a wide range of carmakers and models sold in the US, one of them being Kia.
The Soul does not have as many complaints as some other Kia models, with just 265 cars noted to have issues, at the time of writing. The 2014 model year Soul had the most number of complaints, standing at 60 owners filing for problems with their cars. However, CarComplaints.com have instead named the 2015 Soul as the worst offender, with 15 out of 45 problems caused by engine failure.
What Are The Kia Soul Problems That You Should Be Aware Of?
So far, we’ve understood what the Kia soul is, and the general overview of some of the issues that it faced. Now, it would be a good time to compile a more comprehensive list of the common faults found in Kia Souls. We’ll be running along across all model years sold in the US from 2010, to the most recent 2020. Note, that we’ll be taking a look at the internal combustion engine powered Soul, not its EV sibling.
As we’ve mentioned earlier, the Kia Soul model years with the most issues according to CarComplaints.com are between 2012 and 2016. These model years cover both the 1st and 2nd generation Kia Souls. Much of the issues have been remedied after the 2017 facelift of the 2nd generation Kia Soul, with a slight redesign, changes in trim, and a new powertrain.
The new 1.6-liter turbocharged engine seems to have fixed much of the engine failures caused in the 2016 and earlier models. It’s worth mentioning however, that a number of Kia cars had caught fire in 2018. The Center For Auto Safety later asked that Kia recalled all Souls between the 2010 and 2015 model years. Although Kia had initiated a voluntary recall in 2019, the Kia Soul was never included.
For our Kia Soul problems review, we’ll be guiding you along the most common issues found through its model years. So, if you’re thinking of buying a Soul, or have one and in need of help to know whether or not it’ll burst into flames, read along to find out more.
Kia Soul Problems, 2010 Model Year (1st Generation)
The 2010 model was the first Kia Soul to have been launched internationally, and sold in the US. CarComplaints.com has recorded 9 different complaints filed on its website, with a total of 114 counting for those problems filed with the NHTSA. The 2010 Kia Soul has had 3 recalls thus far. The most serious being in April 1st, 2013, with more than 980,377 vehicles being affected across the whole Kia range.
This main issue was regarding a malfunctioning stop lamp switch. This will cause the brake lights to not illuminate under braking, and it may also prevent you from disengaging the cruise control. Moreover, the faulty stop lamp switch can also have an effect on the push-button ignition. It can cause the transmission to switch out of ‘Park’ without first applying the brake.
Here are some of the most common Kia Soul problems for the 2010 model year that you should keep an eye out for:
1. Electrical problems
This is the most severe problem for the 2010 Kia Soul, with more than 19 complaints filed with the NHTSA. The symptoms for this are a distinct popping sound through the radio. Sometimes, it might even cause certain lights within the car to illuminate randomly while driving. It could also cause the electrical systems inside the Soul to stop completely, such as the air conditioning unit, power windows, sun roof, and wipers.
The main fault was linked back to the electrical harness used by Kia at the time, that can fail prematurely. This is also linked to the temperature sensors embedded into the wiring, and the soldering coming loose. These problems can also cause short-circuiting, and thus smoke visible within the interior. The recommended way to fix this is a replacement of the entire wiring system. On average, this happens with a mileage of 60,000 miles or before.
2. Faulty suspension
Another major issue with the Kia Soul, as noted in many reviews at the time, was the Soul’s harsh ride. This can cause the entire suspension system to wear out prematurely. The suspension is noted to start making unpleasant noises after a mileage of around 25,000 miles. On average, it can cost about $800 to fix. But the suspension faults also extend to the shock absorbers, suspension, joints, and bearings.
After around 68,000 miles of ownership, it can fail and cause intense vibrations, or the tires rubbing against the wheel well. This is even with moderate, and careful driving. The average cost for a replacement of these components are around $1,800. However, one owner had to replace the shock absorbers and struts 3 times, with a repair bill upwards of $8,000.
3. Engine failures
The early Kia Souls also suffered from engine problems. The most notable cause is a leaking of the car’s coolant. This can happen even without a warning light popping up, or the temperature gauge rising. The engine can start ticking, before eventually dying. In some instances, the engine required a full replacement. The average mileage for this issue is around 144,000 miles, with a repair cost of about $1,700.
Kia Soul Problems, 2011 Model Year (1st Generation)
The 2011 Kia Soul saw an increase in the number of issues, with 12 complaints filed on CarComplaints.com, with a total of 195. It has had 2 recalls in its lifecycle, with the most serious recall being the aforementioned stop lamp switch. This recall covered around 980,377 vehicles across all of Kia’s product range. The other recall is a minor one, concerning 95,314 Kia Souls that had a loose headliner plate on its sunroof.
These are some of the major Kia Soul problems for the 2011 model year that you need to know about:
1. Engine problems
The 2011 Kia Soul suffered from a variety of different engine problems. The most common one reported is the engine seizing up, and causing a loss of power. This is attributed to a broken oil pump, or a leaking oil pan. Owners had also reported broken head gaskets, and failing thermostats. One such owner had to replace their head gaskets twice, and their thermostat 4 times while the car had only driven a total of 109,000 miles.
Some owners had also complained about a loud knocking noise from the engine, and causing a loss of acceleration while driving. Another owner also reported that the engine on their 2011 Kia Soul exploded and caught fire. This happened after a mileage of just around 12,000 on moderate use.
2. Electrical issues
Just like the 2010 model year, the 2011 Kia Soul also suffered from a variety of electrical issues. The most common among them is a faulty alternator, which could fail even at fairly low mileage. Similar with the previous year, the wiring harness in the Kia Soul could also fail, which will result in some functions of the car not working. For some owners, the horn may not work when pressed, or would honk randomly.
Another major electrical fault is regarding the Soul’s electronic stability control (ESC). The ESC can sometimes come on without warning, and will result in a sudden loss of power while driving. This happened to one owner, despite driving on dry surface, and with adequate traction without going at speed. The car might also not shift gears with a malfunctioning ESC, causing it to enter ‘limp home’ mode.
3. Air bags failing to deploy
Faults with the 2011 Kia Soul’s air bags holds the largest share of complaints, with 27 filed with CarComplaints.com and the NHTSA. This can happen with an average mileage of just 50,000 miles or so. Reportedly, the Kia Soul’s airbags would fail to deploy, even with a high speed front end collision. Some owners even reported that the seat belt tensioners would not activate, while some other seat belts would unlatch automatically.
4. Drivetrain (mostly transmission) problems
There were a myriad of different complaints surrounding the 2011 Soul’s drivetrain. The most expensive, and commonly reported problem are issues with the transmission. One owner reported that they had to replace their clutch twice within a mileage of just 72,000 miles. It had cost the owner $1,400 to replace it each time on average. The cause of the issue is a faulty valve on the transmission’s slave cylinder that would cause slipping.
Meanwhile, another owner reported that their clutch and fly wheel had failed after just 22,000 miles. The Soul’s transmission would also react sporadically, causing sudden up-, or downshifts. One other major problem was a failure of the transaxle, causing leakage. It often requires a full replacement, and an owner claimed that a dealer had quoted a bill of $650.
Kia Soul Problems, 2012 Model Year (1st Generation)
The 2012 model year is when the Kia Soul saw a significant uptick in the number of complaints. Overall, the 2012 Kia Soul saw 408 total complaints logged between both CarComplaints.com and the NTHSA. It had 2 recall notices, with the most serious on announced in February 22nd, 2019. This is the start of the consistent engine problems that we’ll see for a few more years.
The recall notice applies to 378,967 Kia Souls sold between 2012 and 2016, those equipped with the 1.6 litre petrol engines. The primary cause is high exhaust temperatures, which can damage the catalytic converter. This, in turn, would result in the engine running abnormally, and causing damage. The connecting rod could also break, and puncture the engine block. This can cause engine oil to leak, and start a fire.
Apart from that, here are some of the most common Kia Soul problems for the 2012 model year:
1. Steering problems
Among the most common complaints for the 2012 Kia Soul are issues related to the steering. Many owners report hearing and feeling a clunking, clicking, or knocking sound while turning the steering wheel. Often times, the steering wheel could also have a lot of play (or looseness) while turning. According to owners, the key failure point is the flex coupling.
Sometimes, it may require the entire steering rack to be replaced. This can happen at a fairly low mileage, averaging at just around 76,000 of use according to CarComplaints.com. The average repair bill for steering problems on the 2012 Kia Soul is around $830. One owner had to spend nearly $2,300 for a total repair, but thankfully was later reimbursed by Kia, and given an extended warranty.
2. Engine problems
Once again, the 2012 Kia Soul is plagued with more engine and powertrain issues, with over 100 complaints filed. As mentioned earlier, this was part of the major recall that Kia had announced in 2019. The main problem with the engine is catalytic converter failure owing to excess heat, which may also cause intensive damage to the engine. This could happen even without prompting a check engine light, or temperature warnings.
The heat can cause the engine’s combustion process to run abnormally. One consequence of this is a faulty connecting rod. It can then puncture straight to the engine block or oil pan, and cause leaking. This might even cause a fire, as the engine oil would leak onto other, hot moving parts of the car. Other problems noted by owners are misfiring, engine knocking, or smoke from the engine bay and exhaust.
3. Difficulty, or hard shifting
Owners of the 2012 Kia Soul have reported numerous instances where their transmission would have difficulty shifting. This is evident by hesitation while upshifting, or ‘hard’ shifts that causes lurching while driving. This can happen at around 60,000 miles. The main cause for this is a faulty heat sensor on the transmission. Alternatively, it might also require replacing the gasket on the gearbox, and full flush of the transmission fluid.
4. Hood/bonnet unlatching while driving
Another odd complaint with dangerous consequences on the 2012 Kia Soul is a problem with the hood/bonnet latch. Some owners had reported this defect to happen at just under 40,000 miles. The hood can unlatch itself while driving, causing damage to the hood and smashing the windshield. The average repair bill for this is $1,700; mostly covering for the expense of a new windshield.
Kia Soul Problems, 2013 Model Year (1st Generation).
The 2013 Kia Soul saw another increase in the number of complaints, with a total of 438 logged on CarComplaints.com and the NHTSA. It is part of the same recall batch as the 2012 Soul, concerning the catalytic converter potentially failing. The high exhaust temperatures can cause damage to the rest of the engine as well. Similarly, most of the issues on the 2013 Soul (129 complaints overall) is pertaining to the engine.
Notably, most of the problems with the 2013 model year were carried over from the 2012 Soul. Some of the 2013 Soul’s issues had also carried over from the earlier cars, such as faulty wiring harnesses. Here is a deeper look at some of the Kia Soul problems that you might need to know about with the 2013 model year:
1. Knocking/ticking noise from the engine
This is once again related to the recall notice as mentioned above, and as in the 2012 Kia Soul. Most commonly with 2013 Kia Soul owners, engine failure can be noticed by a loud knocking or ticking noise. One cause for this is the connecting rod puncturing into the engine block, and causing a mass leakage of engine oil. While most were covered under the recall, some owners had to replace the entire engine, to a tune of $4,000 to $5,000.
2. Steering problems
Just like the 2012 Kia Soul, the 2013 model year also suffered from steering issues. Most noticeably, this can come in the form of a clunking, clicking, or knocking sound. Many owners reported that the problems are fixed with a replacement of the steering coupler. This is a part that has been known to fail in some Kia models. For the Soul, it can cost upwards of $560, while other owners necessitated to replace the entire steering rack.
Kia Soul Problems, 2014 Model Year (2nd Generation)
The 2014 Kia Soul saw the introduction of the 2nd generation car to the market. While it marked many improvements over the first generation, it also came with a lot more issues. On CarComplaints.com, there are 780 complaints overall with the 2014 Kia Soul. There were 4 major recalls of the car. The first was on March 2nd, 2015, that concerned the possibility of the accelerator pedal fracturing in 208,858 Kia Souls.
On September 29th, 2017, a second recall was announced by Kia for 342,381 Kia Souls. This time, they noted that steering pinion gear might separate, thus potentially causing you to lose any steering input. The next one was in 2019, regarding the aforementioned catalytic converters melting that affected 378,967 Kia Souls. The 4th recall was on December 2nd, 2020, concerning a possible engine fire with 294,756 Kia Souls.
Here are some of the most persistent Kia Soul problems that kept owners of the 2014 model year awake at night:
1. Engine problems
In following the theme with Kia Souls so far, the common issue with the 2014 Kia Soul remains to be the engine. The total tally of complaints from CarComplaints.com and the NHTSA stands at 284, all for faults with the engine. The issues are similar to the one described by as per the recall notice for the catalytic converter damage since the 2012 Kia Soul.
Most owners have reported complete engine failures, sometimes requiring to change the entire engine. The connecting road can puncture through the engine block, and causing the engine oil to leak. Owners have reported knocking noises, sudden loss of power, or sometimes have their Souls catch fire. This should be covered under recall, but some owners had to pay for their own repairs, costing upwards of $6,000.
2. Electrical problems
Despite a complete overhaul of the Soul for the 2nd generation, the electrical problems from the earlier cars still remained. Although this time, the electrical problems for the 2013 Soul concerns more on the exterior lighting. The connection between the wiring harness with the exterior lights can sometimes come loose.
Another fault is the subpar bulb connector that can burn out. This can cause the headlights, brake lights, and turn signals to not turn on or off. Alternatively, it could also blink frequently while driving, or flicker. Although not a relatively expensive fix, some Kia dealers have been caught charging owners of 2014 Kia Souls more than $400 for a repair.
3. Steering problems
The 2014 Kia Soul still caries over the steering issues from the earlier, 1st generation cars. This can be noticed with a loud clunking or clicking sensation and sound while turning the steering wheel. This is once more owing to the steering coupler, that can fail prematurely. It is made from substandard materials, and can break apart, causing you to lose steering completely.
Kia Soul Problems, 2015 Model Year (2nd Generation)
We won’t need to elaborate much on the problems of the 2015 Kia Soul. Most of the common concerns are echoed from the earlier 2014 Souls, and some even earlier. The 2015 model year cars suffered from the same 4 recalls as mentioned in the previous year. This is regarding the potential fracturing of the accelerator pedal, separation of the steering pinion gear, catalytic converter damage (since 2012), and engine fires.
As we’ve mentioned much earlier, the 2015 Kia Soul was nominated by CarComplaints.com as the worst when it comes to reliability. Despite having lesser complaints compared to the 2014 model – 578 vs. 780 – the 2015 Kia Soul’s problems are more catastrophic, and expensive. Moreover, some of the issues happened at lower mileages on average with the 2015 Souls.
Once again, the most common faults we’ve highlighted previously have are reoccurring on the 2015 Kia Soul. This includes the steering coupler failing prematurely, and catastrophic engine failure. The fixes should be similar. However, the costs have increased, as the engine problems on the 2015 Soul happens mostly on the larger, and more complex 2.0 litre engine.
There are, however, some unique Kia Soul problems with the 2015 model year. Here’s a couple of them:
1. Faulty air conditioning unit, and heater
The A/C unit and heater on the 2015 Kia Soul can break over time. One cause is that the A/C unit’s drain hose underneath the car can get clogged. One owner reported that they had moisture blowing, and water dripping from the vents. Some other owners noted that their heaters won’t work fully, thus causing the windows to fog up, and sometimes freeze.
2. Car not starting
The 2015 Kia Soul can as suffer from some electrical problems, mostly concerning the alternator. Owners can sometimes have their batteries die while in use. Others have noted that the battery can short out, potentially pointing out to a wider design fault with the electrical systems.
Kia Soul Problems, 2016 Model Year (2nd Generation)
Compared to the 2014 and 2015 Kia Souls, the 2016 model year saw a decline in the number of complaints. It had 2 recalls, both of them related to problems with the previous model years. The 2016 Kia Soul saw the year of the recall notice regarding the failing catalytic converter. This is an issue that had been happening since the 2012 soul. It covered 378,967 Kia Souls equipped with the 1.6 litre petrol engine.
The other recall, as noted earlier, was over the steering pinion gear potentially coming apart. Overall the 2016 Kia Soul has seen 304 complaints in total. Most of the problems are similar to the ones we’ve mentioned since the 2014 Kia Soul. Therefore, we won’t be covering them in great detail with the 2016 model year.
Engine failure is the number one problem suffered by owners of the 2016 Kia Soul, although this is covered under recall. The electrical problems from the 2015 Soul remains, causing the car to not start. A/C and heater issues still remained from the 2015 car. This also goes for the clunking noise felt while steering the car, which has been happening since the 2012 model year.
Kia Soul Problems, 2017 Model Year (2nd Generation)
The 2017 Kia Soul saw large improvements in terms of reliability and maintenance. There aren’t as many major concerns over these cars as of yet. Currently, there are 90 complaints logged on CarComplaints.com, along with data from the NHTSA. The most common problem with the 2017 model year is engine failure, courtesy of knocking.
Some owners reported that their engines made loud knocking noises, loss of power, engine dying, or smoke. It can happen at around 80,000 miles. Although this is not a common issue, it can be expensive to fix. Often, it would require a brand new engine to be installed, costing upwards of $6,000.
Kia Soul Problems, 2018 Model Year (2nd Generation)
In following with the gradual reliability improvements, the 2018 Kia Soul also saw minimal problems, with just 76 complaints. The lion’s share of the major complaints can be divided into engine, and electrical problems. As we’ve mentioned much earlier when looking at the Soul’s history, a number of Kia models caught fire around 2018. Similarly, some owners had reported that their Soul’s engine caught fire.
However, no recall was issued for the 2018 Kia Soul, and this remains limited to a small number of owners. No cause has yet to be determined, but the symptoms can be described as hearing abnormal noises while the engine is running. The electrical systems can also be problematic, such as the car not turning on, or a slight burning smell. Once again, this is not a widespread issue.
Kia Soul Problems, 2019 Model Year (2nd Generation).
Being a much newer car, there is a very small sample size to work with. Most owners would not have been able to put enough mileage for problems to appear. At the time of writing, the 2019 Kia Soul has only logged 31 complaints overall. The biggest concern with the 2019 model year are problems regarding the brake pedal.
Some owners have reported that their Soul’s brake pedals would get stuck, or pinned to the floor. But despite being pressed down, the brakes themselves would not deploy, or sometimes only activate partially. Owners have tried to remedy this by pumping the brake pedals, but this has not worked. This has caused several incidents of Kia Souls rear ending other cars, as their drivers were not able to brake.
Kia Soul Problems, 2020 Model Year (3rd Generation).
The 2020 Kia Soul saw the introduction of the 3rd generation car to the market. Interestingly, the 2020 Kia Soul saw an uptick in the number of complaints, standing at 120 while writing this. This can happen with brand new, or to the ‘first batch’ of a new generation of cars. The two biggest problems with the 2020 Kia Soul are concerning the engine, and the transmission.
Owners have noticed while driving that the engine’s revs would very suddenly rise upwards for no reason, then cause the car to shut down entirely. There has yet to be a thorough diagnosis of the problem, but it might be related to the transmission. Owners have been told by dealers that some of their transmissions have metal fragments inside of them, causing premature failure.
Since it’s a brand new model, these problems should thankfully be covered under warranty. However, owners have reportedly been waiting nearly 2 months before getting their car again. So far, there has yet to be a recall issued by Kia over this problem.
Conclusion – Should You Be Worried Over These Problems?
We can now conclude our Kia Soul problems guide so far. You might be reading this, and asking yourself as to whether you should be worried. Overall, we can see that the Kia Soul is generally more reliable than some other cars. Granted, it can very easily break your soul in half with its more pressing issues, such as complete engine failure. If you have a Kia Soul, do consider having it checked out when you can.
Always keep in touch with your local Kia dealer to stay on top of problems, or recall notices. If you’re eligible, maybe even consider getting an extended warranty for the later models. Or, if you’re thinking of buying a Kia Soul second hand, then be sure to have a pre-purchase inspection done. This is to make sure that the previous owner has already complied with all the recalls, and had the major issues looked after.
Due diligence is always important, and we hope that our Kia Soul problems review has been able to better inform you. This funky little Korean box of wonders is surely as much as a joy to drive and own, as it is to stare at it. But do be cautious, or you might find your soul ends up in tatters.