Best and worst Hyundai Sonata years — which to avoid
This guide is your go-to for sorting the best and worst Hyundai Sonata years. It's a mix of owners insights and the hard facts from the shop floor. We will help you paint a complete picture that you need to spot the best Sonata.
Hyundai Sonata has always been the epitome of affordable and reliable on the used car market, but if you decide to buy one today, chances are you’ll have to do some digging first. Because of repetitive issues, there are certain Hyundai Sonata years to avoid and this guide will address those so you can steer away and get the most reliable model possible.
Along with those, we’ll also rank the best Sonata years to aid you in buying the best model according to reputable automotive databases of NHTSA and recall details. Tag along if you wish to uncover the best and worst Sonata years, as well as the problems that made some of them bad picks.
Why you can trust REREV’s advice on which car model years to avoid: Our car experts look at official data, ask real drivers what they think, and talk to experienced mechanics to make sure our list is useful. This reliable info can make buying a car easier for you. Want to know how we do it? Find out more about our research methodology.
How we rated the best and worst Hyundai Sonata years
While we were creating this guide, our team strived to give you only double-checked and factual information on Sonata’s reliability. Having in mind the severity of some issues, we mostly used NHTSA logs on complaints for each model year, along with official recall records established by Hyundai to sort out some of the problems.
Of course, we also considered driver reports and experiences as we went through sites like Edmunds and Kelley Blue Book, along with driving reports found on Sonata forums and Consumer Reports.
|Hyundai Sonata Generation
|Best Hyundai Sonata Years
|Worst Hyundai Sonata Years
|2005, 2006, 2007
|2011, 2012, 2013
|2019, 2022, 2023
Most common Hyundai Sonata problems
Hyundai Sonata is a model that’s been on the market for nearly 40 years, and it’s no wonder that drivers reported some issues for certain generation models. It can’t be helped since every car goes through a bit of an issue during a long production cycle, but there were some repetitive model-specific concerns involved.
Besides the engine problems that the sixth generation faced, transmission issues were also reported by drivers. One thing that represents a safety concern is the problem with lousy seatbelt connections. Finally, we can’t overlook the case of a bad timing belt that produces driving noises, so let’s take a closer look at these:
1. Engine problems
Hyundai Sonata mostly used inline-four-cylinder engines from the first generation, with a few instances of V6 engines like the 3.0-liter and the 3.3-liter V6. Still, older engines like these didn’t have many problems, and it all started with the turbocharged four-cylinder engines and the hybrid engine.
These were introduced with the sixth generation, and drivers had plenty of issues with them. Precisely, the problem was present with the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with a hybrid component, and the 2.0-liter Nu MPI engine.
These had some serious problems since drivers have repeatedly reported rod knock sounds coming from the engine. It’s when the clearance between the pistons and the bearings gets enlarged, so the bearings get out of place and the pistons hit against the metal parts. Not only does it damage the pistons, but it easily leads to a completely seized engine.
It’s a problem that led to repair investments of around $4000 to $5000, and it eventually ended with the official recall in 2020. Besides the engine knocking sounds, drivers have also reported problems with excessive oil consumption in some model years.
2. Transmission faults
We know how this sounds, but to calm you down right away – the Hyundai Sonata didn’t have the worst kind of transmission issues that would require a rebuild. Of course, it’s a crucial system in a car so any problem could potentially be a big one and it’s worth exploring a bit further.
Sonata mostly had transmission problems like harsh shifting seemingly caused by low transmission fluid levels. However, it turned out to be a software error, and drivers that had their Sonata’s transmission control unit software updated didn’t face much of this issue.
Also, there was a 2022 transmission-related recall to replace the transmission fluid pump and upgrade the software. The issue caused the safe mode to turn on, therefore reducing the car’s power output, which sometimes turned out to be dangerous.
3. Seatbelt connection problem
Another major issue that Hyundai Sonata drivers have experienced is the seatbelt problem. Namely, some sixth and seventh-generation Sonata vehicles had problems with the driver restraint system. Poor quality of the seatbelt connections pointed to the safety problem, and drivers were alarmed about this.
There were two recalls by Hyundai to fix this issue and now the seatbelts in any Sonata generation are accordant with regulations.
4. Bad timing belt
This one is common for Hyundai Sonata cars of all generations since the belt is used instead of a more durable timing chain. So, drivers should always check the timing belt and properly replace it if needed. Even new Sonata vehicles have this issue and if the timing belt goes bad, it puts your entire engine at risk.
That’s why these problems are the kind you wish to avoid at all costs and at least it’s simple to check the belt before buying a used Sonata.
Worst Hyundai Sonata years to avoid
Like for any other car model, Sonata also has some model years that are not as good as the best production years. To help you avoid the mentioned problems and headaches right after purchasing a Sonata, we have one important inquiry to address – what are the worst Hyundai Sonata years?
The worst Hyundai Sonata years are 2011 and 2012, but here’s a full list:
Let’s delve a bit deeper into these to show you why it’s so important to avoid them if you want to have a decent driving experience and reliability after the purchase.
Fifth-generation Sonata (2005-2007 model years)
The fifth generation of Sonata is arguably the first generation with modernized car features and exterior design. While the cosmetic upgrades were visible, the car was mechanically not as reliable as the previous four generations.
As for the older generations of the Sonata, drivers have complained about rust and corrosion that quickly came after the paint, especially for the fourth-gen Sonata. However, the 2005 to 2007 model years are mechanically worse when compared to all the model years stretching back to 1985.
We already mentioned this, but the rod bearing issue that caused rod knock and engine failure was the most prominent problem. On top of that, there’s the situation with an SRS light glowing up on the dashboard and sometimes the car’s airbag sensors had to be replaced, causing an investment of over $1000. Finally, these model years had problems with rust after a few years of driving, as well as the poor quality of interior plastic.
Sixth-generation Sonata (2011-2013 model years)
It’s usual for many car models to have the early model years of a certain generation come with more issues than the final production years. Still, it’s not the case with this car, and its sixth generation since 2009 and 2010 model years are much better than the 2011 to 2013 models.
The reason for this is mostly the introduction of the 2.4-liter hybrid engine with significant problems, as well as the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine with rod knock problems. Along with that, there was a problem with brake lights that kept illuminating as if the brakes were pressed. This often led to confusion on the road and Hyundai also had a recall regarding those, as well as some airbag problems.
Seventh-generation Sonata (2014-2015 model years)
Similar troubles have continued with the seventh generation of the Sonata and we again had engine problems along with airbag system recalls due to faulty sensors. On top of that, 2015 was proclaimed one of the worst Sonata production years, and that tells a lot.
Once again, brake light problems were present in this generation, along with reported oil leaks and electric issues including the speaker system. So, it’s best to avoid the 2015 model year altogether if you are buying a seventh-gen Sonata.
Eighth-generation Hyundai Sonata (2021 model year)
The current generation of the Sonata also has its fair share of issues, but thankfully these are not as complex as previous engine faults. The 2021 model in particular had fuel leakage problems due to poorly adjusted fuel pipes, and there were those transmission-related software updates that we discussed.
The issues were mostly present for Sonata cars with the 2.5-liter turbocharged engine, but the engine itself is at least reliable.
What are the best Hyundai Sonata years to buy?
Don’t worry, we won’t just leave you hanging by only giving you the worst production years of the Sonata. We realize that you need additional help to decide on the reliable model years, so our team made a list of the production years that proved to be the most reliable so far:
Besides being objectively old cars and rust or paint issues, the first four generations are quite durable and reliable cars. The fifth generation brought a new era for Hyundai with significantly improved design, but it’s best to go with a 2008 model to avoid engine and airbag issues.
The sixth generation had 2009 and 2010 as reliable model years, so it’s best to go for these than the 2011 to 2013 models. For the seventh generation, it’s only important to avoid 2015 as the worst model year and go for later ones like 2016 and 2017 which were significantly better. Finally, 2020 has proved to be one of the best eight-gen Sonata models so far.
2004 Hyundai Sonata
Among the earlier Sonata models between the fifth and sixth generations, the 2004 model received by far the least complaints. However, it still had some reports of fuel delivery issues and engine problems, but not nearly as much as the following 2005 or 2006 model.
This is the first model year of the facelift for this generation and its drivers appraised its reliability and stability along with technological innovations made through the leap from the previous generation.
Is the Hyundai Sonata worth buying?
The ultimate verdict is – yes, Hyundai Sonata is a car worth buying if you wish to get an affordable, yet reliable family sedan. It has had a few serious issues in some model years, especially regarding the engine problems, but it’s overall a great value for the buck.
Because of that, our team hopes to have provided you with all the necessary information to make your decision easier and direct you to buy a reliable Sonata model.
What year of Hyundai Sonata is most reliable?
2018 is the most reliable model year of the Hyundai Sonata so far, with the least amount of reported complaints.
What years did Hyundai Sonata have engine problems?
Hyundai Sonata had engine problems from 2004 to 2006 and in the 2011-2013 model years.
Are Hyundai Sonatas reliable?
Yes, Hyundai Sonatas are generally reliable cars if you avoid the model years that had engine problems.