QOTD: Have Korean Cars Shed Their Reliability Reputation?

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey
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qotd have korean cars shed their reliability reputation

Given the recent legal struggles that Hyundai and Kia have been facing, I started wondering if the two brands had shed their past reputation for reliability -- or lack thereof.

Us olds will remember when Kia and Hyundai were the butts of jokes. I remember being but a wee lad when I saw a comedian on some TV show saying Rodney King couldn't have been driving 110 mph because he was in a Hyundai.

Of course, things are different today. Hyundai scores well on Repair Pal's reliability index, and Consumer Reports speaks well of the brand. Kia also does well with Repair Pal, if not quite as well with Consumer Reports. Anecdotal evidence from years of test-driving cars from both brands has also shown that the brands seem to be reliable, though it's very hard, if not impossible, to measure long-term reliability from first drives and loan-based reviews.

Yet, the reputation persists, especially when I talk to friends and family who aren't car enthusiasts and/or industry observers.

What say you? Are these two brands as reliable as they seem? Or have the ghosts of the past never really left?

[Image: Kia]

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Tim Healey
Tim Healey

Tim Healey grew up around the auto-parts business and has always had a love for cars — his parents joke his first word was “‘Vette”. Despite this, he wanted to pursue a career in sports writing but he ended up falling semi-accidentally into the automotive-journalism industry, first at Consumer Guide Automotive and later at Web2Carz.com. He also worked as an industry analyst at Mintel Group and freelanced for About.com, CarFax, Vehix.com, High Gear Media, Torque News, FutureCar.com, Cars.com, among others, and of course Vertical Scope sites such as AutoGuide.com, Off-Road.com, and HybridCars.com. He’s an urbanite and as such, doesn’t need a daily driver, but if he had one, it would be compact, sporty, and have a manual transmission.

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5 of 59 comments
  • Dave M. Dave M. on Oct 21, 2022

    I'm on board with the "just spend a little more and get the Toyota or Honda". Sure, it's not 1990 anymore...some of the competition has come close in reliability. But in 4 decades and dozens and dozens of friends/family sticking with Toyota and Honda, I haven't heard of a reliability issue yet.

    And I've got to say the RAV4 and Camry XSE are both pretty sharp looking.

  • W Conrad W Conrad on Oct 21, 2022

    I have owned two Hyundai's. First was an Excel that gave no trouble, but unsure how it would have lasted as it got in a minor accident and we ended up selling it. My second has been a trouper, a 2012 Accent. It now has over 100,000 miles and while it has some rust on the rear wheel well and the trunk latch doesn't open with the key (it does with remote lever), it has been extremely dependable. Good thing since I can't afford a replacement lol.

    • Johnds Johnds on Oct 22, 2022

      That Accent was designed before they put that DI crap in them and other models. I expect that to be more reliable, but if you were to go buy a new Hyundai, forget that kind of dependability you have with your accent.

  • Steve Jacobs Steve Jacobs on Oct 22, 2022

    MY son has a Stinger with 70k miles. He had only one problem. He was moving from California to Alaska and as he began to make the drive, he had occasional misfires. He continued up the Alcan Highway with a gradual increase in the problem, but the car was still fully drivable.

    Upon arrival in Anchorage he took it to the dealer who had to order the fuel injection parts and offered him a loaner. He asked if he could simply drive his car. They told him it was not drivable, not knowing that he'd just gone 3,000+ miles with the problem.

    Other than that fix it's been flawless including his drive back to California.

    I hope Kia is ok these days as I've just bought an EV6. No problems so far.

  • Offbeat Oddity Offbeat Oddity on Oct 23, 2022

    If this question were asked 10 years ago, I would've said yes. However, it seems like their reliability has gotten worse since their mid-2000s-early 2010s peak, and they do seem to be suffering some very serious problems as of late.

    I'd peg them below Toyota, Mazda, and Honda. For a while, I thought they'd surpass Honda, who had been slipping, but it looks like Honda's finally shown signs of reliability improvement per CR these past couple of years.

    I haven't heard anything bad about Hyundai's 2.5 or 8 speed auto, and I like that they're using direct and port injection (and no turbos or CVTs!). I'd still wait a few years to see how that engine holds up before buying, though.