2018 Kia Niro Problems and Top Complaints – Is Your Car A Lemon?

Electrical, brakes, engine and powertrain issues among the top complaints received by the NHTSA from vehicle owners

Updated on Author: Brian Jones

Updated on Author: Brian Jones

The 2018 Kia Niro is a hybrid crossover that took the market by storm, thanks to the exceptional fuel economy and low starting price. The automaker even claims that new Niro models provide “miles of style,” but owners would be happy to get functionality out of this crossover. It suffers from a defective electrical system, malfunctioning powertrain, non-effective service brakes and a poorly-built structure.

Click on other model year to view more problems: 2019   2020   2022

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NHTSA Complaints for the 2018 Kia Niro

Complaint CategoryNumber of Complaints
Unknown Or Other
Service Brakes
Electrical System
Power Train
Vehicle Speed Control
Air Bags
Electronic Stability Control

Problems with the Electrical System

With the right electrical system in a vehicle, everything runs like clockwork, but that’s not the case with this Niro model. The system is downright glitchy and causes numerous problems.

One Cars.com review states, “We bought a new Niro in June 2018. Since purchasing this car, we have had issues with the car’s computer system, shift lock malfunction, and door handle falling off the vehicle.”

Among these problems, there’s a large issue that owners must know about. NHTSA Campaign Number 18V666000 affects more than 27,000 vehicles and states that the increased electrical resistance at the main relay can lead to a fire. This relay is found below the rear seat, further putting occupants at risk. While it might provide plenty of style for those miles of travel, it might not make it for the journey, especially if it burst into flames first.

Problems with the Engine

The Niro has a hybrid setup, which utilizes some electrical components in conjunction with the engine. It’s already been proven that the electrical system is sub-par, but it’s even worse when looking at the motor defects.

One Edmunds complaint says, “Had to trade car after a month of owning it. I had a major horrible scare with my Kia Niro within the first few weeks of owning with a very strong gasoline and burning plastic smells in the cabin of the car. First I thought that maybe I spilled gas on myself, but no, it was coming out of the vents each time I either ran the AC or heat didn’t matter what setting you had it on it was bad. Along with the gas smell there was also a burnt wire/plastic smell which was so bad I was expecting to see smoke or flames coming out of the vents or hood, it never did thankfully. Both smells made me completely nauseous and sick each time I had to drive the car I had to put the windows down to feel better. I felt so uncomfortable in the car feeling this sick. Dealership said nothing is wrong with the car but then Kia’s have had fires in other models so it worried me that it could of happened with that KIA.”

This is a situation that no car owner should have to face. It appears that the automaker is dealing with countless other engine issues on top of this. In fact, Service Bulletin #TSBELE161 talks about the OBC inlet hose detaching and causing a coolant leak. To fix it, technicians must install a spacer. Overall, it’s evident that the Niro can’t move to travel all those “miles.” Between leaking coolant and potential fire, this car might spend more time breaking down than actually moving.

Problems with the Transmission

Even on a hybrid car, the transmission is responsible for a smooth-shifting experience. Without this, owners just get frustrated and irritated, which is precisely what happens with the Niro.

Examine this Cars.com review as one example. “First thing I noticed was the transmission on this car. It’s hard to miss that because it acts weird in slow speed. Like it’s confused on which gear it needs to be. When you need that power, it doesn’t downshift on time and it’s so annoying. It’s like turbo lag!”

Sadly, Kia decided not to discuss any powertrain issues, but that doesn’t mean that this car is perfect. In fact, it’s more likely that the automaker doesn’t want to draw any more attention to the trouble this vehicle creates. Instead, Kia wants people to believe that this hybrid will travel “miles,” but most drivers can’t trust it any longer. Staying close to home is the best solution when heading out, just in case.

Problems with the Brakes

A look at the service brakes on the 2018 Kia Niro reveals some dangerous situations. With all the other defects, it would be nice to have a quality set of brakes, but that must be too much to ask.

One NHTSA complaint states, “Car failed to stop twice – almost ran a red light. Brakes depressed and felt no pressure in brake line. Dealership has fixed brake issues with car only being 6 months old in 2018 – same brake issues but now the car is not stopping sometimes.”

Kia was sneaky when talking about brake concerns. Instead of being open and honest, the company issued Service Bulletin #TSBCHA086 that discussed the need to listen to customer concerns. The automaker claims that it is trying to figure out if updates need to be made to the braking system to improve the customer experience. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that these problems should be repaired immediately. Unless Kia would rather force the Niro to travel those “miles of style” by keeping it from stopping.

Problems with the Vehicle Structure

No one expects the Niro to be constructed with luxury materials. After all, it is a lower-priced hybrid option. However, it shouldn’t be falling apart.

That’s exactly what this NHTSA user claims is happening. “A few months ago, the front passenger door handle fell off when trying to open the door when the car was parked/stationary. The vehicle was taken to the dealership, and the handle and cover were replaced. Today, 10/22/2018, the right rear passenger door handle popped off when trying to open the door when the car was parked in the driveway. Both times the doors were unlocked, and the pressure applied to the door handle was minimal (normal). The handle broke in the same place as the first. When contacting the dealership, we asked if the other handle (right rear passenger) could also be replaced, as this seems to be a defect. The service department said that they could inspect it when replacing the other handle, but could not order parts until it is determined that it is broken.”

Kia hasn’t been quiet about this problem either, even issuing Service Bulletin #TSBBOD173_R1. Technicians are permitted to replace all three outside door handle covers because of separation caused by a defect in manufacturing. If the door handles break, it might be for the best. After all, if owners can’t get inside, they might be safer than on the road behind the wheel of the lemon Niro.

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Complaint Data

DateJan 20, 2023
On kia niro, there is a part called the exhaust heat recovery system (ehrs). This part pumps coolant into the exhaust system. If this particular piece fails, coolant in then pumped into the exhaust, burned up, and exits through the tail pipe. This piece failed on my car, which lead to coolant being burned in the tailpipe without my knowledge, which ultimately lead to no coolant in the engine and overheating and breaking down on the highway. After a full engine replacement, my car is still rapidly going through coolant. I imagine that this could lead to a car fire. I still have the faulty part installed in my car, however I am looking to replace it asap. While not 100% confirmed, my dealer is "pretty sure" that piece is what is causing the rapid loss of coolant in my car. This piece has not been inspected by the manufacturer, police or insurance representatives. There were no warning lamps, messages or other symptoms to alert me to this problem. I only found out about this piece and its failure rate after a full engine replacement.
CategoryElectrical System, Service Brakes
DateFeb 15, 2022
On 2/15/2022 around 10:00am, I was driving my vehicle as normal. Noticed brake lights ahead, I was about 3 car lengths back, which I always try to drive since I am on the road a lot and I prefer not to have an accident. Well this time, I put my foot on the brake as normal and the vehicle felt like brakes were not even working, pushed harder with my foot and waited for that pumping feeling (which I have felt before) and literally nothing! Once I was about a car lengths away, I knew my vehicle was not stopping so I sat up straight and leaned back before the air bags deployed in my face. I have since come home and found several complaints from other 2018 kia niro owners that have made a complaint about this on other forums and with the nhtsa and carcomplaints. Com - this issue has been ignored by kia about braking system.
CategoryUnknown Or Other
DateSep 12, 2021
My 2018 kia niro ex keeps overheating. We purchased the vehicle july 21st 2018. Three months after purchase, the vehicle dies, flashing warning lights and a message appeared to shut the engine off. Our car was towed to the dealership we purchased it from. After over three months, the dealership calls and tells us to pick the car up from them. The entire engine had to be replaced. We sued kia motors through the lemon law. We settled for the payment option because the engine was replaced. Now, our hands are tied due to once we took the cash settlement, we were no longer able to take legal action again if we had any additional issues. Over the course of the last three years, we had to have it repaired for a wiring issue, now, our vehicle continually overheats. Our dealership where we purchased the vehicle does not have a hybrid technician to work on it. We have to drive to another location of theirs to have it serviced. That location is over an hour drive. Our car is unable to be driven to have it properly service by the correct technician. There is an online forum, www. Kianiroforum. Com. This forum explains in detail what type of issue the consumer is experiencing with this vehicle. I am reaching out due to this overheating issue could cause serious harm to someone. We have spoken with kia corporate headquarters, their advice is to have it looked at by a kia dealership and they will go from there. We have exhausted all of our options to have these issues looked into and now reaching out to you for assistance. Myself included, it appears this vehicle has many many issues and needs to be brought to someone's attention that has the power to get something done.
CategoryPower Train
DateSep 01, 2021
The power train, engine, and breaks are defective. The vehicle has malfunctioned over 10 times in the past 5 months and it happens randomly. The same issues occur each time which where the car will not drive or will be extremely jolty, the gears will not shift, the breaks are delayed, and the engine will rev (rpms will go up and down) when put in park. This has happened in the middle of an intersection and on major roads and highways. This issue puts myself and others around me at risk. The problem has been reproduced at an authorized kia dealership and has been attempted to be fixed on many occasions. It has been inspected and serviced by kia service technicians. There are many warning lights and error messages that appear when the malfunction happens including: check engine light, hybrid battery light, abs system warning, bds system warning, emergency braking system error message, electric power steering light, master warning light, engine oil pressure light, charging system light, regenerative breaking warning light, along with engine control system and battery control system error warning messages.
CategoryEngine, Power Train, Service Brakes
DateJan 16, 2020
2018 kia niro plug-in hybrid, 16,235mi. Vehicle has been in 5 times in last several months for a total of over 30 days in shop. Transmission will do a very hard downshift intermittently when stopping. Makes vehicle dip hard.. Noticeable on dash cam video. On harder acceleration, power train has trouble deciding what to do and often there is a noticeable delay in acceleration. Feels sort of like it is slipping, but is a delay in powering the electric motor fully and starting the gas motor. This has caused a couple close calls when pulling into traffic expecting the car to react appropriately. Some online research shows this is not an uncommon occurrence. Dealer has replaced a hydraulic actuator, bled system and reprogrammed pcm. This fixed a squeak noise in power train but not the harsh/erratic operations. As for the brakes, recently, depressing the brake with more than light pressure causes a rubbery groan sound from under driver's dash. This happens more when the car is cold or sitting for some time, less after it has warmed up. During these episodes, the brake pedal take more effort to push and brake engagement is delayed. The noise will happen when you step on the brake to start car or when driving. Dealer has been dismissive about the issues. We were told we would get a 'flight recorder' to help them document the transmission issues and record vehicle data from the computers. Today we were told we will not be getting it and to come pick up the car. Kia corporate in irvine, ca has been notified and a case has been opened. We are waiting on a response now.
DateJan 07, 2020
Door handle cane off and vehicle sometimes can not be licked
CategoryService Brakes
DateDec 18, 2019
Car failed to stop twice - almost ran a red light. Brakes depressed and felt no pressure in brake line. Dealership has fixed brake issues with car only being 6 months old in 2018 - same brake issues but now the car is not stopping sometimes.
DateOct 22, 2019
A few month ago, the front passenger door handle fell off when trying to open the door when the car was parked/stationary. The vehicle was taken to the dealership, and the handle and cover were replaced. Today, 10/22/2018, the right rear passenger door handle popped off when trying to open the door when the car was parked in the driveway. Both times the doors were unlocked, and the pressure applied to door handle was minimal (normal). The handle broke in the same place as the first. When contacting the dealership, we asked if the other handle (right rear passenger) could also be replaced, as this seems to be a defect. The service department said that they could inspect it when replacing the other handle, but could not order parts until it is determined that it is broken. Upon researching the problem on the internet, we found that kia had issued tsb #tsbbod180_r1 nhtsa id #10151899, and tsb #tsbbod186 nhtsa id #10151901 in regards to the door handles on 2017/18 niros, and said that all three passenger handles were to be replaced (not the driver). We then called back the service dept and inquired about the tbs, and were told that it wasn't for our vehicle. 2 handles in a couple of months would warrant the replacement of all handles. We don't understand why a recall hasn't been done, if this is an known issue, or why our vehicle is supposedly not included in the tsb. It is a safety issue, as access cannot be obtain from the outside of the vehicle.
CategoryEngine, Power Train, Vehicle Speed Control
DateJun 24, 2019
I was driving on the freeway. After slowed down and stopped completely, suddenly it lose power to run. Trying to step deeper the gas pedal, but no reaction at all. After turn off and turn on engine few times, it can run again, but this time, the real problem occur. The engine sounds so loud.. It's hybrid car supposed to so quiet (that's what sounds usually). Later on, I found out how to still can drove it, but with high risk suddenly lose power on the street. Later found out, when the car in motion, the hybrid system didn't worked completely, and the transmission sound very rough. Every time when come to brake or want to slow down, can feels obviously and heard the transmission is very rough making clutch loud sounds. The cruise control system also totally not function. When in stationary, very first when started the engine, made loud sounds on the engine, and can't reversed or move forward, just stayed in place. The dashboard display "check hybrid system". And on the middle screen displaying, "low voltage dc / dc converter".
CategoryAir Bags
DateMay 09, 2019
Tl* the contact owned a 2018 kia niro plug-in hybrid. While driving at 30 mph and through an intersection, another vehicle ran their red light causing a collision. The air bags did not deploy. There were no injuries. A police report was failed. The contact's insurance deemed the vehicle totaled. The dealer was not contacted. The manufacturer was made aware of the failure and stated that the contact should call nhtsa. The failure mileage was 25,000. The vin was not available.
CategoryElectrical System, Engine, Unknown Or Other
DateMar 21, 2019
Vehicle randomly flashes message to check hybrid system. Warning message disappear after vehicle reset but the message has repeatedly come up very often now. Message pops up during many different scenarios: after charging, before charging, while charging, and during operation.
CategoryElectronic Stability Control, Structure:body, Suspension
DateJan 31, 2019
I went to a kia dealer for an oil change and was then informed there were 3 open recalls on my vehicle. I received no notification by mail, email or phone. The repairs were to take 5 hours. I made an appointment to do the repairs and left the car there the entire day and had to be shuttled 20 miles back and forth twice that day. They were not competent enough to order the parts but were content to have me waste my entire day and tell me to come back again next week. The incompetent dealer is kia on battleground in greensboro.
CategoryExterior Lighting
DateNov 15, 2018
Ambas luces delanteras les entra agua y humedad cuando llueve
CategoryPower Train
DateNov 02, 2018
The transmission fails to engage immediately to the gear shifted to. When stationary and with the vehicle in reverse, if you proceed to press the accelerator and the vehicle starts to move backwards, the vehicle will continue to roll in the reverse direction even after switching the gear selector to drive and pressing the accelerator. This problem happens when switching from either drive to reverse or reverse to drive.
CategoryElectrical System, Structure:body, Unknown Or Other
DateSep 17, 2018
Rear hatch indicator suddenly comes on while driving and rear hatch opens on own. Even after hard slamming shut hatch is not latching all the time and randomly loosening and opening on its own. Loud rattle is also coming from rear of vehicle. This is a newly purchased automobile.
CategoryUnknown Or Other
DateSep 10, 2018
Both the right passenger door handle and rear drives side door handle have come off, in both cases a passenger was opening the door to enter the vehicle when the door handle failed and came off. The last incident back door occurred 9/7
CategoryUnknown Or Other
DateAug 31, 2018
No incident to report. Design safety issue. The design of the emergency liftgate safety release requires the use of the vehicle's mechanical key to exit the vehicle through the rear liftgate in an emergency (see owners manual page 4-26. The need to have a key in hand utterly defeats the intended concept of an emergency release. This design would be completely unacceptable for the trunk of a sedan and it should also be unacceptable for a hatchback or liftgate. A relatively inexpensive fix would be to install a simple metal lever in the door through the slot provided for inserting the key. I have had other vehicles with similar emergency release mechanisms. I do not know how wide spread this is through the industry or if there are in fact different standards. I would urge nhtsa to require manufacturers to make all doors openable from the inside without the need for a key or any other tool, especially where it is specifically identified as an emergency means of exit. Thank you for all your efforts to keep the driving public safe. Sincerely (xxxxx) parts of this document have been redacted to protect personally identifiable information pursuant to the freedom of information act (foia), 5 u. S. C. 552(b)(6).
CategoryService Brakes, Unknown Or Other
DateJun 03, 2018
Purchased the vehicle with safety tech package which includes aeb (auto emergency braking) and vehicle did not stop even when I applied full brakes to prevent a collision. The main reason I purchased this vehicle was for this safety feature.
CategoryService Brakes
DateApr 04, 2018
I am writing to your company in regards to a serious accident which happened on the date of saturday, march 24th around 4pm est. This accident involved my family and I driving the new kia niro hybrid ex w/ tech pkg we purchased from sansone dealership on november 24th, 2017. My vehicle was involved in the accident on route 22 highway while driving eastwards at the speeds of around 35-36 mph as there was a traffic flow and also a traffic stop of cars. Our vehicle (kia niro) was about 2-3 car distance behind the vehicle in front and as we were trying to come to a stop and while applying the brakes, the vehicle was not stopping even with the equipped autonomous emergency brake system on, it did not function as I stomped hard on the brake pedal, saw the brake indication on the dash but the vehicle was not slowing down. We had to brace for impact and rear ended the car in front of us which also slightly hit the car in front of him total of 3 vehicles involved including mine. In my car I was the driver, my spouse was sitting in the passenger side and my 5 year old daughter was in the back seat in her car seat. The impact caused major frontal damage to my vehicle and both front airbags were deployed. My wife sustained neck injury which we had checked out at an urgent care center the next day. I sustained some bruises on the leg and my daughter was ok, but in shock. I have included pictures of the damaged car, police report. The fact that we purchase a vehicle with upgrades to safety features that did not work for keeping my family and I safe is unacceptable. Vehicle is totaled and insurance has stored it in the following facility: iaa, 700 federal blvd. Carteret, nj 07008-1008. Tel: 732-634-5601. Stock# 22133296. This info was given via voicemail to ryan at kia consumers with case# 12671522.
CategoryElectrical System
DateMar 29, 2018
Wiring harness chewed up by rodents 6 weeks after buying car new. Only 1900 miles on car. Car was parked between '01 toyota tacoma and '04 f250 diesel, which have been there since new without problems, as was a '06 vw diesel, and a '12 vw diesel, also parked there since new. The use of soy based insulation on the wiring has turned vehicles into rolling food sources. With critical functions now controlled electrically rather than mechanically (throttle transmission and steering), this a major safety hazard, not to mention extremely costly 00 to 00 to repair. This is occurring at epidemic rates, and is across all makes. Don't let this turn into another "takata".
DateJan 02, 2018
Engine/transmission becomes very sluggish as temperatures drop and the transmission seems to be "engine braking" the vehicle, making coasting nearly impossible. Putting the vehicle in neutral allowed the car to normally coast but once back in drive, acceleration was taxing. The vehicle lacks any power and is ruining the fuel economy trying to get the car up to speed.

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Brian Jones

About the Author:

Brian Jones spent more than 20 years working as an ASE Certified Master Tech and Parts Specialist at multiple dealerships. Brian has become an authority in the industry, traveling across the country to consult for car dealerships and contributing his expertise as a writer for several major automotive publications. In his spare time, Brian enjoys working on pickup trucks, muscle cars, Jeeps and anything related to motorsports.

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  • David A

    Buyer Beware.
    Nissan Murano failed at 152,000. Transmission

    So caution on buying a nice looking Murano or Rogue – headache and $7,500 to replace

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