2021 GMC Sierra 1500 Problems and Top Complaints – Is Your Car A Lemon?

Electrical system, engine, steering, and brake issues are among the top complaints received by the NHTSA from vehicle owners

Updated on Author: Brian Jones | Editor: Rita Roberts | Reviewer: Sergei Lemberg

Among full-size, light-duty pickup trucks, the 2021 GMC Sierra 1500 stands out as a more luxury-minded model. It is, according to the automaker, the “most luxurious, advanced, and capable Sierra 1500 lineup” ever. But what’s the point of luxury when engines fail, the steering seizes, and vehicles catch on fire spontaneously?

Click on other model year to view more problems: 2019   2022   2023

Most Common Issues

Engine problems top the list of complaints issued by owners of the 2021 GMC Sierra 1500 to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and other reliable sources. These include complaints we have received directly from owners. The most common problems relate to engine lifter failures that can cause complete engine failure. Symptoms include knocking noises and shaking when the car accelerates and moves. There are also issues with the oil filter and several cases of trucks catching fire.

2021 GMC Sierra 1500 owners also report several electrical system problems, many of which occur alongside engine problems. Steering is another issue that recurs in complaints, with owners reporting that the steering wheel seizes or stops working. Some complaints state that the power brakes and steering fail together, with most complaints stating that the steering and/or the electrical system issues happened together.

Additionally, there are four recalls that affect the 2021 Sierra 2500. Two relate to tires, and two to the seat belts.

The tire issues are:

  1. The tires may have been over-cured, which can result in sudden air loss or a belt edge separation that leads to partial or full tread/belt loss. Whatever happens, the risk of a crash is increased.
  2. The spare tire may be incompatible with the accessory wheels and may not function properly — also increasing the risk of a crash.

The seat belt issues are:

  1. The front center seat belts may not be secured. This can result in the risk of injury if there is a crash.
  2. In 470 cases, the incorrect bolts may have been used to attach the seat belts. This, too, can increase the risk of injury if the truck crashes.

Airbag Investigation

There was also an investigation into airbags between April 2021 and August 2023. This resulted from instances of the airbag malfunction indicator light (MIL) illuminating and the potential for front airbags not deploying. There were very few occurrences, and no reports of crashes, fires, injuries, or fatalities. So, the investigation was closed. But, the NHTSA’s Office of Defects (ODI) “reserves the right to take additional action if warranted by new circumstances.”

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2021 GMC Sierra 1500 Complaint Summary

Complaint CategoryNumber of Complaints
Engine
46
46
Electrical System
26
26
Steering
17
17
Service Brakes
13
13
Power Train
9
9
Unknown Or Other
9
9
Fuel/propulsion System
8
8
Structure:body
5
5
Air Bags
4
4
Suspension
3
3

Problems with Fires

The NHTSA registers all fire incident complaints under Engine issues.

The wife of an owner from Missouri tells how less than five minutes after her husband had parked the car and brought their two children inside, a neighbor rang the doorbell to tell them something was on fire in the driveway. “We ran to the back to find his truck engulfed in flames coming from the engine. We quickly called 911 and exited the house/property. The truck continued to burn with 20-25 foot flames and very black smoke for about 40 minutes until the fire department was able to control the fire. The fire was hot enough that the entire engine was significantly burnt, the seats and steering wheel were gone, the glass shattered and melted, and the tires exploded and melted.” No cause was recorded.

An owner from New York had a similar experience. After returning from shopping, his wife noticed smoke coming from under the hood. This was followed by flames. Within five minutes “the entire front end of the truck was engulfed in flames.” The fire department investigators determined that the fire started at the back of the engine compartment near the battery.

A 2021 Sierra belonging to someone from South Carolina states that while driving at 60 mph, there was a noise under the hood, and then the vehicle exploded. The flames appeared next to the rear wheel on the driver’s side. He was able to extinguish the flames with a fire extinguisher. In this case, the dealership determined that the engine was faulty and it would be repaired (or replaced) under warranty.

Engine Lifter Failure

While many NHTSA complaints state the engine lifter malfunctions, there are many more that describe “bad” lifter symptoms without identifying the problem. For example, they talk about the truck shaking and/or vibrating, shuddering, or making loud knocking noises.

An owner from Virginia describes how the truck started making a loud noise and there was shuddering in the engine while traveling on the highway. The service manager drove the Sierra “briefly” and said he suspected the engine lifters were faulty. He “says this is a known issue with this truck and they currently have 3 other trucks in the shop with this same problem. He said parts are a 3-4 month wait and (the) vehicle is not driveable.” The service manager told the owner it would break down, “but couldn’t say when – could be 10 minutes, an hour, or a day.”

An owner from Pennsylvania reported that he had to replace eight lifters in his vehicle. This complaint also states that there is a shortage of parts because this is a nationwide problem. Symptoms included a knocking noise, shaking, and a lack of power.

An owner from Michigan heard a loud bang and had to pull off the highway. It was lifter failure that resulted in major engine damage.

“It seems that this is a known issue with GM. I was told by the dealership that there were two other trucks ahead of me with the same issue. Also, because this is such a prevalent issue with GM, they cannot keep up with the demand for parts. My dealership is waiting for a head gasket. GM has known about the faulty parts for approximately two years, and they are only replacing some of the faulty, poorly made parts, hoping the other side of the engine will not develop issues and fail.”

Electrical System Problems

Electrical system problems rank second on the list of complaints to the NHTSA. They vary, even though many issues are viewed as being linked to engine issues, and a few to steering problems. Other than that, there are issues with blank or black screens, dead batteries, rodents eating the soy-based wiring, and all sorts of error warnings.

An owner from Florida states that after driving three miles, there was suddenly an “ESC” (electronic stability control) warning, a parking brake warning, and a degraded power steering warning all at the same time. “My steering wheel started vibrating vigorously, a clanking sound started under the hood somewhere, and none of my safety features worked after.”

An owner from Texas had a main control computer system problem. When pulling a trailer with electric brakes with their vehicle, a warning light stating to check the trailer would illuminate on their instrument panel. The warning light would also state that the electric brakes had disconnected — and then reconnected shortly after. The failure occurred on a consistent basis. The dealer “confirmed that the computer system was known to have an issue due to the interference between the electric brakes and the LAD lights on the vehicle. However, there was no recall.”

Steering Problems

Many of the complaints about steering problems mention a warning message, “service power steering with care.” Others just state that the steering wheel stopped working or got stuck. Some say that the steering wheel “seized.”

An owner from California states that he lost the power steering while driving out of a parking lot. “A message appeared on the screen saying: Service Power Steering Drive with Care and an ESC message. A light also appeared. I was not able to steer at all and had to turn the truck off. I tried multiple times. After 5 minutes the message cleared as did the light.” This happened again the next day — also in the parking lot! “THIS IS VERY DANGEROUS. I have an appointment with the dealer. When looking up this problem it appears there are multiple recalls on other 2021 models but not the Sierra though.”

While driving, an owner from Massachusetts experienced backfiring. “The ESC light came on and the car engine seemed to become erratic as well as steering and braking error messages and the check engine started blinking. Very scary before I got it pulled over and very thankful I wasn’t on the highway.”

Brake Issues

Brake problems also vary, even though many coincide with engine, electrical system, and/or steering issues. For example, the trailer brake controller fails, the brake rotors warp, and the noise brake system fails. When this happened to one owner, he had to have it replaced.

The grandson of an owner “was driving in stop-and-go traffic, the braking system suddenly malfunctioned causing the vehicle to crash into the rear of a second vehicle.” He was driving at about 10 mph when, while pressing the brake pedal to stop, the message “brake failure” displayed just before the vehicle crashed into the rear of the second vehicle. Luckily, no one was injured. The local dealer replaced the master cylinder and brake booster.

Your Lemon Law Legal Rights

If your 2021 GMC Sierra 1500 has recurring problems that affect its use and/or value, you might have bought a lemon. If you’d like some free legal advice, contact Lemberg Law and we’ll assess your problems.

The law makes GMC pay legal fees, and every year, auto manufacturers buy back, replace, or pay cash settlements to thousands of ‘lemon’ owners. Call our Helpline or fill out a contact form, and we’ll get back to you.

Brian Jones

About the Author:

Brian Jones spent more than 30 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.

See more posts from Brian Jones
11 COMMENTS
  • Paul G

    I have a 2021 GMC Sierra AT4. The truck has been maintained and is mostly used in fair weather conditions. I live in south Louisiana and it has been raining off and on the past couple days. Leaving my g/f house I decided to engage the trucks 4 wheel drive for extra control on the wet roads. I followed the owners manual instructions and engaged the transmission. I put the truck in reverse and it started bucking and the steering was tight. I put the truck in drive and it made a loud noise and continued to buck. I stopped on the road, put the truck in park and set the settings back to two wheel drive. I left with no problems until that night. It’s foggy, still raining and I’m driving well below the posted speed limit when my check engine light comes on. Then the whole brake system warning lights light up as I’m approaching a red signal light. I pressed the brakes only to learn I had none. No vehicles were in front of me and I went through the light. Eventually, after applying the brakes several times they started working again, but the check engine light was still on. I brought the truck to the dealership where it was purchased and wrote my complaint on their sign in sheet. Every complaint I recorded the technician questioned me trying to find faults in my operation of the truck. I left it with them to fix the problem and haven’t heard anything back from them yet. As I’m typing this message I’m getting more upset because I’m realizing I could have gotten killed or killed somebody because the brake system on my 2021 truck with 32,000 miles brake system failed. I can’t help from thinking about the fact the truck is an All Terrain vehicle. With that in mind does this mean I’m stuck with a truck that I can’t use for the pleasure it was built for? An All Terrain AT4 GMC that can’t get wet? What should I do?

  • Sandra L

    I purchased a 2021 GMC Sierra 4×4 new prior to the vehicle warranty expiration the lifters needed replacing. I have been experiencing either brakes or some rear or transmission problem.
    Recently the check engines light came on. Code 1467 emission problem. Paid to have repairs done. Learned that the 2020 and 2019 had same problem causing a recall. Called GMC getting no where. All of these problems GMC should have to buy this junk back. A supervisor (retired) said Mondays and Fridays the workers were either intoxicated or hung over.

  • Lonnie G

    NEWS FLASH GMC Freedom Buick GMC. First advise do not buy GM products. I have a been GM customer for at least 45 years and in the last twenty years most of them have been not a reliable low maintenance vehicles. I have purchased the following new, 2000 Chevrolet C1500 had a loud engine cold knock, 2008 Avalanche cam shaft replaced after 35,000 miles, 2011 Chevrolet it was better than the previous except for that six speed transmission clonk in the drive train, 2021 GMC Sierra nothing but problems I have tried to get it in to the dealership for over 4 months no loaner cars available and will not offer a rental car and this all about saving the dealership money, I have a rattle noise in the dash reported to them before the warranty was up at 36K and they worked on this issue in the past said they fixed it got the truck back with same issue, since then other issues with this truck and I have passed the 36K mileage, here are the other issues, a engine whining noise, a roaring noise that sound sometimes like a wheel bearing or issues with the brake calipers on the passenger side of the truck, the back seat rattles on rough roads, down shifting to a stop the engine idles rough, the engines uses oil and the same old thing you can hear the lifters tapping especially on a cold start and I can hear the clearance of the brakes between the pads and rotors the clapping noise when applying the brakes. NEWS FLASH GMC just got off the phone with GM inquiring about a follow up on a compliant I filed about the vehicle and representative confirmed they will not be required to provide a rental car once they get it into dealership since the vehicle is outside the warranty. I paid almost 50 thousand dollars for a truck that is nothing but junk and I have driven vehicles for a long time and I may not know exactly what is wrong with one, but I know from experience things that are wrong with this truck that has just over a year old and 40k miles should not to happen if it has the quality and endurance that GM advertises. Some of these issues could be a safety issue on the highway and I have made the dealership aware of this. Do you think they have made contact with me? NO!!! No more GM Vehicles for me. I would not even give them a star if it was possible.

  • al p

    have a 2021 gmc sierra came home from work shut truck off opened door radio and lights stayed on for an hour did not shut off gm told me its a 2021 they have had problems with them

  • Jeffrey P

    I am having the exact same problems as David with stuttering at launch. Took it into GMC and they replace left back of rods. But problem is still happening. There is a service bulletin related to this problem but they can’t seem to fix it. PIP5776C

  • Mike J

    I bought my 2021 SLT MARCH 2021 5 months later I took it to the dealership because my touch screen was not working properly. 2 months later at 1200 k miles I noticed oil in my driveway under truck. Took it to the dealership they said it was a bad filter. Two months later I noticed I had a lot of oil on my under body. Took it back to the dealership and they said it was the oil pan leaking. Now the truck is missing on start up and clattering on start up. I’ve had enough with GMC products I’m gonna sell it. It has 1700K. Soon and by a KIA LOL.

  • David

    Purchased a 2021 GMC Sierra SLT in May 2021, first issue I had was the driver side Light. It had bad LED’s after complaining they replaced it 3 times. now it is fine. Next problem was at about 4,000 miles the truck started to hesitate and buck at start up feels like the trans but could also be misfire. complained dozens of times took it in and left it for days and all they said was it is normal. Took it to a different dealer and told them the story. they looked at the vehicle history and told me the dealer I purchased it from did not enter into the system all the time a I took it in for a warranty complaint and only showed my oil service records. After a few days of this dealer having it all they could say is it runs fine and until I get a engine light on there is nothing they can do. It has been two months now and every time I get into the truck and start to go it hesitates, chugs, or skips now it is starting to happen as I am driving at higher speeds.

  • joe

    2022 gmc less 500 miles hard shifting both upshifting and downshfting first complaint

  • Mike &

    What’s the noise in rear-end when going over a bump?

  • Craig

    I have a gmc 2021 , when am stopped at a light the engine will shutter like it’s going to stop , anyone know or have this kind of a problem? 5.8 v8 , Sierra , Denali pick-up

  • Trevor R

    hello i have a 2021 sierra slt 1500 harley davidson gmc truck. i purchased it 3-4 months ago. first issue was multi tailgate was working they fixed it. At 1800 miles my battery went dead had to jump start the the truck. Truck has been driving the same since had an appointment to do audio upgrades . Truck now is currently smokin and sparks are comin from under the hood . Had it towed to the nearest dealership they went to the glove box and seen 5k in audio receipts. The first thing that came out the the dealer mouth was it’s not goin to be covered over warranty. Are we allowed to upgrade our audio system can the dealership blame a 3 rd party . Can i sue the dealership he said they would take.a another look . but i don’t like that not under warranty talk

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