2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Problems and Top Complaints – Is Your Car A Lemon?

Powertrain, engine, cracking windshield, and shattering sunroof issues are among the top complaints received by the NHTSA from vehicle owners

Updated on Author: Brian Jones | Reviewer: Sergei Lemberg

Having a family-friendly SUV should be exciting and fun. The automaker claims that the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe is “more than ready,” but ready for what? With numerous problems the automaker doesn’t appear to be able to fix, many owners are frustrated and ready to get rid of their Santa Fe vehicles.  

Click on other model year to view more problems:  2019   2020   2022   2023

Most Common Problems

Judging by the complaints lodged with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) about the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe, powertrain (35%) and engine problems (26%) are the biggest issues. There are also significant complaints about the electrical system (17%) and forward collision avoidance (12%). But complaints are intertwined, with owners reporting similar issues in all of these categories.

An analysis of the situation shows that most of the complaints are related to an unresolved loss of drive power issue that resulted in a recall in October 2022. But there are also serious transmission problems that may or may not be related to these. And because the recall is linked to a transmission oil pump malfunction, there are also fuel system-related complaints that are clearly connected.

A substantial number of complaints across the board relate to parts required for five of the six recalls affected in the 2021 Santa Fe not being available. There are also a large number of complaints about windshields that crack and sunroofs that shatter.

Additional complaints include brakes that fail and emergency brakes that come on for no reason, vehicles that accelerate suddenly when drivers aren’t accelerating, and issues that point to a problem with the refill inverter coolant.

We’ve mentioned some of the components and systems that are involved, but others include airbags, back-over prevention, exterior lighting, lane departure, seats and seat belts, steering, the structure of the vehicle, tires, trailer hitches, and vehicle speed control.

Six Recalls Affect the 2021 Santa Fe

The first recall that affected the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe was issued in March 2021. The most recent was issued two years later, in March 2023, and it’s the most serious so far.

Listed as a trailer hitch issue, NHTSA Campaign number 23V181000 warns that 584,784 Hyundai vehicles including 2019-2023 Santa Fe and 2021-2023 Santa Fe hybrids may have faulty tow hitch harness modules. The issue is that water can accumulate on the module and cause an electrical short that can result in a fire. For this reason, owners are warned to park away from structures until the remedy is complete. As recently as June 2023, there was a complaint that stated the recall part was not available.

Another extremely serious recall, NHTSA Campaign number 22V746000, relates to the loss of drive power. Dated October 6, 2022, it supposedly affects 56,148 vehicles including 2021-2022 Santa Fe models. The problem here is that the vehicle’s “fail-safe” limited-mobility drive mode may be impaired by a transmission oil pump malfunction. When this happens, the result is “a complete loss of drive power.” Dealers are instructed to inspect and replace transmissions “as necessary.” But there are numerous complaints about the recall repair parts not being available as well as complaints that repairs are ineffective.

There are also two recalls that relate to the fuel system, one of which is due to a fuel leak that is also a fire risk. The other is because a pipe may not be properly tightened. An Airbag recall warns that the The Occupant Detection System (ODS) module may not deactivate the airbag when it detects a child restraint system in the front passenger seat. And there is also a recall initiated because of inadequate windshield bonding that can cause the windshield to detach in a crash.

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Complaint Summary

Complaint Category Number of Complaints
Power Train
Unknown Or Other
Electrical System
Forward Collision Avoidance: Automatic Emergency Braking
Fuel/propulsion System
Forward Collision Avoidance: Warnings
Vehicle Speed Control
Service Brakes

Loss of Drive Power Problems

Complaints about loss of drive power are filed as powertrain, engine, electrical, and forward collision avoidance issues. A lot are regarded as being related to two, sometimes three components. Some owners report that the gas pedal stops working. Others say that the car hesitates while depressing the accelerator or that the car fails to accelerate. A few state that when their vehicles lose motive power or cuts out, the SUV stalls without warning. Descriptions are varied.

In February 2023, an owner lost motive power and stalled while driving at 70 mph. The vehicle was towed to the dealer who said the engine must be replaced. It was, but the failure recurred two weeks later. This time, the dealer said it was “a computer mapping failure which was resolved by the replacement of an unknown part.” The complaint states that they refused to “provide a detailed repair bill without contacting the manufacturer for permission to provide it to the owner.”

In June 2022, after being with a dealer three times for more than 40 days in all, Hyundai replaced the fuel injectors they claimed were causing a Santa Fe to cut out and stall. It took 35 days to get the parts, but the vehicle “ran like new” for 150 miles after the repair. Then the failure started recurring. This time, the technician couldn’t find any problems because there were no active codes. On the way home, the SUV lost power again.

“My concern is Hyundai has no idea what the problem is. They know there is a dangerous problem. The service manager drove the car/confirmed himself there is a serious issue. My other concern is the Hyundai dealership knowingly sent me away in a car they had confirmed for themselves was unsafe, nearly causing an accident on the highway.

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Dealers Can’t Fix Problem

A complaint listed as being an unknown or other problem states that the engine shut off while driving at 70 mp in a mountainous region of Pennsylvania. There were two adults and a child in the car. The engine start button didn’t respond and there was zero acceleration and zero power. But the vehicle kept moving and the diver was able to get to the shoulder of the road with hazard lights flashing. “Once I was able to merge to the shoulder, I shifted into park and sat there for about a minute while I tried to calm my family down from what had happened so unexpectedly. After a minute or so, I was able to start the vehicle back up and nervously proceeded back on the highway to continue on with the rest of the trip.”

On their return, Hyundai kept the vehicle for two days and drove it 120 miles, but couldn’t recreate the problem. “Without the issue being recreated, there is nothing they will do for my family.”

An owner from Texas describes a “very dangerous condition.” The Santa Fe fails to accelerate from stops, then nearly stalls in the traffic lane. It also cuts out, decelerating when the accelerator is pushed to the floor, “risking being rear-ended by following cars. By the time car is ready to take to dealer for analysis the fault has corrected and there is no active code for diagnosis.” Nevertheless, the vehicle was repaired twice. But the problem recurs.

Another owner states that his Santa Fe had stalling issues after about 18 months of ownership. Then in a two-month period, it shut down more than 12 times. Hyundai has inspected the SUV twice but “they can’t find any faults when running a scan and said that the car is just fine.”

Transmission Problems

As with loss of drive power, owners file transmission problems in various categories, believing they are related to issues that involve the powertrain, engine, electrical system, and forward collision avoidance. Some report a loss of power related to the faulty transmission that needs to be replaced. But most can be found under Powertrain.

An owner from North Carolina states that the transmission goes out of gear while driving. Despite being inspected by Hyundai five times, the problem persists. Additionally, the transmission was reset as part of the transmission recall, which also doesn’t help.

In February 2023, an owner reported that the “gas pedal stops working while driving down the road.” He lodged the complaint after it happened three times. But the dealership can’t find what’s wrong with the SUV. So, “Hyundai and the dealership said they can’t fix it.”

The day after receiving the recall notification, another owner experienced loss of mobility. The SUV was towed to the dealership and the owner was told the transmission needed to be replaced. However, it was going to take at least a month to get a new transmission.

An owner from Texas had a similar experience, though he was alerted by beeping sounds before the SUV lost notice power. This happened several times. Eventually the Powertrain Control Module (PCM) lith came on. The dealer “flushed” the transmission, but the failure recurred two weeks later. This time, the dealer refilled the transmission fluid, but the failure persisted. Eventually, the dealer said the transmission would need to be replaced.

While many owners state that they are waiting for new transmissions, an owner from Indiana first had the transmission electric oil pump replaced. But after driving less than two miles, the SUV lost power again. Then the transmission assembly was replaced and that didn’t help either.

Cracking Windshields & Shattering Sunroofs

Windshield and sunroof problems are filed as either visibility or visibility/wiper issues. There are more windshield complaints, but both issues are equally traumatic for Santa Fe owners.

One owner reports an issue that relates to the windshield and the sunroof. Both were showing cracks, and it emerged that “parts of the glass had detached.” The complaint doesn’t mention the windshield-related recall, but it sounds like this may well have been an issue with the windshield not bonding properly to the vehicle.

Cracking Windshields

Typically, owners complaining about windshields that crack state that nothing struck the windshield. For example, an owner from Florida states that repairmen on their property saw the rear windshield shatter and vouched that nothing impacted it. In this case, the glass was repaired under the warranty.

But not everyone has witnesses and sometimes owners find the problem recurs.

The first time an owner from Alabama was affected was when his wife was driving the Santa Fe at about 60 mph. There was an 8-inch horizontal crack from the driver to the passenger side of the windshield and she thought a small rock had hit it. The windshield was repaired. But then a month later, while she was driving, “she heard an abnormal noise on the windshield.” She didn’t notice any cracks until the next day when there was another 8-inch horizontal crack from the driver to the passenger side of the windshield. At the time of the complaint, the second cracked windshield had not been repaired.

An owner from North Carolina tells how when driving at about 25 mph, a “small pebble hit the top part of the windshield cracking it instantly and creating a rupture line from top to bottom of the windshield. Windshield glass seems very unsafe to sustain any kind of stress. It looks like other Hyundai models are showing the same problems with these windshields.”

An owner from Florida states that “our windshield started cracking for no reason while driving. Only had the car for a month and less than 1,000 miles. Nothin hit it. This is ridiculous being a brand new vehicle.”

Shattering Sunroofs

Owners of the 2021 Santa Fe have been complaining about dysfunctional sunroofs for years.

In May 2021, an owner from California “was driving on the freeway with the sunroof closed when I heard a very loud bang. I pulled off to check the exterior but saw nothing.” After driving for another hour or more, “it started sounding like the sunroof was open. I pulled over to check it and it was destroyed. Shattered with a large hole in it.” The response from Hyundai was to “report the incident to insurance  even though the car is less than 1-month-old.”

An owner from Los Angeles describes how the sunroof glass exploded while driving on the interstate. “It sounded like a gunshot.” The cover was closed, but the driver ended up with shattered glass all over her. “The incredibly loud noise startled me tremendously and could (have) caused a collision because of my focus being taken away from the road.”

An owner from Pennsylvania had a nasty experience in August 2023. “noticed a crackling sound driving my daughter to daycare on Friday August 11. I couldn’t figure out what it was. The next day I was on the highway, my husband driving our car and my toddler in the back when there was a loud pop like a gunshot. We pulled over (and) assessed the car and realized the panoramic roof was shattering. We drove it home and realized the front piece above the windshield was also shattering and there was no impact.” It wasn’t covered under warranty.

Your Lemon Law Legal Rights

If your 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe has problems that recur, you might have a lemon on your hands. But did you know that every year, auto manufacturers buy back, replace or pay cash settlements to thousands of ‘lemon’ owners?

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
  • Heriberto H

    I have a 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe. I have problemas with the shift selector. The suv has been taken for service three times and the technicians haven been able to fix the problem.

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