2021 Kia Seltos Problems and Top Complaints – Is Your Car A Lemon?

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

Updated on Author: Brian Jones | Reviewer: Sergei Lemberg

The 2021 Kia Seltos is a crossover that turns heads. While the automaker claims it is “made to do more,” many customers are finding that the “more” means additional time at the dealership service department. Complaints report defective electrical systems, malfunctioning engines, and poor suspension.

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

Most Common Problems with the 2021 Kia Seltos

As complaints about the 2021 Kia Seltos continue to grow, it is clear that the focus of complaints largely remains unchanged. Top contenders in terms of numbers of complaints filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) by the end of August 2023 are the engine (61), powertrain, including transmission (21), and the electrical system (23). Some complaints are listed in more than one category, including some transmission problems that are listed with the NHTSA as being engine problems.

Generally, engine problems are varied. But the fact that there is a recall that relates to damaged engines stalling and increasing the risk of a crash and fire, has alerted many 2021 Kia Seltos owners to the possibility of malfunctions. An added problem is that several complaints to the NHTSA since the recall state that their vehicles have the symptoms, but they don’t qualify!

Transmission issues are increasing, with complainants stating that they lose acceleration when transmission fails. Some say that the engine overheats causing the gears to skip. There are also reports of drivers losing control of vehicles.

Electrical system problems are also varied. Complaints range from the horn of the car being “inoperable and inaudible” to major battery problems caused by faulty electrical components.

2021 Kia Seltos Complaint Summary

Complaint CategoryNumber of Complaints
Engine
70
Power Train
27
Electrical System
23
Unknown Or Other
21
Fuel/propulsion System
8
Seat Belts
4
Service Brakes
4
Vehicle Speed Control
4
Electronic Stability Control
3
Forward Collision Avoidance: Warnings
3

Problems with the Engine

While no one expects the Seltos to break world speed records, it should still be equipped with a functioning engine. Instead, a growing list of engine-related complaints indicate that there are major issues with malfunctioning engines. The most common of them relate to defective piston oil rings that cause oil to leak out of the engine.

A recall for “Improperly Heat-Treated Piston Oil Rings” (NHTSA Campaign Number 21V259000) was issued in April 2021 for 147,249 Kia vehicles including the 2021 Seltos and 2020 and  2021 Kia Soul. The recall states “A damaged engine may stall, increasing the risk of a crash. In addition, oil may leak onto hot exhaust components, increasing the risk of a fire.”

Kia states that the engines of affected vehicles will be replaced free of charge. Additionally, piston ring-noise sensing system (PNSS) software will be deployed.

An owner from South Carolina stated in a complaint in July 2021 that “while driving at various speeds, the vehicle was driving very rough and stalled.” The local dealer diagnosed that there was no oil in the engine and replaced it. The owner only received a recall notification after the failure had been remedied

But other owners haven’t been this lucky.

Dealerships Won’t Acknowledge the Problem

For example, an owner from Ohio discovered her Seltos was leaking oil when she took it in for an oil change. At the time there was also “a loud knocking sound coming from the engine.” Although the issue appeared to correspond with the recall notification, the VIN wasn’t included in the recall and the dealer said nothing was wrong.

An owner from California experienced stalling, a failed brake, and then issues changing from Drive to Park. Several error messages illuminated including the engine malfunction and engine oil pressure warning lights. After having the Seltos towed to a dealership, she was charged $44.99 for an “oil fill” because there was no oil in the car. They maintained there was no oil leakage, but she insisted on an oil consumption test to see if her car had the piston oil ring defect. At the time of the complaint she was waiting for feedback.

An owner from California took her 2021 Seltos to be inspected in terms of the recall. The oil, check engine, and battery lights had come on when the vehicle stalled. The dealership “told me the car had zero oil in it and accused me of not getting frequent routine oil changes.” Instead of doing an oil change, they topped up the oil and stated “I needed to drive it for another 1,000 miles so they can examine it again.” While they admitted the car was experiencing signs of the recall, they said they couldn’t simply request an engine replacement. “When I mentioned the risk of the car catching on fire and my concerns, the service associate replied, ‘That is not likely to happen’, as if that is supposed to make me feel better.” She said the vehicle was “terrifying to drive, but it is my only car.”

Dealers Refuse to Follow Through on the Recall

Having received a recall notification, an owner from Indiana found it impossible to schedule the recall repair and complained to the NHTSA. Another reported taking his Seltos to an independent mechanic several times because of abnormal rattling noises. The mechanic said the car was “consuming an excessive amount of engine oil.” Soon after, he received the recall notification. But the dealership would only agree to install the software and not replace the piston rings or engine.

An owner from Maryland’s car shut off with both the engine and battery lights flashing. There was also an engine malfunction warning. After it had stalled twice in the middle of the highway, he had it towed to the nearest dealership. Several days later they said “there was no oil in the engine and the engine would need to be repaired. I never had an oil light come on until the vehicle stalled out. They are saying that because there was no oil in it, I was not keeping up with the maintenance and that it voids the warranty. So now I have to come up with $10,200 to replace the engine block. My car only had 25,516 miles on it and had 3 oil changes prior to it shutting down.”

Another owner who received the recall notification states that a vibration test was done and a program update was installed to detect vibration. But, the vehicle still has the recalled damaged oil rings and it “stalls out, runs rough and continues to worsen.” He asked when the piston rings would be replaced. “They stated they didn’t know of any such repair” and said the car had been repaired. “So I guess I wait till the engine stalls causing a wreck or the vehicle ignites into flames. I’m scared to drive the car and financially stuck with it because no one is willing to do anything more than what’s been done.”

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Transmission Problems

Complaints to the NHTSA are logged in the Powertrain and Engine categories, sometimes in both. They relate to vehicles losing power, not accelerating adequately, surging when accelerating and failing to pick up speed, and gear-shifting issues. There are also complaints that state that the engine overheats, causing the gears to slip.

When there are transmission issues, the engine light often comes on when the Seltos won’t shift gears. In many instances, multiple error messages and lights display.

Failed Transmission After 2,000 Miles

An owner from Massachusetts had difficulty shifting between gears. It got progressively worse until he wasn’t able to switch from “automatic off” and go back into gear. Later, while driving at about 60 mph on a highway, the Seltos failed to engage a gear again and the engine light came on. The dealership said the SUV needed a new transmission and confirmed he’d seen this problem in other Kia Seltos vehicles.

Transmission Failure Linked to Engine Surging when Accelerating

Several owners have complained that their vehicles surge when accelerating. Typically, they soon stop accelerating and dealerships diagnose transmission failure. In an Engine complaint, an owner from Washington states that the engine “felt like it was surging slightly.” After 5 minutes, it was “really surging and no matter how hard you pressed on the accelerator, the speedometer would max out at 65.” Finally, it “died on the freeway.”

The owner managed to get the Seltos to a dealer who said the transmission had blown. They were to order a new transmission from Korea, leaving the owner without a car for almost 2 months.”

Problems with Shaking, Sputtering, and Stalling

An owner from New Hampshire states: “When I start up my Seltos after not driving it for hours the engine sputters to the point it almost dies. When I put it in reverse it will either stall or start bucking. And when in Drive the transmission will get stuck in a specific gear until I manually shift it.”

While driving at 50 mph, an owner from New York found that “the transmission began to rev uncontrollably as the steering wheel started shaking without warning.”

The vehicle would begin to hesitate when pressing down on the accelerator pedal, and it “stalled without warning.” The dealer diagnosed transmission failure, but several weeks after the incident, the vehicle had not been repaired and was still with the dealer. The failure mileage was approximately 4,700.”

Electrical System Issues

A properly functioning electrical system can make or break a car. Many of the complaints lodged with the NHTSA report recurring problems that might indicate vehicles are lemons. But there is no one common issue.  Complaints relate to all sorts of faults and malfunctions.

For example, an owner from Nevada states that after the HVAC blower wouldn’t work, the dealer discovered melted relays. Then, a week after they’d replaced the entire engine wiring harness, “I started to get a burnt electrical smell through the vents. I looked in the engine fuse box and there were melted relays again.”

An owner from Minnesota states that the entire electrical system kept resetting while driving. Discovery of an “inoperable and inaudible” horn caused an owner from Ohio to complain.

An owner from Pennsylvania states that on multiple occasions that fuel-saving system turns the engine off. On release of the brake pedal, the engine fails to restart straight away. While the cause of the failure was unclear, the owner figured it had something to do with the electrical system.

Probably Battery Problems

Faced with a 2021 Seltos that wouldn’t start on two occasions, an owner from South Carolina turned to the NHTSA for help. The complaint states that it appears to be due to a dead battery, but “the dealership has been unable to locate a problem. Looking online and it appears to be an issue that Kia is aware of but not owning up to. This is my wife’s car and should she get stranded her personal safety could be at risk. The dealership did admit that there could be something like an electrical component that stays on and is causing the drain but they said it could take a long time to find it or they might never find it. The car has only 8700 miles on it. We recently saw a recall on other Kias that are catching fire. Could this be a similar component that is draining our car battery?”

What Should You Do If Your 2021 Kia Seltos is a Lemon

Do you think your 2021 Kia Seltos might be a lemon? If so, why not sit back and let the experts work out your lemon case at no cost to you? The law makes Kia pay legal fees. You may be able to get your lemon out of your life. Every year, auto manufacturers buy back, replace or pay cash settlements to thousands of ‘lemon’ owners like you.

All you have to do is call the Lemberg Law Helpline or fill out a contact form and we will assess your problems.

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
7 COMMENTS
  • Tony

    2021 Seltos. When I come to stop at an incline, engine shuts off as it should but when I let off break and push gas petal the engine will not start and I drift several feet backwards till I realize it not turning on and I hit the breaks. If someone is ever behind me, for which so far has not, I will definitely hit them and then WHO’s FAULT IS IT ? Called dealer to ask if this “gas assist” can be turned off permanently and he said no, you can only use the “push button” to bypass it, so that means I have to remember to always push the button after starting the engine.

  • A H

    I have a 2022 Kia Seltos EX and the suspension sucks. I’m going to the dealership soon. I think I’m at 44k and there’s no reason to have squeaking struts and shocks all around a brand new car. Also my car has stalled out 3 times with the auto on off system. I come to a light and it hesitate to run then cuts off. I have to constantly do this.

  • Kimberly B

    My 2021 Seltos has had the transmission almost overheat twice in slow rolling traffic. It wants me to pull over and put the car in park to let it cool off. This is a new car and should not have these issues. accidents or road work or whatever happens daily causing traffic back ups. I have contacted the dealership about a month ago with absolute no response from them.

  • Jennifer

    My 2021 KIA Seltos with only 32,000km had a complete engine failure. I am now without a car for at least a month with no loaner or rental. I was told it “should” be covered under warranty but they have to do an assessment. The only way KIA will cover the cost of a rental is if the part is in back order. This is a brand new vehicle, I am very disappointed by their response.

  • Charles C

    My 2021 seltos 2.0 uses 1 qt of oil every 1000 miles and I was told that it is normal and there is nothing wrong with the car

  • Kathleen G

    I was involved in a collision a month ago where I needed to come to a fast stop and the brake pedal went all the way to the floor board and failed to stop my vehicle causing it to crash into a car in front of me. I’m actually lucky to wasn’t worse, but my car sustained a tremendous amount of damage and is still in the repair shop. I contacted my Kia dealer and explained what happened to them, and their response was that they haven’t heard of any brake issues. My response was, “now you have, and I know that if my brakes had been working properly that the accident could have been prevented”. I discussed this with my insurance company and they said it would be hard to prove. The vehicle hasn’t been taken tot he dealership yet, but if the brakes aren’t working, isn’t that proof? If they are working, they still failed when I needed them and I refuse to drive that car ever again. On top of it all, I have a high deductible and no car rental on my insurance policy, so it’s all out of pocket. Not happy about that at all!

  • LP

    Last week on Monday I noticed my electronic gas mileage didn’t update while filling my tank, but the physical gauge did. Luckily I had an oil change appt the next day so I called my KIA dealer to make sure they could look at it. Said it was a bad sensor and they replaced it. Awesome. Thursday rolls around and I fill my tank up. I notice by Sunday my gas gauge isn’t moving from full, regardless of using gas, but this time the electronic one was changing. So I call them again, no answer they are busy whatever. The next day I’m driving into work, gauge still not moving and I WATCHED my electronic mileage go from 145 miles to 311?! I’m on I75 in Michigan. I got to my exit, making my way to work, all the sudden I cannot accelerate my car anymore and its slowing down fast. I hit my gas to try and get to a safe space and my gas pedal was acting like a break, it slowed me down even more. I coast into a spot and my Engine, Oil, and battery light were all on. I turned my car fully off, waited a second, was able to start my car again but it wouldn’t move. I got my cat towed to the dealership and they are saying I have a bad fuel pump?
    Leaves me with a few questions. Why was I able to start my car again? Why did my engine, oil, and battery light come on? Did they even check my transmission? Did they check my engine? Is the fuel pump going in and out or completely dead?
    They called me to tell me about 10 minutes before they closed for the day. I didn’t think of all these questions until after the phone call ended and now they are closed.
    I’m honestly scared they don’t want to put a ton of money into my car and I’m driving an unsafe vehicle. My Seltos is a 2021 with 10k miles on it. Ive only gone to my KIA dealership for any maintenance.

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