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

Engine, powertrain, and airbag issues are among the top complaints received by the NHTSA from vehicle owners

Updated on Author: Brian Jones | Reviewer: Sergei Lemberg

The 2021 Kia Soul has a unique look and is sure to stand out. The automaker claims that the newer models contain “next-level versatility,” but a growing number of customers aren’t impressed. Drivers are complaining that engines malfunction, transmissions fail, and airbags don’t deploy, causing injuries.  

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

Common Problems Summary

Most complaints lodged with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) relate to engine and powertrain malfunctions. In addition to faulty transmissions, owners are stating that their cars use excessive oil and lose power, and that their engines make all sorts of noises and fail. There is also a longstanding recall that relates to piston oil rings that may cause engine damage.

Problems with airbags that don’t deploy is another issue, with complainants reporting injuries because of this. Other components and systems with multiple complaints include the electrical system, steering, fuel/propulsion system, brakes, and exterior lighting. Complaints also highlight problems with forward collision avoidance, lane departure, the structure of the car (leaking water), suspension, visibility (exploding sunroof), visibility/wiper, and wheels.

There are also a substantial number of complaints listed as being unknown or other problems. These range from cars that are stolen because of a design flaw to a car that caught fire and caused a house to burn down.

Engine-Related Recall

In April 2021, Kia issued a recall, NHTSA Campaign Number 21V259000, that affects 147,249 Soul and Seltos vehicles. Some 2020-2021 Soul and 2021 Seltos models have piston oil rings that might not have been heat-treated according to company guidelines. If the piston oil rings become unseated, this could cause engine damage. If this happens, there’s a danger that the engine might stall, increasing the risk of a crash. The other caveat is that oil could leak onto the hot exhaust, increasing the risk of fire.

By April 2023, 120,218 vehicles had been “remedied,” but 10,150 were “unreachable” because the automaker wasn’t able to deliver recall notifications.

2021 Kia Soul Complaint Summary

Complaint CategoryNumber of Complaints
Unknown Or Other
Power Train
Electrical System
Air Bags
Fuel/propulsion System
Service Brakes
Exterior Lighting

Engine Problems

Engine problems are varied but seem to be related. Overall, they involve engine noises and loss of power as well as excessive oil use. Several complaints state that their cars were recalled but the parts weren’t available. Many state that their cars aren’t included in the recall but they seem to have problems that fit the recall description.

A few months after the recall was issued, an owner from Texas was told that the part to do the recall was unavailable. When the engine failure message displayed, he had the car towed to the dealer for a diagnosis. The dealer said there “was no oil in the vehicle” and there was “an oil flow failure.” But the car wasn’t repaired because the required part wasn’t available.

In February 2022, nearly a year after the recall was issued, an owner from Georgia took her 2021 Soul to have the recall repair done. They replaced the piston rings but the Piston Ring Noise Sensing System (PNSS) software was not updated as it was not available. Soon afterward, the vehicle stalled while she was driving at between 35 and 45 mph. She managed to restart the car and continue driving. But the next day the failure recurred. Additionally, there was a warning message that “the Auto Collision was about to be deactivated.” The failure continued to recur until the car wouldn’t start at all.

The owner was advised that the part needed to complete the recall repair still wasn’t available and wouldn’t be until April or May 2022.

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Excessive Oil Use

An alarming factor about excessive oil use is that owners have been complaining about this for years. In June 2021, soon after buying a 2021 Kia Soul, an owner from Florida discovered that coolant and oil levels were low. There were no warning lights and she only found out when she inspected the car. The second time she went to the dealership, they said she must take the car back after 1,000 miles to check the oil and coolant levels. But the very next day, the coolant level had begun to run low. Additionally, the auto-start feature had failed. She was offered a trade-in and took another vehicle.

Another owner had a similar problem though the check engine warning light was illuminated. An independent mechanic inspected the car and said the “crank sensor was faulty.” He went to the dealer who said “the drain plug gasket needed to be replaced and that every 1,000 miles a quart of oil needed to be added.” They repaired the vehicle, but the owner was very concerned about having to add oil every 1,000 miles.

An owner from Virginia states that the Soul has been “burning oil since day one.” In June 2023 the dealer said that all he had to do to fix the problem was change the oil every 4k miles. In October 2023, he was told by someone at the dealership that he had repaired many Kia MY2021. He “asked me to call Kia to get the engine replaced, because the car is gonna get me killed.”

An owner from Puerto Rico states that his Kia Soul “consumes excessive oil” and there is “a slight knocking in the engine.” Even though the car was still under “guarantee,” the dealer demanded a deposit of $300 to check it.

Noise, Stalling and Engine Failure

Many owners say that their cars simply shut down. For example, “While driving my Kia Soul 2021 it had a complete engine failure. Completely shut down!”

Noises range from ticking noises and high-pitched squealing to rattles. In January 2023, an owner noticed his 2021 Kia Soul was making engine noises. The next day, “there was a loud boom and total loss of power while driving.” He had the vehicle towed and said, “We are now awaiting approval for total engine replacement via warranty.”

An owner from Arizona states that the car suddenly started rattling loudly. A co-worker said the noise seemed to be coming from the engine. He also had issues with the car shutting off “if I slowed down or was pulling into a parking space.”

An owner from Florida reports that his vehicle shuts off after idling in traffic or at red lights. “It goes completely dead and will not turn back on for 5 minutes or so. I have had the car for 11 months and it is currently at the dealership having the engine replaced for the third time. Kia has diagnosed the problem as ‘low compression’ in the engine but does not know why — so their solution is replacing the engine whenever it starts stalling again.”

Problems with the Powertrain

Some powertrain complaints are similar to those filed as engine issues. For example, owners say their cars make noises, shudder, shake, and lose power. But some complaints relate specifically to the transmission. Lemberg Law is already investigating owner complaints about Kia Soul transmission problems experienced by owners of both the 2020 and 2021 models. So, we know that it isn’t isn’t a new issue.

One of the first powertrain-related complaints to the NHTSA was from an owner in Florida in May 2021. While driving on the interstate, “my car started making a loud noise and decelerated. It seemed to lose power. I turned around and started home as I was very frightened. The car accelerated without pressing the gas (and) decelerated without pressing the brake.” Most of the time the car “seemed to have no power.” The owner got the Soul, which had only 3,400 miles on the clock, to the dealer. “They told me it has to have a new transmission. They said they are replacing the (IVT) transmission with a different kind and it will be safe — not to worry.”

An owner from Arizona also needed a new transmission. ”The vehicle started losing power. the engine would rev up but the car wouldn’t go. The car had to be towed to the dealership because the vehicle would not engage in drive or reverse. The dealership is replacing the transmission. It is the IVT transmission.”

Another owner reports having transmission issues within less than a month of ownership when the car had less than 1,000 miles on the clock. The dealership replaced the transmission. But two years later the problems started again. He had the car towed to a dealership and was told they would diagnose the problem. Three months later he was still waiting.

Fire Related Problems

After being parked in the garage for more than 24 hours, a Soul caught fire. The owner from South Carolina states, “my house burned and all my belongings and the home were a total loss.” A fire origination specialist identified the spot where the fire started — exactly where the Kia Soul had been parked. “The car was charred and the Chrysler 300 parked next to it was also damaged but recognizable.” Insurance companies were investigating the cause at the time of the complaint.

An owner from Tennessee was driving when the car started to lose power and the service engine light came on. Less than a minute later, “there was a big boom.” The driver moved to the shoulder of the road, where it stalled. “I tried to restart the car and it (was) just engulfed in flames. The car is a total loss. All that was left was a metal shell.”

Where there’s smoke, there may be fire. Luckily for an owner from Michigan, this didn’t happen. “I was speeding up to merge on the freeway, pressed my foot hard on the gas, it went slow and a lot of smoke came from the back of the vehicle. I took my vehicle to a Kia dealership and was told that (it) has nothing to do with the recall.”

Complaining that his car should have been assigned the recall, another owner states he’s afraid that the faults in his car might result in fire. “My vehicle experienced engine stall, loss of power, and leaking oil onto hot components which could have resulted in fire. I was stalled and in traffic and could also have been hit by another vehicle. The engine is now having to be replaced at the dealership.”

Airbag Problems

Airbags are designed to help save lives and prevent injuries in the event of a car crash. But when they don’t deploy, there is a very real danger that people will be hurt.

A driver from Alabama feared being burned alive when her 2021 Kia Soul caught on fire after crashing at about 50 mph after a Chevy Silverado pulled in front of her. According to her father, “My daughter survived the crash. However, the vehicle immediately caught on fire and flames entered the cabin from what was left of the engine compartment.” The airbag had inflated but didn’t deploy. So to be able to get out of the burning car, she had to use “repeated Black Belt level martial arts’ kicks and elbow thrusts.” She managed to get out just before “the car was consumed by flames.” He appeals to the NHTSA to “Please investigate – no one should have to suffer (the) fate of burning to death.”

A Jeep Gladiator ran a red light while an owner from Florida was crossing an intersection. The front and side airbags didn’t deploy. The front end was damaged and buckled, the fenders were crushed and the grill was destroyed. The driver’s door wouldn’t open. “The seatbelt didn’t restrain my wife enough to keep her from hitting the steering wheel. This caused bruises on her leg, abdomen, and chest areas.”

A Soul from Virginia was totaled when it crashed. The “airbags didn’t deploy with hard frontal contact. The front end is destroyed and (the) frame is bent.”

An owner from Ohio was injured during “a crash that severely impacted the front end of this vehicle and the airbags did not deploy.”

Theft Issues

An owner from Wisconsin states in an NHTSA complaint that the plastic ignition switch for his car “is an invitation to steal my car. Which is exactly what happened. I could have been harmed had I seen this happening. Many people on the streets of Milwaukee could have been harmed as well because my stolen vehicle ended up in a police car chase and caused almost $9,000 worth of damage.” He maintains that Kia knows about this problem but makes no effort to warn customers. He also states that he wouldn’t have bought the car if he’d known about the problem.

Another owner states that his car was stolen “using a known design flaw. Now both of my cars are in the shop because of this.”

What If You Have a Lemon?

If you think you might have bought a lemon, Lemberg Law is willing to assess your problems free of charge and advise you.

Every year, auto manufacturers buy back, replace, or pay cash settlements to thousands of ‘lemon’ owners. Furthermore, they are mandated by law to pay the costs of lemon law cases. So call our Helpline or fill out a contact form and we’ll see what we can do to help 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

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