11 Most Common Kia Niro Problems (Explained)

The Kia Niro is a subcompact crossover that delivers outstanding fuel economy and good value for money.

After the hybrid model was introduced in 2017, plug-in hybrid and EV models soon followed.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the Kia Niro’s common problems and their solutions.

1. Heat Exchanger Coolant Leak

The first generation Kia Niro from 2017 to 2022 has a heat exchanger that can leak coolant and cause the car to overheat.

The heat exchanger runs coolant through the catalytic converter so that the engine reaches operating temperature much quicker. It also warms up the heater core quicker during the winter.

Over time, the coolant lines can crack and cause coolant to leak out through the exhaust system.

Common symptoms of a faulty heat exchanger include:

  • Low coolant level
  • Coolant/white smoke leaking out of exhaust pipe
  • Poor heater performance
  • Check engine light

Here’s how owners described their experience on KiaNiroForum.com:

“I have a 2017 Kia Niro(first owner) with 65k miles. My heater stopped working and a day later I received an engine overheating warning. I checked the coolant and appeared bone dry… After performing some tests they determined my catalytic converter had been filling with coolant and burning it off causing smoke out the exhaust… Repair bill was quoted at $5200.”

“2019 PHEV Niro, 37k miles… I have been closely monitoring my engine coolant level since hearing of this potential problem… I went to the dealer as soon as I noticed a drop in coolant level. Same day diagnosis, faulty heat exchanger.”

‘I have a 2018 EX PHEV with 44K miles. In May I had the white fog of maple syrup death coming out of my vents and coolant level was low. Brought to one dealer and they couldn’t find leak. Brought it to another dealer and turned out to be the catalytic converter heat exchanger leak.”

Many Niro owners encounter the heat exchanger problem at around 50,000 miles, which is right around the time the 60,000-mile warranty expires. 

If you discover the leak outside of the warranty period, a new heat exchanger will cost over $2,000.

Many Niro owners simply bypass the heat exchanger using a hose and some fittings to avoid the expensive repair bill. 

This workaround has no effect on the car’s drivability, but the engine and heater core may take a bit longer to warm up compared to before.

2. Blown Head Gasket

Several first generation Kia Niro owners have already had to deal with head gasket failures even though their cars are only a few years old.

The head gasket is an essential engine component because it’s responsible for creating a tight seal between the cylinder head and engine block.

When it fails, you’ll have major engine problems and will have to get it repaired as soon as possible.

In a lot of cases, the head gasket failures occur when the car runs out of coolant, often due to the previously mentioned heat exchanger issue, and the engine overheats.

Common symptoms of a blown head gasket include:

  • Coolant mixing with oil
  • Loss of coolant
  • Check engine light
  • White smoke from exhaust
  • Reduced engine performance
  • Loss of engine compression

These issues can occur in both low and high mileage cars.

Here’s how a few owners described their experience on KiaNiroForum.com:

“I have a Kia Niro 2017 and my heads were replaced because of a blown head gasket @40k miles.”

“My 2020 Niro had to be towed to the dealership with only 30k miles. I’m told it’s a blown head gasket.” 

“I just had my 2017 with 168k miles towed to the dealer for loss of coolant – no overheat happened but the dealer said if it is a blown head gasket that they do not replace them because they can’t warranty the work. Was quoted an engine replacement at $10k.”

Fixing a blown head gasket requires an engine rebuild and should be covered by Kia’s 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.

If the car already has more than 100,000 miles on the odometer, repairing the head gasket can easily cost over $5,000.

Aside from tearing apart the engine and replacing the head gasket, the cylinder head will also have to be sent off to a machine shop to fix any warping caused by the excess heat.

If the head gasket failure and coolant loss is caused by a faulty heat exchanger, you’ll also have to get it replaced or bypass the heat exchanger entirely to avoid future problems. 

3. Hybrid System Failure

Early first generation Kia Niros can have issues where it will suddenly display a hybrid system failure error message, followed by the car going completely dead.

This issue affects the 2017 model year of the Niro Hybrid the most.

When the error appears, other warning lights will also appear on the dash and the car will just shut down. When you try to restart the car, it won’t respond at all.

Here’s how owners described their experience:

“Add my 2017 Touring Edition HEV to the list of owners with a hybrid system failure. My Niro has 45000 miles on it. Was driving in a bit of traffic at 62 mph and it just quit. Lots of dashboard lights and no power steering. It kept running until I got off the road. I stopped and shut everything off, hoping it was like a cable modem and just needed rebooted. Still nothing. I even tried to press the battery reset button, but it did nothing. Totally dead.”

“My 2017 Niro did the same thing to me in rush hour traffic yesterday. Dashboard lot up like Christmas tree and warning said hybrid system failure. It has 28k on it.”

“Had same thing happen to mine 10 days ago. Towed to dealer. Main fuse blown. Replaced the fuse 2 days later, but nothing about why the fuse blew.”

“I have a 2017 Niro Touring, and have had issue after issue with it. I went to start it Monday evening and the dash lit up and I got some error message flash on the screen… The dealership is now saying it is the High Voltage Fuse and they’re still looking for the fix.”

A lot of these hybrid failures are usually caused by a faulty high voltage fuse for the hybrid battery.

Early model years of the Kia Niro were fitted with a 125-amp fuse, which had a tendency to blow. Kia later addressed the issue by updating the part with a 175-amp fuse, which proved to be less prone to failure.

A new high voltage fuse only costs around $50 and it’s fairly easy to install once you remove the rear seats.

A broken HSG (Hybrid Starter Generator) belt can also cause a hybrid system failure and make the car inoperable. 

This belt should be replaced every 50,000 to 60,000 miles as part of the car’s preventative maintenance.

4. Dead 12-Volt Battery

Many owners of the first and second generation Niro Plug-in Hybrid have had issues with the 12-volt battery routinely going flat. 

The 12-volt battery powers most of the Niro’s electronics and is required to wake the car up. If it has insufficient charge, you won’t be able to turn the car on.

It’s important to note that the Kia Niro Hybrid does not have a traditional 12-volt battery. It does, however, have a lithium-ion 12-volt battery module that’s attached right next to the high voltage hybrid battery under the rear seat.

Here’s how owners on KiaNiroForum.com described their experience:

“I have a 2018 PHEV Kia Niro and have the exact same problem, as do my friends who own the same vehicle. We both have to use the booster several times a week. We both took it to the dealer and were told nothing is wrong.”

“I own 2022 Kia Niro PHEV with 13000 miles on it. You would think that when the car is off and charging in my garage, the USB 5v outlet under the display can still be used to charge the phone left inside. But to my surprise, when happened to left my phone charging inside overnight, the 12v battery drained all the way to 7v and car was dead in the morning.” 

“With less than 400 mi on my Kia Niro plug-in the car failed to start. The 12-v battery was dead. I had driven it only 4 hours earlier. I didn’t leave the light on or anything similar to make that happen.”

Several second generation Niro EV owners have also had issues with the 12-volt battery repeatedly dying:

“My wife’s 8 month old 2023 Niro EV had the 12v battery die twice in 1 week and the dealer can’t find a problem.” 

“The 12V battery in my Niro BEV (purchased Jan ’23) died the first time on September 8. Got AAA to jump it and tow it to the Kia dealer. They couldn’t find anything wrong with either the battery or the charging system. The battery died a second time on November 25.”

“I’ve been having the same problem, 12V battery has died 3 times since early September in my 2023 Niro EV.”

If the 12-volt battery becomes weak, you can jump start it like any regular vehicle using jumper cables or a booster pack. 

The Niro Hybrid does have a 12-volt Battery Reset button under the dash that jump starts the auxiliary 12-volt battery module using the hybrid battery pack. However, this is not present in the Plug-in Hybrid and EV models, because they use regular lead acid 12-volt batteries.

If the Niro Hybrid’s lithium-ion 12-volt battery module dies, you’ll have to take out the hybrid battery to put in a new module. A new battery module is quite expensive at around $1,000 at the dealer.

You can get replacement battery modules online for around $500 plus a $300 core charge which you can get back once you send back your old battery module. 

Replacing the 12-volt battery in the Niro PHEV and Niro EV is more straightforward as it’s just located in the trunk. You can get a replacement battery for around $300.

Kia also released a TSB (Technical Service Bulletin) for the 2018 Niro PHEV because the rear door latches had a tendency to drain the 12-volt battery when the car was switched off.

There’s also another TSB that recommends updating the IGPM (Integrated Gateway & Power Control Module) software of the first generation Niro PHEV to prevent parasitic drain issues when the car is turned off. 

You can also drain the 12-volt battery if you leave the lights. Leaving the door or the hatch open for long periods of time will also quickly discharge the battery.

Some batteries can also suffer from factory defects that cause them to start malfunctioning after only a few months.

If the 12-volt battery is faulty or just too old to hold a charge, you’ll have to replace it with a similar sized one.

Electrical issues can be very tricky to figure out especially if the problem is intermittent. In any case, you can always have your dealer take a look so they can perform a more thorough diagnosis.

Other factors that can unexpectedly drain the 12-volt battery include:

  • Extremely cold weather 
  • Parasitic drain from aftermarket accessories
  • Only driving for short distances
  • Long term storage

If you want to make sure your 12-volt battery is always properly charged, you can hook it up to a battery tender/maintainer so you don’t have to always rely on the Niro’s charging system.

It’s also worth noting that even if you leave the Niro PHEV plugged in and charging, the 12-volt battery can still get drained, because the charging system prioritizes the high voltage battery.

Aside from hooking it up to a battery maintainer, regular driving is the most effective method of keeping the 12-volt battery properly charged.  

Related: 8 Best & Worst Kia Niro Years (Pictures & Stats)

5. Stuttering or Jerkiness

Many Kia Niro owners have noticed that the car will sometimes stutter in different driving conditions.

When cruising at around 30 mph, the car will sometimes feel like it’s slightly misfiring or surging, and the forward motion cuts out momentarily.

The stuttering can be very subtle and is often barely noticeable, but some cars have it worse than others.

Some have also noticed that there’s a pronounced jerkiness when accelerating or decelerating at single digit speeds. The jerkiness can feel similar to a rough shifting transmission. 

Here’s how owners described their issues on KiaNiroForum.com:

“I, too, have had the “stutter” problem on our ’17 Niro EX… and our vehicle has now over 6500 miles on the odometer. The shuddering is very obvious when the Niro is right at the junction of coasting and needing a bit of acceleration to maintain speed.”

“I purchased my 2017 Niro (base model) a few months ago back in Feb 2018. It started having this issue within the first week of owning it where it would jerk randomly as if it was confused between going from the engine to the battery.”

“I have 34,000km on a 2018 Niro that has stuttered from day 1. The dealer has reset the transmission which clears it up for a day or so.”

“If I’m on the CC acceleration from say 30kph to 80kph. When the car passes 55kph the car stutters/vibrates. It can happen from 50-65 kph but mostly it’s at 55 kph. This does not happen every time and the stutter ranges from very mild to the whole car shaking. Both on summer tire and on winter tire. So it’s not a tire issue.”

“I too am having an issue with 2019 Kia Niro EX. Didn’t seem to have an issue till about 10K, at least that is when I noticed it. I now am over 25K and noticing it more and so have my passengers one of which is a mechanic which is why I took it in today. The stutter happens in gas mode in between 35-50 miles per hour, when your foot is lightly on the pedal, not kicking into electric or not pushing down harder on the gas to get power. It generally happens when the car is cold or it is rainy.”

“Just about 6200 miles, mine is experiencing the shutter issue – starts about 32 mph while on ICE (Gas engine) and ends approx 40 mph, goes away when I shift into sports mode, or if in EV mode.”

Another owner on the r/KiaNiro subreddit had this to say:

“Mine does it too, no idea why. It feels like a misfire and is worse when the engine is cold and under high load. 2017 FE. 42,000 miles, but it’s been doing this since around 20-25,000 miles.”

In some older Kia Niros, dealers had to replace the injectors to get rid of the stuttering. There have even been cases where the engine had to be replaced to completely get rid of the stuttering issues.

The stuttering can also be caused by issues with the DCT (Dual Clutch Transmission). DCTs aren’t as smooth as a traditional automatic especially at slower speeds. 

The transition between ICE and electric power, which typically occurs at lower speeds and in stop-and-go traffic, can also cause some jerkiness.

Replacing the clutch actuator fluid or some other transmission component can sometimes smooth out the stuttering.

6. Throttle Lag

Aside from the jerkiness at slow speeds, there have been many reports of the Kia Niro’s tendency to stall or hesitate when trying to accelerate from low speeds.

Many owners have complained that the car will sometimes refuse to move forward for a second or two after stepping on the accelerator even if they can hear the engine revving.

This problem typically only occurs when trying to accelerate from a complete or rolling stop. Some have also noticed a delay when shifting from reverse to drive.

Here’s how owners on KiaNiroForum.com had to say:

“I find that my Niro hesitates for a second from a stop if I try to moderately accelerate in ev mode.”

“I don’t feel the delay often, mostly when I try to start immediately after stopping. I also notice a lag if I shift from R to D without stopping first, the car will continue to roll backwards briefly before engaging first gear.”

“I have a new 2019 PHEV purchased 12/2018. When shifting between Drive and Reverse (either way) there is a substantial delay (2 to 3 seconds) in the transmission engaging. By description 2-3 seconds doesn’t sound like much but when you are trying to ‘switch gears and go’ it seems like an eternity. It is also dangerous to keep rolling backwards for 2 seconds after you have shifted and want/expect to move forward. By instinct you press the accelerator harder and then when it does engage your lunge.”

Another owner on the r/KiaNiro subreddit had this to say:

“I just picked up a used Kia Niro… It’s a 2018 LX Wagon 4D. Whenever I am at a complete or almost complete stop, and I give it the gas, it’s like it almost stalls or won’t change gears. I live in a city area so I noticed it directly after driving off the lot. The car is fine otherwise and I never have issues accelerating when already in motion.” 

“I just bought a 2017 Niro FE hybrid. Most of the time I don’t have any issues accelerating, but every now and then I’ll have this same issue. It stinks when trying to merge or pull out into traffic.” 

The throttle lag has also been reported in other Kia and Hyundai hybrids which basically use the same system as the Niro. 

Some Toyota Hybrid owners have also reported experiencing similar issues with lag/hesitation.

It’s simply a normal characteristic of most hybrids and is something you just have to get used to.

You’ll certainly notice it more if it’s your first time driving a hybrid and you’re used to driving with a lead foot, so you’ll just have to adjust your driving style and anticipate the slight delay.

7. Active Air Flap Issues

The 2020 and newer model years of the Kia Niro have had issues with the active air flap system.

2020 was the first year of the first gen Niro’s facelift and owners started receiving the error message “Check Active Air Flap System.”

The active air flap is located on the lower front bumper. It automatically opens and closes to help optimize engine cooling and the car’s aerodynamics when driving at speed.

This issue can affect both the Hybrid and Plug-in Hybrid models.

Here’s how a few owners described their experience on KiaNiroForum.com:

“Not quite 4 weeks and 550 miles into my lease and the check engine light comes on with a “Check active air flap system” message.”

“I also have a 2020 Kia Niro Premium PEV that I purchased in June it cam from Ft. Lauderdale and the car had the check engine light on as well with the error. I only have 5,000 miles on the vehicle and have had the part replaced twice and 3 software updates. It has been in 4 times to the dealer and a total of 16 days, and has come on again.” 

At least one second generation Niro owner has also complained about similar problems:

“I have a 2023 Niro SX I purchased in Oct 2022. With 5500 miles on it, I received an air flap error message on the dashboard. A few days after that, my check engine light came on.” 

Kia released a TSB that recommends updating the ECU software to fix the Active Air Flap logic.

Since the air flaps are on the lower part of the front bumper, debris can also get stuck in the flaps which can cause them to stop opening and closing.

In some cases, the flaps or the actuator that controls them can also break, which means you’ll have to get the hardware replaced.

8. Broken Door Handle

Many first generation Kia Niros have encountered issues with the outer door handle cover breaking off.

It’s more common in the 2017 to 2018 model years, and can affect all the handles.

The actual door handles can also break and the door handle buttons often just fall out after a few years.

Here’s how owners described their issues on KiaNiroForum.com:

“My vehicle is 3-years-old with 68k Miles (2017 Kia Niro EX) and the front passenger handle came off at 68K miles. I rarely have passengers.”

“I went to open up the left passenger door on my 2017 Kia Niro and the handle popped out of the slot it inserts into. The exterior door handle cover broke at the location where the screw that holds it in place.”

“I am currently driving a 2017 Kia Niro with one of the four door handles still attached. Three fell off in a 9 day period.”

“Just bought a 2017 Touring and I love it, but today my 9-year-old managed to pull off the rear door handle after school.”

Other owners on the r/KiaNiro subreddit also shared their experience:

“I have a 2018 Niro. I drove home the other day, and when I got back I instinctively hit the keyless button on the door handle to lock my car, only to find it completely missing and the circuit board inside exposed. I’m still able to unlock it by pressing inside the hole, but I taped it up to avoid any water getting in there.”

“Mine fell out somewhere today from the driver’s side handle. When I first bought my car in 2017, within a few months both the driver and passenger side handles broke.”

Kia released a TSB for this door handle cover issue and recommends replacing all passenger door handle covers with updated parts.

The door handle covers cost around $15 a piece and can be purchased in different colors.

Replacement handles cost around $70 online while dealers typically charge around $250 to replace the door handle.

9. Transmission Issues

A number of Kia Niro owners have reported hearing a grinding noise when they slow down or hit the brakes.

The noise can usually be heard for 1 or 2 seconds when traveling at roughly 30 mph. It can also show up when coming to a stop.

In many cases, the grinding can sound like it’s coming from the brakes.

This issue typically affects the 2018 to 2019 model years of the Niro Hybrid and Niro PHEV.

Here’s how a few owners described their experience on KiaNiroForum.com:

“Our 2019 Niro has been exhibiting a grinding noise while decelerating for about three weeks.”

“Bought my 2019 Niro Dec 2018 I have 25k on my car. Took in for oil change, told the dealer I had a weird scraping noise only when I apply the brakes. They ran tests and called Kia. Kia said replace transmission.” 

“We had the same problem. 2019 Kia Niro. A skidding sound while applying the brakes at relatively low speeds. Thanks to this forum, we brought it to a Kia Dealership knowing exactly where to point them. They knew exactly what we were saying and replaced the clutch for us in a 6 hour spree.” 

“I’ve had the grinding noise when downshifting from 4th to 3rd for a while in my 2019 PHEV and finally took it in to get checked out. It took them 2 days to confirm that it fits under the TSB.”

According to a TSB released by Kia, the grinding noise occurs when transmission downshifts from 4th to 3rd gear.

To fix the issue, the TSB recommends replacing the dual-clutch transmission’s clutch pack. In some cases, the entire transmission has to be replaced.

This can be a very expensive repair amounting to thousands of dollars if the car is already out of warranty.

The repair should be covered under the 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty. However, if you’re the second owner of the vehicle, the warranty only lasts up to 5 years or 60,000 miles.

10. Brake Noise

A number of second generation Kia Niro owners have complained about intermittently hearing a rubbing or groaning noise when they accelerate from a complete stop.

It can often be heard when the brakes are cold after the car has been parked for a while.

Here’s how a few owners described their experience on KiaNiroForum.com:

“I have taken my 2023 Kia Niro to the dealer twice already for the loud growling noise that happens when I accelerate sometimes.”

“Same problem with sound of brakes rubbing from a start in my new 2023 Kia Niro HEV, began after about 1,000 miles sporadically when cold now at 2,900 miles happens all time. Dealer was able to hear sound and took brakes apart to grease and adjust.”

“I am having the same issue with my 2023. They seem to stick when first pulling out and then maybe one other time and then it stops once the car warms up. I tried turning off the auto hold and auto parking brake set but it still did it once or twice.”

“I have the same issue with my Niro 2023 hybrid. Particularly in the morning doing a cold start, there is a dragging noise from the back wheel on driver’s side. It is getting worse when going up a hill. I took the car to a dealership and they said it is probably due to the auto hold. When I turned off the auto hold, it still happens (maybe a little better?)”

Most dealers have trouble diagnosing the problem because the noise can be very intermittent. 

In some cases, the noise only goes away after the brakes are taken apart and re-lubricated. Scrubbing the corrosion off the brake rotors can also prevent the brakes from sticking and making noise.

Other owners report that their dealers were only able to get rid of the noise after the brake calipers were replaced. Another owner also had to have their ABS pump replaced to completely eliminate the brake noise.

11. Interior Lighting Issues

The interior ambient lighting feature of the second generation Kia Niro can suddenly stop working.

When the ambient or mood lights stop working, it also disappears from the settings menu.

This issue should only affect the 2023 model year of the Niro Hybrid, PHEV and EV.

Here’s how owners described their experience on KiaNiroForum.com:

“I’ve had my ’23 EX HEV for almost 2 weeks and yesterday the ambient lights on the passenger side dashboard stopped working. The Settings menu also no longer shows the Ambient Brightness and Ambient Light Color options.”

“I have had the same issue, after purchasing on the 3rd day lights and menu disappeared on my 2023 Niro EV.”

“I have a 2023 Niro EX touring hybrid my ambient lights feature disappeared also 2 days ago.”

“I bought the Kia Niro 2023, EX touring, Hybrid. I had the feature for about 3 weeks, then all of the sudden, it disappeared and it doesn’t show it as an option in the screen menu.” 

“When I picked up my new ’23 EX Plug-In I never made it off the lot… The instrument display (speedometer, etc…) did not work. Tried the obvious by trying to simply increase the illumination; however, no luck. After several salespeople and a maintenance technician looked into it, the technician determined that the entire instrument panel would need to be replaced.” 

Kia eventually released a TSB to address the disappearance of the ambient lighting feature which recommends updating the car’s software. 

Kia Niro Pros & Cons


  • Great fuel economy
  • Hybrid, Plug-in Hybrid and EV models
  • Roomy interior
  • Modern tech and features
  • Attractive styling
  • Affordable price
  • Great reliability
  • Long warranty


  • Slow acceleration
  • Engine and transmission lacks refinement
  • Lacks cargo space for an SUV

What Do The Reviews Say?

“Kia’s stylish hybrid crossover-hatchback mashup, the 2024 Kia Niro, occupies a unique niche. It’s tidy in length — a bit shorter than the average canoe — but versatile, with ample cargo space and about the same rear seat legroom as the larger Honda CR-V.” 

“It’s also wildly fuel-efficient, delivering up to 53 mpg combined. That’s just a few mpg shy of the Toyota Prius, a longer (but smaller inside) liftback design.” 

“The Niro’s impressive efficiency comes at the expense of power, though. The Niro’s wheezy four-cylinder makes just 139 horsepower. Still, utility and efficiency give the Niro a unique edge among small crossovers.”

“The Niro crosses stylish hatch design with SUV cabin height. Despite smaller proportions, the Niro offers more headroom than the larger Honda CR-V or even its Kia Sportage family relation.” 

“The Niro has impressive road manners, with a quiet cabin that only gets noisy under hard acceleration. At city speeds, it’s extremely pleasant. Similarly, the suspension is tuned to keep things cushy over bumps in the road. The Niro is nice and relaxing for a commute home.”

“Considering the Niro’s small overall size, the interior is generously roomy. The driving position is upright and the view is great out of the front. The rear roof pillar can create a blind spot but it’s not too bad. Passenger space is better in the Niro than in the Prius, and the non-tapering roofline means that headroom doesn’t suffer.”

2024 Kia Niro | Edmunds

What’s the Resale Value of a Kia Niro?

Here’s a quick look at used car pricing for the Niro on Edmunds at the time of writing.



  • Ian Sawyer

    Growing up with a father who was a mechanic I had an appreciation for cars and motorcycles from an early age. I shared my first bike with my brother that had little more than a 40cc engine but it opened up a world of excitement for me, I was hooked. As I grew older I progressed onto bigger bikes and...

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