Available in a hatchback or a sedan layout, the compact Chevy Sonic is a basic, inexpensive, point-A-to-point-B kind of car, but it still does’t cut any corners—if you opt for one of the higher-end trims, it comes with some impressive features that you wouldn’t expect to see at $17,000.
The Sonic is a reliable car overall with a four-out-of-five star “excellent” rating from repairpal.com, but like any car, the Sonic has seen some reliability issues.
The most common problems with the Chevy Sonic have been hesitating while shifting, the check engine light staying on for no clear reason, the engine not starting, and the ‘key in ignition’ sound not playing.
1. Chevy Sonic Transmission Problems
Chevy Sonic transmissions have a history of various problems with a range of causes and solutions. Some are minor and cost only $100 to fix, and some require a whole new transmission, which can cost up to $3,600.
These transmission problems are most prevalent in the 2012 Sonic, and are also somewhat common in the 2013 through 2015 Sonics, though not quite as much.
Hesitation When Shifting Gears
The most common Sonic transmission problem is hesitation while shifting gears. A version of the Sonic exists with a manual transmission, but this problem is only prevalent with the automatic version.
The problem starts to present itself around 30,000 miles of driving.
Drivers of automatic Sonics noticed that the car seemed to be working harder than it should when speeding up or slowing down—a sign that the computer in charge of shifting the gears wasn’t engaging properly or at the right time.
Fortunately, plenty of Sonic overs who reported this problem were able to get their transmissions fixed cheaply. The average cost was $100 for the inspection and repair when the problem didn’t require a new transmission.
Transmission Failure From Turbine Shaft Fracture
Chevrolet ordered a recall in 2014 of 21,567 Sonics because of a tendency for the turbine shaft to fracture. The turbine shaft is essential in transferring energy from the engine to the wheels, and if it fractures, the car ceases to run properly.
There are two possible outcomes from the turbine shaft fracture in the Chevy Sonic depending on whether the car is in first to second gear or third through sixth gear.
The first case is the less dangerous of the two: the car stops being able to shift above second gear, so it slows down significantly, giving the driver time and engine power to get out of the way of traffic.
In the case of the turbine shaft breaking while you’re in third to sixth gear, the car immediately stops running altogether.
This problem tends to show up past 70,000 miles of use. It costs $3,000 to $4,000 to fix, since the whole transmission needs to be replaced if it happens.
Here are some common-sense reminders on what to do if your car stops running while you’re in the middle of high or moderate-speed traffic:
- If you sense a sudden loss of response from the gas pedal, or anything else seriously out of the ordinary, turn on your hazard lights immediately
- Point the car towards an even location on the right shoulder
- Curb your wheels in the opposite direction of the road and engage the emergency brake
- Try to get assistance from your roadside assistance company. If you have no other options or the situation is dire, call 911
Shifter Button Becomes Difficult or Impossible to Press
This pesky problem doesn’t cost much to fix and it’s not a flaw with the car’s more complex and sensitive mechanisms. However, it still has the potential to render the Sonic unusable in extreme cases.
Sonic owners have reported that the shifter button on the stickshit became stickier and harder to depress over time, eventually becoming inoperable. This could lead to the annoying situation of being unable to shift into or out of reverse.
In some cases, the sticky shifter button had the potential to be extremely dangerous because it would cause the stickshift to be caught mid-gear, which means that the lever can be inadvertently and easily thrown into reverse while moving at high speed.
This problem typically presents itself at around 54,000 miles of driving and costs only about $!40 to fix. It’s most common in the 2012 Sonic.
2. Chevy Sonic Check Engine Light Troubles
This problem has few potential short-term consequences, but many long-term problems can go unnoticed if the check engine light stops being reliable. It’s easy to shrug off a check engine light when your car’s been running fine for a while, but this is unwise.
The 2012 Chevy Sonic has a habit of having a switched-on check engine light with no particular cause. Owners have taken their Sonics to dealerships and mechanics and received a shrug in response.
A false positive check engine light doesn’t have to do with the car’s most essential and sensitive systems, but it can still cost lots of money from unnecessary inspections.
This problem typically presents itself around 52,000 miles, and costs only about $100 to $200 to fix.
3. Chevy Sonic Stalls at Random or Won’t Start
Some 2014 Sonic owners have reported a pattern of stalling and loss of power with the Sonic that’s not at all a transmission problem.
With this problem, drivers were either on the road and suddenly found that everything that required power had turned off, or tried to start the car from being parked and found that it wouldn’t turn on and needed to be jumped by another car.
Some Sonic drivers found that the problem went away for a while or altogether, and some had a rude awakening when it returned.
The Chevy Sonic’s stalling problem cost an average of $1,350 to fix and usually presented around $70,000 miles on the road.
This problem with the Spark has a variety of reported causes and solutions. There’s no one settled solution for it, so here’s a list of possible causes of repeated stalling:
- Dead battery
- Spark plug is broken or faulty
- Fuel filter is clogged
- Fuel filter is broken
- Broken Alternator
- Battery corrosion
- Weak key fob battery that won’t activate the push-to-start system
4. Indicator Noise for When the Key is in the Ignition Does not Play
This is yet another trivial-seeming problem that can have nasty consequences. The indicator noise that lets you know you’ve accidentally left the key in the ignition can be the difference between you keeping your car and your car getting stolen by someone who notices an opportunity.
The problem had to do with a particular batch of radios installed in 2013 through 2016 Chevy Sonics that were programmed incorrectly, waiting ten minutes to start playing the theft-protecting indicator noise.
Chevy issued a recall for some 317,572 Sonics over this issue, and it never ended up costing money to replace, since the component was replaced or refunded through the recall.
5. Pros and Cons of the Sonic
The Sonic achieves its purpose as a vehicle solidly. It’s reasonably reliable, and with good maintenance and care, can last upwards of 100,000 miles.
This subcompact’s least impressive aspects are its engine, which doesn’t offer much of a kick, and its gas mileage, which at 31 mpg is not as efficient as it should be for such a small car and does not compete with other cars in its class.
- Affordable at around $16,000 to $20,000
- Drives very quietly when cruising
- Maneuverable due to its small frame
- Easy to squeeze into parking spots
- 4G cellular hotspot is standard on all trims
- Great for tightly-packed urban streets
- Turbocharged engine
- Equipped with safety features like forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning, and parking sensors
- Similarly-sized subcompacts like the Kia Rio and Honda Fit outperform its 31 mpg gas mileage
- Not enough space in rear seats
- Surface materials in the cabin and dashboard area aren’t high-quality
- Brake pedal is more sensitive than usual
- Lacks active safety hardware found on other subcompacts like automatic emergency braking
- Manual transmission version has been discontinued
What Do the Reviews Say?
While the Sonic is a solid, reliable car, it’s frankly outcompeted in the end by its rivals in terms of gas mileage, price, and safety features.
It does have its charm, however, and its wiles might even make you overlook the advantages of other subcompacts.
After all, buying a car isn’t all just about making the most sensible choice—you want to enjoy the car you drive.
“The entry-level 2020 Chevrolet Sonic puts the emphasis on basic when it comes to basic transportation. Spend a little bit more, however, and this subcompact becomes an affordable daily driver that’s quiet and well equipped.”
“The Sonic comes with a peppy turbocharged engine and still looks fresh — especially in hatchback form — but it lags rivals in most other aspects. It doesn’t offer the kind of active safety features found on competitors, and it costs more than they do, too.”
What’s the Resale Value of the Chevy Sonic?
The Chevrolet Sonic’s resale value declines quickly, which is good news for used car buyers and bad news for those looking to sell a used Sonic.
The Chart below shows an example of a Sonic currently for sale with its model year and mileage, which should give you a sense of how the car depreciates with use and time.
Again, a Sonic’s MSRP, or its manufacturer-set retail price, is between $16,000 and $20,000.
|Model Year||Mileage||Current Price|
The typical range of trims is on offer for the Chevy Sonic: there’s the LS, the LT, and the Premier, and the two highest trims are available as a hatchback.
Amenities like satellite radio, keyless entry, heated steering wheel and seats, and an improved audio system are available at the two higher trim levels.
It’s wise to avoid the 2012 through 2015 model years for this car if you have the option. They’re not guaranteed to be unreliable, but their problems are bad enough when they do arise that it makes sense to steer clear just to be safe and hassle-free.
The Sonic has been discontinued as of 2021, likely because it simply didn’t match the competition overall, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad car or that you can’t find a great deal on one that suits your needs well.
Otherwise, if you’re looking for a sporty, reliable, maneuverable, fun little companion, you won’t go wrong with the Sonic.