Chevy Sonic Problems: 7 Common Issues (Explained)

Available in hatchback or sedan configurations, the compact Chevy Sonic is a basic, inexpensive, point-A-to-point-B kind of car, but it still doesn’t cut any corners.

The Sonic is a solid car overall but like any car, the Sonic has seen some reliability issues.

Before we start, make sure to check our article about how long the Chevy Sonic typically lasts and our article about interesting stats and facts about the Sonic models.

Transmission Problems

Chevy Sonic transmissions have a history of various problems with various 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.

As the most common problem, these issues are most prevalent in the 2012 and 2013 models, and are also somewhat common in 2015 Sonics, though not quite as much.

The transmission issues below have been a problem for several years.

Here’s more in our article with the best and worst Chevy Sonic years.

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.

Turbine Shaft Fracture

Chevrolet ordered a recall of 21,567 Sonics from 2012 up to 2014 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.

Two possible outcomes from the turbine shaft fracture in the Chevy Sonic depend on whether the car is in first through 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 and usually leads to transmission failure. It costs $3,000 to $4,000 to fix since the whole six-speed manual 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:

  1. 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.
  2. Point the car towards an even location on the right shoulder.
  3. Curb your wheels in the opposite direction of the road and engage the emergency brake.
  4. 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 Chevy Sonic unusable in extreme cases.

Sonic owners have reported that the shifter button on the stickshift 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. 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 $140 to fix. It’s most common in the 2012 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 but many believe this is owing to the vehicle’s electrical systems.

However, 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.

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
  • The spark plug is broken or faulty
  • The fuel filter is clogged
  • The fuel filter is broken
  • Broken alternator
  • Battery corrosion
  • Weak key fob battery that won’t activate the push-to-start system

Ignition Switch Problems

This is another seemingly trivial problem that can have nasty consequences.

The beeping 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.

Radiator Leaking Concerns

Radiator leaks on Chevy Sonics can be caused by problems with the water pump, thermostat housing, hoses, or coolant.

A leaking radiator can cause engine overheating, which can result in long-term damage such as a cracked or weakened head gasket.

The following are signs of a radiator leak:

  • Pooling of coolant beneath the car, usually around the bumper.
  • Temperature increase indicates engine overheating.
  • A screeching sound comes from the belt.
  • White smoke from under the hood.

It is critical to address a radiator leak to avoid further damage.

The most effective way to do this is to have your dealer completely replace the radiator.

Pros and Cons of the Sonic

The Sonic achieves its purpose as a vehicle.

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.

Here is a closer look at the Sonic’s pros and cons:

Pros Cons
Affordable (approx. $16,000-$20,000) Gas mileage (31 mpg) is not competitive with other subcompacts
Drives quietly when cruising Limited space in rear seats
Maneuverable due to small frame Interior surface materials are not high-quality
Easy to park in tight spots Brake pedal sensitivity is higher than usual
4G cellular hotspot standard Lacks active safety features like automatic emergency braking
Turbocharged engine Discontinuation of the manual transmission version
Great for urban streets  
Safety features (forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning, parking sensors)  

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.

After all, buying a car isn’t only 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.

CarAndDriver.Com

The Sonic comes with a peppy turbocharged engine and still looks fresh — especially in hatchback form — but it lags behind 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.

Kelley Blue Book

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
2020 30,610 $21,998
2019 57,445 $15,255
2018 52,476 $18,998
2017 92,581 $12,500
2016 71,037 $13,999
2015 126,366 $10,728
2014 109,260 $6,998
2013 91,357 $6,990
2012 94,400 $7,499

In Summary

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.

Go back to see problems for all Chevrolet models.

Resources

2020 Chevrolet Sonic Review, Pricing, and Specs 

2020 Chevrolet Sonic Price, Value, Ratings & Reviews

Chevrolet Sonic Problems

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ⓘ  The information in this article is based on data from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recall reports, consumer complaints submitted to the NHTSA, reliability ratings from J.D. Power, auto review and rating sites such as Edmunds, specialist forums, etc. We analyzed this data to provide insights into the best and worst years for these vehicle models.