My Kia Optima Lost It's Mojo
March 9, 2007 6:57 AM   Subscribe

I'm having car troubles and curious if this is a problem familiar to anyone:

Car is a 2002 Kia Optima. It's had regular maintenance (oil, tune-ups, etc.,) and it's generally been a good car. This week the engine light came on. Usually it comes on after I get a car wash and then goes off after the car drys out a bit.

The light came on again and I've noticed a significant loss of get-up-and-go. If I'm in first or second gear, the tach winds up to about 4-5000 before I get any steam going. Generally, the car is just sluggish whereas before it was just snappy and responsive when shifting. I do plan on taking it to a garage but was wondering if these symptoms were common and indicative of a common problem. Thanks.
posted by KevinSkomsvold to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total)
sounds like you lost a cylinder. that or you left the parking brake on.
posted by phaedon at 7:13 AM on March 9, 2007

Or the car's in "limp-home" mode. I don't know about Kias, but GMs have an ECU mode that severely limits engine output when some set of conditions occurs (which also would trigger the engine light) -- the idea being that it'll get you to a garage while minimizing the odds of anything getting severely damaged.

On my normally-snappy Saab I figure limp-home mode cuts out about 40 hp.
posted by mendel at 7:18 AM on March 9, 2007

If you want to invest in an OBD-II scanner, you can find out yourself before you take it in. You also might want to take a quick look at the spark plug wires and vacuum hoses to make sure nothing has come loose. It certainly sounds like something is getting wet and perhaps causing a cylinder to stop firing as suggested by phaedon, but it could be any of a number of other things as well.
posted by TedW at 7:22 AM on March 9, 2007

Sounds like the time my Cavalier blew a spark plug (though, in that case, it was really bloody obvious I'd blown a spark plug, from the noise among other things).
posted by philulrich at 7:26 AM on March 9, 2007

Car wash or raining triggering a problem usually points to distributor/wires/spark plug.
A set of wires is usually not that expensive.
posted by MtDewd at 7:36 AM on March 9, 2007

As MtDewd says, problems when damp usually means distributor/wires, or if you have coil packs on the plugs, those. It's important to know that gross misfiring can quickly destroy your catalytic converter(s). That changes your < $100 repair into $1000. some cars will flash the check-engine light (or shutdown) when the misfiring is bad enough to destroy the catalyst, but i don't know if that's universal.

So you will want to get this fixed sooner rather than later. It will get worse in spring/summer as it gets more humid.
posted by putril at 7:45 AM on March 9, 2007

A similar thing happened to my Nissan Maxima. The CEL came on and I lost a good bit of power. In Maximas, though, the ECU is located near the pedals and turning the screw attached to it will make the CEL produce a series of long and short flashes. These codes have been translated in the Haynes manual and online. Turned out it was a knock sensor, an $80 part that I replaced myself. Stealerships would have charges me close to $400.

Just thought I'd share. You may be able to find the ECU code yourself and go from there. I learned about my car through a DIY / tuner website forum called There may be one for Kia's.
posted by premortem at 7:57 AM on March 9, 2007

Regarding the OBD-II scanner Autozone will loan you one with a deposit. You can pull the codes and look them up
posted by clarkie666 at 8:28 AM on March 9, 2007

Best answer: That changes your < $100 repair into $1000

Your 2002 Kia is still covered in part by the EPA-mandated emissions warranty, so depending upon what is wrong with it all or part of the repair may be at no cost to you. I had a fuel injector go bad on my 1999 Mazda a few years back (which incidentally caused the same symptoms you describe, but no after washes) and that killed the catalyst, but everything was covered under the emissions warranty.
posted by TedW at 9:14 AM on March 9, 2007

I just wanted to add that I had a similar problem and replacing my spark plug wires fixed it. So check that too in addition to your spark plugs. It was a problem where you would hit the gas and it was pretty unresponsive/sluggish.

Its a cheap thing to replace and could save you some money.
posted by aurigus at 9:38 AM on March 9, 2007

Best answer: You don't say if it's a manual or auto trans.

If it's a manual, then some of the suggestions above are valid, and I would look at the ignition system, or more likely towards a fuel mixture issue (too lean if no black smoke) which can be caused by an ecm problem or even as simple as a faulty o2 sensor.

If auto, then there could be a few more issues. Many modern transmissions use control modules to regulate torque converter engagement. This is something that could apply here along with the above. Check to see at what point it's shifting at normal throttle.

What's happening at the exhaust? Black smoke? Also, will the vehicle hold at idle?
posted by pezdacanuck at 10:59 AM on March 9, 2007

Best answer: There are several possibilities of what is wrong....sounds like maybe a bad catalytic converter, a faulty sensor (02, MAP, Cam Position Sensor, TPS, for starters)

Could also be that the fuel filter needs to be changed.

Depending on your warranty (IIRC, Kias have great warrantys) you may want to take it to the dealer to have them diagnose it. If it is not covered under warranty, you may want to take it to a trusted private mechanic to have any out-of-pocket repairs completed.
posted by peewinkle at 12:01 PM on March 9, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the recommendations everyone. Turns out the clutch is almost gone. Final bill? $1100. Ouch! Oh well, could have been worse. I think. Thanks for all the great suggestions.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 2:56 PM on March 9, 2007

Response by poster: Oh and pezdacanuck and peewinkle; you were both correct on the o2 sensor. They will be fixing that as well.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 2:59 PM on March 9, 2007

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