The RAV4 is the most popular compact SUV in terms of sales and is also Toyota’s best-selling model.
It’s an extremely well-rounded vehicle that offers a comfortable ride, lots of room for passengers and cargo, and decent ground clearance that lets you easily go over rougher terrain.
Although it’s known for its outstanding reliability, it’s had its share of issues over the years.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at some of the most common problems associated with the RAV4…
Table of Contents
1. Jerky Acceleration
According to data on Car Problem Zoo, which tracks complaints on the NTSA website, transmission issues are the most commonly reported problems for the Toyota RAV4.
It’s normal for transmissions to wear out and start to have issues over time, but some model years of the RAV4 are more prone to transmission problems early on due to design or manufacturing issues.
For example, the 2019, 2020 and 2021 RAV4 models had many owners complaining of jerky acceleration or lurching when trying to get the car going after rolling from a slower speed.
This lurching can be rather unnerving as it can unexpectedly jolt passengers rather aggressively.
Here is how some RAV4 owners described their experience:
“As the transmission shifts down to first gear, without coming to a complete stop, as one accelerates, the vehicle makes an abrupt forward movement. Strong enough to move a passenger backwards. I have only noticed this at low speeds in traffic. Does not happen after a complete stop.”
“Vehicle jerks after accelerating from a “rolling stop.” it seems like there is an issue with the throttle – there seems to be a delay with going, so the car jerks to kick into the speed it should be. I’ve taken my car to the dealership at least 3 times to resolve this issue, but they always say there is nothing wrong with the vehicle.”
“The vehicle is hesitating, jerking when coming to a slow stop and when giving it gas“
Although there are many people complaining about the issue, it doesn’t seem to result in any transmission failures.
The non-hybrid fifth gen is the first RAV4 to use Toyota’s 8-speed Direct Shift Automatic Transmission and other Toyota models that have the same gearbox suffer from the same problems.
This new transmission is designed to provide better response and fuel economy, and combines some characteristics of a manual transmission, which could explain the ‘jerkiness’ of the transmission when trying to accelerate quickly from a slow roll.
The jerky acceleration usually occurs when driving in ‘Eco’ mode and is less apparent when the ‘Sport’ button is pushed.
Eco mode likely makes the transmission stay in higher gears much longer even after the gas pedal is pushed down aggressively.
This slight delay in shifting to a lower gear is what’s probably causing the ‘jerky’ acceleration.
By the time the transmission engages the right gear, the engine RPMs are already pretty high and results in a sudden ‘lurching’ of the vehicle.
Many owners were able to resolve the jerky acceleration by asking their dealer to flash new software onto the ECU.
Updating the ECU software is the fix that Toyota recommended in a TSB (Technical Service Bulletin) after they investigated the issue further.
Newer RAV4s already have the latest ECU software and have not had the same issues as the first two model years of the fifth gen RAV4.
2. Vibration from Transmission
The 2013 RAV4 is known to suffer from shuddering or vibrations from the transmission when traveling steadily at speeds ranging from 20 to 50 mph. This issue is also known to affect the 2014 and 2015 models, but it’s much more common in the 2013 model year.
When this issue occurs, it can feel like the whole vehicle is vibrating as if you’re driving through a very rough patch of road.
Here is how some unhappy RAV4 owners described the issue:
“At about 50,000 mile point, the car vibrated at between 40 to 50mph. I mentioned it whenever I brought the car in for oil change but they didn’t find anything wrong. Then it started vibrating at 30mph and up.”
“Bought a used 2013 RAV4 and found out about the Torque Convertor Shudder a week after I purchased the car. I thought it was a rough road, but with newer tires and only 51k on the car I realized it was something else. Shudder happens at all different speeds and conditions. Worst part is the extended warranty has run out for me 10 months ago.”
“2013 Toyota Rav4 – shudders around 40mph. It will happen on acceleration while cruising around 35-40mph. Once it reaches 45-50+ it stops on high speeds. Torque Converter going bad.”
This issue also occurred in the sixth gen Camry which used the same 6-speed transmission.
In 2017, Toyota announced an extended warranty program for 2013 to 2015 RAV4s that suffered from the transmission shudder issue.
It was eventually determined that the vibrations were caused by the torque converter’s flex lock-up system which required replacing the torque converter and updating the ECU software
Vehicles that suffered from excessive shuddering were entitled to free warranty repairs, and Toyota extended the warranty to 8 years/150,000 miles, whichever came first.
For vehicles that are already out of warranty, some owners have reported that a transmission fluid change was able to get rid of the annoying vibrations.
3. Transmission Slipping or Won’t Go Into Gear
The 2001 to 2003 model years of the second generation RAV4 suffered from many transmission problems after only a couple of years of use.
Owners tended to experience different issues, but common symptoms include:
- Slipping or delayed acceleration
- No reverse or won’t go into certain gears
- Harsh gear engagement or shuddering when shifting gears
All these transmission problems are usually caused by a faulty ECU.
An ECU, or an Engine Control Unit, is an electrical component that monitors and controls the function of a vehicle’s engine.
Over time, the ECU’s solder joints became weaker and damaged several electronic components which caused the transmission to function erratically.
RAV4s made from 2004 onwards used an updated ECU design which reduced the number of failures.
Continuing to drive the car with transmission and ECU issues causes extra strain on the gearbox and will eventually damage more transmission components.
If you start experiencing transmission issues in a 2001 to 2003 RAV4, it’s best to send the ECU to a specialist who can repair the circuit board and update the software or simply have your dealership take a look.
Replacing the ECU with a used unit may also work, but the used ECU might also be suffering from failing solder connections – in which case there’s a good chance that the ECU will fail again after a few years.
Fixing the ECU’s circuit board should make the transmission work properly again if the problem is addressed early.
If the transmission issues persist, replacing the transmission fluid can also help.
If the drain plug and pan have lots of metal shavings in it, there could be more damage inside the transmission itself, in which case, it needs to be looked at by a transmission specialist.
4. Excessive Oil Consumption
According to Car Complaints, a website that collects car owner feedback, the most reported problem for the RAV4 is the excessive oil consumption found in the 2.4-liter 2AZ-FE engine.
Only the 2006 to 2008 model years of the third generation RAV4 were affected by oil consumption problems which were caused by the piston and piston ring design.
The oil return holes behind the piston rings could easily get clogged with carbon buildup which caused oil to get stuck in the combustion chamber and get burned up.
Other Toyota vehicles that used the same 2AZ-FE engine, such as the Camry, also suffered from oil consumption issues.
Second generation RAV4s which used the same engine don’t suffer from oil consumption issues because their engines used different internal components.
From 2009 onwards, the 2.4-liter engine was replaced with a 2.5-liter which didn’t have any oil consumption problems.
To properly fix the oil consumption the pistons and piston rings have to be replaced using Toyota’s updated parts.
This is a very big job that requires removing the engine and tearing it down completely which might not be economical in an out-of-warranty vehicle.
A lot of people just stick to checking and topping up the oil regularly to make sure the engine never runs dry.
Changing the oil more frequently (every 5,000 miles) can also slow down the degradation of the engine.
If the engine is too far gone, the engine block may need to be replaced or sent to a machine shop.
At this point, it’s usually more economical to just replace it with a used engine.
5. Clunking Noise From Steering
The 2006 to 2008 model years of the third generation RAV4 had lots of owners complaining of a constant clunking or popping noise whenever the steering wheel is turned.
Here is how a couple of owners described the issue:
“I hear a clunk, pop, or knock-type noise when turning the steering wheel left or right.”
“Clunking noise from steering shaft that is both audible and felt through steering wheel. Occurs turning both left and right, going forward or reverse, but not when driving straight.”
“I have had an on going issue with my 2006 rav 4 and a “clunking” noise while steering. We had this repaired once when we purchased the car in 2006. But the exact same feel and noise has returned. The steering wheel clicks when you turn left or right, and you can feel the “clicking” in the steering wheel and with your feet in the car.”
Hearing the noise makes many people think that there’s something broken with the car’s steering which could affect the car’s drivability.
Fortunately, it’s only a minor issue that doesn’t cause any major damage or failures down the road. It’s more of an annoyance, but there are ways to fix it completely.
The most common fix for the steering clunk is replacing the intermediate steering shaft with an updated part from Toyota.
Others were able to get rid of the noise by tightening the steering shaft bolts and lubricating the ball bearings with some grease.
Overall, it’s relatively cheap and easy to fix the steering clunk and doesn’t require replacing the entire steering rack or power steering system.
6. Battery Drain Issues
Lots of fifth generation RAV4 owners have complained of battery drain issues even though their vehicles were only a couple of months old.
When the battery gets drained, the car won’t be able to start and will need to be jump started.
Here is how some RAV4 owners described their experience:
“Battery isn’t holding a charge. Temps outside are getting colder but not that cold. Don’t drive it on sundays, battery is dead on Monday mornings. Drive an average of 30 miles per day. Battery was replaced by dealership and still slow to start in the mornings. Now run it idling for 20 minutes Sunday evening to ensure it starts Monday morning.”
“I have a 2020 RAV4 xle with about 3,000 mileage. The car battery has died twice. The first time it happened, I jump started the car. The second time, I took the car to the dealer but they said there was nothing wrong with the car.”
“RAV4 was purchased first week of June 2020. Two weeks later, I go to start the car in the morning and the battery is dead. I had it jumped and took it to Toyota. The dealer said everything was working as it should. I took it home. This morning, three week after the first incident, I go try to start the car in the morning and the battery is dead.”
Car batteries typically last 3 to 5 years. The numerous reports of RAV4 batteries going flat means there’s something in the car that’s continuously draining the battery even while it’s just sitting unused.
This battery drain issue seems to only affect the 2019 and 2020 model years of the RAV4 which were early builds of the fifth generation model.
Toyota eventually released a TSB in the latter half of 2020 to fix the battery drain issue.
This TSB recommends updating the DCM (Data Communication Module) firmware and resetting it completely.
The DCM handles all of the car’s connectivity features such as cellular data and Wi-Fi.
The battery drain issue is likely caused by the DCM not shutting down completely when the vehicle is turned off, which should be easily resolved by a software update.
There have also been cases where people have needed to get their DCM units replaced, so defective hardware could also be the cause of the battery drain issues.
Toyota RAV4 Model Years With the Most Problems
To get a better idea of which Toyota RAV4 has the most problems the fairest way is to compare models based on the number of vehicles sold in relation to the number of reported problems.
We’re using Car Complaints PPMY index which means problems reported per thousand vehicles per Year.
For example, newer cars will have fewer complaints simply because they’ve been around for less time.
Based on this index, the most problematic years are:
- 2019 – 0.59 PPMY
- 2020 – 0.57 PPMY
- 2006 – 0.47 PPMY
And the least problematic years are:
- 2000 – 0.03 PPMY
- 2014, 2015 – 0.11 PPMY
- 2004, 2005 – 0.12 PPMY
|Toyota RAV4Model Year||Problems||Sales||VehicleAge||PPMY Index|
Source: Car Problem Zoo
Toyota RAV4 Pros and Cons
If you’re considering a Toyota RAV4 as your next car you might be wondering what its strengths and weaknesses are…
- Roomy cabin
- Lots of cargo space
- Packed with standard safety tech and driver assists
- Comfortable and car-like ride quality
- Great reliability
- Low upkeep
- Lack of driving dynamics
- Engine is not very refined or powerful
- Cabin can be noisy
- Affordable retail price although one of the more expensive options in its class
Toyota RAV4 Reliability Compared to Similar Cars
Consumer Reports rankings detailed below is based on the model’s newest three years, the Toyota RAV4 sits near the bottom, with a relatively poor score of 44/100.
|Make & Model||Consumer ReportsReliability Score|
Source: Consumer Reports
Toyota RAV4 Used Value
We’ve taken a look on Car Gurus to gauge the resale value of a Toyota RAV4, below are typical asking prices for each model year.
According to Car Edge, a Toyota RAV4 will depreciate 21% after 5 years and have a 5 year resale value of $27,757.
Note: Used model prices will vary depending on trim level.
|Model Year||Mileage (miles)||Resale Price|
Source: Car Gurus
What Do Owners Like and Dislike About the Toyota RAV4?
Based on owner feedback from the Kelley Blue Book site here are what real-life owners love and hate about the Toyota RAV4.
- Fuel economy
- Engine noise
- Screen freezes
- Old technology
“Man. With 25k miles and mostly city driving I average around 47-49mpg. This thing is solid. Went from a 2018 to a 2021 and don’t regret it…”
Source: Kelley Blue Book
“Been purchasing Rav-4’s since Toyota introduced it. This is my 5th one, by far the best one: performance wise, above average gas mileage, style is cutting edge, and more spacious interior. It fulfills my driving lifestyle.”
Source: Kelley Blue Book
“So far, a great vehicle. Nice to drive, roomy and plenty of power. Also, looks great!”
How Reliable Are Toyota Cars?
According to a recent report from Consumer Reports, Toyota are ranked the 3rd most reliable car manufacturer out of 28 brands, with a score of 71/100.
Source: Consumer Reports