Toyota started offering the plug-in hybrid model of their bestselling RAV4 for the 2021 model year.
The RAV4 Prime plug-in hybrid boasts up to 42 miles of electric range and offers really quick acceleration with its combined output of 302 hp.
In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the common issues and complaints RAV4 Prime PHEV owners have had since it was introduced.
Table of Contents
1. Heat Pump Noise
One of the most common issues affecting the RAV4 Prime is the heat pump noise that occurs on startup when it’s cold outside.
The noise is often described as sounding like a train horn or a loud groaning. It’s also often accompanied by some vibration which makes it even more concerning.
It typically only happens from time to time when the car is started in EV mode and usually only affects the 2021 model years of the RAV4 Prime.
Here is how a few owners described their experience:
“At least two or three times in the last couple of weeks, I’ve had a loud grinding noise from under the hood on start up when I run the heat (plus some vibration). In each instance, I turned off the climate control, which stopped the noise immediately, and then switched it back on with no problems.”
“The car makes a fog horn sound coming from front driver’s side. Tt only lasts a few seconds and then goes off. I have had the car now for about 3 months ( the car is 9 months old ) and it has made this noise about 6 times in total. I have taken it back to the dealer but they state that they cannot replicate the noise but have checked electrics and all appears ok. “
“Yesterday at 32 degrees I left it in EV at start up, about thirty seconds later had a loud moan from the engine compartment along with the steering wheel vibrating like a palm sander, it all returned to normal after about 6 seconds, very disconcerting.”
Toyota released a TSB (Technical Service Bulletin) for U.S. market RAV4 Primes in the first half of 2022 that recommends updating the HVAC system’s software to get rid of the heat pump noise.
According to Toyota, the noise occurs when liquid refrigerant is compressed in the AC compressor, which only happens in colder weather.
Some dealers will only update the software if they actually hear the noise for themselves, but it happens so rarely that it can be hard to replicate in warm weather.
2. Poor Heating in Cold Weather
A number of RAV4 Prime owners have complained that the heater doesn’t work very well when the weather gets really cold.
“Takes forever to get warm air coming out in the winter, so heated seats and heated steering wheel are a must IMHO.”
“My one negative about the car after owning it for a year is if the temperatures get below 25 degrees forget about having any heat from the heat pump in EV mode.”
“Heat in cold weather sucks, and sometimes the HVAC will just randomly freeze you out.”
The RAV4 Prime uses its heat pump when running in EV mode. Heat pumps don’t generally work as well as a traditional heater core in really cold weather, but they do improve battery life.
Using the remote start to precondition the cabin also doesn’t work very well because it always starts up in EV mode.
Fortunately, the RAV4 Prime also has a traditional heater core which is only used when the engine is running in hybrid mode. You just have to remember to switch to HV mode to warm up the cabin quicker before taking off.
3. Rear Seat Belt Alarm
The RAV4 Prime’s rear seat sensors are very sensitive and can trigger the seat belt alarm whenever it detects the slightest amount of weight.
Owners have observed that the middle seat is more prone to false alarms.
Here is how some described the issue:
“When either of my kids is in the back, and even slightly leans on the middle seat, it triggers the unbuckled seat belt alarm. We have moved to keep that middle seat buckled at all times because it is quite annoying.”
“I fold the back seats down for the dogs and it keeps alerting me.”
“I once had it go off because a girl set her purse on it. Still not aware of any ways to decrease sensitivity or turn it off, unfortunately. Would love to hear if there is though.”
“We had four people in the Prime and one of the rear passengers leaned in to tell me something as I was driving and I got an audible alert and something on the display referring to seatbelts.”
This issue affects all fifth gen RAV4s, so it’s not just an issue with the Prime.
Most people just keep the rear seat belt buckled in or use a dummy seat belt to avoid getting the warning. Dealers can also recalibrate the sensitivity or disable the sound alert altogether.
The RAV4 will also display a ‘Check Rear Seat’ warning on the dash if you open the rear doors while the car is turned on, but you can disable this ‘Rear Seat Reminder’ in the vehicle settings.
4. Key Fob Issues
Many RAV4 Prime owners have complained that the car’s keyless entry system will suddenly stop working at times.
Some also get a ‘Key Fob Not Detected’ error on the dash even after starting the car.
Here’s how a few owners described their experience:
“I went on an errand in my 2021 RAV4 Prime. After an hour, went to get back into the car and the key wouldn’t let me in.”
“17 months on my RAV4 Prime SE and I’m on my 4th battery. OEM and replacements have lasted 5-6 months.”
“I’ve been having intermittent issues with my key fob. The touch lock/unlock feature will quit working, and I have to fish out the fob and use the lock/unlock button. I also get occasional dashboard notices that the key isn’t detected.”
“The battery in my spare which is never used is already dead. We’ve had the car a little over a year and the fob that is used everyday is fine.”
Key fob issues are usually caused by a dead or weak battery. In case you have issues unlocking or starting the car with your key fob, here are a few things you can try:
- Push the unlock button on the key fob
- Use the phone app to unlock the car
- Use the emergency key in the fob to unlock the doors
- Place key fob next to Start/Stop button to turn on the car
It’s always a good idea to keep a couple of spare coin batteries on hand in case the key fob battery suddenly dies out.
If the key fob still doesn’t work properly after replacing the battery, check inside the key fob for corrosion issues.
You should also keep the key fob out of range and away from the car while it’s parked to ensure the battery doesn’t die out prematurely.
If all else fails, take the car back to the dealer so they can check if there’s anything wrong with the car or the key fob.
5. Loud Reverse Alert
A number of RAV4 Prime owners have complained about the loud pedestrian alert which turns on every time you shift into reverse.
All hybrids, PHEVs and EVs are required by law to have an external reverse alert that pedestrians can hear because electrified vehicles are very silent when running on battery power.
In the RAV4 Prime, the alert doesn’t come on when the gas engine is running.
Here are some steps you can try to force the gas engine to switch on:
- Put the car in ‘Ready’ mode or ‘Park’
- Toggle the HV/EV button to select HV or Hybrid Vehicle mode
- Step on the accelerator to switch on the gas engine
- If the gas engine doesn’t come on, try selecting the ‘Charge Hold’ mode
Keep in mind that the ‘Charge Hold’ mode only switches on the engine if the hybrid battery isn’t fully charged, so this method isn’t foolproof.
Some owners have found ways to disconnect the backup speaker/module, but this requires some tinkering and may not be exactly legal. Dealers might also deny you service if you disable the speaker.
If you disconnect the pedestrian alert speaker, you’ll also get an error on the dash every time you start up the car.
Instead of completely disabling the speaker, some owners simply wrap it up with tape which helps reduce the volume.
6. ABS Noise
Many RAV4 Prime owners have noticed a strange chattering or clicking noise whenever they go over bumps at slow speeds.
“I have been hearing a clunking noise in my 2021 R4P SE when going over certain uneven roads and most speed bumps.”
“When I apply the brakes over very minor bumps like small potholes, the ABS and drivetrain totally freaks out, making loud chattering noises.”
“I have a brand new 2022 R4P with less than 6,500 miles. Many times, if I go over a bump while braking, I hear this crazy scraping noise on the bottom of my car.”
This noise is usually coming from the ABS pump which is known to make a rapid clicking noise whenever it’s engaged.
You’ll know that the noise is coming from the ABS if the ABS/Traction Control light flashes on the dash.
This is normal behavior for pretty much all Toyota hybrids, but the RAV4 Prime seems to be more eager to engage the ABS compared to other cars.
The ABS can be easily triggered by:
- Speed bumps
- Rough roads
- Manhole covers
- Slippery surfaces
The RAV4 Prime has also been known to have some rattles and clunks even when they’re relatively new. Try to narrow down where the sound is coming from then check with your dealer if they find anything wrong with the car’s interior trim pieces or suspension.
7. Hybrid ECU Recall
Toyota announced a recall in February 2023 for the 2021 model year of the RAV4 Prime due to a risk of a sudden hybrid system shutdown which causes the car to lose all power.
This recall affects approximately 16,000 vehicles sold in the U.S.
According to the recall, the car might suddenly shut down in colder temperatures if the accelerator is rapidly pressed.
Although there have been a number of reports where owners keep on getting a ‘Hybrid System Malfunction’ error on the dash, there haven’t been any reported cases on different Internet forums where the car suddenly loses power while driving as described in the recall.
Getting the recall done should be fairly quick and straightforward since it’s basically just a software update.
Recalls are done completely free of charge even if the vehicle is already out of warranty because they present a safety risk.
8. High Voltage Cable Corrosion
Corrosion of the high voltage cable for the rear motor is a common issue with the RAV4 Hybrid. It’s quite rare in the RAV4 Prime, but a few owners have noticed some corrosion when they check underneath the car.
Once corrosion eats through the wiring harness, the hybrid system starts encountering different errors and will stop working intermittently. In some cases, the cable corrosion can prevent the car from starting altogether, in which case, you’ll need to get it towed to the dealer.
One RAV4 Prime owner had a complete hybrid system failure and needed to get their vehicle towed to the dealer:
“The battery is completely charged. I turn the car on, the ICE engine turns on, and the first message I see says ‘Hybrid System Malfunction Shift to P See owner manual’. The car was already in park. The second message. Says ‘Braking Power Low Visit Your Dealer’.
“If I shift into any gear (or neutral) I hear a constant alarm sound and the car engine revs up a little, but no power is sent to the wheels.”
“Had the car towed to the dealership. They checked it out and determined that the issue is the corroded high voltage wire that runs along the bottom of the car.”
Vehicles that spend a lot of time driving through salt-covered roads are more prone to this issue because the salt speeds up the oxidation process.
Toyota slightly modified the rear motor’s electrical connector in the 2022 models to address the issue, but it’s still largely the same design, so problems could still occur in the future.
It’s possible to minimize the chances of excessive corrosion by regularly washing the undercarriage of the car.
However, the manual specifically states to not use a high pressure washer to clean the bottom of the vehicle since it will unnecessarily force water into the electrical system.
A lot of people have also been recommending spraying the connector with dielectric grease to keep rust issues at bay.
It’s also worth mentioning that many hybrid system errors can also be caused by a weak 12-volt battery. If charging or replacing the 12-volt battery doesn’t get rid of the errors, it’s best to have your dealer take a look.
Pros and Cons
- Excellent electric range
- Good fuel economy
- Quick acceleration
- Lots of driver assists and safety tech
- Standard all-wheel drive
- Spacious for passengers and cargo
- Comfortable and easy to drive
- Excellent reliability
- Noisy gas engine
- Lacks exciting driving dynamics
- Slightly outdated infotainment
- High dealer markup
What Do The Reviews Say?
“Compared to the standard hybrid, the Prime has more powerful electric motors and a larger battery that allows for 42 miles of all-electric range. That means it’s not only the best option for commuting in the RAV4 lineup, but it’s also the quickest of the bunch, needing only 5.6 seconds to hit 60 mph.”
“Unfortunately, Toyota has failed to back up the muscular powertrain with any sort of dynamic athleticism. Handling is pretty abysmal, with prevalent body roll and vague steering that makes it hard to judge the right amount of input. The electronic driver assistants also freak out at the smallest provocation.”
“The RAV4 Prime’s ride quality is biased more toward comfort than performance, delivering a smooth ride over road imperfections. Road and wind noise is abated to pleasant levels, though the gasoline engine sounds unrefined when you’re aggressively accelerating. Otherwise, it’s pleasantly muted.”
“The RAV4 Prime takes a small hit when it comes to cargo capacity, accommodating 33.5 cubic feet as opposed to the standard RAV4’s 37.6 cubic feet.”
What’s the Resale Value of a RAV4 Prime Plug-in Hybrid?
Here’s a quick look at the RAV4 Prime’s used car pricing on Edmunds at the time of writing. Prices quoted are for the base SE trim level.