Huge win for car owners! All TSBs to be made public. The Center for Auto Safety just made the NHTSA (US Government) make public the full text of all TSBs from now on. They are the same organization that has petitioned the NHTSA & filed lawsuits to protect car owners over exploding gas tanks & other major safety issues. Whenever you drive in your car, you are safer thanks in part to a lot of work over the years by this small but very effective consumer advocacy group.

Please take a moment & say thank you by donating $5 or whatever you can to the Center for Auto Safety. Notes: If you're looking for a vehicle with one of the most complained about transmission on the road, look no further than the 2001-2003 Toyota RAV4.

In 2001 Toyota completely redesigned the popular SUV. While some enjoyed the new look, they did not enjoy the harsh shifting, jumping from gear-to-gear and eventual transmission failure that cost owners well over $3,000 to fix. The problem stems from a malfunctioning Electronic Control Module (ECM).

Consumer outrage coupled with pressure from different agencies led Toyota to extend the warranty nationwide back in 2010. The previous power train warranty only covered 5 years/60,000 miles, while the extended warranty now covers the transmission and ECM for 10 years/150,000 miles. Toyota also pledged to reimburse any owners who had previously paid for repairs, if they had "proper proof". Good luck collecting on that one.


really awful
Crashes / Fires:
3 / 1
Injuries / Deaths:
1 / 0
Average Mileage:
105,575 miles

About These NHTSA Complaints:

This data is from the NHTSA — the US gov't agency tasked with vehicle safety. Complaints are spread across multiple & redundant categories, & are not organized by problem.

So how do you find out what problems are occurring? For this NHTSA complaint data, the only way is to read through the comments below. Any duplicates or errors? It's not us.

2003 Toyota RAV4 drivetrain problems

drivetrain problem

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2003 Toyota RAV4 Owner Comments (Page 4 of 5)

« Read the previous 20 complaints

problem #26

Dec 012012

RAV4 4-cyl

  • 69,000 miles


I backed up in reverse and then put 2003 rav 4 into drive expecting to go forward when motor began to race and car flew backward over 12-foot high embankment into woods while engine continued racing. Car did not roll over but swung around 130 degrees in a flat area and came to a stop facing a tree 4 feet straight ahead. A second or two later the car then leaped forward into the tree with engine roaring, car continued to race at high rpms with front bumper wrapped around tree. The only way I could stop the high revs was to turn off the ignition. I injured my back.

- Highland, NY, USA

problem #25

Jul 102012


  • 157,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Toyota Rav4. The contact stated that while driving 45 mph, the vehicle started to shake and stalled without any warning. The vehicle was not taken to the dealer. The manufacturer was made aware of the failure who did not offer any assistance. The vehicle was not repaired. The failure mileage was 157,000 and the current mileage was 167,000.

- Chesapeake, OH, USA

problem #24

May 022012


  • 99,000 miles
I own a 2003 Toyota Rav4. My car was running in good working order, with just over 99,000 miles on it. On May 2nd 2012, I experienced issues with the car's transmission and ECM. The car would rev when I pressed on the gas, but it would not move. Also, when shifting gears, the car would slow to a brake and then there was be a bump or grinding in the gears before the car would proceed to move. This would put me in danger of a rear end collision because my car would suddenly brake without me pressing on the brakes to signal the driver behind me that I was going to slow down. I have learned that Toyota is aware of this issue with many of its Rav4's (2001-2003). Is there any help on Toyota's part to correct this issue that they know of without passing along the cost to the innocent customer? thank you for your time. Updated 06/22/2012

- Somerville, MA, USA

problem #23

Mar 052012


  • 117,461 miles


My 2003 Toyota rav 4 started shifting poorly and inconsistently by not shifting to the next gear, slipping in between gears and slamming into gear. There are times when the transmission functions correctly and then there are days when it never does. I am scared to death to drive this car not knowing whether it will be a good day when my Rav4 behaves as it should or if its going to leave transmission parts all over the road, get us in an accident or at the very least, leave us stranded. Nerve racking and incredibly unsafe.

- Canandaigua, NY, USA

problem #22

Apr 132011

RAV4 4-cyl

  • 66,000 miles
My car lost power. I could not drive more than 10 miles an hour. Intermittent loss of power happened several times last years and this years. Just recently on 04/04/2012 at 4:55pm I was driving with my wife and her sister and I had to pull on shoulder and turned on hazard warning light and drive in lower gear ( 2nd gear ).

- Woodbury, MN, USA

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problem #21

Oct 062011

RAV4 4-cyl

  • miles
This is my wife's primary mode of transportation, she was the one who first noticed the herky/jerky operation of the transmission when she attempted to place it in reverse to back up, she then notified me of the problem. I proceeded to test drive the vehicle the next day, when we were pulling into traffic from a parking lot, it suddenly shuddered between gears and finally settled into the proper gear after I let off of the accelerator. Once we made it home after about 10 miles, we parked the car until I had a chance to drive it to Toyota for an assessment. They drove it around and noticed the same herky/jerky operation, but stated to me that they couldn't do anything until they received a code from the computer stating either ECU or transmission trouble, after 2 or 3 days they were unable to retrieve any such code.

- Felton, CA, USA

problem #20

Oct 052011


  • 170,000 miles


The contact owns a 2003 Toyota Rav4. The contact stated that while driving 60 mph, the vehicle started to jerk violently. The vehicle was taken to the dealer who diagnosed that the transmission and computer were defective and needed to be replaced. The manufacturer was made aware of the failure who did not offer any assistance since the vehicle was out of warranty. The vehicle was not repaired. The failure and the current mileage was 170,000.

- Wesley Chapel, FL, USA

problem #19

Oct 032011

RAV4 4-cyl

  • 115,000 miles
Car will not moves very slowly when it stops and you try to accelerate, very dangerous!

- Fletcher, NC, USA

problem #18

Aug 062011

RAV4 4-cyl

  • 93,400 miles
2003 Toyota Rav4 - transmission slipping; ends up it is a computer (ECM) problem which is skipping 2nd gear and hesitating on acceleration and jerking into 3rd gear from 1st gear.

- New Berlin, WI, USA

problem #17

Dec 032010

RAV4 4-cyl

  • 89,000 miles
Check oil light came on and would go out, after checking the oil level all appear fine, the car would burn 1 quart every two months. After driving along the express way for 30 miles and using a two lane road for about 3 miles the check engine light and oil light all came on at a stop light and then the engine make noise and quit running, after towing the car to a auto repair shop we were told the car needed a new engine. The car is a rav 4 2003 with about 89,000 miles on it.

- Jupiter, FL, USA

problem #16

Apr 062010


  • 55,000 miles


Computer failed that led to transmission to fail. After fixing it still glitcheseses. It is ok one day and glitches another very unpredictable and transmission mechanic can not figure out the problem. Computer was put in new and transmission was rebuilt cost about $ 4000. It is hard to effort this during these economic hardships. Not to mention all this happened only on 88000 kms.

- Calgary, 00, USA

problem #15

May 282010


  • miles
Was slightly skipping gears. Was taken to dealership. Was told that if it was the ECM, the engine light would have come on, it did not. Was told that it was the transmission, hard to believe as there were no noise except the rpms. They recommend transmission replacement and transmission computer est. $5512,00 +tax. 2003 Rav4 should of at least go beyond 10 years without any mayor repairs. I told them no. Do not start work on it, I will pick it up this evening. About 4:45pm I arrived at the dealership to pick up the SUV and noticed that it was much worst than when I dropped it off. Luckily my wife was behind me to slow traffic in order for me to get our SUV back in our garage before anything happens especially during traffic hours. The gears and the loud transmission shift could now be heard. That did not happen before then. Going up hills now it took its time. Have to put it reverse so that I can get it in straight into the garage and boom, then I heard like coil springs popping. I put it back on drive and was able to get into the garage. Toyota knew about this problem a long time ago and failed to notify us. Bennet Toyota @2300 hanover avenue @ (610)437-6711, did not even want to talk to me. They must have done something to the transmission when I told them no. Because now it is 99% failing compare to when I took it when I noticed the safety hazards/ and the noises when I shift gear from drive to reverse. Now I hear big thumps when I shift and coils springing. The Rav4 is automatic by the way. Hope you can help with this. Just remember, Toyota new about this. P.S. almost hit a little girl on a bike the same day.

- Bethlehem, PA, USA

problem #14

May 282010

(reported on)


  • miles
S10 appropriate handling-letter to the secretary from re Toyota problems 2003 Toyota Rav4. The consumer stated when plugged into the electric charging system, the vehicle rolled away. The consumer stated it can happen if the gear is inadvertently shifted out of park and into neutral if the vehicle is parked on a slight slope.

- Woodland, CA, USA

problem #13

Aug 212009


  • 102,134 miles
In 2009, without notice my 2003 Toyota rav 4 was "jerking and going". then it would barely move once stopped. Then when it would move, it would drag. In August of 2009, the transmission was replaced by palmer's Toyota superstore. This cost $1,721.93.

- Chickasaw, AL, USA

problem #12

Nov 202009


  • 84,000 miles
Hello, I just recently submitted a complaint on the Toyota Rav4 that is having wide spread transmission problems due to a faulty ECM. I just spoke to the dealership and they are aware of it, but the consumers are not. It is only taken care of after the problem starts and if you take it to a Toyota dealer who runs a service bulletin check. This is just not acceptable for all these people that are suffering the huge expense of this, and was not even aware of a problem with this cars main computer (ECM). I just hope I can help to make a difference for all of us. Not a safety! my teenage daughters are driving this car and I'm afraid of what would happen if this problem continues and the car stops working on the freeway or where ever it may happen. Who is to say the new ECM is even good. Please go to on TC002-06 and see complaints. Also just search TC002-06 Rav4 to see how many people are having problems. Thank you!

- Lake Almanor, CA, USA

problem #11

Jan 012010

RAV4 4-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 102,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Toyota Rav4. She noticed that when she stopped the gear will fail it will stay in drive. The vehicle was taken to the dealer, and the diagnosis indicated that the failure was caused by the electronic control unit. The dealer replaced the ECU and the failure was corrected. The failure mileage was 102,000 and the current mileage was 104,236. Updated 03/30/10. The consumer stated when she made a stop, the vehicle would not go into gear and the engine revved, then slipped into gear and lurched forward. The consumer was told it was a computer problem and sending faulty signals to the transmission. The consumer stated there have been no other problems since. Updated 07/15/10

- Sacramento, CA, USA

problem #10

Dec 272009


  • 134,000 miles
This is a well known safety hazard Toyota will not acknowledge with 2001-04 Rav4S. My well maintained 2003 Rav4 with 135K miles suddenly hesitates/jerks on acceleration. Never had issues with car until few days ago with mild hesitation intermittently. Now car bucks violently, shakes, skips gears and lurches ahead when accelerating and before coming to full stop. Car is at dealership and no defects found. They are now testing for engine control module failure at my request based on what I have learned from reading scores of similar complaints. Part is estimated at $1500 but Toyota will not cover as it has over 80000 miles - they knew of this defect since at least 2006 and issued a service bulletin but did not alert me and other owners to get this issue repaired. It is a serious safety hazard.

- Jackson, NJ, USA

problem #9

Dec 022009


  • 59,701 miles
My wife's 2003 Toyota Rav4 2 wheel drive transmission suddenly stopped driving in traffic while at a traffic light. It revved up but wouldn't move. Then it finally took hold and drove off in a higher gear. Then while driving on the road in traffic it did it again (very dangerous-she could of been hit from behind. Apparently after reading up on it, Toyota issued in March 06' a report to Toyota service centers about their ECM causing this problem, but hasn't warned consumers, or done anything about it.

- Holualoa, HI, USA

problem #8

Oct 162009


  • 98,000 miles
I own a Toyota rav 4 2003. In a matter of days, my car started slipping gears while accelerating. My car was unable to accelerate safely in 45 mph bumper to bumper traffic. I took my car into the dealer to find out that there is a faulty ECM that affects transmissions that Toyota has known about. I think it is unethical practice for a car maker to know that there is a faulty design in a car that can affect something as an important and as expensive as a transmission. What would have happened if I was merging on to the highway, and it did not accelerate?

- Lady Lake, FL, USA

problem #7

Aug 272009


  • 108,100 miles
Toyota 2003 Rav4- car started bucking when accelerating after traffic light. Did not accelerate evenly into traffic. Had to pull over and let cars pass. Onboard computer (ECM) had failed and was not communicating with the transmission. Toyota had not informed consumers of this known defect.

- Scotch Plains, NJ, USA

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