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.


hardly worth mentioning
Crashes / Fires:
0 / 0
Injuries / Deaths:
0 / 0
Average Mileage:
110,719 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 transmission problems

transmission problem

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2003 Toyota RAV4 Owner Comments (Page 3 of 6)

« Read the previous 20 complaints

problem #66

Mar 012010


  • 95,000 miles


My problem is with my 2003 Toyota rav 4. recently I was driving and the vehicle started to have some problems. First, the vehicle would not accelerate as I would be entering traffic, for example, on highways. A number of times it would start accelerating and then slow down or lose acceleration, this caused many anxious moments as often a car/truck would be coming up behind me. I would try to accelerate and step on the gas and the car would not really move until all of a sudden the gears would shift and the car would jump forward and suddenly start moving. This was scary on a number of occasions, especially when I had my son in the car. Also, the car would automatically shift gears, or drop gears while driving. I would be in traffic and we would be moving along when suddenly the car would jump into gear and literally jump forward sometimes propelling the car forward a little. Also while driving, both local roads and on highways the car would drop gears and suddenly slow down and then shift back into gear. The car has 95000 miles on it. We were told by a mechanic (who is not fixing the car) that Toyota had advised that there is a problem with a computer-the ECM- in the rav 4, that will cause the car to jump and shift gears and possibly ruin the transmission. We have recently been informed by Toyota that the ECM needs to be replaced and that the transmission in damaged and also needs to be replaced.

- Levittown, NY, USA

problem #65

Mar 182010


  • 126,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Toyota rav 4. the contact stated that the vehicle stalls while in park. Also while driving 25mph the vehicle does not pick up speed. He took the vehicle to the dealer and the dealer informed him that the transmission needs to be replaced. The contact notice numerous complaints regarding the transmission for this year make and model and make and feels the manufacturer should issue a recall. The failure mileage was 126,000.

- Staten Island, NY, USA

problem #64

Mar 012010


  • 119,000 miles
I was driving my 2003 Rav4 about 2 weeks ago when it refused to accelerate from a stop at a red light, I was in the middle of the intersection(coasting basically) with a line of unhappy traffic behind me before it slammed violently into high gear and almost caused me to crash into the overpass walls. It has since then been intermittent, being fine for a day or so then doing the same thing, in varying degrees of severity. The check engine light went on, and I made an appointment to bring it in to Toyota for diagnostics. They quoted me $6800 to replace the ECM computer and the transmission. This vehicle has been regularly maintained and only has 119,000 miles. I have since found out that this is a very dangerous and common problem with this year of Toyota that they have known about for a while now. I can't drive the car at all until the computer is replaced, and then it will need a transmission shortly afterward according to both Toyota and the other Rav4 owners in this situation. If the computer had been replaced prior to the problem demonstrating itself in the shifting difficulties, there would have been no damage to the transmission at all. I think that Toyota is to blame for not advising Rav4 drivers of this dangerous defect and the relatively cheap repair that could have saved me much time and money. I need a car to work, so I either pay Toyota $6800 or buy a new car, and in this economy I don't know if I'll be able to get the financing to do either.

- Middle Island , NY, USA

problem #63

Oct 152009


  • 107,000 miles


After accelerating from a stop the vehicle hesitated and then sped up quickly and I almost hit another vehicle. It did that about 4-8 times before I did some research and found it was out of warranty and that Toyota wouldn't fix it, according to my research and Toyota's reluctancy to recall the vehicle.

- Stanwood, WA, USA

problem #62

Mar 062010


  • 73,468 miles
Transmission was burned up by a faulty ECM.

- Blue Springs, MO, USA

problem #61

Feb 262010


  • 65,050 miles
1. jerking transmission at low speed 2. loss of power 3. dealer replaced ECM to transmission (warranty) in accordance with tsb.

- Little Rock, AR, USA

problem #60

Nov 202009


  • 84,000 miles


We have a 2003 Toyota Rav4 that obviously has a defective part and safety issues. We bought this vehicle for our teenage daughter approximately 1 1/2 yrs ago from a dealer and it had 74,000 miles. Thankfully we did get a extended warranty, but not one that will cover this problem. This last November our daughter was driving the car and was stuck going up a hill as the car would not shift into the right gear. She was stranded on the mountain highway until we could come get her. Thankfully she did get off the road, but it scared us to think that this car could of done this if she was at a high speed or couldn't have got off the road in the dark mountain terrain. We had the vehicle towed to a local shop and they concluded that it needed a new transmission. We had only put maybe 10,000 miles on it since purchase. The warranty covered the $4000 replacement cost of a new transmission. After picking up the vehicle it seemed to run ok but still had shifting problems at the speed of 20-30. A harsh jerking. Our daughter was driving the car and again it stopped working in a business district. So back to the shop. Well now we are stumped on what could be wrong. Even had 2 sensors replaced and still the same problem. So we have a Toyota, which we bought for our teenage daughters because of their reputation of being a great vehicle, but now worried what it will do as they are driving it. So the latest is I did some of my own research on this year vehicle. Came across a website called rav4world. There are pages off complaints on transmission failures for Rav4 2001-2003. I guess Toyota didn't do a recall for a supposedly defective ECM that is the main computer in car and it is leading to transmission failure. Toyota did put out an extended warranty on replacement which is 96months or 80,000 miles. Our car is at 84K. The problem with this is how many people are driving this car and have no idea that this defective ECM is destroying the transmission"?" also it is a safety issue!

- Lake Almanor, CA, USA

problem #59

Jul 152008


  • miles
Car wouldn't shift properly. Toyota dealer said I needed a new transmission due to a problem with the solenoid. After internet searching the problem, I asked that the local repair shop replace the computer (much less costly) and the car started working again. An internal memo to dealers stated that this was a common problem on the make/model but the local dealer did not mention such a memo. I only found it after searching online.

- Baltimore, MD, USA

problem #58

Feb 192010


  • 103,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Toyota Rav4. The contact was driving 5 mph out of a parking space. The rpms rapidly began to increase. Whenever shifting from second gear to third gear range there was a jerking sensation. The vehicle was able to continue in operation. The failure occurred intermittently. The vehicle was taken to an authorized dealer for inspection. The technician stated that the failure could be possibly related to the electronic control module (ECU). The vehicle has not been repaired for the malfunction at this time. The failure mileage was 103,000.

- Kennett Square, PA, USA

problem #57

Feb 182010


  • 45,000 miles
Transmission on 2003 rav 4 (Toyota) does not work properly it hesitates and does not move the auto when the accelerator is pressed it also jumps and shifts gears roughly when accelerating this could well lead to problems and possible crashes on freeway ramps and at stop lights and signs.

- Columbus, OH, USA

problem #56

Nov 122009


  • 157,000 miles


When driving my 2003 Toyota Rav4, the transmission slipped at about 20mph. I was about to enter an interception, and a 18 wheel truck, started to make a turn in front of me. I was unable to proceed, and narrowly missed the truck hitting me head-on. Competition Toyota of middle iland, NY put a new ECM in for $1400, but the trans. Continued to slip. I spent $5,700+ on a rebuilt transmission from jasper Corp., but I was with-out a vehicle for 7 weeks.

- East Quogue, NY, USA

problem #55

Feb 012010


  • 97,000 miles
2003 Toyota Rav4. With no warning or check engine light, car began bucking between 1st and 2nd gears - but then smoothed out in the higher gears and also as the car warmed up. No other cars around so no danger to myself or others. Thought the transmission needed fluid, so I tried that. Seemed to improve somewhat for two days - then the slipping became very bad and the check engine light came on. That same afternoon I brought car into my mechanic, whose computer diagnosed a defective solonoid. After replacement ($117), transmission was still slipping. Found a transmission shop and they diagnosed a faulty ECM. Cost for replacement: $1450. Don't know at this time whether or not transmission has been irreparably damaged. Cost to replace transmission: $3500.

- Sandisfield, MA, USA

problem #54

Jan 292010


  • Automatic transmission
  • 98,095 miles
2003 Toyota Rav4 with automatic transmission & 4WD. Transmission will not allow proper acceleration from standing stop, rough shifting resulting in a "slam" into gear, hangs between gears when trying to shift. Flush of fluid alleviated problem for 1 week (approx 200 miles 0 but it has returned. ECU error code: P0755.

- Manassas, VA, USA

problem #53

Jan 202010


  • 960,000 miles
2003 Toyota rav 4 transmission failure due to faulty PCM- technical bulletin #1046. Transmission experienced bind up and harsh shifting January 2010. Vehicle transmission started binding up, car would not run properly. Towed to transmission shop. Entire transmission and faulty PCM had to be replaced at cost of $4600. Toyota is aware of issue, released a tsb regarding repair issues. Tsb is limited to 8 years or 80,000 miles. Toyota and dealer have refused to help in any way.

- Graham, WA, USA

problem #52

Feb 112010


  • 84,000 miles
Toyota Rav4 with only 80,000 miles, the transmission has failed. There are thousands of complaints and here is yet another. Totally ridiculous that Toyota won't stand behind this known issue. All I can say is where do I sign on the lawsuit? quoted over 3,000 to replace and that's not going to happen. I'm sure I speak for all of us when I say, there is something that needs to be done now. Car would not accelerate in the middle of an intersection causing a major safety hazard.

- Huntersville, NC, USA

problem #51

Jan 212010


  • 79,100 miles
How many times does a person have to file a complaint?? my 2003 Toyota rav 4 has a major transmission problem that Toyota has known about for several years!! it wasn't until I pulled out on a highway and my vehicle would not move (and just missed getting plowed into by an oncoming vehicle) that I discovered there was a very serious issue with my car!! I took the vehicle to a transmission specialist that informed me about a bulletin that was sent out in 2006 about a defect in the computer component that operates the transmission!! what good is a bulletin if the consumer knows nothing about it?? oh thats's just another way for Toyota to get off cheap!! a recall would have cost them millions!! I did get the component replaced (since I only have 79,100 miles on my car) at no charge. However, the transmission is shot!! Toyota deserves everything they get right now!! they are dishonest and could care less about the safety of the consumer!!!!!

- Aliquippa, PA, USA

problem #50

Dec 012009


  • 100,000 miles
Around 12/1/2009, I noticed that the automatic transmission seemed to have problems shifting, for example when you would think that the car would shift from 1st to 2nd gear, it would not, or when you were at a stop light and tried to accelerate, car would not move. It was as if the car was in neutral so stepping on the accelerator did nothing but cause a loud "revving" sound. In most cases within a few seconds, it did get into gear and the car did accelerate however when this happened, the car would jerk sharply. Within a few days the problem was occurring alot (at every stop, every time the car needed to shift between 1st and 2nd gear or 2nd and 3rd) so I stopped driving it since I did not feel it was safe, for example, when the car was moving in traffic but then would not shift from 1st to 2nd gear, I could not accelerate and go the posted speed limit. I researched the problem online and spoke to my mechanic and we agreed the car seemed to be exhibiting problems described in a Toyota service bulletin TC002-06 (a problem with the engine control module). As my car had just over 100000 miles, Toyota refused to consider this as covered by warranty so I had to pay to get it done (ended up going to a private shop). Car is better now, though it may also need get the transmission rebuilt as there are still some issues when the car shifts from 1st to 2nd gear or 2nd to 3rd gear.

- Pleasanton, CA, USA

problem #49

Dec 142009


  • 110,000 miles
I own a 2003 Toyota rav 4, approx. Two months ago the transmission went out on it. As I have learned this is a common problem with 2001-2004 Toyota rav 4's. it seems many of the above noted year rav's have a faulty ECU in them, this ECU tells the transmission to do the wrong thing, therefore causing the transmission to fail. I have been quoted a price to repair my Rav4 it will cost me well over $5,000, really? I cannot believe this is not a recall situation since so many rav 4 owners are suffering from the same situation. I believe the company should take care of its customers, at least they should have warned us about the faulty ECU. I had always loved my Rav4, I am so disappointed in the Toyota corporation.

- Hayden, ID, USA

problem #48

Sep 092009


  • 125,000 miles
The first thing I noticed was a hard shift into reverse. Like a lurch. About 2 days later I noticed the shift from 2nd to 3rd was taking longer than it should. On about the 4th day, at a light when stopped, I hit the gas and didn't move. There was a notable hesitation and I nearly was rearended. Finally on about the 5th day, I had the pedal to the floor and was crawling along the road basically. We turned around and parked it, and it has sat ever since, for about 6 months now. We can't afford to fix it and we only half own it.

- Lansford, PA, USA

problem #47

Jan 202010


  • 140,000 miles
We recently encountered a problem with our 2003 Toyota Rav4 where the transmission intermittently seemed to slip when engaging first gear from a stopped position, shifted harshly between first and second gears, or at times seemed to slip between shifting from first and second gear. The result of the hesitation to shift gears represents a real safety issue in traffic, and we feared this issue would cause an accident. We immediately stopped driving the vehicle and took it to our local Toyota dealership (apple valley Toyota in martinsburg, wv) to look into the problem. We dropped off the vehicle overnight, and received a call from the dealership the next day informing us that we needed a new transmission (quoted $3800). Researching this issue on the internet, we found the known issue with the ECM for this model year vehicle, and the fact that Toyota has known about the issue since at least 2006- although they did not inform the owners of these vehicles, nor did the mechanics at the dealership seem to know that this was an issue- despite a 2006 tsb on the subject. Unfortunately we did not find this out until after we had taken the vehicle to another shop and had the transmission rebuilt and the solenoid box replaced. Now, after almost $4000, we are still experiencing the same issue with the transmission which has left the vehicle undrivable. We feel that Toyota has a responsibility to their customers and that this is clearly a safety issue that warrants a recall. And that even if a recall is not ordered, they should have at least alerted their customers to this issue and prepared their dealerships on how to identify and resolve the issue correctly. Please be proactive and investigate this issue before lives are lost. This problem makes operation of the vehicle unsafe!

- Martinsburg, WV, USA

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