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 4 of 6)

« Read the previous 20 complaints

problem #46

Dec 152009


  • 85,000 miles


2003 Toyota Rav4 automatic transmission jerking, stopping and going by itself.

- Trenton, NJ, USA

problem #45

Jul 102009


  • 83,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Toyota Rav4. The contact stated that the computer module for the transmission failed. While driving approximately 45 mph. The vehicle began shaking excessively. There were no related recalls. The warranty expired at 80,000 miles; although, the failure and current mileage was 83,000 the manufacturer agreed to repair the vehicle.

- Stockholm, NJ, USA

problem #44

Jan 152010


  • 158,000 miles
ECM and transmission problem in 2003 Toyota Rav4 create a very dangerous condition - severe hesitation and delay/disruption in shifting when other vehicles are behind you or when you are trying to cross lanes of traffic in low gears.

- Fairfax, VT, USA

problem #43

Apr 242009

RAV4 4-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 94,744 miles


I had a 2003 Toyota Rav4. On April 24th 2009 I pulled out into traffic and my transmission made my car stall almost causing an accident. That was the first time that my transmission acted it up. The torque converter burned up in it. This is a very serious problem and many people have had the same issue. Toyota needs to do something about. A company on ebay rebuilds the defective ecms told me that Toyota has a real big problem on their hands and that they have rebuilt tons of the ecms. The consumer stated she had to take the vehicle back 3 times, because the vehicle was not shifting properly. Updated 03/24/10.

- Oronogo, MO, USA

problem #42

Dec 232009


  • 85,000 miles
My Toyota Rav4 automatic suddenly began to run roughly, and clunk when shifting. I attempted a left turn at a light into a parking lot to check the car when it hesitated for several seconds in the middle of the busy intersection. The oncoming traffic was alert enough to avoid me but it was close. I would not have attempted that turn if I had known the extent of the car's problem. I was able to get the car home and the hard shifting, hesitating and skipping gears continued. I researched the problem on the internet and found this to be a common problem with '01-03 Rav4's. well known to the owners as well Toyota since 2006. I bought the car new in '03 and this is the first I have heard of it. I had the ECM rebuilt-not by Toyota-and the car seems to be running fine now.

- Bend, OR, USA

problem #41

Jan 142010


  • 75,000 miles
Car has been revving at high RPM levels periodically. Just recently the transmission went into low gear while driving on the highway. It was like the brakes were put on me, went from going 45 mph to 1 mph on a busy highway heading towards the off ramp. Very scary.

- Haverhill, MA, USA

problem #40

Dec 242009


  • 138,723 miles


Car was having trouble shifting. It felt like the emergency brake was on. I pulled out into traffic and the car would not shift from 1st to 2nd gear. I had to pull over. I called my mechanic who said it sounded like the transmission and recommended a transmission specialist. The transmission was rebuilt. They also replaced the computer. They told me the computer failure is what caused the transmission failure. The parts listed are the computer, converter, overhaul kit for AWD, and transaxle oil filter.

- Lynn, MA, USA

problem #39

Jan 022010


  • 106,500 miles
I have a 2003 Toyota rav-4. the transmission started to slip, so I took it to the dealer and was told I would need a re-manufactured transmission. I went online to look up costs and saw a ton of complaints about the same problem. I am either going to have the transmission fixed or buy a new car because my car is worth the same as the fix. Apparently from what I am reading it is a common problem with the engine control module and Toyota has known about it for some time and has not issued a recall to fix it.

- Annapolis, MD, USA

problem #38

Dec 172009


  • 129,000 miles
2003 Toyota rav was stop instead of accelerating on highway starting 12/17, brought to dealership on 12/22/09 and they changed spark plugs; brought back 12/29 they changed water pump and then test drove and called me to tell me it could be transmission but to replace the ECM first since they knew it could cause transmission problems.

- Hope, RI, USA

problem #37

Dec 232009


  • 126,000 miles
I have a 2003 Toyota Rav4 that I bought used and luckily have not had any problems with until now. 2 days before christmas I was in town running errands and had stopped at a traffic light. When the light changed and I pressed on the gas, the vehicles engine revved up but the truck hardly moved. Then it jerked as if someone had rear ended me. I thought it was weird but went on. Stopped at another light and same thing. Only this time I was almost rear ended twice before I could get the vehicle to move. So I drove straight home and called the dealership. I took it in on christmas eve (almost getting rear ended at every intersection I went through between my house and the dealer ship 32 miles away) only to be told it was the engine control unit and would cost me $1350 to repair. Since then I have gone online and realized that there are numerous others with the same complaint. How can there be a question as to whether this is a safety issue or not. Any vehicle that stalls in the middle of an intersection is a safety hazard. My vehicle is readily available for NHTSA to test and determine this is a safety hazard.

- Lizella, GA, USA

problem #36

Dec 022009


  • 127,000 miles


Upon a recent trip to Tennessee, I started noticing the slipping of the transmission during accelerate. After taking the vehicle to a repair shop I was informed that Toyota was aware of the problem and has no plans to help remedy the situation. When ever you try to accelerate it does not want to stay in gear leaving the driver in doubt of weather or not the car stay in gear. It seems the ECM module is defective and is not under any recall even though they are fully aware of it.

- Demossville, KY, USA

problem #35

Nov 282009


  • 95,000 miles
I bought a brandnew 2003 Rav4 6 years ago and already have 95,000 miles on it. The transmission starts to slipped and drag a couple of days ago. It almost caused an accident on my way home because the transmission slowly shifts gear on 2nd and 3rd with a high idling. I have read some forums about the Rav4 2001-2003 ECM issues. I would like to complaint that Toyota would not do a recall to the faulty part that can cause death and serious accident while driving a Rav4 (2001-2003) model with a defective ECM. There are over 488 complaints that I've read in one forum alone. I hope you will find a way to have Toyota accountable for this ECM failure to my 2003 Rav4 and hope to have them replace all the Rav4 (2001-2003) ECM module free of charge.

- Manassas, VA, USA

problem #34

Nov 172009


  • 91,000 miles
I own a 2003 rav 4 and recently within the last 4 days the car jerks and does not shift right between second and third and when in first going to second it has a short jerk to the shift. Then the rpms rev up to 5 nearly getting me hit by a diesel on the freeway. I am aware this problem is happening for many people with this car and is a model defect Toyota needs to own up to this problem and fix it. Unfortunately for those who are not under warranty like myself it comes out of pocket how can you guys aka Toyota feel right robbing people like this in a time like now. Somebody needs to answer these complaints!

- Yucaipa, CA, USA

problem #33

Oct 012009


  • 75,200 miles
Transmission problems on 2003 Toyota rav 4.

- Cedarhurst, NY, USA

problem #32

Nov 062009


  • 100,000 miles
I own a 2003 Rav4, after 100K miles the car stalks and will not accelerate in traffic. Had it checked by a mechanic and the ECM is bad. Called Toyota dealer about the ECM recall and they refused to cover for it since it's over the 80K miles.

- Milwaukee, WI, USA

problem #31

Nov 042009


  • Automatic transmission
  • miles
Toyota rav 4 automatic transmission suddenly failed.

- Canton, OH, USA

problem #30

Oct 312009


  • miles
I own a Rav4 Toyota. Last Thursday my ar started having problems with the transmission, was rough shifting and stalling from in first and second. I took the vehicle in to the dealership, 45 km from home, crossing a major highway the vehicle "kangaroo jumped" over the intersection. The dealership had the vehicle for 3 hours and found nothing wrong with it so I returning home the problem started happening again. When I phoned the dealership back they said they had been calling me to say they had found information that there was a problem etc. And they had ordered the part which would take 2/3 days, then I will have to drive my vehicle back out there on a busy highway. I just wanted to add my concerns to the may you have received regarding the 2003 Rav4. I feel that the Rav4 should be recalled to correct the problem. On reading all the complaints on the E-mail I was surprised that the dealership were not aware of the problem and had to research it.

- Oakbank, Manitoba, Canada, 00, USA

problem #29

Jun 192009


  • 92,000 miles
My 2003 Toyota rav 4 has had the transmission rebuilt twice, the computer replaced, and the solenoids replaced twice. My mechanic once thought the ignition switch was burning up the solenoids. I am at my wits end. I have had the vehicle in the shop six times between June 2009 and October 2009 for the same transmission problem. It shifts fine for about a week, and then the same thing: It becomes unreliable as to whether it will shift into 2nd or 3rd gear properly. It jerks, it slips, at other times it revs up to 4000 rpms before it goes into gear and then it lurches forward like a rocket. Sometimes the rear wheels skip off the pavement. I haven't been involved in an accident yet, but it's a matter of time. I cannot merge into traffic like normal vehicles and I fear being rear-ended from a stopped position. I feel like putting a sign on the back of the vehicle explaining why I'm not moving. I just got the vehicle back from the transmission shop Thursday. By Friday, the transmission was already slipping again. I wanted to pull off the highway and cry. I paid $2400 to have the transmission rebuilt and fortunately, all of my return trips were covered by the transmission warranty. But I have also paid $1300 in rental vehicles for all the time the rav 4 was in the shop. I did find the Toyota service bulletin, but the codes from my vehicle did not match the codes in the bulletin. Toyota, please help us! we just want our cars fixed! what the heck is wrong with them" are they all lemons" my Rav4 has 93,000 miles on it. I am the 2nd owner, it has a clean title, and was manufactured in Japan.

- Louisville, KY, USA

problem #28

Sep 302009


  • 98,500 miles
No prior notice of any problems. All of a sudden vehicle will barely start from stopped position. I drive a 2003 Toyota Rav4. All indication is that the ECM is faulty causing the transmission not to shift correctly. Pulling into or out of traffic with the said vehicle is extremely dangerous.

- Cleveland, AL, USA

problem #27

Oct 012009


  • 84,989 miles
My 2003 Toyota Rav4 had a very harsh shift into reverse, hesitant shift or no shift into 1st. If it did shift into 1st, there was a ramp up in RPM to 4000+ and shaking to get from 2nd to 3rd. I took it to a certified mechanic who did a full diagnostic and informed me that there were no problem codes, however I should flush the tranny fluids to begin with. After a complete flush, the problems didn't go away so I did some research on Rav4 transmission problems and discovered the ECM issue with my model. I had the ECM serviced and a vast majority of the issued were solved, however the faulty ECU had already done permanent damage to the transmission where it had a horrible shift from 2nd to 3rd (a horribly harsh shift into 3rd gear with RPM ramp up to 5000+ rps) requiring additional work from a certified mechanic to replace solenoids and transmission work.

- Falcon Heights, MN, USA

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