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 5 of 6)

« Read the previous 20 complaints

problem #26

Sep 252009


  • 123,541 miles


My 2003 Toyota Rav4 sometimes stalls in traffic, due to what seems like the transmission slipping. The engine races for a while, then the transmission will catch and the car will surge forward. There is no pattern to when this happens.

- Gainesville, GA, USA

problem #25

Aug 262009


  • 86,000 miles
My Toyota Rav4 2003 had the same transmission problem that I know you have received complaints about. Toyota never recalled or informed any owners of these vehicles and now what I'm reading has happened to my car. This is dangerous and Toyota should be made to notify all owners. All of a sudden my car started to not accelerate and buck forward. I almost got into an accident, almost rear ended because the car was not accelerating. We took it to our mechanic and were told we needed a transmission, had the transmission replaced and then it was doing the same thing. Upon further investigation the mechanic found out that it was the ECM and that was replaced and now is fine. Toyota should be notifying all customers, if you were on the highway you would be killed if this started to act up!!! they should be made to be responsible for the cost everyone has encountered. If notified I would have been on the lookout for this and probably would have only had to pay for the ECM. I was without my car for over 3 weeks. This should be a safety recall.

- Warrington, PA, USA

problem #24

Sep 132009


  • 91,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Toyota rav 4. the contact stated that intermittently the transmission slipped out of gear and the engine stalled without any prior warnings. As a consequence, her risk for a vehicle crash was increased. An authorized technician advised her that there was a technical service bulletin for the transmission. Since the contact was ineligible for a free remedy, the vehicle was not repaired. The manufacturer was notified. The failure mileage and current mileages were 91,000.

- Cannon Beach, OR, USA

problem #23

Sep 022009


  • 92,000 miles


I have a 2003 Toyota rav 4 with an automatic transmission. While driving on the highway the car slipped out of gear and hesitated and the car sputtered losing speed and nearly causing me to be rear ended by a tractor trailer. I am being told that it is a ECM module control problem that you may be aware of. I spoke to a representative at Toyota and the told basically "to bad for me". I would like to file a formal complaint with your organization.

- Springfield, NJ, USA

problem #22

Aug 252009


  • 98,800 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Toyota rav 4. the contact noticed that the vehicle skipped gears when she attempted to shift from 1 to 2 or 3 to 4. the gear slippage increased the risk of a vehicle crash. The vehicle was taken to a dealer and a technician concluded that there were no problems with the transmission. No repairs have been made. The current and failure mileages were 98800.

- Delaware, OH, USA

problem #21

Jan 152009


  • 93,000 miles
I became aware of your site after a reading a NY times article about Rav4 transmission problems. Hard shifting and lurching began in my 2003 rav 4 when it was at around 93,000 miles. When I took it in for service, my mechanic informed me that the computer code that was diagnosed indicated serious transmission problems. I researched it on the web and discovered that this was a problem for many rav owners. Since it was out of warranty, I had the work done by a transmission specialist that my mechanic recommended. I paid $1100 for the new ECU and $2400 for a transmission rebuild. Toyota has refused to compensate me for any of the repair work that was done.

- Norristown, PA, USA

problem #20

Aug 022009


  • 94,395 miles


Transmission is hesitating, jerking, stalling, loss of power, and RPM's racing in lower gears of my 2003 Rav4 - automatic transmission.

- Sterling, VA, USA

problem #19

Jul 272009


  • 153,000 miles
From a complete stop, harsh shift/jerk from park to reverse, hesitation and jerking changing gears, most times consistent during entire ride, then ok for a while after adding fluid or flushing tranny fluid. Starts about 10-15 minutes into ride. Started when getting off highway ramp during rush hour. Came to a stop, and gears were not engaging properly on take off, lots of jerking. Car shaking and felt like it was going to stall and would not switch gears without hitting gas pedal hard. Car tested with 3 computers and no codes. Transmission flushed 2X, pan dropped, no evidence of metal or gunk. After research found bulletins had been posted (by Toyota) for these concerns several times. ECM/transmission will need to be replaced. Cost will be between $3K-5K!

- Port St. Lucie, FL, USA

problem #18

May 062009


  • 85,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Toyota Rav4. The contact stated that the vehicle would not shift into first or second gear, and the vehicle would jerk. The vehicle shifts from first to third gear without incident. In addition, the vehicle loses power and jerks when driving in reverse. The check engine light illuminated on the instrument panel and the solenoid was diagnosed as the cause of the failure. The failures are identical to the ones mentioned in the service bulletin for the transmission control module. The dealer stated that the vehicle could not be repaired because it was not under warranty. The failure and current mileages were 85,000.

- Sunvalley, CA, USA

problem #17

Mar 172009


  • 68,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Toyota Rav4. While driving between 20-30 mph, the vehicle began jerking, stalling, and slipping out of gear. The vehicle was taken to the dealer, but they could not make any repairs because the check engine light did not illuminate. The contact took the vehicle to an independent mechanic and was informed that the spark plugs could be the cause of the failure. The spark plugs were changed at that time; however, the failure continued. The vehicle was taken back to the mechanic and the contact was informed that the transmission could be the cause of the failure. The filter and transmission fluid were changed, but the jerking worsened. The manufacturer stated that they never heard of a Toyota vehicle having transmission issues. The vehicle was taken back to the transmission shop and they took apart and rebuilt the transmission. The failure recurred and the vehicle was towed back to the transmission shop. The contact discovered a tsb regarding the transmission (TC002-06), but the dealer never acknowledged a tsb for the transmission or ECM. The current and failure mileages were 68,000.

- East North Port, NY, USA

problem #16

Mar 102009


  • 95,000 miles


Around early March after several prior repairs from Dec. 08-Feb. 09 my Toyota rav 4 starts driving really rough, won't accelerate, then lurches you forward, etc. Huge safety issue. You go to accelerate and someone is behind you and you literally cannot get the car to go, then it finally shoots you forward. I immediately called the service advisor at the dealership, they thought it was a catalytic converter problem. I called to get an estimate and mad hatters had the best price. Mad hatters did repair and cleared off codes and car drove fine for 48 hours. On way home from work that Monday evening it drove the worst it ever has, wouldn't allow me to accelerate through an intersection, then shot me forward, the right side of the car started violently shaking. I almost got hit by another car waiting to turn after me and a woman behind me. I prayed I would make it home. Called Toyota took it back to mad hatters at their suggestion. Mad hatters checked and indicated it was a transmission code. We called Toyota to immediately tow it to the dealership. Toyota called and indicate it is the emc and it needs to be replaced immediately, car is not safe to drive. $1300. I researched and there are hundreds of complaints about this problem as well as a old Toyota service bulletin so they know this problem existed. Two weeks later after I got the money together I was able to pick up my car. They replaced the computer module and the car seems to drive fine, although after picking it up I drove for 10 miles and now the engine light is on again. This is a huge problem and I pray it has not destroyed my transmission. Thank god there were no accidents involved.

- Council Bluffs, IA, USA

problem #15

Nov 272008


  • 81,008 miles
Toyota Rav4 2003, two weeks ago I notice a shifting problem with the car, more so from a stop and go motion. I took the car to transmission expert, he said the transmission oil filter needs changing. A day later I noticed the same problem, took the car back. They told me they could not duplicate the problem. A week later I noticed the same problem, I took it back. Now they told me the Toyota Rav4 have a known issue with the computer, that may at this point contributed to problem with the transmission, and if I wanted to fix the problem, I need to replaced the transmission and computer, which can run to thousand of dollars, I don't have that kind of money at this time. My question is if Toyota know this to be an issue why not recall the cars and fix the problem? I have gone to and read many other car owners with the same problems. Those owners paid alot money up front to try to get the problem fix, unfortunately, their cars had high mileage, and out warranty. Something needs to be done, I am for whatever actions needs to be taken against Toyota to fix the problem. Daniel

- Hempsteadf, NY, USA

problem #14

Oct 022008


  • miles
I own a 2003 Toyota Rav4, 138000 miles. I purchased this vehicle new in 2003. This car jerks, jumps gears, and suddenly slows which has caused me to come close to having an accident. Now it won't go over 40 and it won't go in reverse. I called Continental transmission and have been told they have repaired many Toyota Rav4's for this same problem and it is going to cost me approx $3500. It seems the defective ECU burns up the clutch and other parts of the transmission. Also, when searching on line their are many complaints from other Rav4 owners who are having the same issues so obviously it is not a random problem. This is a safety issue and one of these times someone is going to have a car accident and/or get hurt and hopefully not killed. Toyota has known about this problem and has failed to do a recall. My husband has called Toyota and they have refused to take any responsibility or help compensate in any way. We had believed in Toyota for quality, after this I will not ever consider buying another Toyota. With today's economy in such a financial disaster it is a shame they can get away with this.

- Akron, NY, USA

problem #13

Oct 242008


  • 125,000 miles
Toyota rav 4, 2003, failed to shift properly in lower gears leading to near rearenders. Looked on a car complaint site and found numerous people with the same problem. The ECM needs to be reflashed at the service centers to prevent transmission failure. Not listed as a recall but a technical problem. I am now having to have both the ECM replaced and the transmission rebuilt. 125000 miles which is better than most reported. Everyone having trouble with Toyota. Seems to have cropped up in the 2002 models first.

- Roy, WA, USA

problem #12

Oct 192008


  • 95,000 miles
Jerking and shifting to the wrong gear. Dealer found out bad transmission. Need to spend $5000. I'm surprise for Toyota product.

- West Covina, CA, USA

problem #11

Feb 192007


  • 70,000 miles
I have Toyota rav 4 2003 and the transmission is damage.

- Elizabeth , NJ, USA

problem #10

Mar 122008


  • 140,000 miles
I own a 2003 Toyota rav 4, at 140,000 miles the check engine light came on. Was told by Toyota dealership, the car needed a new exhaust system. Had repairs done, light came back on at 160,00. Dealer says needs need transmission. Started doing more research and found this forum at and discovered there are a lot of rav 4 owners that are having the same problem and Toyota is ignoring our cry for help.

- Rutledge, GA, USA

problem #9

Jul 182002


  • Automatic transmission
  • 930,000 miles
In October 2004, I purchased a 2002 Toyota Rav4 from modern Toyota in winston-salem, North Carolina on a six-year payment plan. I also purchased out what was left of the three-year warranty, and a one-year maintenance plan. I have continued to get oil changes and tune-ups at regular intervals. The car is at about 93,000 miles. On Friday, July 18, I was driving to a doctor's appointment, and quite suddenly, it began shifting improperly. In the lower gears, it lurched and bucked as if it was having trouble catching. Immediately, I drove to emporia motors, the local Toyota service center. It was about 11 am. Emporia motors was too busy to diagnose the problem by the end of the business day. The car was not drivable and they did not provide me with a loaner, so I had to do without a vehicle over the weekend. On Monday, July 21at at 8:30 am, I was informed that the transaxle/transmission would need to be replaced. The part needed was estimated at $3,450. After running an internet search at, I found that there were 103 complaints about transmission problems on the 2002 Rav4, most of which were focused on problems with shifting, often occurring when the vehicle's mileage reached the 90,000 mark. This is clearly not a random problem, the costs of those repairs to other consumers are comparable to mine, and yet, Toyota has not taken any responsibility whatsoever for this problem. The vehicle is only six years old and I have not even finished paying it off, and now Iżll have to make additional monthly payments for the transmission replacement. The high cost of this unexpected repair is a serious burden in these difficult economic times. I am extremely disappointed with the quality of this car. I live in a rural state and I need to know that my car is reliable and that its quality is backed by the manufacturer.

- Emporia, KS, USA

problem #8

Jul 182008


  • 130,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Toyota Rav4. While driving 55 mph, the transmission suddenly began to downshift and upshift on its own. The contact did not notice any differences in the vehicle prior to the failure. The vehicle has not been diagnosed by the dealer. The current and failure mileages were 130,000.

- Beverly, MA, USA

problem #7

May 282008


  • 102,000 miles
Toyota rav-4 has serious transmission problems leading to failure of the transmission. Will not shift from first gear to second in heavy traffic, at intersections etc. Have come close to being hit by on coming traffic on two occasions. Toyota will acknowledge this problem.

- Gyylord, MI, USA

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