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 1 of 6)

problem #106

Jul 292011

RAV4 4-cyl

  • 76,763 miles


Vehicle started to begin takeoff really slow and hesitant, and then shift really hard with a jerking motion into second. Not safe for taking off with traffic or crossing intersections. Very scary to operate. Could ruin transmission, shafts, and other parts. Quote from dealership to replace ECM is around 1500+. then transmission around 3000+. I am currently dealing with Toyota back and forth on getting repair approved. Parts are available. All necessary calls have been done up the chain of command. They are not warranting this claim at this time.

- Santa Fe, NM, USA

problem #105

Jul 302011


  • 128,593 miles
My husband was driving to the grocery store when he heard a grinding noise. Soon after, the check engine light went on. He immediately took our vehicle to the local Toyota dealer. We soon discovered our 2003 Toyota rav 4 has a defective ECM and the transmission has been severely damaged due to the ECM. It costs over $5,000 dollars to replace the ECM and the transmission. We are unable to drive the vehicle because we feel it is dangerous for ourselves and others.

- Roswell, NM, USA

problem #104

Jul 012011

RAV4 4-cyl

  • 212,000 miles
Hi about my 2003 Toyota Rav4, its seems to stall and shutting off the engine while driving. For exaple it happen more then 5 time on me this month7/1/2011, and almost getting bump in rear end. I took it to Toyota dealer, and paying $100 for what they could find anything wrong. This model should be recall or accident will happen.

- Stockton, CA, USA

problem #103

Apr 102011


  • miles


I have 2003 Rav4 with 70000 miles, all of sudden the gear started jump and jerk, I asked a dealer how to fix it, the dealer told me to pay $4000, this is very bad I hope there should be a recall because everybody with rav 4 has the same problem..this is so bad..

- Chicago, IL, USA

problem #102

Apr 252011


  • 102,058 miles
2003 Toyota Rav4. Started having vague problems last year with the car not wanting to shift at the appropriate times. On Dec 22, 2010 we took it to greentree Toyota in danbury ct and they replaced an ECU unit. It seemed to be working better but not optimal. It started shifting bad again and at times not wanting to shift at all so we returned the car to milton ruben Toyota in augusta ga on 4/25/11. These symptoms are sporadic and some days it runs better than others. Upon driving the car they are telling me that because the check engine light is not on and the codes are fine, as well as the fact that they can not get it to reproduce any of the symptoms I am complaining of I.e. difficulty merging into traffic B/C it will hardley go at times, upon taking off on an incline, at times, it will not go over 30 mph with the gas pedal to the floor, at times it will go over 4.5 RPM before it decides to shift, I will not let my daughter drive this car because I am afraid she will pull out and not be able to go in time. The symptoms are very obvious but I am being told that they don't see any symptoms at all and the car is running beautifully and that they can not put forth a claim to Toyota for this issue without a set criteria. This is so frustrating and now I will have to pay them money to tell me that the car is fine when it is not. I so wish I had not bought this Toyota and will never buy a Toyota again.

- Martinez, GA, USA

problem #101

Mar 102003

RAV4 4-cyl

  • 109,000 miles
Hi, I am writing to complain about my 2003 Toyota rav-4. I have experience some troubles with what seems to be the ECM and transmission. I have been in extremely close calls for a major accident because of the transmission malfunctioning while accelerating. The ECM/transmission suddenly downshifts or accelerates out of sequence and it causes the entire vehicle to abruptly jerk in a forward/backward motion. The estimated cost for repairs is well above $4,000 dollars for what does not seem normal for a vehicle that only has 100K miles. In an economy like this, it is difficult for me to obtain that amount of money for repairs. I trusted Toyota for its reliability but after this my thoughts have changed. I am extremely disappointed to be dealing with this frustrating issue. I have read many more complaints on this issue on under costumer reviews. I wish that Toyota recalls this problem like they have for other models since this problem can be life threatening.

- Santa Barbara, CA, USA

problem #100

Jan 102011

RAV4 4-cyl

  • 167,000 miles


In October, 2010 my 2003 Rav4 started acting sluggish and shifting poorly. It would almost stall out in traffic and several times I was almost rear ended because the car would balk shifting from second to third gear. I took it to arlington Toyota in palatine, Illinois. They could find nothing wrong. In January, 2011 the problem got worse. The dealer reflashed the ECM module which controls the transmission. The problem got worse. They told me that I would need a new ECM.cost $1400. Mileage out of warranty so it would not be covered. They contacted Toyota regional who also said they would not cover it. I contacted Toyota customer relations but they also said even though I had received a recall notice, they would not cover the cost.

- Buffalo Grove, IL, USA

problem #99

Jun 192009

RAV4 4-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 73,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Toyota Rav4. While driving approximately 30 mph he engaged the accelerator pedal and it took a few seconds before the vehicle would accelerate. The vehicle was taken to an authorized dealer who advised him that the transmission needed to be replaced and that the ECM card needed reprogramming. The failure started in June 2009. The vehicle was not repaired and the vehicle was not drivable. The failure and current mileages were 73,000. Updated 2/28/11 updated 03/07/11

- Marietta, GA, USA

problem #98

Nov 092010


  • 103,319 miles
I was recently warned that my 2003 Toyota Rav4 had many, many transmission complaints. Not 2 days later, my rav began showing signs of transmission failure. I researched the issue on the internet to find that there were an unusually large number of owners with similar problems, but found no relief with Toyota. After taking my vehicle to the dealer for analyzing, I was informed it needed a new transmission to the tune of almost $4,000. This is on a vehicle that has been driven by only me and had preventive maintenance done regularly.

- Baton Rouge, LA, USA

problem #97

Oct 102010

RAV4 4-cyl

  • 85,000 miles
Toyota Rav4 2003, transmission issue, during driving, the car sometimes slowdown, in highway, during driving time, the car sudden slowdown, just like deep step on the brake pad. It is happen all the time during driving.

- San Francisco, CA, USA

problem #96

Oct 032010

RAV4 4-cyl

  • 90,000 miles


2003 Toyota Rav4 at 90,000 miles the vehicle showed signs of an issue with the transmission or computer that controls the transmission, symptoms include rough shifting and delayed engagement (3-9 seconds) of the drive train on acceleration.

- Aurora, CO, USA

problem #95

Sep 202010


  • 86,000 miles
My wife's' 2003 Toyota Rav4 just started having transmission problems. We took it immediately to a repair shop. On the way there were serious problems with the transmission shifting which was particularly dangerous during the acceleration and deceleration in intersections. The dealer repair shop said the computer and transmission would need to be replaced. I called Toyota customer service and they told me a service bulletins had gone out, but that our particular VIN was not part of the bulletin, even though the problem is exactly the same as has been widely noted and recognized by Toyota.

- Baltimore, MD, USA

problem #94

Sep 132010


  • 113,000 miles
Toyota Rav4 2003 has transmission problems. The mechanic said this is common with this car so I did some research and quickly found that many other people had the same problem. There is a problem with the computer asking the car to shift to first and second gear at the same time. This causes the car to slow down then rapidly accelerate.

- Lexington, KY, USA

problem #93

Sep 062010


  • 89,800 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Toyota Rav4. The contact stated that he experienced transmission problems; the gears would slip at times. The vehicle was inspected by a mechanic who stated that the problem was most likely the engine control module; no codes were produced. The vehicle had not been repaired at the time of the complaint. The contact called the manufacturer who offered no assistance. The current and failure mileages were approximately 89,800.

- Bristol, NH, USA

problem #92

Aug 102010


  • Automatic transmission
  • 83,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Toyota Rav4. The vehicle began to hesitate and then rapidly accelerate after the vehicle came to a stop. The vehicle was taken to an authorized dealer where he was informed that the ECU and transmission needed to be replaced. The vehicle was not repaired. The failure and current mileages were 83,000. Updated 11/05/10. Updated 02/03/11 updated 02/04/11

- Marietta, PA, USA

problem #91

Jul 162009


  • 126,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Toyota rav 4. while traveling 10 mph, the contact attempted to accelerate yet the vehicle would not respond. The vehicle was taken to a local mechanic where the contact had the transmission and engine control module was replaced, however the failure persisted. There were no prior warnings of the failure. The failure mileage was 126,000 and the current mileage was 146,000.

- Gilbert, AZ, USA

problem #90

Jul 012010


  • 89,210 miles
I was about to merge with traffic on a local highway when I stepped on the gas pedal and the car did not accelerate. It terrified me because there was a tractor trailer to my left that almost hit me. As I pressed harder on the pedal to accelerate the car, the engine made a loud revving sound, and the car started to jerk forward, in the sense that there seemed to be transmission slippage: Sometimes the car accelerated harshly while at other times it was like it was on neutral. This occurred with no warning at all, as something like this had never happened before, nor was there any hint that something like this would happen. This transmission slippage occurs at low speed, right at those crucial moments when you need the car to accelerate because you are merging with traffic, or are crossing an intersection after having stopped at a light or stop sign. After searching online, I found many similar complaints. People reported that the problem was the engine control module (ECM), so I had that fixed, and now the car seems to be running fine. The worst thing is that online people discovered that Toyota issued an internal memo in 2006 notifying dealers of this problem, but it did not notify the owner, let alone recall the cars and have the problem fixed. Apparently, Toyota did not feel the problem was serious enough, though I am convinced that it was only luck that I survived that day on the highway!

- Philadelphia, PA, USA

problem #89

Jun 052010


  • 63,843 miles
I own a 2003 Toyota Rav4 with only 63K miles on it. The transmission failed while my son was driving the car. We took it to a local transmission shop to have it fixed. The transmission shop had so many problems trying to install a rebuilt transmission that they contacted a Toyota dealership. They were told that the year and model Toyota I have was know to have a faulty computer that caused transmission failure. It was then towed to the dealership. They deemed the computer faulty and fixed the car free of charge. Once the Toyota dealership put in the new computer, the transmission still wouldn't work. It is back at the transmission shop. I have not had the car for over four weeks. I am now in the process of contacting Toyota to get reimbursed for the cost of the rebuilt transmission.

- Brick, NJ, USA

problem #88

Jun 292010


  • 123,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Toyota rav 4. when the contact drove out of her driveway at a slow speed the vehicle started shaking. The dealer changed the oil, the fuel filter and the catalytic converter. The failure still persisted. The dealer later stated that the ECM needed to be replaced at her expense and that if the ECM did not correct the failure the transmission would have to be replaced for $5500. Toyota was also contacted and stated that since the warranty was not valid they could not offer her any assistance. The VIN was not available. The failure mileage was approximately 123,000. The current mileage is 124,600.

- Connelly Springs , NC, USA

problem #87

Jun 292010


  • 86,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Toyota Rav4. The contact was driving approximately 30 mph when the check engine light illuminated and the vehicle lost power. When the contact shifted into reverse gear, the vehicle began to shake violently. The vehicle was taken to the dealer who stated that the electronic control module and the transmission had failed. The manufacturer stated that the warranty was no longer valid; therefore, they would not provide any assistance with the repair repair cost. The VIN was not available. The failure and the current mileage was 86,000.

- Falmouth , ME, USA

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