really awful
Crashes / Fires:
3 / 0
Injuries / Deaths:
0 / 0
Average Mileage:
99,550 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 Corolla drivetrain problems

drivetrain problem

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2003 Toyota Corolla Owner Comments (Page 1 of 2)

problem #27

May 012015

Corolla 4-cyl

  • 139,000 miles


Original transmission was replaced at 124,000 miles, and only 3 years later, and 25,000 miles later, it now needs another transmission. Not the dependability I was expecting. In both instances, the same thing occurred; although it went out on me a lot faster the second time around. I heard a grinding sound every time I accelerated, until it finally went out on me and locked up both times. The first time I was on a side street, and it happened while I was approaching red light (and only reverse worked, so I was able to reverse it into a gas station nearby). The second time was a bit more scary (and I'm pissed off about this even more, now that I'm reading everyone else's story, because I could've been in a major accident). I was driving 65 mph down the freeway (in the 3rd lane in) when all of a sudden my car bucked (jerked back) on me. I immediately got off the freeway within 5-7 seconds (thank god I was able to), when all of a sudden it completely froze/seized/locked up on me and proceeded to skid out about 15 feet along the side of the freeway only a second or two after getting off. The more I think about it, the more I am thankful that I was able to get over so quickly or it could've been disastrous. Nevertheless, I just got it towed to the local Toyota dealership, and am looking forward to what they have to say. I am printing out all the links/forums/articles that I have found about this very specific problem with this very specific year and model (with only manual transmissions have you). Not sure what they will do about (my guess is they'll say tough luck and tell me it's going to cost me $3600, and then I'll have to have it towed to another place that can do it with a rebuilt transmission for $2000), but I'm going to give it a try. It really angers me that they can allow this problem to persist and put people's lives in danger.

- Rocklin, CA, USA

problem #26

Sep 052007


  • 126,857 miles
In 9/2007 the transmission and clutch went out on my manual 2003 Corolla. Conveniently, it was beyond the warranty period. I spent a significant amount of $ repairing. Again, in March 2015 the transmission and clutch are going out on my manual vehicle. After researching, I found numerous owners experiencing the same problems. There is a serious defect in the 2003 manual Corolla that was apparently fixed in the 2004 version. I have contacted Toyota several times. They will do nothing. They told me to email the NHTSA and your Agency would determine a recall. Please, please, please put this problem on the recall list. I (and numerous other owners) have been stranded along the highway and it is not safe!

- Eyota, MN, USA

problem #25

Dec 132014

Corolla 4-cyl

  • 16,000 miles
I was stopped at a red light. When it turned green I started to accelerate and turn the transmission blew. Subsequently, I was read ended. I started to do research and found that the 2003 Toyota Corolla has excessive transmission issues.

- Bowie, MD, USA

problem #24

Nov 112014


  • 150,112 miles


I was driving down freeway at 55mph and without any warning transmission made loud noise and then locked up, since car is front wheel drive I had no steering as front wheels locked up. Car then started to go into a spin, but I was able to fight the wheel and steer car to side of road. It was only by luck that there were no other cars or tractor trailers along side or in back of me, after all said and done with towing cost and having to rent a car for work, I am out $645 and still no car! I had two transmission repair shops look at car, both said the same thing that some part came loose in transmission and destroyed it, it would need to be completely replace at a cost of $2700 -$3300 in the meantime I started doing research on that transmission and what I was told by the repair shops and from my own research it is very clear that the #Toyota Corolla and other models that used that manual transmission have had the very same problems. Please demand a recall !!!

- New Windsor, NY, USA

problem #23

Aug 012014


  • 114,104 miles
I am the original owner of a 2003 Toyota Corolla S with a manual transmission. In November 2011, the bearings in my transmission failed on a long trip at just over 93,000 miles. The failure in the bearings destroyed the transmission and disabled my car on the freeway. I had it towed to an auto shop where I purchased a brand new transmission from the local Toyota service center. It was installed, as well as a new clutch. I reported this incident on your website previously. This last month, my transmission began to grind going into 3rd gear. I bought it in to my local mechanic and found out the transmission is failing. It will either need to be rebuilt or replaced. The transmission is not even 3 years old and has just about 21,000 miles on it. Toyota will not warranty it. Their coverage is for one year, unlimited mileage. A new car with a new transmission is covered for 5 years/60,000 miles. There is no reason this transmission should have failed. I take excellent care of my car and had hoped to drive it for 20+ years. I have had routine service performed on it and mostly drive my car on long trips as I ride to work most days. A simple google search shows that these issues I have had with my car are very common for my model car with a manual transmission. Toyota will not do anything about it simply because the overwhelming majority of cars they sell in the us are automatics so issues with manuals can be ignored. They need to be held accountable for producing a transmission that can't even hold up to an industry standard warranty. Transmission failures are dangerous is it is unacceptable that Toyota continues to get away with not coming up with a repair that prevents this from happening.

- Orinda, CA, USA

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problem #22

Jul 152013


  • 121,900 miles
The C-59 five speed manual transmissions in the 2003 Corolla model year, both Corolla and matrix, are known to be prone to early bearing failure, due apparently to a faulty batch of bearings. I was driving on a freeway when I first heard bearing noise from my transmission. I took it to a transmission shop that confirmed the noise was from one or more bearings in the transmission and offered me a choice of replacing just the bearings, a full transmission rebuild, or a new transmission. Should the bearing have failed on the highway and blown up my transmission, I could easily have lost control of the vehicle resulting in a nasty accident. Toyota refuses to do a recall, but there are dozens if not hundreds of anecdotal reports of this exact scenario scattered online. The earliest symptoms are a grinding or whirring noise coming from the transmission (or more generally, from the engine compartment). If the faulty bearings are not replaced, they will eventually grenade (shatter and act as shrapnel, destroying your transmission) and you'll need a new transmission. My vehicle has been maintained by Toyota dealers for its entire life, save a single oil change while on a road trip. There is no reason a manual transmission should fail this early in its life. I've never raced it or abused it any way.

- Milwaukie, OR, USA

problem #21

Aug 092013


  • 91,000 miles


At just over 91000 miles my very well maintained 2003 Corolla with a manual transmission had a complete transmission failure at highway speeds. While accelerating the transmission suddenly made a loud grinding noise followed by a "thud" and completely locked up on me. I ended up stuck on a busy highway with my two young boys in the back seat. In researching this problem I have found that it is a well documented occurrence with this specific year and model of Toyota Corolla. Ultimately I will be putting in a new transmission in from a different model of Toyota and trading the car in with the hope that this will not happen to the next owner.

- Mundelein, IL, USA

problem #20

Feb 272013

Corolla 4-cyl

  • 110,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Toyota Corolla. The contact stated that the vehicle failed to shift into reverse. The vehicle was towed to a private mechanic where it was diagnosed that the transmission needed to be replaced. The manufacturer was not made aware of the failure. The vehicle was repaired. The approximate failure and current mileage was 110,000.

- Sterling, MA, USA

problem #19

Oct 012012


  • 105,000 miles
Vehicle began making a grinding, chatter type noise. I took the vehicle to a private mechanic and found that the transmission has to be replaced. In looking for replacement transmission I found several complaints for the exact same issue. Many have had the transmission replaced only to have the issue resurface with the new/refurbished transmission. This would seem like a manufacturing flaw and could be very problematic if the car will no longer shift into gear, as several complaints have noted.

- Merritt Island, FL, USA

problem #18

Oct 012012

Corolla 4-cyl

  • 105,000 miles
Vehicle began making a grinding or chatter type noise when in any gear. Took the vehicle to private mechanic and found the issue to be the transmission. While looking for replacement transmission found a site where many other 2003 Toyota Corolla owners with manual transmission were having the same issues. All have had to have the transmissions replaced. This does not eliminate the issue as the replacement transmissions seem to be having the same problems.

- Merritt Island, FL, USA

problem #17

Apr 292009

Corolla 4-cyl

  • 100,000 miles


I was driving and heard loud noise. Pull into a gas station and called husband. When he got to me he tried to put car in reverse and it just made a grinding noise. It wouldn't do anything. I had the transmission rebuilt. Now just 3 years later June 4, 2012 I was driving and heard same noise. I got home turned off car and when tried to put car in reverse it just made a grinding noise and wouldn't move.

- Fresno, CA, USA

problem #16

Mar 172010


  • 120,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Toyota Corolla. The contact stated that the check engine warning lamp illuminated and the vehicle exhibited an abnormal noise. The vehicle was taken to a local mechanic who diagnosed that the transmission needed to be replaced. The manufacturer was not made aware of the failure. The vehicle was not repaired. The failure mileage was 120,000 and the current mileage was 150,000.

- Mesa, AZ, USA

problem #15

Mar 122012

Corolla 4-cyl

  • 191,000 miles
I was driving home from work when the transmission locked up. I pulled over turned the car off and back on. I managed to put the car in first gear and make it back home even though the transmission was making this loud grinding noise. I brought the car for repair and they tell me I need a new transmission. Just 6 weeks ago I had the clutch replaced. After investigating this issue I have learned this is a very common problem. Something must be done about this.

- Woodland Park , NJ, USA

problem #14

Jan 112012


  • 106,072 miles
While driving on the freeway, there was a sudden loud whine and loss of power. Since I was in the middle of nowhere, I continued down the road until I got to a service station. There, I checked all fluids, which were fine; I then continued on my way to an appointment with an eye specialist I had, and at that time I noticed the clutch was difficult to use. Once I had the appointment with the specialist, I had the car towed to the nearest auto transmission service center, where I had to have a new transmission, clutch, and axle put on my car for over $4,000 because they said "no one rebuilds Toyota transmissions". I am a 60-year-old woman who always takes the car for regular oil changes, and had a pre-trip car check just 6 weeks before that by a very reliable, honest mechanic. I stay close to home, and only took this trip because I had to see an eye specialist. This car has only 106,000 miles on it!

- Flagstaff, AZ, USA

problem #13

Jan 152012

Corolla 4-cyl

  • Manual transmission
  • 87,000 miles
2003 Corolla S & manual transmission with under 90K miles. Driving at approximately 25 mph in third gear. Car began making a grinding noise and the car stopped completely in the middle of a busy 3 lane street nearly causing an accident. It was still running, but couldn't get it to drive. Almost felt as if something was holding it back or stuck under the car. Had to manually move car to the side of the road. Car has not been officially diagnosed yet, but all indications point to the transmission. This seems to be a common theme with this year, make & model.

- Highspire, PA, USA

problem #12

Nov 012010

Corolla 4-cyl

  • 96,000 miles
One year ago my 2003 Toyota Corolla began to make a high-pitched whirring noise when the transmission was engaged. The sound continued to become louder until while driving down the street my car began to make a crunching noise. After I pulled to the side of the road I was unable to put the car back into gear. I had the transmission rebuilt in Nov. 2010. I began hearing the same high-pitched whirring noise again recently (Nov. 2011).

- Aurora, CO, USA

problem #11

Nov 112011


  • 92,000 miles
I was driving on the freeway at about 60mph when the transmission failed. It felt like there was something stuck under the wheels of my car. I was able to pull off the road safely. It wouldn't go into any gear after that, but luckily, I was in neutral so it could be towed. The shop I took it to said this is a very common problem for the 2003 Corollas with the 5-speed manual transmission. It cost me $3,700 for a new transmission (and labor) from Toyota, which will most likely end up with the same failure. I am the original owner and my car has 92,000 miles on it. I have kept up on all the maintenance; there is no reason this should have happened. I have mailed a complaint to Toyota corporation and am awaiting a response. This vehicle is unsafe for the road and should be recalled.

- Orinda, CA, USA

problem #10

Jul 012011


  • 140,000 miles
Car is a 5 speed and had an increasing "growl" in transmission in 2,3, and 5th gear. After research, this appears to be a common problem in 5 speed Corolla's, matrix, and Pontiac vibe which all use the C59 5 speed transmissions. Over $1000 to repair if caught early enough. This is/was my 5th Toyota, and will be my last also!!

- Cleveland, GA, USA

problem #9

Oct 162011


  • 86,000 miles
After making some noise on the highway I pulled off the road to realize that I had no reverse gear in my Corolla. It was difficult to get the car in first gear also. I limped my way to the mechanic who told me the next day that the transmission was completely broken. He said that a component came loose and destroyed the transmission further by interfering with other parts. He said that it would cost $3,800 to fix. This was completely unexpected and dangerous.

- Media, PA, USA

problem #8

Oct 092011


  • 123,410 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Toyota Corolla. The contact stated that the driver was traveling approximately 55 mph when the vehicle would no longer shift gears. The vehicle was maneuvered to the shoulder and shut off. The vehicle was then towed to an independent repair shop where the driver was informed that the transmission failed and needed to be replaced. The vehicle was not repaired. The manufacturer was not made aware of the failure. The failure and current mileage was 123,410.

- West Bend, WI, USA

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