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really awful
Typical Repair Cost:
Average Mileage:
116,950 miles
Total Complaints:
45 complaints

Most Common Solutions:

  1. Replace transmission (35 reports)
  2. not sure (6 reports)
  3. rebuilt transmission (4 reports)
2003 Toyota Corolla transmission problems

transmission problem

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2003 Toyota Corolla Owner Comments (Page 1 of 3)

problem #45

Feb 132023

Corolla 1.8L

  • Manual transmission
  • 140,000 miles


Sounds like there's several other reports of a similiar issue. I was driving and heard a noise. I pulled over and it seemed to stop. Drove a little further and my car seized up. Engine was running fine, but seemed to be a transmission issue, wouldn't move and I couldn't shift gears. I got the car towed home. Now, it does shift, kinda. I can move the shifter but it only actually shifts into a gear maybe 1 out of 10 times I try. I'm not hearing any suspicious sounds but did smell a weird smell.

I called a shop and they seem to think it's a clutch and want me to tow it over there to take a look. This site has me thinking the transmission is junk and if that's the case I'd rather just sell it as is and get what I can and move on. If the transmission isn't junk I would consider paying for a new clutch.

- Brian J., Cannon Falls, MN, US

problem #44

Jun 012017

Corolla CE 1.8L

  • Manual transmission
  • 130,000 miles

My transmission and the front tires locked up heading down the highway. This is a known problem with these transmissions. Called Toyota customer service. Asked if they could help me out with the repair: Nope. Asked if they could give me a discount on a new Toyota: Nope. I bought brand new from a Toyota dealer. This is my second Corolla. Shame on you Toyota, if someone died you would have had a recall. You know about this problem. I am glad it didn’t happen on an icy road or down a mountain pass. Car went to the junk yard. You are short-sighted Toyota because it’s Hondas for me and the kids this time around. You showed your true colors.

- Some D., Minneapolis, US

problem #43

Apr 172016

Corolla S

  • Manual transmission
  • 155,128 miles

The car was going perfectly until I let my brother in law drive it. Started having clicking and grinding noises while we were on vacation 350 miles away. So we drove it home. Barely made it home before the tranny seized. So took it to the local shop and they gave us a fair quote, but it took them nearly 3 weeks to get the transmission shipped to them. Luckily for us we had a spare car, but it wasn't cheap to fix.

- Chad H., Rexburg, ID, US

problem #42

Mar 012015

Corolla S 1.8L L4

  • Manual transmission
  • 93,206 miles


click to see larger images

transmission failure transmission failure

Transmission failed after being noisy for some time. When it finally gave up the ghost the car came to a very sudden stop (thankfully in a low-speed situation). The transmission was completely non-functional - it could not even be shifted into neutral, and the car would not roll at all to be pushed out of the intersection.

I was told by the shop that one of the bearings flew apart, and that the projectile pieces irreparably damaged several gear teeth. If I had addressed the problem (i.e. the noisy transmission) sooner I could have saved a few bucks and a tow by having the transmission rebuilt before it completely failed, but that was going to be an expensive repair as well.

The repair consisted of putting in a scrap yard transmission. This is less than ideal, as it has a bad synchro on 4th gear (i.e. a grinding shift only if done rapidly). My advice to anyone with one of these transmissions: if it starts making noise, bite the bullet and have the problem taken care of early. I tried to wait it out, figuring that a full replacement would be just more effective and as cheap or cheaper than a refurbishment. It wasn't.

The attached photos show the disassembled transmission. In the wide shot you can see the inner race of the bearing still on its shaft at top-left, sever bearing balls lying around, and the bearing cage on the bench between the two halves. The close-up shows the inner race and some of the "shrapnel" that was my poor transmission's undoing.

- Sam M., Vancouver, BC, Canada

problem #41

May 012015

Corolla S 1.8L

  • Manual transmission
  • 139,000 miles

Bought my 2003 Toyota Corolla S (manual transmission) brand new when I was 24, because I was looking for a dependable car and chose practicality and dependability over looks and style (not that it's a bad looking vehicle). I heard about all these great stories involving Toyotas and how they regularly go 200k without a hiccup.

Here we are over 12 years later, and am in the process of having another (yes, another) transmission put in. 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) 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. We also have a Highlander, and am looking to purchase another vehicle in the not too distant future, but after all of this, it will not be another Toyota. Shame on them for not correcting this issue.

- John H., Rocklin, CA, US

problem #40

Nov 152014

Corolla S

  • Automatic transmission
  • 162,000 miles

I was accelerating from being stopped at a red light and all of a sudden I hear a loud pop and then the car stopped moving. I was able to make it over to the shoulder. Every time I changed gears, I heard a grinding noise. It was louder when I put it in reverse. I am really disappointing in the quality Toyota has been putting out recently.

- scorpio767er, Bowie, MD, US

problem #39

Sep 262014

Corolla CE V4

  • Manual transmission
  • 123,000 miles


Manual transmission failed. Toyota didn't offer any support and said they haven't received enough complaints to do anything even though the dealer knew right away what the problem was and said its very common.

- Katie T., saint louis, MO, US

problem #38

Sep 102014

Corolla CE

  • Manual transmission
  • 110,000 miles

Ach, I only learned about this website after telling a friend about my trashed manual transmission! I notice a funny grinding sort of noise probably 10000 miles ago. I mentioned it at the dealer once when I brought in in for service, but they said they couldn't hear anything out of the ordinary. If I got the gas pedal pressed just enough so the engine wasn't applying torque to the wheels, the noise would go away. I was guessing maybe the universal joints or something. Then a couple days ago drive up the interstate, there was a funny boing sound and from then to home, maybe just five miles, there were very funny sounds, like shifting tones or something. Scary, actually. When I tried to go shopping yesterday, it didn't want to go in reverse. I managed to coax it finally, but then it wouldn't shift back into first. Finally got it going forward, parked it back where I started, and called the tow truck. This morning I got a call from the dealer - the transmission is just a mess of metal bits. Ouch.

- James K., Kingston, NY, US

problem #37

Nov 112011

Corolla S 1.8L

  • Manual transmission
  • 93,342 miles

click to see larger images

transmission failure

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... and just under 3 years later ITS FAILING AGAIN (I filed a new complaint for that one as well).

Toyota is well aware of this issue. If any lawyer wants to take up a class action lawsuit I would be more than happy to get on board with that.

- divit, Orinda, CA, US

problem #36

Apr 082014

Corolla Sport 1.4L

  • Manual transmission
  • 160,000 miles

Transmission locked up while driving down the freeway. Started making a grinding noise, then froze up and almost was hit by a big rig. This is a known issue and Toyota is doing nothing about it! Sign this petition and lets grab Toyota by the balls and make them fix this issue.

- Nate T., Eugene, OR, US

problem #35

Feb 212014

Corolla CE

  • Manual transmission
  • 190,000 miles


Seriously Toyota? This is a manual transmission. How in the hell does it go before anything else? I have babied this car and taken care of it like no other. It is my commuting car so those miles are all highway miles. Out of the blue the transmission goes. Turns out, this is a known problem and they will do nothing to remedy the situation. Makes me never want to buy a Toyota EVER again!

- darcieg, Darciegampetro@gmail.Com, WY, US

problem #34

Dec 032013

Corolla Sport 4 cyl

  • Manual transmission
  • 120,000 miles

The price to replace the transmission was $2760. Did not know manual transmissions had this problem.

It's good to know of others who've had similar problems.

- genroch, Wood Village, OR, US

problem #33

Nov 042013

Corolla CE 1.8L 4 cyl

  • Manual transmission
  • 110,000 miles

click to see larger images

transmission failure

The transmission just went out on my Mum's '03 Corolla, after reading all the other responses I'm pretty ticked at Toyota. She bought this Corolla when she started her new job as a home-health nurse about a year ago; it had 80*** miles on it then and now has somewhere between 110-130K. It started making growling noises about three months ago and we were told by our reputable mechanic that it was a throwout bearing and that he'd change it when we got the money. She purchased this car because it was reliable (Toyota...) and cheap to run, my Mum is a very competent manual driver, and has never beat on her car. Luckily she is able to use my high-school sister's '98 Crown Victoria until she can repair or replace this Corolla, but it is costing her a fortune in gas to drive the Crown Vic; had she not had it available she could have lost her job as it requires having a car to drive to patients' homes. We are very displeased with Toyota and the apparent lack of effort to rectify this problem. Unless a solution arises, we will be getting a different car and staying away from Toyota in the future.

- jaweber, Poynette, WI, US

problem #32

Apr 092012

Corolla CE 4 cyl

  • Manual transmission
  • 106,876 miles

I drove standard transmission vehicule for more than 50 year.My last car was a Ford tempo diesel ,after 422,000 klm the clutch and transmission was still in good condition.but I needed a new car SO; Here is a new 2003 corolla .Now with only 172,000 klm the transmission fail, the main bearing that is submerge in oil worn out prematurely, What should impossible unless a factory defect in its fabrication re-improper hardening and It cause,a full rebuilt at a cost of $2200.00 can dollars I fell that Toyota should cover that defect and all the cost involved. I am extremely dissatisfied with Toyota and my past good experience with Ford will be a strong factor in choosing our next car..Dager2

- dager2, Westmeath, Ontario, Canada

problem #31

Mar 052012

Corolla S 1.8L 1zzfe

  • Manual transmission
  • 105,633 miles

click to see larger images

transmission failure

Started hearing a noise from the transmission at around 50k miles. Could only hear it with the windows up and during acceleration. Sounded like someone turning an egg beater under the hood. Almost like a muffled helicopter sound. Drove the car for a week and the sound got progressively worse. Took it into to the dealer and they said the transmission was shot. Took it to a transmission shop and they did a bearing kit (replaced all bearings) and clutch to the tune of $2000. I still have the bearing that went bad. I think it was the input shaft bearing.

Car drove fine for another 5 years. At around 112k miles, same old sound. Got worse quickly. Once again took it to the transmission shop and did a bearing kit + clutch for another $2000. Same bearing, same failure.

There is definitely some sort of design flaw with the manual transmission in this car. Toyota doesn't care since it won't fail until the factory power-train warranty is expired.

- blot, Hamilton, Ontario, canada

problem #30

Jul 142008

Corolla LE

  • Manual transmission
  • 75,587 miles

Here's my story:

I purchased my 03 Corolla LE manual transmission in the summer of 2007 directly from the prior owner. He had purchased the vehicle new and kept immaculate service records. I was ecstatic to find the manual transmission model available, as I was highly leaning towards replacing my Civic with another Civic mostly due to the availability of a manual transmission. So I purchase this vehicle with 67000 miles on it at a fair rate. I love it. Life is good.

This feeling of contentment was to be short lived, however. About 10 months and 8000 miles later, I was driving on the highway headed to finish my Organic Chem sequence in preparation to apply for medical school when an unexpected thing happen. First, a loud whirring noise appeared coming from my engine. Then there was a pop. Then my car did not move.

I had the car towed to a local shop that had many favorable reviews. There they informed me of the bad, and I mean horrible, news. My transmission was completely destroyed and along with the clutch needed to be replaced immediately. Well, as a college student working as much as possible to pay for my own education, the 3200 bill was astronomical. However, what could I do? I never expected my manual transmission to explode at just over 75,000 miles. Who would? My Honda Civic before I replaced it had 166,000 miles on it and ran like a champ, needing only minor fixes along the way. Here I am with a car that I hadn't had for a year, that is needing a fix that is about half the price of the car at the time of my purchase.

After doing a lot of digging, as us researchers are known to do, I found out I was not alone. Many owners of this same exact vehicle reported this problem, and all were outraged that this occurred. Further digging, resulted in my finding out that in this specific model vehicle the manual transmission was not a Toyota part, but was outsourced to Yamaha. Their particular part had a habit of failing just outside of 75,000 miles, and just outside of the standard warranty, conveniently.

Consider this post a heads up to anyone considering purchasing a manual 2003 Toyota Corolla. Do your homework. Have the vehicle thoroughly inspected. Look and see if the transmission is still stock, or if it has been replaced. This will save you a lot of grief and money.

On my end, after growing up a loyal Toyota enthusiast (my mother worked for their local office for 10 years) I believe that this event has severed any good will I may have had towards them. The way that this issue played out, and the information that I gathered about the transmission and its nasty habit of failing just outside of the standard warranty leads me to believe that this was a known issue. It is logical to assume that Toyota knew about this issue and simply decided not to remedy it for the minority of Corolla owners, like myself, that wanted a manual transmission.

Hope this helps a few people. Sincerely,

Ken R.

- Ken R., Cincinnati, OH, US

problem #29

Oct 152010

Corolla CE 1.8L

  • Automatic transmission
  • 182,000 miles

In 2010 I needed newer car, called my bank, it was an emergency. When I found this 2003 Toyota corolla I was thrilled, so was my bank and said it was a good investment. In less than six months with all highway miles the transmission leaves me stranded 80 miles away from home. Had to stay almost 3 weeks where my car was and work until I could find a transmission to put in it. Great had it put in and two weeks later again it fails and again Im stranded at work and can't go home. Had it towed to nearest Toyota dealer, they were shocked. Not only was it very rare for the transmission to go out once in this automatic car but now twice. Good thing this one was still under warranty.

The second and last transmission found in a 200 mile radius because there are no good ones left. Now I'm back with the third one its now bad. My only option is to rebuild at the cost of over $1500. Totally not fair, plus I had to refinance the car to get the first one put in, so yes I still owe on it. Sounds like lemon law and yes you can on used cars from what I've read. TOYOTA make it right or close the doors!!

- Gwen J., Lancaster, OH, US

problem #28

Dec 132012

Corolla CE 1.8L

  • Manual transmission
  • 167,000 miles

The car started with a noise that was muffled and quiet, but noticeable. Within 2 DAYS while on the way to a mechanic the whole thing trashed while I was driving. Could barely get to where I was going! Total loss! So expensive because there are hardly any of these out there. I am very upset! Not getting a Toyota again.

- M G., Milwaukee, WI, US

problem #27

Nov 192012

Corolla S 1.8L

  • Manual transmission
  • 105,000 miles

Total Transmission Failure on 5 speed manual. Car will not go into any gear. A used transmission for this car is about $1600.00, OUCH. Can't afford to fix. I have always had Toyotas since I started driving. My 1992 Corolla went forever. I bought this car thinking I would be good for a long time. 6 months ago I had the clutch replaced, then the trans axle broke, fixed that, now the transmission. I don't know if it is worth fixing. Can't afford another car. This really sucks.

- Shawn M., Uniontown, PA, US

problem #26

Oct 142011

Corolla S 1.8L

  • Manual transmission
  • 132,000 miles

Have replaced this manual transmission twice, both failed, 5 speed.

Finally replaced it with a Pontiac Vibe 6 speed, same transmission, just a 6 speed, everything fit.

- Omar T., Cleveland, TN, US

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