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.


really awful
Typical Repair Cost:
Average Mileage:
86,550 miles
Total Complaints:
11 complaints

Most Common Solutions:

  1. replace engine (10 reports)
  2. not sure (1 reports)
2002 Toyota RAV4 engine problems

engine problem

Find something helpful? Spread the word.
Get notified about new defects, investigations, recalls & lawsuits for the 2002 Toyota RAV4:

Unsubscribe any time. We don't sell/share your email.

2002 Toyota RAV4 Owner Comments

problem #11

Oct 042014


  • Automatic transmission
  • 93,000 miles


It was a dark and stormy night. Metaphorically speaking, that is.

It was a glorious autumn night in the wilds of North Carolina, and my husband and I had just left a friend's Oktoberfest celebration. We had spent the evening staring at the stars, eating brats, and then hit the highway to head back to our sleepy NC college town.

Unbeknownst to us, there was also a small deer leaving a fete of its own that night. Unlike us, he perhaps had a few too many drinks. (We don't drink and drive, people!) The deer stepped in front of our RAV-4 on I-40. We were able to slow down some but not miss it completely, and with a sickening thud, we pulled our Toyota to the side of the road and called the highway patrol in. The animal was dead, and so, alas, was our RAV-4. Or so we thought.

A day later and a long tow ride into East Durham, we got the good news: our car's damage was mainly cosmetic, and it would be back to us in a few weeks. I got a new right fender and new cooling fans among other minor things. Though it sucked to have to bum rides off of my colleagues for most of the fall semester, I was thrilled to know the car wasn't lost. Or so we thought.

After receiving it back from the body shop, the car drove fine for about a mile. And that's when the real horror show began. The oil light began to flicker and it felt like the car was shuddering. It was very cold out, but I immediately pulled over, turned the car off and called the body shop. They told me to drive it back to them and that it was probably just resetting itself after being put back together again in the cold. I remember doubting this, but I did as told, though that flickering oil light gave me the willies the whole way.

Three days later, I receive a call that goes something like this: "You need a new engine because you didn't take care of the car. It's going to cost about four grand to get it running again."

It was perhaps at this point in time that I had what we in the South call a "conniption."

Folks, I purchased this car from a dealer with 40k on the odometer. I performed every major required mechanical service on it and religiously had the oil changed. The 1996 Honda Accord I owned before the RAV-4 had 189k on the odometer when I sold it, and it was still running strong until the high school kid who bought it literally ran it into a ditch. Heck, I even kept a 1991 Ford Explorer alive to 120k. In short, I know how to properly take care of cars to ensure they last: I pay professional mechanics a lot of money to do all of that stuff it says to do in the owner's manual.

A quick search online for the 2002-03 RAV-4 models will show you all you need to know. Despite meticulous maintenance, a lot of owners have had their "infallible" Toyota engines fail at relatively low mileage. I got lucky: I got 90k on that bad boy before the engine went kaput. Others found themselves in the hole around the 45k mileage mark. Of course, Toyota claims no problems exist for this, and since my car was beyond the powertrain warranty it was "my problem to deal with."

I could live with that if Toyota had not recalled Camry engines from the same time period. "Hey," some folks will say, "you got 90k on it before it failed. Try driving a Pontiac beyond 50k with the same results." Touche, my dears, touché. The problem is I initially plunked down a heck of a lot more cash for a Consumer Reports all-star. Had I bought a Pontiac, I'd likely have expected the engine problems. Heck, I might have even thrown the car a party to celebrate the death of its original engine. But alas, the Pontiac is not what is in the garage right now.

I ended up spending $3,500 on a new engine for this thing. It came from Japan. It had 20k on it when I bought it. It's still going strong, and the RAV-4 has 210k on its body and transmission. But Toyota has designated my earlier problems as failure to care for my car. As if, jokers!

Will we ever know what truly caused the engine failure? Was it Spotty the Deer or did the Toyota gods simply frown on me? Perhaps this will be a mystery for the ages. Whatever the cause, this was an expensive problem on a car that was supposed to make it for the long haul. I'm driving it out of spite these days, taunting it to fail on me with each mile that passes so that this chapter can finally be closed.

- Kim N., Atlanta, GA, US

problem #10

Sep 292014

RAV4 2.0L Vvt-I

  • Automatic transmission
  • 56,000 miles

Merging into heavy traffic, I noticed NO power. I looked at my dash, and all of my lights were on. VERY luckily coasted to breakdown lane, and stopped....went to restart the car, and it sounded HORRIBLE! Stopped at once, called AAA. They got me to my mechanic, and he informed me that I had no compression, and that he would give me 1 hr. labor to inspect why. he removed head, and informed me that my entire engine was totally sludged up. He couldn't understand why, because I had changed and inspected my oil religiously! This engine only had 56,000 YES 56,000 miles on it. He has found me a HIGH mileage engine (148,000 miles) and can replace it. at 3,500.00. BUT he and I are concerned that this 'new' engine MAY fail also, after reading all the horror stories. ANY advice, leads would be so very helpful. Thank you all!

- Tracy S., Saco, ME, US

problem #9

Jan 202012


  • Automatic transmission
  • 129,000 miles

driving at 7:30 am, oil sign came, than engine and started to make rattling noise, was barely able to pull on side on highway during rush hours, (very very scary and unsafe) and engine died. Towed to my car mechanic near by and is still there. He said needs engine replaced. I don't have job and can't afford to buy or replace. please help.

- Harshida P., North Brunswick, NJ, US

problem #8

Jan 202012


  • Automatic transmission
  • 128,900 miles


Driving to work at 7:30am..hardly drove & oil sign came, than right away the engine sign and started to make knocking sound...had just merged on busy hwy where cars were driving by 70mph and didn't know what to engine was about die and luckily I could pulled on the shoulder lane . It was very very scary feeling, thought I was going to crash...awful.

Called AAA and got car towed to nearby car mechanic...and it is still there. It can cost me to put a new engine...I don't know what to do at this point as my husband doesn't have a job and I am the only one person earning. This car was maintained with regular oil change, service tuneups and all.

Called Toyota people and they said there is nothing they can do because it is a normal wear and tear and no warranty...but any one can tell me if the engine fails it just happens without any signs? Engine sign just came up and it died in seconds...1st oil sign and right away engine sign and knocking sound and died....I could have been killed...this is the second time this car almost killed me....4 months back it was faulty transmission went on major hwy while driving....they replaced it and now is not normal. I spoke to friends, family and lot of people and they all said that never happened to anyone. It didn't give me any prior notice of any problems and just died on me...Last few years I took my car for oil change to my local car mechanic for oil change and maintenance because Toyota dealers are so mechanic is ready to give me all the receipts when my work was done...I need help.

- Harshida P., North Brunswick, NJ, US

problem #7

Nov 122008

RAV4 2.0L V4

  • Automatic transmission
  • 56,000 miles

In 2003 we bought a brand new 2002 Toyota Rav4. In 2007, the engine seized up at 56,000 miles. we took it to Toyota and they told us it would cost $7,000 because they needed to replace the engine. After gathering all our maintanence history and much dileberation Toyota agreed to replace the engine but we had to pay for the labor ($2500); We agreed. After they did the work, we heard a soft constant beating sound coming from the engine. When we took it back, we were told that sound was normal when a new engine is installed and it will go away -- It didn't. 18 months and 10,000 miles later, the engine died again. Baffled at how two seperate engines can die we took it to our personal mechanic. He explained to us that the engine was never replaced, but rebuilt. We took it back to the dealership and they refused to help us. So did Toyota Corp.

They have a settlement for defective engines for the same generation engines (1997-2002) for almost every model. Except the Rav4.

What makes it worse was I was told I was getting a new engine. At the same time my personal mechanic had found me a used engine (12,000 mi) for 2300 including installation. Had I knew they were going to rebuild it, I would have went with that option. so they screwed me out of 2500, a car, and a chance at actually fixing the car. if you divide the mileage by how much the car costed me, it would have been more cost effective for me to by a 600 class Mercedez!

- Mostafa S., Fords, NJ, US

problem #6

May 012009

RAV4 2.0L

  • Manual transmission
  • 127,381 miles

iv had the oil sludge problem as well, when i dismantled the oil tank and examined the oil pump the pick up filter in the sump was totally clogged with sediment. the pick up filter is the size 50mm in diameter there for resulting in quicker clogging. recommend even more regular oil changes up to every 5000km at the most and check the the oil pick up as often as possible. the damage was so extensive from the loss of oil pressure it snapped the pistons; result replacement of the entire engine. replacement oil pumps with greater pick up filter circumferences should be made available and affordable to prevent this event from re-occurring.

- ryand, Maitland, NSW, Australia

problem #5

Feb 102009

RAV4 EX 2.2L

  • Automatic transmission
  • 66,667 miles


Engine started to run roughly, engine died 200 miles from home. Car was towed to repair shop - The fix was $4,000 engine replacement. Wouldn't buy another Toyota EVER

- Darrell J., Cary, NC, US

problem #4

Feb 052009

RAV4 LX 2.0L

  • Manual transmission
  • 89,565 miles

Engine light came on so I got off the interstate. I heard a knocking sound and the Toyota dealership said the only thing that can be done is to replace the engine at a cost of $6700. I don't understand why they are quick to say you didn't maintain you car. I guess Toyota is not a reliable car! This was going to be my last car, so this SUCKS!

- Louis G., Jacksonville, FL, US

problem #3

Dec 232002

RAV4 2.0L

  • Automatic transmission
  • 49,524 miles

Engine light came on got off interstate immediately..changed oil @ jiffylube got back on interstate, oil light flickering then engine loss all power and died....Had wrecker towed me 16 miles to nearest Toyota dealership....$365...tow bill....Toyota dealership gave me two options on engine replacement $7,000.00 option one... Option two was $8,000.00 ......................I bought this car because its a toyota and reliable....This really sucks....

- Tom B., Vero Beach, FL, US

problem #2

Dec 232008


  • Automatic transmission
  • 89,000 miles

My oil light came on, then 2 miles later the engine light came on. Immediately I started losing power and heard a knocking sound. I pulled over right away and later had it towed. The Toyota dealership said I had sludge in my engine and the only thing that can be done is to replace the entire engine at a cost of $7000. I've read so much about Toyota sludge problems and now I see that this isn't an isolated incident. I don't understand why on earth the Rav4 was not included in this class action lawsuit when apparently it's a problem with all makes of Toyota. They are quick to say you didn't maintain your car and, of course, not mention that this is a widespread problem with Toyota engines. I guess I should talk with my attorney to see if maybe the Rav4 should get it's day in court.

- dricetx, Round Rock, TX, US

problem #1

Mar 052007

(reported on)


  • Automatic transmission
  • 67,000 miles

I have a 2002 Rav 4. My oil was checked regularly. My engine literally melted last Nov 2006, 7 months after warranty. I had my oil changed the weekend before this occurred. I spent over $3,000 in replacing the engine and I have pictures of the oil sludge that caused the problem. My vehicle was not included in the class-action suit that Toyata lost. Why does Toyata have to be sued to do the right thing? What happened to ethics, on the contrary, Toyota pretty much said "Not my problem".

- Vivian L., Whittier, CA, US

Not what you are looking for?