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
Crashes / Fires:
3 / 1
Injuries / Deaths:
1 / 0
Average Mileage:
105,729 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 drivetrain problems

drivetrain problem

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2003 Toyota RAV4 Owner Comments (Page 2 of 5)

« Read the previous 20 complaints

problem #67

Dec 012014

RAV4 4-cyl

  • 80,880 miles


I pulled onto the highway, and pushed the accelerator down to get into traffic, and the vehicle failed to accelerate instantly as it always had done. The transmission slipped, slowly getting into gear, and then only gradually caught, causing me to almost get hit in the interim by at least one car and a tractor trailer. Told by my mechanic that this was unusual for Toyota transmissions, he said I should go online and see if there were any recalls for this type of problem. Sure enough, Toyota had, under duress of a law suit, acknowledged the problem, and had issued an expansion of the warranty on this exact problem to 10 years or 150,000 miles. On the online description of the transmission/emc problem, it was stated that the problem usually started around 80,000 miles, which is what my 2003 rav 4 has on it. After first calling Toyota headquarters (torrance, ca) to get them to include my car under that extension, they said that it was too late and there was nothing they could do. I then sent them a registered letter begging them to help me, as the car was essentially a death trap with the slippage into the first two gears, and they responded with a letter telling me to call them back. This was fruitless, as the reiterated exactly what the first customer service rep told me. I asked them to put it in writing that they would not stand behind their product failure, which the rep said he would do. I have heard nothing from them since that call last week. I told him I did not get anything from their company telling me, the owner, that this problem in the power train existed, and that it was unfair that because I babied the car over the years I have owned it, the 80,000 miles just occurred recently, past the 2013 date that was in the new warranty extension. In other words, a problem that was known by Toyota to manifest itself around 80,000 miles penalized me in this case.

- Mechanicsburg, PA, USA

problem #66

Jan 132015

RAV4 4-cyl

  • 52,226 miles
The car was shifting very harshly and with a very strong shaking like a shimmy. I called the Toyota dealers repair shop and it was decided to have the car towed in for repairs rather than continue driving. The technician said I needed a new transmission ECU and possible a new transmission. ECU cost $1300 and transmission, if needed, is $4, one told me that Toyota paid to have these fixed by extending the warranty several years ago in California. That warranty has now elapsed yet my car has less than 60,000 miles on it.

- Boulder, CO, USA

problem #65

Dec 262014


  • 108,000 miles
Experiencing abnormal behavior when shifting gears (auto trans). Transmission was shifting oddly - harsh shift condition. It was not a frequent problem and no engine light and I took it to the local mechanic and he connected to his computer and could not find any error codes. The problem happens every time I move from a stop. Found out that Toyota put out a technical service bulletin in early 2006 after defects started surfacing stating to replace the car's computer ECM/ECU and possibly the transmission.. the company did not inform owners about this defect which is now surfacing and did not recall due to cost of replacing the ECU and transmission it destroys. The defective ECU burns up the clutch and other parts in the transmission

- San Jose, CA, USA

problem #64

Nov 242014


  • 1,126,214 miles


Car sitting in my driveway. Took emergency brake off, stepped on brake, put car in reverse. Car gave a violent jerk backwards. Backed out of driveway, put car in drive and stepped on accelerator. Car jerked forward a little, engine revved up, slow acceleration after pressing on accelerator. Had to put more pressure on accelerator to gain adequate speed to pull forward. Stopped at stop sign, tried to accelerate, car jerked forward a little, engine revved up, but there was little to no acceleration after pressing the accelerator. More pressure on accelerator resulted in an adequate speed to pull forward. Same series of events after stopping and/or slowing down while driving. Same hard jerk when putting car in reverse for any reason followed by forward jerk, engine rev and slow acceleration when putting car in drive. Took vehicle to Toyota service on 11-26-14. Problem with ECM (electronic control module). Module had to be replaced. The transmission was not replaced. Cost to me was $1590.63, including tax. Due to my in service date, Toyota customer service advised my car was out of the extended warranty. Toyota customer service advised me the very best they could do was to offer me $500 towards a new Toyota, but not towards repair.

- Glendale, AZ, USA

problem #63

Aug 092014


  • 128,677 miles
I purchased a 2003 Toyota Rav4 from the Toyota dealership that only had 13 miles on it in August 2003. In August of 2014, I started having trouble with the automatic transmission shifting harsh when changing. The car would strain to change gears, then all of a sudden it would jerk into gear. No lights came on at all. I took it to the Toyota dealership to have the problem inspected and they told me about an extended warranty of 10 years or 150,000 miles. This was the first that I had heard about this warranty. Toyota never contacted me to let me know about the warranty. After inspecting my Rav4, they told me that I needed to replace the ECM and if that didn't solve the problem, I would need a transmission. I feel like Toyota should have informed me of the problem sooner. (before all that time had gone by.) I was very disappointed with the outcome. I see from this website that I am not the only one with this same problem and feel that Toyota should be held responsible for the repair.

- Sanford, NC, USA

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problem #62

Oct 272014


  • 98,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Toyota rav 4. the contact stated that while driving at approximately 25 mph, the transmission failed to shift from second to third gear and started to jerk violently. The vehicle was taken to an independent mechanic. The technician diagnosed that the transmission needed to be replaced. The manufacturer was made aware of the issue. The failure mileage was 98,000.

- Louisvile, KY, USA

problem #61

Nov 052014

RAV4 4-cyl

  • 99,300 miles


Last week, on the freeway entrance the car would not accelerate, then "bucked" and "raced". I nearly got rear-ended by the car behind me - a frightening experience. Then, driving city streets - to the mechanic - the same experience - stalled then raced ahead. After replacing the transmission fluid and filter ($400), the problem continues and the mechanic advised replacing the ECM ($928.46 plus labor). This is a serious financial strain on me. I take my car in for service every 5K miles and it is way below the extended warranty mileage of 150K, however, it is now 11 years old. I never, ever, received any recall notice from Toyota! I strongly believe that Toyota should reimburse me for these repairs since they have been and are well aware of the safety issue the failed ECM causes.

- Menlo Park, CA, USA

problem #60

Jul 182012

RAV4 4-cyl

  • 140,433 miles
Part 3 of 3the salesman encouraged my parents to keep it because they wouldn't get much of a trade in, so I had my rav towed to my house. I called the sm of love Lexus to inform him of my problem, to see if there was any recourse from him and to also express that I was completely unsatisfied.I reminded him that I had requested that they test drive on the four lane so they could understand my complaint of the hesitation of going in gear.he stated on the phone he did not recall, however they did drive it on the back lot. I asked him can you obtain a speed of 55mph in your lot, his response was "no?. at that point I decided I would not be dealing with that service department any 2/2014 I began investigating how to get rid of my rav and stumbled upon the class action lawsuit that was described above.I have only received 50% of the benefits awarded to me by the extended warranty and I don"T understand why I would not have been informed of the whole thing.I didn't get a notice from the corporation of this problem, love Lexus also failed to disclose my rights to having my transmission replaced along with the ECM under this extended warranty.

- South Charleston, WV, USA

problem #59

Jul 182012

RAV4 4-cyl

  • 140,433 miles
Part 2 of 3 this was at my cost and at that time I expressed my concern that it was an older car and with all these problems occurring, what was his opinion on trading. He didn't show any real interest but did state some have had great longevity and others not so much. After leaving that visit my car still did not shift properly and was still harsh in reverse.within a month or so my check engine light came back on again. While I was extremely reluctant to take it back to love Lexus I did. I expressed my complaint once again about it not being quite right and requested they take it out on the four lane so that it could be driven up past 55mph. He diagnostics ran again and informed me that my fuel cap wasn'┐┐T on tight enough. I left embarrassed; however, my car still was not driving right.I continued to drive this car with the same issues for the next year and in October 2013 my check engine light came back on. I took my car to a & E service center.they checked my transmission fluid and stated in smelled burnt, their diagnostics stated it was my transmission and the only thing they could recommend in lieu of replacing my transmission was to flush it and replace the filter and fluid. They stated that with the amount of metal shavings they found which they showed me, this was the equivalent of putting a bandaid on a broken bone.this only lasted about a month and on 11-12-13 I had it towed to aamco. The estimate was $2767.19. Due to me being in a financial hardship my parents gave me their 2002 4-runner and purchased a new car for themselves.we originally was trading the rav..

- South Charleston, WV, USA

problem #58

Jul 182012

RAV4 4-cyl

  • 140,433 miles
Primary complaint: Purposeful deception regarding full benefits of extended warranty of ECM and/or transmission replacement under class action milligan vtoyota.the events leading to my transmission issues began in 7/ 2012. I had problem getting out of my parents steep driveway so I took it to the garage that had been changing my oil in sissonville wv. Upon diagnostics they reported to me a solenoid code which indicated a possible transmission issue. I was referred to aamco transmissions, however the check engine light had been reset and they were unable to get any codes. After being told it could possibly be something with my exhaust as well, I was referred to quality exhausts but was unable to be seen. Then proceeded barker┐'s in dunbar. After test driving and evaluating he stated I had broken motor mounts. I made an appointment 7/18/12. When the technician placed my car on the rack he stated he was not sure what was wrong but it was not motor mounts and with the symptoms it was having I should have my transmission looked at. I had it towed to love Lexus in saint albans.there I was told my ECM was in need of replacement.he explained it was under warranty. I was caught off guard due the age of the vehicle. He went on to say the ravs have had some problems with these computers and an extended warranty was placed and applied to them.the harsh shifting had not been completely resolved. In 9/12 my check engine light came back on.I took it back to love Lexus and explained the condition as stated above.I asked if they would please test drive it to make sure they understood my complaint.after the diagnostics were complete I was told a fuel sensor had gone bad and was in need of replacement. Part 1 of 2

- South Charleston, WV, USA

problem #57

Sep 302014

RAV4 4-cyl

  • 146,000 miles


On 9/30/2014 was trying to pull out of a parking lot to turn left and my car would not accelerate. I almost got hit by approaching cars that I would have ordinarily had plenty of time to clear. I was able to steer into the left turn lane and stop to avoid collision but had trouble after that picking up enough speed to get to the right lane. I took my car in immediately for inspection and it was noted that the transmission and ECM needed replaced. I have since found information on a recall I never received for defective ECM's that cause transmission failure. Apparently a 10 year or 150,000 extended warranty was issued in 2010, but I was also never informed of that. My mileage qualifies but I bought my car in Dec 2002 so I am past the time limit. Since repairs exceed the blue book value of my car, it has no trade in value. This was an unsafe situation (that could have been worse on the freeway)' and an unfair outcome for me financially.

- Chula Vista, CA, USA

problem #56

May 202014


  • 92,400 miles
Harsh shifting; automatic shifting erratic; lurching, especially when starting from stop. Local garage says transmission is shot and requires replacement ($3100).

- Stratham, NH, USA

problem #55

Sep 162014


  • 119,600 miles
This letter is in reference to an issue, namely, harsh shift condition, on our 2003 Toyota Rav4, the vehicle presently shows approximately 119, 600 miles. According to Toyota warranty policy bulletin no. Pol 10-03, dated 07/09/10, page 1, Toyota has received reports that certain 2001 through 2003 model year Rav4 vehicles equipped with an automatic transaxle may exhibit a harsh shift condition if this condition occurs, the check engine light may illuminate and/or the vehicle may begin to shift harshly. This warranty is being offered for 10 years or 150,000 miles please verify VIN applicability for this csp by performing a VIN inquiry before completing the repair. On page 2 we checked the applicable VIN ranges and observed that our vehicle was included in this customer support program (csp).our respectful request is that Toyota honor the warranty enhancement for our Rav4. Based on a telephone call to Toyota motor sales customer experience center in torrance ca, the company rep. Said Toyota would not honor the extended warranty. I believe that the part (ECM) was defective and should be replaced under extended warranty because the vehicle is under 150,00 miles but just over the ten year limit. Thank you.

- Westfield, NJ, USA

problem #54

Aug 292014

RAV4 4-cyl

  • 130,000 miles
I'm the owner of a 2003 Rav4, purchased from a Toyota dealer in 2011. Last week, I experienced a time lapse of my car shifting into first gear, in my opinion, a safety hazard. This morning I took the car to a mechanic and began searching the web for any recalls for a 2003 Rav4, there are none. However, on this site, I discovered that I am one of many who have this complaint, and that we, the consumer, all share the same results from Toyota. You missed the deadline. It was on this website that I learned of a class action lawsuit about the ECM defect with my Rav4 (see, the letter was supposedly sent to all who own a 2003 Rav4. I never received this letter. Nor did I receive any type of notification from Toyota re: An extended warranty, or for that matter any type of time sensitive dates to capture any type of recovery from Toyota. Toyota claims they work with a company who gathers owners information from the dmv. Toyota calls this issue with the transmission not shifting properly into gear, a "customer malfunction support program"...and the catch is that you only have 10 years from the date of first use to notify them of your "malfunction" car missed the deadline by 6 months and again, let me reiterate that I was never notified by anyone about this issue, nor is this issue termed a recall item. My question is why not" why is this not a recall, when this situation is clearly a safety issue. If you are in a car that will not move into first gear, and then the car unexpectedly jerks into acceleration, is that not a safety concern?? Toyota's term "harsh shift of auto trans axle" " my complaint and opinion is that Toyota has been deceptive with their consumers. And these attorneys? why did I not hear from them?? and furthermore, will I hear back from the NHTSA ??? how can the consumer make a deadline, if they are not notified??"

- Dawsonville, GA, USA

problem #53

Mar 312014

RAV4 4-cyl

  • 75,249 miles
Vehicle driven by elderly widowed mother (josephine beasley, age 70) no more than 6,200 miles per year and began experiencing harsh shift in transmission in March 2014. Aamco informed us that a malfunctioning electronic computer module (ECM) caused the damage to transmission. Aamco technician notified us that the ECM repair claims are covered under a Toyota settlement agreement ( repair cost for transmission $2,890 and ECM part $1,227.91 paid for out of pocket. The Rav4 was purchased from carmax on April 18, 2009; elderly mother does not have access or understanding of internet. She did not realize that she had to register the vehicle with Toyota in order to receive recall notices or any other important information pertaining to her vehicle from the manufacturer. Contacted Toyota customer service and they refused to reimburse the cost of repair as the vehicle exceeded the 10 year in service warranty period even though it is within 150,000 miles limit. When she drove the vehicle off the carmax lot it had 44,213 miles on odometer and on August 7, 2014, odometer reading is 75,374. Sad that the elderly are being taken advantage of because of their lack of technical knowledge.

- Landover, MD, USA

problem #52

Mar 202014

RAV4 4-cyl

  • 113,638 miles
My 2003 Rav4 developed a very harsh shift taking off between first and 2nd gear. I took it to our local Toyota dealer (berglund oak ridge Toyota> lynchburg, va) and they confirmed a diagnosed stored trouble code P0755-shift "B" malfunction. They quoted about $4700 to replace the ECM and put in a rebuilt transmission. No financial help from the dealer, even though they were aware this has been a major problem for the 2001-2003 Rav4's. Toyota extended the warranty a few years ago to 10 years or 150,000 miles, which ever came first. I purchased the vehicle less than a year ago, not aware that this was a documented and expected problem with this vehicle. The dealer suggested I contact customer experience at 1-800-331-4331 and ask them to consider covering all or part of the cost. The vehicle has a value of $7500 per kbb. I called and got case # 1403130959. I spoke to rashine. It took a few days but they got back to me and said because it exceeded the 10 year window (2003-2013) they would not cover any of the costs. I pleaded that I have well under the 150,000 mile mark and that they readily say 80% of all Toyota's are on the road for 20 years. This has another 10 years to go. They know this is and has been a factory design fault per all the recorded problems. I don't feel I should have to pay $4700 in repairs for their design failure. In their 1.2 billion $ recent settlement, they said" putting customers first", "want to earn our trust", "serve customers" "take responsibilities seriously". wow, what a lie and let down. How can they get away with this? it has happened to countless 1000's of people. Toyota should be required to make this a recall and fix for 0$. this car is unsafe to drive as is and will stall in traffic and cause accidents. Thank you for listening. Please help me and hold Toyota responsible for a terrible design flaw.

- Evington, VA, USA

problem #51

Mar 082014


  • 115,000 miles
I was stopped at a red light for several minutes and upon acceleration my vehicle was extremely sluggish. After a few seconds it seemed to "jump" into gear. I also noticed that when I was slowing down it would almost do the same thing, being sluggish. Fortunately there were no accidents involving my vehicle, but I took it to Toyota and they said the computer needed to be replaced. I was not aware of any recall of the vehicle until I looked online and saw several thousand of them had been recalled.

- Valrico, FL, USA

problem #50

May 142013

RAV4 4-cyl

  • miles
2003 Toyota rav 4. consumer writes in regards to transmission failure. The consumer stated on May 14, 2013, the vehicle did not respond, when she applied the accelerator pedal. When she attempted to shift gears, a loud noise emitted from the vehicle, and the check engine light illuminated. The consumer was informed, the vehicle needed a transmission computer.

- Long Island City, NY, USA

problem #49

Jan 162014


  • 100,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Toyota Rav4. The contact stated that the vehicle failed to respond when the accelerator pedal was engaged and the vehicle stalled intermittently. The vehicle was taken to the dealer who stated that the ECM failed. The vehicle was not repaired. The manufacturer was not notified of the failure. The failure mileage was approximately 100,000.

- Cape Coral, FL, USA

problem #48

Feb 032014

RAV4 4-cyl

  • 109,000 miles
My 2003 Toyota Rav4 had a faulty ECM affecting the transmission and had to be replaced. This was causing the transmission to shift very erratically and could have caused an accident/injury. Toyota knew about this faulty part and there was not a public recall; they replaced parts as they failed and extended that warranty because of a class action lawsuit. Now the warranty is 10 yrs/150,000. So I am outside of the warranty by maybe a year and not even close to the mileage. I contacted Toyota to inform them that my ECM had failed hoping they would at least apologize (reimbursement would be welcome too) but the lady I talked to said there was no recall related to my VIN number, which I know to be a lie! Toyota put out a faulty part and must be made to replace any that fail no matter the mileage or length of time! this faulty part has also damaged some transmissions and they must be made to replace/reimburse for those as well. My ECM has been replaced and I am not sure but am afraid I am one of the ones with a damaged transmission. Please help!

- Fairfield, IA, USA

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