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 3 of 5)

« Read the previous 20 complaints

problem #47

Jan 312014

RAV4 4-cyl

  • 74,500 miles


While driving approximately 0 - 5 mph, transmission failed. The failure recurred several times and check engine light came on. The vehicle was taken to a independent mechanic, who diagnosed that the transmission computer would need to be replaced. The vehicle was not repaired. The manufacturer was not made aware of the failure. The approximate failure mileage was 74500.

- Philadelphia, PA, USA

problem #46

Jan 182014

RAV4 4-cyl

  • 132,015 miles
I was driving my 2003 Rav4, entering a highway when the transmission failed to engage immediately when I accelerated. It hesitated for a few seconds then finally lurched forward. I was very nearly struck by a vehicle on the highway because I was unable to accelerate as expected. Now the rav frequently behaves oddly when shifting, sometimes refusing to upshift, suddenly downshifting at inappropriate times. The dealer advises the problem is likely a defect in the electronic control module (ECM) as covered in a tsb. From research recently I have learned that this ECM defect was a known problem beginning in 2006. I am amazed there has been no recall to repair this very serious safety issue. Now it appears I will be on the hook for a very expensive ECM replacement. Even though I have religiously taken this vehicle to a Toyota dealer regularly for maintenance, they never once mentioned this known problem. Yet when I discussed this behavior with one of the dealer's service advisors yesterday, he seemed quite familiar with this issue. Please call for a recall on this issue.

- Valencia, CA, USA

problem #45

Jun 072013


  • 67,597 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Toyota rav 4. the contact stated that while driving approximately 5 mph, transmission failed. The failure recurred several times and without warning. The vehicle was taken to a independent mechanic twice, who diagnosed that the transmission would need to be replaced. The vehicle was not repaired. The manufacturer was made aware of the failure. The approximate failure mileage was 67,597.

- Havertown, PA, USA

problem #44

Dec 042013

RAV4 4-cyl

  • 96,000 miles


The contact owns a 2003 Toyota Rav4. The contact stated that while driving 65 mph, the vehicle stalled without warning. In addition, the vehicle would sporadically accelerate without warning. The contact took the vehicle to a local mechanic, who stated the transmission needed to be replaced. The contact called the manufacturer and filed a complaint. The failure mileage was 96,000.

- Austin, TX, USA

problem #43

Nov 272013

RAV4 4-cyl

  • 95,000 miles
Toyota has known for years that its ECM unit would ultimately fail. This failure has caused transmissions to fail as well. Pulling out into a busy intersection in 3 rd gear, as they are prone to do could cause an accident. Toyota should recall these. My vehicle is exactly 3 months too old to be repaired under their warranty.

- Tucson, AZ, USA

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problem #42

Oct 252013

RAV4 4-cyl

  • 136,000 miles
Hi I own a Toyota Rav4 2003 since 2009 this is a serious safety issue. I am asking the NHTSA to order a recall to have Toyota fix this problem before someone gets killed or seriously injured. The problem is that the car often does not accelerate as it should. When headed up and accelerating from a stop, the car sputters before jerking into gear and accelerating. And then about 5-8 seconds later the car would jolt into gear. Also, when already moving and going up even a slight hill, when I press the accelerator to maintain speed, the car sputters as it shifts from second to third gear before jerking into third gear. Through the internet, I almost got hit a few times. I learned that the ECM is a computer (electronic control module) that controls the transmission and other components, that Toyota has known about this ECM manufacturing defect on 2001 to 2003 Rav4S now I have to spend lots of money that it wasn't in my budget, ..the Toyota knew about this problem, why they never had a recall" can someone do something about it"

- Fitchburg, MA, USA

problem #41

Nov 012013

RAV4 4-cyl

  • 103,000 miles


My husband and I purchased our 2003 Toyota Rav4 with an automatic transmission in June 2003. The car now has 103,000 miles on it. It recently began to have a serious safety problem. Aside from the issue of fairness to the customer, this is a serious safety issue. I am asking the NHTSA to order a recall to have Toyota fix this problem before someone gets killed or seriously injured. The problem is that the car often does not accelerate as it should. When headed up even a slight hill and accelerating from a stop, the car sputters before jerking into gear and accelerating. I was making a left turn in that situation and almost got broadsided when my car sputtered and an oncoming car barely slowed down in time to avoid hitting me. Also, when already moving and going up even a slight hill, when I press the accelerator to maintain speed, the car sputters as it shifts from second to third gear before jerking into third gear. The Toyota dealer to whom I took the car said the problem is the ECM and the cost to repair it is about $1,000. Through the internet, I learned that the ECM is a computer (electronic control module) that controls the transmission and other components, that Toyota has known about this ECM manufacturing defect on 2001 to 2003 Rav4S since at least 2006, that Toyota has issued service bulletins to its dealers on how to fix the problem, and that Toyota has even extended the warranty to 10 years or 100,000 miles to cover this manufacturing defect. The NHTSA website shows other complaints from people like me where the problem surfaced just after the extended warranty period ended. To reiterate, this is a known widespread problem with 2001 to 2003 Rav4S, it is a manufacturing defect, it affects the car?S ability to accelerate properly when needed, and as such it represents a serious safety issue. Please recall these Rav4S before somebody gets killed!

- Lutherville, MD, USA

problem #40

Nov 062013


  • 65,507 miles
Experience a hard shift jerking motion when driving my car and almost got hit twice due to the car jerking and immediately slowing down. I took it in to kendall Toyota of anchorage right away and then read online that there was a class action lawsuit and enhanced warranty of 2001-2003 Toyota because of the malfunction of the ECM and transmission. This car is not safe to drive! Toyota kendall said it would be $6,000 to replace both the ECM and transmission and that Toyota would only pay half because the car was 10 years old. This car only has 60,000 miles on it and the enhanced warranty has been extended twice due to complaints with the court. I did not get my car fixed because I could not afford it and I think Toyota should pay the full 6K to fix it. I'm amazed at how many other people have had this issue and Toyota first issued a recall and was sued in court because they refused to acknowledge the serious malfunction of their vehicles.

- Anchorage, AK, USA

problem #39

Oct 142013

RAV4 4-cyl

  • 76,970 miles
2003 Rav4 with automatic transmission started having trouble accelerating from a stop. There seemed to be hardly any power when the gas pedal was pressed, and then about 5-8 seconds later the car would jolt into gear. This problem would happen also when increasing speed, or any time the gas pedal was pressed down. The car was taken to an auto shop where they said the transmission was broken and needed to be replaced. I am a very conservative driver (I never try to accelerate too quickly), and this trusty Toyota hasn't ever had any engine problems... ever! there are less than 77,000 miles on the vehicle.

- Atlanta, GA, USA

problem #38

Aug 252013

RAV4 4-cyl

  • 80,001 miles
I purchased the Rav4 in late July, 2013. The Rav4 had 78,000 miles on the odometer. I paid $9,000+ for the Rav4. At 80,000 miles the automatic transmission began having shifting problems such as jerking between gears, very sluggish response during acceleration and horrendous gas mileage. I get about 8 miles per gallon. Took it to the dealer, they ran diagnostics on my car and discovered that the problems fall "within the parameters" of the service bulletin no.: tc-10-034 except the "in service" date of my vehicle was March 8, 2003 thereby making me ineligible for the 10 year warranty by 4 months. This is ridiculous!!! this is a Toyota screwup and has nothing to do with road conditions or owner neglect. I bought this car so my daughter can continue her daycare. She shuttles pre-school age children to various recreation facilities and my wife, who has terminal cancer, often accompanies her so she can spend as much quality time with her before the eventuality. Now I'm reading that this particular Rav4 problem can be extremely dangerous. If Toyota "cares for it's customers", how can this be a service bulletin and not a recall. This defect should be addressed regardless of mileage or date of service. I just spent over $9,000 for a 10 year old car because it was a Toyota. "it'll last forever". I called the Toyota customer complaint phone number and all I got was contempt. Her name was [xxx] and her argument was "Toyota was very kind in extending the warranty for you", it's your fault for not reading it". yeah right, it's my fault for not following your screwups for the past ten years. I want my car fixed!! I can't afford $5,000 for a transmission, ECM and computer reboot. This is a Toyota problem and I, the customer, demand to be heard. If Toyota truly "cares for its customers", they have an obligation to do the right thing. Information redacted pursuant to the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. 552(B)(6).

- Torrance, CA, USA

problem #37

Jul 302013


  • 93,900 miles


The contact owns a 2003 Toyota Rav4. The contact stated that while driving approximately 5 mph, the vehicle was jerking violently as the check engine warning light illuminated. The check engine warning light would illuminate intermittently. The vehicle was taken to a dealer where it was diagnosed that the computer and the power transmission needed to be replaced. The manufacturer was notified of the failure. The vehicle was not repaired. The approximate failure and current mileage was 93,900.

- Toms River, NJ, USA

problem #36

Jul 022013

RAV4 4WD 4-cyl

  • 133,796 miles
I started experiencing a transmission shifting problem on 7/2/13. It has been intermittent since that date. On 7/10/13 the problem became more pronounced and frequent. When proceeding forward from a stop the vehicle would start to advance, then shift out of gear. It has resulted in near miss rearend and side crashes. I made an appointment with my mechanic for 7/15/13. Diagnostic testing showed the problem to be a faulty engine control computer. Research turned up a Toyota service bulletin (tsb 015610) describing the problem I was having. Even though they were aware of a safety issue, they chose not to do repairs until the problem manifested itself.

- Niles, MI, USA

problem #35

Feb 112009


  • 80,048 miles
I was at a stop sign no gas, turned down hill in snow car accelerated going straight into downed tree. My vehicle is not on the recall list and has had sticking accelerator, rear end clunking noise and power steering has made it where I am afraid to drive vehicle. My service animal hit the windshield that shattered when vehicle accelerated and had to slam on brakes at another time. I've had other near misses and two left of center tickets with power steering issues. I have taken into Toyota for steering and check engine light and they will not even write service ticket. They filled power steering fluid said no problem. They keep resetting check engine light stating its gas cap. This car is a lemon, transmission problems, electrical system, computer. This is the first new vehicle I ever bought and wish I would have stuck with used.

- Lowell, AR, USA

problem #34

Jun 132013

RAV4 4-cyl

  • 127,000 miles
The car would engage 2nd and 3rd gears at the same time causing temporary lock up of the rear wheels and loss of control. Found out about a tsb and class action suite regarding this issue affecting the ECU while researching the problem. Contacted Toyota regarding the issue and they informed me that my 2003 Rav4 was not covered because it had been put in service June of 2003. I am appalled this is not a recall as it is clearly a safety issue if loss of control of the vehicle is possible. This could be fatal if it were to happen to on a slippery road or going around a corner.

- Plymouth, MA, USA

problem #33

May 052013

RAV4 4-cyl

  • 188,400 miles
On or about May 5, 2013 I noticed my car started to hard shift, though I was driving as usual. The problem happens off and on and is most noticeable when waiting at a stop sign, red light or drive thru at a restaurant. The shift jolt is most noticeable when needing to accelerate or shifting into drive--it doesn't happen when I go into reverse. The shift jolt sometimes is accompanied by a thud noise. On May 7, 2013 I contacted Toyota headquarters and discuss this with a customer service representative at 1-800-331-4331. She transferred me to a rude and cantankerous woman who seemed to have heard the story before. She stated I need to go to a dealership and get a diagnostic, which costs $100 in my area. She then stated that if any of the following codes appear: Codes:  P0750, P0753, P0755, P0758 or P0760 that I would need to replace ECM module first, if still problem the faulty module could've messed up the transmission. She conceded that Toyota issued a bulletin to the dealerships and apparently it is a widespread problem. At some point I received a Toyota internal case number. She said there was nothing she could do for me as I am not under warranty. I have 188,000+ miles on my car and apparently if it is not under 150,000 mile warranty. I take very good care of my car and it is not my fault the problem did not appear within a randomly selected mileage they chose. Toyota admitted they knew of the problem and they are liable for any manufacturer's defect of the ECM/transmission. I request your assistance in getting my car repaired for free as it is Toyota's faulty/defective part that is now causing my car problems. The consumer stated after getting the repairs done, Toyota refused to reimburse her for the repairs. They wouldn't even consider partial payment. Even though, a customer service representative initially told her she would need to get the repairs done and ten Toyota would reimburse her. Updated 12/16/13

- Washington, DC, USA

problem #32

Mar 042013

RAV4 4-cyl

  • 1 miles
I purchased my veh in Jan day, I noticed my veh was not able to drive uphill. At 50K miles in 2010, I went to dealer with a recall letter. My complaint:cust having difficulty driving uphill-won't accel-get stuck at 45-50 mph. Veh is shifting harsh & cust stated that she is having problems with trans.cust thinks that this is part of the ztl letter she got in mail. Their response was:test drove veh & duplicated the lack of power found veh had 3 floor mats under the accel pedal not allowing full travel removed mats & veh ran & shifted fine. I left disappointed & they charged me. Problem grew & my car started acting strange even though I was keeping up with maintanence. In March 2013, my car wouldn't even start & I thought it must be the battery, & got it towed & had battery replaced.when I was driving, it started shaking. It was strange but I didn't read into it until late April 2013, I was waiting for green light to make L turn & my car resisted & pulled back harshly. Since then I was scared of driving my veh. One day it was fine mostly but another day similar issue, stopping & driving was scary & it couldn't go higher than 20 mph. The last time I drove, I could hardly put my car in the garage. I had it towed again to Toyota for service. My car has 65K miles & they told me ECU has to be replaced & if doesn't work, I should pay for a new trans. I contacted manufacturer, they said they will pay for the ECU but not for transmission (if necessary) nor for labor cost. I'm frustrated with this issue, they should replace my trans even if new ECU makes it look like my car is repaired but I don't believe it. The defect shortened the transmission's life.I will never feel safe again in my car with the existing trans. The manufacturer should take full responsibility, pay for damages, not demand on warranty, inform customers & apologize for acting like nothing is wrong.

- Lakewood, CO, USA

problem #31

May 012013


  • miles
2003 Toyota rav 4. consumer writes in regards to transmission failure. The consumer learned Toyota knew there was an issue and extended the warranty on the transmission to 10 years/150,000 miles in 2006. The consumer had a 110,000 miles on his vehicle, but was five months over the extended warranty. The consumer stated it cost $800 plus tax, to locate the problem and would cost $4,000 to replace the transmission.

- Fair Lawn, NJ, USA

problem #30

Mar 072011

RAV4 4-cyl

  • 91,000 miles
The vehicle jerks, misses gears. When trying to pull doesn't move then suddenly takes off. I did some research and this seems to be a problem in 02/03 & 04 rav 4's also says the ECM is a problem. Had the vehicle checked, replaced the filter & transmission fluid only to have it still acting the same way...we were told the transmission is shot. My research indicated Toyota knows of the problem & extended the warranty to 10 years or 150,00 miles. When we contacted freedom Toyota in hamburg, pa. (this is where we purchased the vehicle) the service department *chuckled* at us. Told us, $91 just to pull it in there garage to look at it!how safe is it to drive if it jerks or just won't go" where is Toyota loyalty to it's customers if they *chuckle* at us " needless to say we still owe money on this vehicle.

- Hegins, PA, USA

problem #29

Dec 212012

RAV4 4-cyl

  • 126,000 miles
We purchased our rav 4 as a certified used car from folwer Toyota Inc. 955 North interstate norman Oklahoma January 2005. We were told the certified used car included a 160-point quality inspection, certifying the car is in good working order. The dealer never told us about the problem with the transmission computer and they never transferred the name of ownership to Toyota, Inc. In December of last year we began to experience problem with the transmission jerking forward and shifting hard between 1st and 2nd gear. It also shifted hard into reverse. We took it to our mechanic who suggested that we service the transmission and see if that might be the problem. The problem persisted and we called Toyota and talked to a customer service agent that informed us that Toyota had an extended warranty on the transmission and that the warranty for our car ran out December 31st 2012 and we would not qualify. We did not know anything about the transmission defective computer until we called Toyota and after looking on the internet discovering that the extended warranty was the result of a class action suite. Toyota knew about the problem with the transmission computer but failed to inform us about the extended warranty or the potential problem with the transmission. Now we are told that to replace the computer is between $1500 and $1900 and if there has been damage to the transmission caused by the failure of the computer it will cost us $5000 to rebuild the transmission. We believe that Toyota dealer that sold us the rav 4 should have ensured that our name and address was sent to Toyota informing them of our purchase in case there was a recall or in this case an extended warranty covering a defective part. We also believe that Toyota would not listen to our appeal because we called after the warranty time limit.

- Tarzana, CA, USA

problem #28

Feb 012013


  • 90,145 miles
Trouble with harsh automatic transmission shifting - delays - clunks - noise. Dealer says 99% sure trouble is ECM hence the ECM and transmission need replacement. Toyota Canada denies any knowledge of the goodwill warranty on the phone - even after checking with a manager. And says it is only a usa issue even thought the dealer readily acknowledges an wab #### service bulletin. The dealer says I will have to subpoena the service advisory through a lawyer to get the information that Toyota Canada says they do not seem to know about? (in 2013!!!) the dealer says I am 2 months past their secret deadline in the secret goodwill warranty so Toyota denies responsibility. Feels like very shoddy customer relations that I feel will cost Toyota far more than their actual minuscule cost (<$200 their cost?) to replace with a proper ECU - engine control unit before the transmission is damaged beyond repair! they claim that they cannot test the ECU units and do not know which ones are bad until the customer (like me) comes in needing many thousands of dollars in repairs. Ok go ahead and wait but at least warn the customer to watch for issues and have it checked if any issues arise right away. - not wash their hands after a secret time line passes how convenient for them! this is a ludicrous situation. Less that 90,000 miles and Toyota has the gall to tell me to pay them to fix a part they acknowledge is defective and then pay an extra lump of thousands of dollars for the transmission they themselves say is 99% certain to have been caused by the faulty ECU problem for good measure! have you no shame Toyota Canada, or is it too much fun rolling around in a pile of my money? - the Canadian border should not be something a giant elephant of a company should be allowed to hide behind in my humble opinion. The way Toyota Canada is handling this issue is a major fail for Toyota!

- Canada, MT, USA

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