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.


hardly worth mentioning
Crashes / Fires:
0 / 3
Injuries / Deaths:
0 / 0
Average Mileage:
96,373 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 electrical problems

electrical problem

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2003 Toyota RAV4 Owner Comments (Page 2 of 2)

« Read the previous 20 complaints

problem #19

Sep 242010

RAV4 4-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 84,898 miles


My 2003 Rav4 has always been very sluggish from a dead start and any kind of sudden acceleration but I knew that I would eventually reach the legal speed limit. Driving 1 1/2 weeks ago, however, brought my attention to another, far more serious acceleration problem, far worse than just sluggishness. The SUV was shifting out of gear automatically and I feared for my safety as I was in moving traffic and I was having trouble moving. I immediately decided to take it to the Toyota dealer. Luckily, the dealership was close to where I was. They kept my car from approx. 3:30 pm that Friday until the following Monday. At first, they thought it was the transmission and said they needed until Monday to know for sure. I was told by the service rep. To not worry, that it may be far less expensive than I think. That Monday, I got a call from the serviced rep that he had both good news and bad news. They found the problem - an ECU problem but that I was out of warranty and I would have to buy a new one. I told them to go ahead and install it as I couldn't see any alternative. The work was done and the final cost for the unit and labor was $1,300. I told the service rep that I felt shafted because the warranty expired after 80,000 and I had 84,000 miles at the time. Further, I had the SUV for just 7 years, not the limit of 8 years under the original warranty for the ECU. I went on the internet and discovered the NY times July, 2010 letter announcing many problems like mine with transmission damage as well and Toyota would now cover it all. According to the letter, Toyota had extended its warranty for the transmission to 150,000 miles and 10 years for the ECU ! I called the service rep and he said Toyota headquarters rep was there and said I had no extended warranty. The service manager never returned my call. I finally called Toyota headquarters and filed a complaint with them. I received a letter from a Toyota manager offering me $1,000 to buy a new Toyota vehicle. 11/03/10

- Bellerose, NY, USA

problem #18

Sep 202010


  • 86,000 miles
My wife's' 2003 Toyota Rav4 just started having transmission problems. We took it immediately to a repair shop. On the way there were serious problems with the transmission shifting which was particularly dangerous during the acceleration and deceleration in intersections. The dealer repair shop said the computer and transmission would need to be replaced. I called Toyota customer service and they told me a service bulletins had gone out, but that our particular VIN was not part of the bulletin, even though the problem is exactly the same as has been widely noted and recognized by Toyota.

- Baltimore, MD, USA

problem #17

Apr 062010


  • 55,000 miles
Computer failed that led to transmission to fail. After fixing it still glitcheseses. It is ok one day and glitches another very unpredictable and transmission mechanic can not figure out the problem. Computer was put in new and transmission was rebuilt cost about $ 4000. It is hard to effort this during these economic hardships. Not to mention all this happened only on 88000 kms.

- Calgary, 00, USA

problem #16

May 282010

(reported on)


  • miles


S10 appropriate handling-letter to the secretary from re Toyota problems 2003 Toyota Rav4. The consumer stated when plugged into the electric charging system, the vehicle rolled away. The consumer stated it can happen if the gear is inadvertently shifted out of park and into neutral if the vehicle is parked on a slight slope.

- Woodland, CA, USA

problem #15

Jul 132009


  • Automatic transmission
  • miles
2003 Toyota Rav4. Consumer requests ramification to unsuccessful attempts to fix the manufacturer's defect in workmanship the consumer stated the check engine light illuminated. Prior to the engine light illuminating, the consumer noticed the vehicle would stall as she applied the accelerator pedal after a red light and it would surge with force once it accelerated. The consumer was charged $664.87 for a sensor and V-ripped belt. On March 24, 2010, the check engine light illuminated again. Upon researching on the internet, the consumer discovered a tsb for the PCM and ECM. The consumer also complained of a squeaking noise coming from the front of the vehicle at the slightest road bump and hearing a thump when turning the wheels to the far right. The consumer stated the dealer never mentioned the tsb's regarding the ECM/PCM.

- New York, NY, USA

problem #14

Jan 012010

RAV4 4-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 102,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Toyota Rav4. She noticed that when she stopped the gear will fail it will stay in drive. The vehicle was taken to the dealer, and the diagnosis indicated that the failure was caused by the electronic control unit. The dealer replaced the ECU and the failure was corrected. The failure mileage was 102,000 and the current mileage was 104,236. Updated 03/30/10. The consumer stated when she made a stop, the vehicle would not go into gear and the engine revved, then slipped into gear and lurched forward. The consumer was told it was a computer problem and sending faulty signals to the transmission. The consumer stated there have been no other problems since. Updated 07/15/10

- Sacramento, CA, USA

problem #13

Jan 152010


  • 158,000 miles


ECM and transmission problem in 2003 Toyota Rav4 create a very dangerous condition - severe hesitation and delay/disruption in shifting when other vehicles are behind you or when you are trying to cross lanes of traffic in low gears.

- Fairfax, VT, USA

problem #12

Dec 242009


  • 138,723 miles
Car was having trouble shifting. It felt like the emergency brake was on. I pulled out into traffic and the car would not shift from 1st to 2nd gear. I had to pull over. I called my mechanic who said it sounded like the transmission and recommended a transmission specialist. The transmission was rebuilt. They also replaced the computer. They told me the computer failure is what caused the transmission failure. The parts listed are the computer, converter, overhaul kit for AWD, and transaxle oil filter.

- Lynn, MA, USA

problem #11

Sep 012009


  • 88,000 miles
Long hesitation in changing gears. Jerking when accelerating. Lack of acceleration.

- Delmar, NY, USA

problem #10

Nov 282009


  • 95,000 miles
I bought a brandnew 2003 Rav4 6 years ago and already have 95,000 miles on it. The transmission starts to slipped and drag a couple of days ago. It almost caused an accident on my way home because the transmission slowly shifts gear on 2nd and 3rd with a high idling. I have read some forums about the Rav4 2001-2003 ECM issues. I would like to complaint that Toyota would not do a recall to the faulty part that can cause death and serious accident while driving a Rav4 (2001-2003) model with a defective ECM. There are over 488 complaints that I've read in one forum alone. I hope you will find a way to have Toyota accountable for this ECM failure to my 2003 Rav4 and hope to have them replace all the Rav4 (2001-2003) ECM module free of charge.

- Manassas, VA, USA

problem #9

Oct 162003


  • 79,516 miles


I am writing to let you know about my 2003 Rav4 ECM/transmission problem. I brought our Rav4 into our local Toyota dealership two times earlier this year, complaining of a lurching issue. After my third attempt to bring it in at 68,827 miles, mind you I had the platinum warranty which covers up to 75,000 miles, on June 9, 2009. After only being gone for 20 minutes after dropping it off, I got a phone call stating that nothing was wrong, when clearly, in the tsb it states it would take atleast 30 min to detect. Needless to say it was detected later that day. When the technician that fixed it, gave the car back to my wife, he told her that if this did not fix the problem then the transmission would need to be replaced. So far so good....until today, October 16. I took it in because it was having the same issues as before and slipping of the transmission. I brought it in and they finally came to that conclusion after having to take it out twice. When I left the last time, in June, they gave me the impression that anything that happens under this ECM chip would be covered under 80000 miles. I was at 79515 when I took it in. They informed me that the transmission was not covered by any warranty, including my platinum warranty that I had. I asked them if the ECM chip would have caused the damage, and atleast three assistant service managers told me that there was no relation between the chip and the transmission failure. Upon further investigation, Toyota stated in a nytimes article that the chip would cause transmission damage. Needless to say I am expected to pay $3700 dollars for a new transmission that has failed due to the lack of attention in changing the ECM chip. Yeah!!!!

- Bangor, ME, USA

problem #8

Oct 132009


  • 90,000 miles
Toyota 2003 Rav4 has a malfunctioning ECM. It has caused the car to speed up and slow down almost causing accidents 2 times while driving on the road. Please take action. I have found that Toyota knew about this defect in 2006 and will not fix the problem. I think that Toyota should give a 100% refund to everyone who bought this car because they knew that this defect might kill people and they did nothing. So I have this car and I am afraid to let anyone drive it because they may not be able to control the speed. I hope that this can be taken care of soon because we need a car to drive that is safe.

- Chino Valley, AZ, USA

problem #7

Sep 112009


  • 142,700 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Toyota rav 4. the contact stated that when attempting to accelerate, the accelerator pedal resists application, which caused the vehicle to hesitate. The vehicle was taken to the dealer and a technician concluded that the ECM needed to be replaced. No repairs were made. The failure mileage was 142,700 and the current mileage was 142,882. Updated 10/22/09

- Union City, GA, USA

problem #6

Jun 062008


  • miles
The contact owns a 2003 Toyota Rav4. While driving approximately 10 mph on normal road conditions, the gear shifter failed to function properly. The warning indicator illuminated on the instrument panel and remained lit until the engine was turned off. The vehicle was taken to an independent mechanic for diagnostic testing and it was discovered that the main brain of the computerized system was the cause of the failure. The vehicle has not been repaired. The failure and current mileages were unavailable.

- Knoxville, TN, USA

problem #5

Mar 012008


  • 89,000 miles
I have a 2003 Toyota Rav4- seems to be exact same problem everyone else is having--no problems until early this year 2008, transmission was skipping gear 2 to 3, took to mechanic then to transmission specialist, where the same procedure occurred. Computer chip replaced, few days later, same problem occurred. Transmission replaced at 89,000 miles, 3400 dollars total. Otherwise, the car is great. No accident, just too much hassle, money, and several stressful, scary rides home.

- Swansea, MA, USA

problem #4

May 172008


  • 86,600 miles
I have a 2003 Toyota Rav4, at 86600 miles it appeared my transmission was slipping, when I would pull out in front of anyone it was stall and slip while going into 1st and 2nd gear. (automatic transmission), the dealership (Toyota) said it was internal in the transmission so I took it to a transmission place, they said they could not find anything wrong with it. After review the complaints on the internet it seems that this is happening with Toyota's 2001 thru 2003 and it is the ECM that goes bad and if you drive your car it will tare up the transmission. I went back to Toyota and showed them the bulletin put out by Toyota and after some back and forth with them they installed me a new ECM, this was just 2 days ago, they are not sure if this will fix the problem or not, but I believe Toyota should recall these vehicles before someone get killed, this is a real expense to the car owners.

- Weaver, AL, USA

problem #3

Feb 282007

RAV4 4-cyl

  • Manual transmission
  • 56,000 miles
After sitting in garage for a few days, Rav4 would not start. Checked battery, but it was working. Also tried to jump-start car, but this did not work. Car was towed to dealer who determined that a computer failed.

- Nazareth, PA, USA

problem #2

Mar 122005


  • miles
The consumer 2004 Toyota Rav4 burst into flames after having oil changed, destroying vehicle. The consumer had several problems with the dealer's service prior to this fire. She contacted the dealer and the told the that it was not their problem. The consumer spoke to another dealer who indicated that several Rav4's were catching on fir due to a faulty remote start and alarm, which the consumer had installed in her vehicle. The consumer request reimbursement for the damage.

- Shirley, NY, USA

problem #1

Oct 082004

RAV4 4WD 4-cyl

  • 30,000 miles
As my husband and I drove we smelled a strange odor we thought it was the air outside. My husband noticed there was smoke rising from the hood. He drove to the shoulder and got out of the vehicle. Sparks began to appear and very quickly the entire car became engulfed. We were very luckily not to be injured. We lost a significant amount of our belongings. We were going away for the weekend to our home in pa. And were carrying clothing, luggage, etc. To store.

- Staten Island, NY, USA

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