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 / 0
Injuries / Deaths:
0 / 0
Average Mileage:
95,812 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 engine problems

engine problem

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2003 Toyota RAV4 Owner Comments

problem #19

Sep 012016


  • 74,650 miles


The contact owns a 2003 Toyota Rav4. While driving approximately 30 mph, the vehicle suddenly decelerated when the accelerator pedal was depressed. The check engine warning indicator illuminated. The contact attempted to accelerate again and the vehicle responded very slowly to approximately 15 mph. The vehicle was driven to the contact's residence. The vehicle was taken to the dealer where it was diagnosed that the engine control unit failed or there was possible transmission failure. The vehicle was not repaired. The manufacturer was notified of the failure. The failure mileage was 74,650.

- La Crosse, WI, USA

problem #18

Aug 212016


  • 90,831 miles
While driving engine light started blinking, the vehicle lost power. And smelled bad odor. My first complaint was filed with NHTSA in 2012, and I took my vehicle to maplewood Toyota, mn 55109, in 2012 and they did not fix it. It is serious issue of safety with the engine / transmission

- Woodbury, MN, USA

problem #17

Aug 212016


  • miles
While driving engine light started blinking, the vehicle lost power and smelled bad odor. My first complaint was filed with NHTSA in 2012, and I took my vehicle to maplewood toyoa, mn 55109, in 2012 and they did not fix it. It is serious issue of safety with the engine / transmission

- Woodbury, MN, USA

problem #16

Aug 252015


  • 71,537 miles


My vehicle began to "buck" and then shortly thereafter the check engine light came on. I initially took it to the closest mechanic and was told I needed a new transmission and that they couldn't replace it. Told them to take it to krause Toyota. Was then told by krause it needed a new ECM but they were too busy and couldn't look at the vehicle for 2 weeks since I wasn't a "regular" customer. I then took the car to bennett Toyota - class outfit. They replaced the ECM immediately - which wasn't cheap. Cost me $1200. I have since heard that there was a recall on the ECM on my year Rav4 which I wasn't ever notified of. I feel Toyota should pick up this tab. I have low mileage for a 2003 car, and have always maintained it properly.

- Macungie, PA, USA

problem #15

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

problem #14

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 #13

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 #12

Apr 052014

RAV4 4-cyl

  • 71,395 miles
The vehicle with 71,000 miles and perfect service record had a engine failure, without warning, while driving on the highway. The oil pressure light came on and before I had time to pull over to the shoulder to inspect the engine started knocking badly. I barely made it to the shoulder before the vehicle stalled. After having it towed to the dealership, they came out with the diagnose that the "engine threw a rod" for no apparent reason. There was sufficient engine oil and last oil change was done 4500 miles before. Basically, engine at this point is beyond repair and has to be replaced. Beside the financial lose, now I extremely concern about the safety and reliability of the vehicle and more importantly the engine or any other part that caused the engine to fail. The fact that I had 10 years old boy in the car with me who thought that we were going to die that day and crying hysterically make it all the more bothersome. When I called Toyota headquarter to report the problem, they basically dismissed me as routine problem and not Toyota's problem. They seem disinterested to find out why engine with so few miles got busted for no reason and perfect maintenance record. I am concerned about the reliability and safety of the engine in the vehicle (1az-fe). I hope govt investigate this case and I am willing to participate in whichever way I can to make it safe for my fellow riders.

- Lakeland, FL, USA

problem #11

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 #10

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 #9

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 #8

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 #7

Jul 012013


  • 55,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Toyota Rav4. The contact stated that while traveling approximately 60 mph, the vehicle lost acceleration power. The vehicle was taken to a private mechanic where it was determined that the ECM needed to be replaced. The vehicle was repaired. The manufacturer was contacted about the failure. The failure mileage was 55,000. The VIN was not available.

- West Long Branch, NJ, USA

problem #6

Jul 052013

RAV4 4-cyl

  • 107,617 miles
Often (and unpredictably), vehicle does not accelerate from stop. It creeps forward as tack jumps, then with a loud "clunk" it jerks into 2nd (or 3rd) gear and suddenly leaps forward. Check engine light goes on and off. Took vehicle to Toyota dealer more than once and told "no problem found." When this issue was finally demonstrated, the Toyota dealership reported that solenoid B is faulty and entire transmission needs to be replaced starting at $4600. Now I read that many owners of 2001-3 Rav4S have exact problem caused by a faulty emc that should have been replaced when Toyota originally admitted the problem in 2006. Instead the damage to my vehicle has progressed to a repair 4 times that amount. I have found no reasonable repair rate so far.

- Fairfield, CA, USA

problem #5

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 #4

Oct 032012


  • 112,700 miles
The owns a 2003 Toyota rav 4. the contact stated that while driving the vehicle, the check engine light illuminated on the instrument panel. The vehicle was taken to the dealer who diagnosed that the air filter needed to be replaced. The vehicle was not repaired. The manufacturer was made aware of the failure who did not offer any assistance since the vehicle had surpassed the statue of limitations. The failure mileage was 112,700.

- Graden City, GA, USA

problem #3

Mar 132012


  • 210,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Toyota Rav4. The contact stated that the vehicle did not shift properly. The contact also stated that there was an increams in the engine rpms and the vehicle would hesitate before accelerating. The contact spoke with a dealer and was informed that the engine control unit was failing and would cause the transmission to fail. The failure mileage was 210,000 and the current mileage was 215,000.

- Front Royal, VA, USA

problem #2

May 072012


  • 89,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Toyota Rav4. The contact stated that while driving 40 mph, she noticed that the engine was overheating. The vehicle was taken to the dealer for diagnosis. The dealer stated that the head bolts would need replacing. The vehicle was repaired and the manufacturer was contacted who stated that there was nothing they could do to assist with the defect. The failure mileage was 89,000 and the current mileage was 89,500. The VIN was not available.

- Oakley , CA, USA

problem #1

May 022012


  • 99,000 miles
I own a 2003 Toyota Rav4. My car was running in good working order, with just over 99,000 miles on it. On May 2nd 2012, I experienced issues with the car's transmission and ECM. The car would rev when I pressed on the gas, but it would not move. Also, when shifting gears, the car would slow to a brake and then there was be a bump or grinding in the gears before the car would proceed to move. This would put me in danger of a rear end collision because my car would suddenly brake without me pressing on the brakes to signal the driver behind me that I was going to slow down. I have learned that Toyota is aware of this issue with many of its Rav4's (2001-2003). Is there any help on Toyota's part to correct this issue that they know of without passing along the cost to the innocent customer? thank you for your time. Updated 06/22/2012

- Somerville, MA, USA

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