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:
1 / 0
Injuries / Deaths:
0 / 0
Average Mileage:
97,169 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 #8

Nov 012010


  • 115,000 miles


While driving, my 2003 Toyota Rav4's engine light starts flickering. The car starts hesitating, even with applying more gas. The car then loses power and cuts out. The car will then restart, but continue to hesitate and cut out the issue has occurred 3 times over the past month. The dealer could not isolate the problem and simply recommended replacing the spark plugs. My wife happened to be driving the car on the interstate during rush hour yesterday with my two toddlers in the car when it cut out again.

- Owings Mills, MD, USA

problem #7

Oct 252010


  • 115,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Toyota rav 4. while attempting to accelerate from a stop light the contact stated that the vehicle would not respond. The vehicle was taken to a local mechanic where the contact was informed that the computer needed to be replaced. The vehicle was not repaired. The current and failure mileages were 115000.

- Peru, ME, USA

problem #6

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 #5

Jul 162009


  • 126,000 miles


The contact owns a 2003 Toyota rav 4. while traveling 10 mph, the contact attempted to accelerate yet the vehicle would not respond. The vehicle was taken to a local mechanic where the contact had the transmission and engine control module was replaced, however the failure persisted. There were no prior warnings of the failure. The failure mileage was 126,000 and the current mileage was 146,000.

- Gilbert, AZ, USA

problem #4

Jun 182010


  • 101,456 miles
Transmission problem on a 2003 Rav4 4 wheel drive. It started at 100,456 miles. Never had problem with the car before. It started to occur once in a while in first gear, then the engine light came on, got it check. Came up code PO755. Now is occurring more often. Light goes off and after a couple of day goes on again. Took it to Toyota. They said it needs a remanufacture transmission and they need to change the ECM. Cost 5,995 they told me I'm better off trading the car.

- Orlando, FL, USA

problem #3

Mar 152005


  • 70,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Toyota rav 4. while driving 10 mph and making a left turn the vehicle would not accelerate when the pedal was engaged. The contact was unable to shift gears which caused a vehicle to crash into the rear end of the contacts vehicle. The dealer confirmed that they have had problems with the ECM on this year, make and model vehicle and that they will not help her with the repairs. They estimated repair cost was approximately $1227. There were no injuries. The failure has occurred and was reported to the dealer on two occasions. The failure mileage was 70000 and current mileage was 90,000.

- Pente, AZ, USA

problem #2

Jul 092006


  • Automatic transmission
  • 68,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Toyota Rav4. While driving 60 mph, the oil indicator light illuminated and the engine stalled. The vehicle would not restart and was towed to the dealer. The dealer stated that the engine failed and needed to be replaced. The failure was due to the lack of oil in the engine, although oil had been placed in the vehicle a week before. The engine was previously replaced in July of 2006 due to the same failure. The VIN, engine size, and number of cylinders were unknown. The failure mileage was 68,000 and current mileage was 92,000.

- Hernden , VA, USA

problem #1

Jan 212006

RAV4 2-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 97,000 miles
On Tuesday, January 24, 2006 while driving from Rhode Island, the oil light came on - immediately I pulled over to the next exit to a gas station. I put one quart of oil in the engine because that is all it stated it needed. At which time the oil light went off. I continued to drive for approximately five minutes and the oil light came on - then the engine light came on. After a few minutes a clicking sound started - so immediately pulled over to the side of the road and turned the engine off. I tried to start the engine again - however it would not turn over. I immediately contacted aaa to have the car towed. The car was towed from Rhode Island to North cary auto. The mechanic tried started the car and immediately stated that the engine was no good. I asked him to check the car over to make sure this was the case. He stated that after checking the car - he didn't understand why the oil light came on because the car had plenty of oil. I immediately contacted ira Toyota and the Toyota corporate office at which time they informed me that the car needed to be brought in to a Toyota dealer to take a look at it. On February 2 at approximately 3:45 P.M. I received a call from charlene to inform me that it would take $10,000 to repair the car because the engine was gone. She stated that a rod broke and went up into engine which caused it to shut down. I asked to speak to her manager, cathy kitik, who also informed me that there was "gunk" in the engine. At which time I informed her that it was sludge and it is known that Toyota has had a problem with the V4 and V6 engines. She stated that it never occurred in the Toyota rav 4. at which time I asked her "is it a Toyota engine" and she confirmed that it was. She also confirmed that a rod broke and went into the engine which caused it to shut down. I informed her that I had receipts which showed the oil was changed appropriately.

- Taunton, MA, USA

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