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:
70,737 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 #15

Sep 012009


  • miles


This is a general concern question re the ethics of the Toyota corporation. I have had continuous trouble with engine lights coming on with the result being O2 sensor problems. This continued to happen with approximately 8 changes (I have the majority of the records. In 2010, I received notice of problems with "harsh shifting". I called Toyota to inquire about this, and I was assured I was not having a problem or I "would know it". at this same time, I was having yet another engine light problem with O2 sensor codes and brought my car in.. the O2 sensor replacements went on continuously for quite some time without any explanation of the cause...even to the point that they were sending the sensor in to the "main office". unfortunately, last week my car totally failed, and they are now telling me it is failure of the ECM and/or the transmission as well! I recently reviewed complaints about the ECM and that Toyota actually extended the warranty because of the numerous complaints. It was then I learned that the O2 sensors have a definite impact on the ECM, etc. At no time whatsoever did they ever check this or inform me. That these may be related, so I am wondering if they "put off" checking this possibility until my car passed the 10yr/150,000 mile extension of the warranty on this component so that I would then not be eligible"?"

- Zachary, LA, USA

problem #14

Feb 122009

RAV4 4-cyl

  • 133,931 miles
Inspect and replace water pump and serpentine belt on Feb 2009, engine issue again Feb 2012 check engine light is on/flashing - estimate $955.98+tax - four wheel alignment $69.95+tax tech road tested and found front sway bar end links are worn/loose $435.82+tax (repairs completed) Feb 2012 brake noise ~|~customer states noise when braking ~|~front and rear brake inspection done at this time ~|~inspection only no concerns found at this time (another mechanic replaced entire front brakes shortly after as they were found highly damaged) transmission service ~|~customer requests transmission service w/differentials ~|~maintenance ~|~drained and refilled automatic transmission fluid w/transfer case and differentials as needed (less than year later had trans fluid again replaced as continued issues) now is seemingly worse and more often. Step on gas and nothing happens for several seconds then jerks forward, loud thunking sound, extremely dangerous to drive as unknown when it will occur. Have not been using vehicle very much because of it. If this issue was known about in 2006 why was this never repaired before I even bought it or notify me of when I took it in for services on several occasions?

- New London, WI, USA

problem #13

Apr 212009


  • miles
The contact owns a 2003 Toyota Rav4. The contact stated the accelerator pedal became stuck intermittently while driving. The contact took the vehicle to the dealer and was told that all Toyota vehicles accelerator pedals were sticking. The contact was also advised that accelerator pedal, engine control module and throttle body were defective. The failure mileage was unknown, but the current mileage was 165,000.

- Jacksonville, FL, USA

problem #12

Dec 032010

RAV4 4-cyl

  • 89,000 miles


Check oil light came on and would go out, after checking the oil level all appear fine, the car would burn 1 quart every two months. After driving along the express way for 30 miles and using a two lane road for about 3 miles the check engine light and oil light all came on at a stop light and then the engine make noise and quit running, after towing the car to a auto repair shop we were told the car needed a new engine. The car is a rav 4 2003 with about 89,000 miles on it.

- Jupiter, FL, USA

problem #11

Jun 292010


  • 86,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Toyota Rav4. The contact was driving approximately 30 mph when the check engine light illuminated and the vehicle lost power. When the contact shifted into reverse gear, the vehicle began to shake violently. The vehicle was taken to the dealer who stated that the electronic control module and the transmission had failed. The manufacturer stated that the warranty was no longer valid; therefore, they would not provide any assistance with the repair repair cost. The VIN was not available. The failure and the current mileage was 86,000.

- Falmouth , ME, USA

problem #10

Jan 242010


  • 94,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Toyota rav 4. the contact stated that the check engine light had illuminated on the instrument panel and when accelerating, the vehicle would hesitate to increase in speed. The vehicle was taken to a local repair shop where the independent mechanic replaced the engine control module sensors. The failure persisted. The dealer advised there was a technical service bulletin addressing the failure but were no recall for the failure and repairs would be at the owners expense. The failure mileage was approximately 94,000 and the current mileage was 96,400.

- Garfield , NJ, USA

problem #9

Aug 212009


  • 102,134 miles


In 2009, without notice my 2003 Toyota rav 4 was "jerking and going". then it would barely move once stopped. Then when it would move, it would drag. In August of 2009, the transmission was replaced by palmer's Toyota superstore. This cost $1,721.93.

- Chickasaw, AL, USA

problem #8

Dec 182009


  • 123,000 miles
Toyota issued a technical alert in 2006 for a defective engine control module in their 2201-2003 Rav4's. the alert was only sent to the dealerships, not to the consumers. This defect slowly destroys the transmission and without warning your car stalls like your running out of gas. A recall should have been issued but Toyota refuses. I never had the opportunity to fix the engine control module that costs $1300 now I have to replace that and my transmission for a total cost of $4400. Please hold them accountable.

- Independence, MO, USA

problem #7

Dec 172009


  • 129,000 miles
2003 Toyota rav was stop instead of accelerating on highway starting 12/17, brought to dealership on 12/22/09 and they changed spark plugs; brought back 12/29 they changed water pump and then test drove and called me to tell me it could be transmission but to replace the ECM first since they knew it could cause transmission problems.

- Hope, RI, USA

problem #6

Nov 252009


  • 80,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Toyota rav 4. while entering a highway between 25-30 mph the transmission down-shifted and would not accelerate. The vehicle was taken to a local repair facility. A mechanic was in the process of repairing the ECM. The current and failure mileages were 80,000.

- Indianapolis, IN, USA

problem #5

Oct 162009


  • 49,000 miles


The contact owns a 2003 Toyota Rav4. While driving 30 mph the engine warning light will illuminated on the instrument control panel, and the vehicle stalled. The vehicle was taken to a local repair facility. The diagnostic test revealed code po755S (solenoid B fault). The mechanic could not interpret the error code. A technician from the dealer stated that the vehicle would have to be re-inspected in order to determine the cause of the failure. The current and failure mileages were 49,998.

- Roselle, NJ, USA

problem #4

Dec 012008


  • 50,000 miles
Car does not proceed into drive after being at a stop. Slow to turn corners - slow to move forward -nearly causing accidents.

- Ruston, WA, USA

problem #3

Jun 012006


  • miles
Sludge in Toyota engine.

- Apopka, FL, USA

problem #2

Apr 052008

RAV4 4-cyl

  • 86,000 miles
While driving my 2003 rav 4 the check oil engine light came on then engine started to make a clunking sound and stopped. The car has 86,000 miles it was towed to the shop where the mechanic says the engine is blown and it will cost about 8,000 dollars to replace. The engine would not start after this happened.

- Cockeysville, MD, USA

problem #1

Sep 292006

RAV4 4-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 38,995 miles
I have a 2003 rava4. I use synthetic oil in it when I get my regular oil change. Last week I was driving to the store and my check engine light and the oil light came on. I got an oil change around two months ago. I became very alarmed. I went back to my home and put more oil in the engine. I then went to the store now I am hearing a sound that sounds like the car is a bomb. I took it to the dealer. The mechanics says I have sludge. I can not understand this because I use synthetic oil. Toyota dealer want me to purchase a new engine with labor it will cost me $8,000. I have 39,000 miles. Should the dealer fix this for me because my engine is still under warranty?

- Miramar, FL, USA

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