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
Typical Repair Cost:
Average Mileage:
75,800 miles
Total Complaints:
7 complaints

Most Common Solutions:

  1. replaced engine (5 reports)
  2. new engine (2 reports)
2003 Toyota RAV4 engine problems

engine problem

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2003 Toyota RAV4 Owner Comments

problem #7

Nov 062011


  • Automatic transmission
  • 70,000 miles


I have a 2003 Toyota RAV4. And I have owned my car for about 5 years. This car has been really reliable until yesterday. The reason why I bought a Toyota is because it's said the cars last a lot. Well, my car's engine broke down yesterday. We were driving it, and the red oil light turned on. We tried to stop within 1 minute, but then the engine making this noise. After we stopped, we went for some oil, and the car would not start up again. Now I'm looking into having to rebuild my Toyota's Engine. The car is only 8 years old. This should not be happening to this kind of cars. Or now Toyota is not reliable anymore!!

- Ivan T., Chula Vista, CA, US

problem #6

Apr 252011

RAV4 L 2.0L 4 cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 81,800 miles

I bought my Toyota Rav4 new Feb. 28, 2003. It ran flawless until about 1 month ago. It started to have a light knock in the engine. Two weeks later the check engine light came on. I took it to a local Auto Zone store. They put an analyzer on it and told me it showed a mis fire on a cylinder caused by lean fuel to cylinder. I bought a fuel system cleaner they recommended and new spark plugs. I put the fuel cleaner in as instructed and replaced the spark plugs. Problem did not go away. I have done all of the maitenance on the vehicle since we bought it. I changed the oil every 3000 mi. with Quaker State 5w30 motor oil and Fram oil filters. On April 25 2011 my wife was coming back from Detroit and the engine started running really rough and the oil light came on. She pulled off the interstate right away and called me. I had her check the oil level and it did not register on the oil stick. I thought that was odd since I had checked the oil level before she had left. It was right up to the full mark as it always is. I have never had to add oil between oil changes before. She added two quarts of oil and barely made it home. I took it to our mechanic, he said we need to replace the engine. I was dumbfounded! How could this be. I bought the best name branded vehicle out there and the best vehicle in its class. I called Toyota customer service and told their rep what had happened. She checked to see if there were any similar problems reported and she said no and there was nothing they could do to help. I am very disappointed to find out there numerous almost identical complaints of the same problem. I have no choice but to rebuild the engine for now. I can assure you I will trade this thing off as fast as I can and will never buy another Toyota product again!!!!! Remember! TOYOTA! Do a good deed and a person will tell 2-3 people. Do a BAD DEED and I WILL TELL a THOUSAND PEOPLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

- cyrilsper, Cedar Rapids, IA, Uzbekistan

problem #5

Mar 152006


  • Automatic transmission
  • 56,000 miles

The first time the engine went was 3 years after the purchase of the vehicle BRAND NEW off the lot. I was not changing the oil 100% on time but for the most part. It was no longer under warranty. I paid someone to fix it for $4000 and I could not afford it! After fixing, made sure to change oil ON TIME EVERY TIME. In 2009, the check engine light came on. I took the car in to Toyota for repair and they told me it was a timing issue and a tranny problem. The tranny was not even acting up as far as I could tell but I paid for both to be fixed. 2 months later, driving home from work on the freeway the engine went again.

It actually caught fire this time!!

The check engine light did not even come on to warn me of any problem! I called Toyota and told them and advised I had the car in and if it was in danger of catching on fire, shouldn't they have caught it at the time I brought it in? Long story short, Toyota did nothing. I even contacted the corporate office and after waiting 2 weeks for someone to call me back, they sent me a letter in the mail advising they were going to do nothing! The 2003 Toyota Rav 4 sport has engine sludge problems that will eventually cause your engine to blow. This model should be recalled. It is not safe. An engine blowing in a brand new car 3 years after you buy it and another 3 years after having it replaced should NEVER happen. Toyota sold me a lemon and they did nothing to right themselves. I also found out the dealership KNEW about the sludge problem with my cars year and never mentioned it to me at all of course! Good luck to anyone who owns this model Toyota.

- Amy S., Troutdale, OR, US

problem #4

May 302009

RAV4 4 cyl

  • Manual transmission
  • 73,000 miles


We were on our way to vacation on the road for about 40 mins engine light came on and car shut down. This was the 3rd time the light has came on both times before it was taken in and they found no problem. But on the 2nd time they find a timing problem that they said wasn't causing the other prob. They were nice enough to give us a rental. The day it was due to be done they called and said they had problems getting it back together and to keep the rental. About 2months later is when the light came on again and that is when the engine went and go figure the warranty ran out 1 month before.And even though it was brought in under warranty for the prob they would not cover it and it cost me 4324 to replace the motor.56 days after getting the rav back the gauges started to act up. car was running rough I called the dealership nousre and they never called me back.I had to insist on them paging someone. well the next day the rav wouldn't even start .I mean come on, they only had it back to us for 56 days now they claim I have to pay to fix the starter before they can even look at it. this is another 374 dollars with the tow bill.and toyota wont help at all.

- Chuck O., Chillicothe, OH, US

problem #3

Nov 102009

RAV4 4 Cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 54,000 miles

I purchased a new 1999 Rav4 from Hoover Toyota, Hoover, Alabama. I later decided to trade it for a used 2003 Rav4 Toyota, bad mistake. They told me it was a local trade in, loyal returning customer, etc. Since I was a loyal returning customer, I believed them and didn't ask for a carfax, but I did buy an extended warranty, $1200/7yrs/100000miles. My Rav4 is still under warranty until 2012 or 133,000 miles. In November my oil light came on. Nine months after I bought it the engine light had come on and Hoover replaced the thermostat. When the engine light came on,I called Toyota, had it towed. Now Toyota says it has the famous "Sludge" in the engine. Warranty doesn't cover sludge. They told me not to drive the car, have it towed, yet they drove it from the wrecker, in and out of the bays. They want $7000 to replace the engine or they are offering me $1000 for my Rav4, $1000 from Toyota Corp. and $1000 off the price of a new Scion if I purchase a new Scion from them. They know ther're WRONG!!!!!!!! I hate to let them have my Rav4 with 54000 miles on it for $1000. I know they will fix it, sell it and make a profit again. I did get a carfax on my Rav and learned it actually came from the Auto Auction in Fla. I never would have bought this Rav if I had known it came from an Auto Auction. Of course Hoover says I didn't keep up the maintenance. I took it in nine months after purchasing the Rav with the engine light on. No one ever said "Don't you think you need an oil change?" They had to put a new thermostat in,that's what they told me it needed, not an oil change. I had the car in several times and no one mentioned an oil change. I had almost made up my mind to take their deal. Tonight I went by Hoover Toyota to get some items out of my Rav,opened the front passenger door and found dirty parts laying in the passenger seat. No paper under them or anything. I am totally appalled and do not want to deal with them. If I do not take their offer , I lose the $3000 offered. If I bring my Rav home, I have a car I can't drive so............ They also went up on the towing bill. I saw the bill, it was $79, called the tow co., they said $79. Hoover told me it was almost $100, they added more to it. Do I want to deal with them, No!!!!!!!!! Do I need a car to drive, Yes!!!!!! I do not need a new car payment nor do I have $7000 to fix this one. Any suggestions????????????

- Sandra H., Bess, AL, US

problem #2

May 042009

RAV4 Cloth 2.4L

  • Automatic transmission
  • 46,603 miles

The engine pick up is to close to the sump due to pore design and the engine seized, bent the cam and broke 4 valves then blew up due to no oil pressure. Toyota serviced the car regularly, wont be f*cking going there again and due to there inability to design something reliable i have heard of another 6 Rav4,s that have had the same problem this month. Toyota tried to sell me a new engine at the cheap price of $9000 F*CK THAT what a rip of. Once again they f*ck it and we pay for it. Watch out if you are buying a Rav you have to run a flush through the engine every 5000 kms when you change the oil (GREAT DESIGN NOT).

- leigh308, Melbourne, VIC, Australia

problem #1

May 232009


  • Automatic transmission
  • 149,000 miles

I have heard a lot of complaints about Toyota rav 4 cars building up oil sludge even though regular maintenance has occurred. The oil sludge clogs the oil pump then the engine stops getting oil and then throws a rod. The oil light didn't even come on.

- Lee P., San Antonio, TX, US

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