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:
2 / 0
Injuries / Deaths:
1 / 0
Average Mileage:
89,854 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 (Page 1 of 2)

problem #25

Jun 152016


  • 143,000 miles


Harsh shifting, jumping from gear-to-gear, sluggish acceleration and transmission/electronic control module failure. Called Toyota regarding the extended warrenty. They refused to honor the extended warranty despite not providing notice to the correct address.

- South River, NJ, USA

problem #24

Nov 052014

RAV4 4-cyl

  • 99,300 miles
Last week, on the freeway entrance the car would not accelerate, then "bucked" and "raced". I nearly got rear-ended by the car behind me - a frightening experience. Then, driving city streets - to the mechanic - the same experience - stalled then raced ahead. After replacing the transmission fluid and filter ($400), the problem continues and the mechanic advised replacing the ECM ($928.46 plus labor). This is a serious financial strain on me. I take my car in for service every 5K miles and it is way below the extended warranty mileage of 150K, however, it is now 11 years old. I never, ever, received any recall notice from Toyota! I strongly believe that Toyota should reimburse me for these repairs since they have been and are well aware of the safety issue the failed ECM causes.

- Menlo Park, CA, USA

problem #23

Sep 302014

RAV4 4-cyl

  • 146,000 miles
On 9/30/2014 was trying to pull out of a parking lot to turn left and my car would not accelerate. I almost got hit by approaching cars that I would have ordinarily had plenty of time to clear. I was able to steer into the left turn lane and stop to avoid collision but had trouble after that picking up enough speed to get to the right lane. I took my car in immediately for inspection and it was noted that the transmission and ECM needed replaced. I have since found information on a recall I never received for defective ECM's that cause transmission failure. Apparently a 10 year or 150,000 extended warranty was issued in 2010, but I was also never informed of that. My mileage qualifies but I bought my car in Dec 2002 so I am past the time limit. Since repairs exceed the blue book value of my car, it has no trade in value. This was an unsafe situation (that could have been worse on the freeway)' and an unfair outcome for me financially.

- Chula Vista, CA, USA

problem #22

Oct 252013

RAV4 4-cyl

  • 136,000 miles


Hi I own a Toyota Rav4 2003 since 2009 this is a serious safety issue. I am asking the NHTSA to order a recall to have Toyota fix this problem before someone gets killed or seriously injured. The problem is that the car often does not accelerate as it should. When headed up and accelerating from a stop, the car sputters before jerking into gear and accelerating. And then about 5-8 seconds later the car would jolt into gear. Also, when already moving and going up even a slight hill, when I press the accelerator to maintain speed, the car sputters as it shifts from second to third gear before jerking into third gear. Through the internet, I almost got hit a few times. I learned that the ECM is a computer (electronic control module) that controls the transmission and other components, that Toyota has known about this ECM manufacturing defect on 2001 to 2003 Rav4S now I have to spend lots of money that it wasn't in my budget, ..the Toyota knew about this problem, why they never had a recall" can someone do something about it"

- Fitchburg, MA, USA

problem #21

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 #20

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 #19

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 #18

Jun 132013

RAV4 4-cyl

  • 127,000 miles
The car would engage 2nd and 3rd gears at the same time causing temporary lock up of the rear wheels and loss of control. Found out about a tsb and class action suite regarding this issue affecting the ECU while researching the problem. Contacted Toyota regarding the issue and they informed me that my 2003 Rav4 was not covered because it had been put in service June of 2003. I am appalled this is not a recall as it is clearly a safety issue if loss of control of the vehicle is possible. This could be fatal if it were to happen to on a slippery road or going around a corner.

- Plymouth, MA, USA

problem #17

Oct 282011


  • 112,000 miles
10/28/11 while driving approx 25-30 mph without applying the gas, the car began to accelerate unexpectedly I was able to get the car off the road braking was very difficult when the car was placed in park RPM revved to 4. my husband looked under the hood and the throttle was out a little and when he touched the area it snapped back. 10/29/11 driving at a low speed, approx 35-40 mph car began to accelerate unintentionally. I was able to get the car off the road with much difficulty and the car was again revving when placed in park. I lifted the hood and touched the area of the throttle. After waiting a few minutes the car started normally and I drove home cautiously. Car taken to certified Toyota garage for repairs. The check engine light was lit when taken and service was unable to find a problem and lubricated car and returned to us. 11/1/11 occurrence #3, I drove the car on the expressway without any problems then driving at approx 35 mph while driving around a curve, I could feel car accelerating unintentionally again. Car was towed to dealership and service personal experienced car when started was revving without applying the gas. Service found scratches in the cover for the cruise control and felt this caused the throttle to stick. Hole was cut in the cover and car returned. 11/5/11 occurrence # 4, I was driving around a city circle at approx 25 mph the car again began to accelerate. I got off the road, car revved to a 5 when placed in park. Car towed to dealership on flat bed. Unintentional acceleration was experienced by the service department at the dealership again. Car left for repairs.

- N. Canton, OH, USA

problem #16

Sep 112011

RAV4 4-cyl

  • 138,000 miles
Pulling into parking space, vehicle suddenly accelerated. Had I not already had my foot on brake pedal to stop, damage to other vehicle would have been much worse. Witness' said vehicle lurched upward just before acceleration. I slammed it into park and cut engine to make it stop. Afterwards, trying to get it home, when I took foot off gas pedal, the car would shutter and almost die, causing me to have to put it into neutral and rev engine to keep it from dying.

- Rogersville, TN, USA

problem #15

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 #14

Jul 262010


  • 160,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Toyota Rav4. While driving 45 mph the contact noticed that the vehicle would occasionally surge forward without warning. The vehicle would also suddenly decrease in speed without the contact applying the brakes. The vehicle was taken to the dealer where the contact was informed that the computer system needed to be replaced. There were no prior warnings. The vehicle was not repaired. The current and failure mileages were 160000.

- Martinez, CA, USA

problem #13

Jul 262010


  • 75,000 miles
My son was driving his car, a 2003 Toyota Rav4 -L when he experienced sudden unintended acceleration. There were no floor mats in the car at the time. He was able to get control of the car by slamming on the brakes and putting the car in neutral. The dealer was contacted and the car was scheduled to be brought in the next day after this event occurred.

- Upton, MA, USA

problem #12

Jul 032010


  • 58,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Toyota Rav4. While driving 60 mph, there was resistance when he tried to accelerate and rpms increased instead of the vehicle responding to the accelerator pedal being engaged. The vehicle was then taken to the dealer who stated that the ECM needed to be replaced. No repairs were made when the complaint was filed. The failure and current mileages were 58000.

- La Grange, IL, USA

problem #11

May 102010


  • 139,000 miles
Our 2003 Toyota rav 4 has begun to have a very serious problem. When driving, the car will suddenly lurch forward or hesitate to accelerate. We immediately had this investigated, only to find out that the onboard computer needed replacing at a ridiculous dollar amount. This expensive repair has yet to be completed. Meanwhile, we've had time to research the problem, only to find thousands of other Toyota Rav4 owners that have experienced the same dangerous lurching and hesitation of their vehicle. Toyota says that our car is either too old or has too many miles on it. This car has been meticulously maintained, and now they say there is nothing they can do about this serious uncontrollable problem. We just felt you should be made aware of this dangerous situation.

- Murrieta, CA, USA

problem #10

Apr 152010


  • 80,188 miles
I own a 2003 rav 4 purchased used two years ago this April 2010. The car has 80,188 miles the VIN # is xxxxx my wife and I along with my 1 year old boy in the back seat (car seat) were driving into a parking lot of the local gym. When the car suddenly lunged forward almost causing her to run over a pedestrian. (I really mean run over, not just hit). I had a mechanic look at the car... he mentioned that this make and model are known for this issue... the engine control module (ECM) makes the car shift irregular in and out of 1st and 2nd gear ( my rav 4 is automatic). Better said... when the car is put into drive the car actually starts moving in second gear... which makes it very sluggish.. when the driver presses the gas pedal to compensate, the car then unsuspectingly and suddenly downshifts into first gear causing the car to lunge forward out of control. This time we were very lucky that no one was injured but things could have easily been different... we haven't driven the car since. The repairs according to my mechanic can range from $1500 to $7000. Changing the ECM may fix the issue but there now may be damage done to the transmission itself. We will not know till I have the ECM changed. Information redacted pursuant to the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. 552(B)(6)

- Maywood, CA, USA

problem #9

Jan 232010


  • 107,000 miles
Pulled up to an intersection on a highway where speed limit is 80 km/H. stopped. Light goes green and I step on the gas only to have my vehicle lurch forward slowly and the car would jump in short spurts. I managed to pull off to the side as traffic came flying from behind. After a few minutes of sitting, I hit the gas again and got going like normal. Parked the car for four hours and then headed back home. Was making a turn at an intersection on the way home and problem happens again. Can't get going and the car jumps like it's stuck between neutral and drive. I shift it into second gear and the problem goes away. I shift it back to drive with no problems. Just as I drive up a hill close to my apartment, the problem happens again. This time I try shifting to both second and first gear but it makes no difference. I pull off to the side, shut off the car and wait five minutes. I start the car and it runs like normal. I make it back home and park the car on the street. It has been there ever since and I occasionally move it back and forth. With the research I have done, I have learned it is probably the ECM and it is a common problem among Rav4's between 2001 and 2003. I refuse to drive it until it is fixed so as not to damage the transmission further. When the problem happened initially, it was dangerous because I was sitting in the middle of a speedy highway, unable to move.

- Calgary, Alberta, 00, USA

problem #8

Jan 152010


  • 112,000 miles
Acceleration increases while using brakes at low speeds. Vehicle does not stop slow down when accelerator is not being applied.

- Columbus, OH, USA

problem #7

Aug 192009


  • 37,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Toyota Rav4. The driver was traveling in a parking lot at about 8 mph. The driver stated that she engaged the brakes and her vehicle immediately accelerated up to 35 mph. The driver stated that she crashed into a guard rail, into an embankment, and into an office building. She has mailed a letter to the dealer and she has also called them. The VIN was not available. The failure mileage was 37,000.

- Bayville, NY, USA

problem #6

Feb 132010


  • 125,991 miles
I have a Toyota Rav4 2003. My car is running so weird and I am afraid that it will cause an accident and put my life at risk. I am driving on a freeway (65-70 mph ¿ 36miles everyday) a dangerous failure to speed up and suddenly slowing down and choking. We took my car at the dealer twice and tell them what happened. At first they told us the problem, that we need to replace/change/repair the air filter/air pilometer, we replaced it. But then same thing happened the next day (everyday), failure speed up and suddenly slowing down and chocking while I am driving¿. we brought it again at the dealer and they just told us that they already diagnosed it (twice) but their computer cannot locate the ¿code¿ thing from the computer, which tells them if the car has a problem or not. I asked them that if they diagnosed it how come they cannot locate the problem" the only answer they told me was ¿their computer is not giving them a code¿ and I told them if they are telling me that there is no problem in my car, the answer was ¿they are not sure¿. this is a really 'serious and dangerous matter¿. ¿Toyota is putting our lives at risk¿. are they going to find out what is the real problem of the car if they see us dead or if we got in accident??" Toyota should have a full attention of this matter and give us a full warranty of fixing the problem for Toyota Rav4 2001-2003. We never want this happening to our car and we don¿T want to loose our lives because of these problems!

- Bellflower, CA, USA

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