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:
119,135 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 miscellaneous problems

miscellaneous problem

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2003 Toyota RAV4 Owner Comments

problem #11

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 #10

Aug 262016


  • 204,000 miles
While driving my vehicles rpms cut out and the throttle would not respond it started to slow down and then died in the middle of the hwy in lawton Oklahoma. It took me 2 and a half hours to get the vehicle home in ryan Oklahoma because I had to constantly put the vehicle in neutral all while coasting and let it die then turn it off and try several times to get the vehicle to stay started and even then it would only review to 2000 rpms and die. I had to guide it to the side of the hwy several times and let it set for 20 to 30 minutes before it would drive at around 60 mph for only 2 to 3 minutes. I was almost hit several times because of how the throttle would not respond while the rpms cut out and the vehicle would not get up and go.

- Ryan, OK, USA

problem #9

Dec 022015


  • miles
The car jerks when I try to accelerate. Toyota reccommends that I replace the ECM and because my car has 101,000 and is more than 10 years old I am not covered under the warranty enhancement program (customer support program). I just bought my car 3 weeks ago. This should be an ongoing warranty offerred to all 2003 rav 4 owners. The out of pocket cost for ECM is $1590 and $3750 for the transmission. This is a safety issue where the transmission can lock and drive a car off the side of the road. Toyota is aware of the defected ecms and the damaging affects it has on the transmission.

- Worcester, MA, USA

problem #8

Sep 212015


  • 164,000 miles


The transmission started shifting erratically and it wouldn't accelerate. I took it Toyota and they told me I had to replace the ECM and then if that didn't resolve the issue I would have to replace the transmission. Found out Toyota had faulty ECM's in some Rav4S. Replacing the ECM & the transmission if its damaged costs $4,000 or more. Unfortunately I didn't buy the vehicle until after the warranty extension period had passed & this vehicle was never repaired.

- Norcross, GA, USA

problem #7

Jan 072014


  • 165,000 miles
While driving the highway in my Rav4, it randomly bogs down or stalls out completely. You have to steer over to the side of the highway because it loses power and the gauges go whacky on you. Sometimes it shuts off and sometimes it just loses power and when you put it in park and shut it off, it will eventually "go again". you can be driving 55 one second and it stalls out to 3 mph the next second without any indication that it is going to happen. Toyota said they could replace the ECM if it was before 150,000 miles, which it was not. They told me they won't do anything after 150,000 miles, not even meet me half way to pay to replace it. Its an obvious problem if they sent a letter out. I've had it to three repair (including a Toyota dealer) shops and none of their 'computer checks' show anything is wrong with the car. How do you fix something if you don't know what is wrong with it? they have done tune ups, replaced the oxygen sensor and minor adjustments to no help. I've spent over $1,000 in repairs for "nothing" -or maybe this is it. I drive 2-lane highways and it is going to strand me someplace, if I don't get rear-ended by a semi-truck before that happens. I am afraid to drive it and I am afraid to let my teenagers drive it. The car is still in beautiful shape, has been garaged most of its life, has had regular oil changes, etc. And basically its worthless to me. I can't sell it outright with this problem that no one can find because I couldn't handle if someone got hurt, and I can't afford to replace it. I bought a Toyota because of their long life (everyone told me they will last 300,00 miles) but they have very much disappointed me in their customer service. What is it going to take, someone to get killed for them to realize that they have a known problem" why won't they fix it after 150,000 miles" it doesn't make any sense.

- Silver Bay, MN, USA

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problem #6

Jul 212015


  • 67,088 miles
I have a 2003 Toyota Rav4! on July 21, 2015 my vehicle started harsh jerking and slow performance when coming from a stop and red light! I accelerated the pedal to the floor and the vehicle still were performing slow! I could have got hit since it wouldn't move any faster! on July 22, 2015 I drove my vehicle to loving Lincoln-Mercury. They perform a test and told me that the ECM needed to be replaced! the service manager told me that Toyota had a customer support program to replace the malfunction ECM! I contacted the Toyota customer assistance center and informed them the problems I was experiencing with my vehicle! I was informed that the customer support program that was replacing the ECM and transmission for free had expired on my vehicle! I was informed that the customer support program was for the first 10 years or $150,000 miles whichever came first! I was informed that my vehicle expired in 2013! I asked the Toyota customer assistance center why I didn't receive a letter stating that the ECM and possible transmission need to be replace in my vehicle and I was told that they would check to see if a letter had been mailed! I have been living at my address for 30 years and I haven't received anything informing me about replacing anything on my vehicle! now I'm facing $5,551.60 plus tax to replace the ECM and transmission on my vehicle! I'm on a fixed income of social security monthly and I can't have my vehicle repaired because of this expense! they didn't mail me a letter stating I need to replace the ECM and possible transmission under this free program for the customer support program! I'm informing you about this situation with Toyota because this is a safety problem! anyone who has a Toyota Rav4 and it's doing harsh jerking with slow performance can certainly get hit which can caused a bad accident!!!!!

- Lufkin, TX, USA

problem #5

May 152015


  • 116,000 miles


Harsh shifting, jumping from gear-to-gear, sluggish acceleration and ultimately transmission failure

- Lawton, MI, USA

problem #4

Jun 012015


  • 115,400 miles
I was driving to work on Monday morning, June 1, 2014, when the engine shut off in the middle of an intersection. There was no warning, no hesitation, no noise. I had pressed down on the gas pedal to cross the intersection and midway through the engine died. I was able to coast across and pull over to the side of the road. I waited a few minutes, restarted the car, and was able to finish my route to work. I took the car to a certified mechanic who inspected it thoroughly but found no problems and was unable to replicate the problem. He cleaned the throttle which he said was dirty. It's been 2 days and while the engine hasn't stalled again, there's some occasional hesitation - which I've never encountered before. It was running perfectly before it stalled in the intersection. I'm now afraid to drive it but it's my only transportation. The car has been serviced according to schedule, oil changes every 3K miles, Toyota replaced ECM in June 2013; water pump, alternator, and 02 sensors have been replaced. I've read a lot of complaints on the internet about this problem and unsuccessful and expensive attempts to try to correct it.

- Columbia, SC, USA

problem #3

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 #2

Jul 012011

RAV4 4-cyl

  • 212,000 miles
Hi about my 2003 Toyota Rav4, its seems to stall and shutting off the engine while driving. For exaple it happen more then 5 time on me this month7/1/2011, and almost getting bump in rear end. I took it to Toyota dealer, and paying $100 for what they could find anything wrong. This model should be recall or accident will happen.

- Stockton, CA, USA

problem #1

Feb 262011


  • 124,000 miles
The check engine light turned on. The car began hesitating upon acceleration. I took the car to auto zone so they could give me a quick diagnosis. They said one of the codes that came up had to do with the catalytic converter and that would be causing the stalling. I took my vehicle to one of the dmv's G2 repair stations and had the catalytic replaced and was informed that I had to take my car to Toyota to have the ECM reflashed. The car worked fine for a few days and now the check engine light has turned back on and the car began to stall again. I was nearly in an accident due to the stalling. I have an appointment to have the ECM reflashed but the very rude service advisor at Toyota let me know that might not fix the problem. He let me know that my previous repair station sent me there to cover themselves when in fact they sent me there due to Toyota's service bulletin. I don't understand why I have to pay to have a faulty ECM reflashed. Toyota should provide that services for free. I have since found out that a faulty ECM can ruin the transmission so I may have some costly repairs in the future due to a faulty part by Toyota. Toyota should replace the ecms on all 2001-2003 Toyota Rav4S since they know they are faulty and cover the cost of the transmission repair caused by their faulty ECM. Toyota is being very underhanded by sending out the services bulletin to certain repair shops and not to actual Toyota owners. They should be held liable. Are they going to wait until someone dies? the unexpected stalling can cause a serious accident and Toyota owners should be informed. If I had known this I would not have purchased a Toyota for my teenager. The stalling almost caused an accident while I was driving but it would have definitely caused one for someone with less driving experience. It's a shame that Toyota will not do anything until someone gets hurt.

- Las Vegas, NV, USA

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