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.


pretty bad
Typical Repair Cost:
Average Mileage:
103,793 miles
Total Complaints:
54 complaints

Most Common Solutions:

  1. replace transmission and computer (17 reports)
  2. not sure (13 reports)
  3. replace ecm only! (11 reports)
  4. replace the computer system (8 reports)
  5. problem repaired at no cost to me (3 reports)
  6. recall (2 reports)
2003 Toyota RAV4 transmission problems

transmission problem

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2003 Toyota RAV4 Owner Comments (Page 3 of 3)

« Read the previous 20 complaints

problem #14

Jan 012009


  • Automatic transmission
  • 103,000 miles


As with the hundreds of once-loyal Toyota owners I too am having problems with my vehicle. It is a 2003 Rav4 S model and problems occurred last year in the middle of 2008. I was at a stop light and my car completely shut off. No noise or jerk, just silently turned off. I then took my car to my cousin who is a mechanic and he did a tune up on my car. Then the car drove normally until November 2008. My transmission started mis-shifting and would start off in second gear, then lurch forward. The two mechanics I've seen call this a "lazy transmission". When both mechanics (I saw two total, but one for a second opinion) hooked my car up to a diagnostic machine, it gave the same error code. The error code was saying that I have an ECM problem. Which is the cars main computer. Basically the ECM tells the transmission when to shift gears. So i did a little research and Toyota is "aware" of the problem (which is complete b***) and will only compensate owners who are still under the 80,000 mi mark. My problem occurred after, even my extended warranty expired shortly before my transmission problem. So you're pretty much screwed in the situation. Why doesn't Toyota assist all who are having this problem? Why pawn the problem off to the consumer when this is bad PR and a manufacturer problem?! I feel for all of the rav4 owners out there because we are getting screwed over. Now it is our responsibility to pay for this out of our pocket. SO I CALLED TOYOTA HEADQUARTERS to see if they actually care and this is how the conversation went:

I spoke to a woman and I asked her if there were other people complaining about this rav4 ECM/transmission problem. She responded by saying that she hasn't heard of any complaints today besides mine. I also asked her how toyota is compensating people affected by this and she went on with this long schpiel about "if your past 80,000 miles we can't help you." She kept saying how she was sorry about the situation, but how can you be sorry about the situation when you sound like an unhelpful robot reading off of a cue card? I also asked about how many complaints are needed in order for toyota to do a recall of some sort and she said that the situation "wouldn't be considered a recall." What? Not considered a recall? Just like you and I and the people in the many forums complaining about this problem, there are people spending money and even people getting in accidents because of this. So this wouldn't be considered a recall?! This is a joke. So here I am now stuck between a rock and a hard place saving to fix my car (about $3000-$4000) which I was quoted by transmission shop. Also, here's the kicker: When I told the toyota rep about the hundreds of people complaining about this i asked her "How about the hundreds of people complaining about this problem online and in forums? They don't count? It's obvious this is a huge issue." I couldn't believe the answer she gave me. She said "The people complaining for all you know may have not taken care of their cars. Plus, they aren't complaining on credible websites, like toyota websites." Very cold response. So basically she is saying that you and I and all of the Rav4 owners are responsible because we probably don't properly take care of our cars. What an insult. How can we complain on the toyota website? They won't show the complaints openly. Why would they? I am just frustrated at the whole situation because I have put so much money into the car. Taking care of it, never abusing it, and now I can't drive it until its fixed. It breaks my heart because out of all of the cars I had wanted I wanted a toyota because of their great reputation. I am a student and I worked really hard to save to purchase this car, and now this is how Toyota treats us? If I had a time machine I would have taken my business and hard earned dollars elsewhere and bought a different car from a different manufacturer.

- , Sc, CA, USA

problem #13

Apr 192009


  • Automatic transmission
  • 47,224 miles

This seems to be the same issue that countless 2002 RAV4 2002 drivers have reported. I just wanted to weigh in for the 2003 owners who are also prone this problem. The TSB that Toyota issued mentions 2001 - 2003. They refer to the issue as a "hard shift condition" with the recommendation is replacement of the ECU. I've also seen mention that because this part is involved in emission control, it should be replace for free if the car is less than 8 years old and under a certain number of kilometers.

I'm having the car taken in today. I have let the dealership know that I've done my homework on the "problem" and have even printed out the TSB and put it right in the car. I hope it goes smoothly.

Update from Jun 3, 2009: Well, thanks to this forum, and a link I found on another site that allowed me to print out the TSB related to this issue - I had the EMC replaced (parts and labour) AT NO CHARGE. There was no argument - nothing.

Before having the vehicle towed in (because I had read that continuing to drive it in this condition could damage the transmission) - I informed the dealership that that I knew there was a TSB out on the RAV and included a copy of it, AND every single complaint from this forum that cited that exact same problem.

This should absolutely be a recall - and if people are unknowingly damaging their transmissions because Toyota isn't informing them of the issue - then ALL repairs should be absolutely free.

- , Winnipeg, MB, Canada

problem #12

May 012008

RAV4 2.0L 4 cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 78,000 miles

Similar problem to what everyone else was seeing with the 2.0L RAV4 transmission. Shifting became harder and harder. At first it just seemed to be an issue with the weather; if it was cold it would take a while to warm up, if it was warm it wouldn't shift as hard at first. Then my wife started complaining more and more about the shifting so I had her bring it to the local Toyota dealer and sure enough, the transmission was shot. Opting to not take out a second mortgage to get the transmission replaced by the dealer, we brought it to a local shop. While they were able to rebuild the transmission for a reasonable price, ~$1,500, the next day when we got it back the check engine light was still on and after talking to the shop they said it "might" be the ECU. We now did not trust the bunch of hillbillies that just fixed our transmission and now claimed it "might" be another $1,200. We were in the process of relocating back to the Twin Cities so we opted to just get a trailer and tow it behind the moving truck.

Upon arriving in the TC we contacted the local Toyota dealer (thanks to Maplewood Toyota!!) and after giving them the symptoms and my VIN number they said the ECU has a TSB against it and is currently able to be covered under the emissions warranty which ran until 80K...we had 79,250 miles at the time. The Twin Cities dealer took great care of our problem and saved us over $1,200 for the computer. I just wish I would've found this site prior to buying the RAV4 so we would've been up-to-date on possible issues and things to watch for so we could have got the ECU replaced and saved the transmission.

Thanks Autobeef!!

- , Oakdale, MN, USA

problem #11

Mar 022009


  • Automatic transmission
  • 95,000 miles


I loved my Toyota RAV4 up until the last 3 months. In 3 months time, I have had an engine coil repair, which then ruined my catalytic converter, had to have the spark plug wires replaced and now the ECM. Can I just say that my check engine light NEVER came on to alert of me of the engine coil problem. I am a single parent and cannot afford these repairs. After the engine coil repair they told me the converter was breaking down but as long as the car drove fine it was not an emergency.

So in early March, the car starts driving horribly, hard to accelerate, then lurches you forward, right side of the car starts shaking, a HUGE safety issue! I immediately called my service adviser and he told me he thought it was the catalytic converter. So I took it to a mad hatter, they check the codes and it is converter codes; they were about $150 cheaper so I had the converter replaced. I drive the car for two days and by the 3rd day the issues started again so bad the car had to be towed out to Toyota. I barely made it home from work, almost getting rear ended in the process because of the poor acceleration.

Thank god I researched Toyota and problems with RAV4's and came along this site and others. I was shocked at how many complaints there are out there. I immediately called both my service adviser and filed a complaint, as suggested, with Toyota. Told them I knew about all the complaints and that people are trying to get together a class action suit for 2001-2004 RAV's and also discussed the technical bulletin Toyota had put out a couple years ago about this. I was very nice but assertive and I told her I expected Toyota to pay for this full repair if it indeed was the ECM. I also told my service adviser that I felt they knew about this issue and surely I am not the first one. He said they had another used RAV in with the same issue.

Well, to make a long story short, it was the ECM $1,300. Five days later, Toyota called and agreed to pay for the full $1,300 repair. The catch, I have to pay for it in advance and submit the paperwork and they will reimburse me 5-10 weeks later. So I scraped together the money (two weeks) and finally was able to pick up my car on Saturday. 10 miles later my check engine light is is driving fine though and has been for almost 5 days now.

On Monday I faxed in my paperwork and the rep was very nice and said he was getting it in in time for a May reimbursement. So back to Toyota I go to have the code checked out. I pray it is not the transmission this time. I want to thank this site for all the helpful experiences and suggestions, it was a life saver for me and my children.

- , Council Bluffs, IA, US

problem #10

Feb 012009

RAV4 2.0L 4 cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 86,500 miles

Well, once finding out the rather large repair bill and knowing the warranty expired four months ago. I called Toyota's corporate office which contacted the local dealer. The dealer was were I took my vehicle for all of its routine maintenance. The dealer called the back to the corporate office to see if a discount was available. Well none was available (go figure) and I am left on my own to finance 5200.00 worth of work on a vehicle that has a loan of 12000.00 left on it. I find it very frustrating that Toyota could care less about its reputation and won't even remotely try to satisfy a customer that evidently is not alone with this problem and bought the Toyota brand for the longevity of their vehicles. What a joke that turned out to be. So here I sit with a car that have four new tires on it and just has an over $500.00 brake and router repair on it two weeks prior to knowing about the transmission. This is such a horrible situation and Toyota should just find out what is causing this problem and recall those transmissions or offer some type of assistance on the repair cost. Afterall a Toyota is supposed to last a lot longer than 86,000 miles. Yea Right!!???!!!

- , Cincinnati, OH, Pacific Islands (US)

problem #9

Apr 162008

RAV4 LS 4 cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 50,000 miles

It seems as though this problem is getting worse. My transmission when stopped or in park sounds like its racing. When manually switching into a gear, it is a hard shift. When driving the transition of gears on my automatic transmission is not smooth. This is to the point where I have been called a crazy driver because my car is jerking the passenger around. This can not be safe and there should be a mandatory recall of all of the transmissions suspected of having this issue.

- , Seattle, WA, USA

problem #8

Dec 022008


  • Automatic transmission
  • 109,000 miles


I am glad to know that I'm not the only one experiencing this problem. I too have driven my Rav4 mainly to get to school and work, and have never abused it in any way. Problems started months ago when my car would jerk, then once in awhile (every other month or so) would just shut off when I am at a complete stop. This terrified me! :( I thought to myself, I must need a tune-up. I went to my local Toyota mechanic and had a full tune up done, then the problem ceased for about 2 months. Then about 3 days ago, I started getting the loud "thud" when switching from park to reverse! Oh no! I just got a tune up, now what?! I am your typical student, working part-time, barely getting by so I chose a car with a great "reputation". Now I may need a new transmission. If Toyota knows about this why isn't anyone getting compensation for it. I mean, I just need my car fixed. We need OUR Rav4's fixed and none of us should have to pay for it because this is Toyota's DEFECT! Now I am frustrated because of a quote that I got to fix it. I feel stuck between a rock and a hard place because 1) you guessed it, my warranty expired, 2) My car is not paid off yet. I'm still paying for it monthly. :( and 3) I don't have the extra finances to pay for all of the repairs! If anyone is really pushing for action in resolving this, please count me in and I'd be happy to join you guys in having Toyota do something about this!

- , Somewhere In, CA, USA

problem #7

Dec 062008

RAV4 Sport

  • Automatic transmission
  • 117,000 miles

Based on the complaints that I've seen about Rav4's i believe that we should all call for a recall.....does anybody know how to go about doing that?

Update from May 8, 2009: I finally got my RAV4 back from the mechanic, after two months of having the guy work on it. He rebuilt the transmission and got a brand new ECU from Toyota. It cost me about $2500.00 so far i've had it for two days and it runs really good. Knock on wood and it'll stay this way......I will save my receipts for when the Class Action Suit happens.

- , Santa Ana, CA, USA

problem #6

Oct 242008


  • Automatic transmission
  • 125,000 miles

I'm as disgusted as the rest of the complainers on this site and will be writing a letter to the Toyota corporation about my experience.

My transmission is being rebuilt and a new brain unit installed as I write. The problem started in October, I called the dealership and told them what was going on with the shifting. At this time the transmission had only acted up once and I was told that it would have to be consistent in what it was doing for them to be able to diagnose the problem. I gave the service manager the vin number and he told me that there were no recalls on the car. I feel that the car should have had the brain replaced at this time. In my opinion, driving the car until it was consistently having the shifting problem cost me a transmission rebuild. At no time did a check engine light come on. I believe that it was a known problem (as evidenced by the complaints from 2002 owners) and it should have been listed as a recall.

I bought a Toyota because of their reputation. Right now I'm thinking that deviating from Pontiacs was a mistake of large proportion. We have owned four Pontiacs and have driven them three hundred to four hundred thousand plus miles without a major problem. I thought that if I could get that kind of mileage from a Pontiac who knows what I could do with a Toyota.

Thank-you for letting me vent.

- , Roy, WA, USA

problem #5

Aug 012008


  • Automatic transmission
  • 96,934 miles

After reading this forum and the forum from 2002 Rav4, this is exactly what I've experienced.

Sometime in August 2008, we've experience the jerking mentioned in 2002 Rav4. Exactly the same for my model 2003 Rav4. I'm guessing that the early 2003 Model had the same ECU as 2002 Models. There were occasions where me and my wife almost got hit due to the jerking. Basically, the jerking slows you down and unable to pickup speed in time. When we were about to turn, we went so slow that almost got hit by another car.

So, knowing that not to trust the dealers first, I went to Canadian Tire to get it fixed. Turns out that the solenoid is giving some error code. After calling Toyota to buy the solenoid so that my mechanic dad could fix it, Toyota needs to take a look to determine which solenoid is broken since there's 4 kinds. So I brought it in on August 2008 and they've found out that ECU needs to be replaced. So I paid almost $1000 for the parts/labor and was assured that the problem will go away. I didn't register the car until 2 weeks ago and found out that the problem is still there. So I came back to Toyota and complained. They've diagnosed it but found no problem. Test drove it and found out the poor acceleration and later determined that the floor mat was on the way of the gas pedal. As I went to pick it up, I was billed for $120 for the diagnostics. So I was so angry and wanting to complain but the service department is already closed and I'm unable to bring out my car without paying. So, I paid and wanting to complain the following day thinking that all I have to deal with is getting my money back. BUT as I drive it the following morning, problem re-occurs. Therefore, it's not the stupid floor mat that's causing my grief. So I came back and complained again. This time, I was really angry. I felt like I'm being fooled.

So, I went to the internet for answers. I feel so bad for service department clerks/managers to put up with complaining customers regarding this issue. But then it's their job. The result of my research was an eye opener and made me angry at Toyota as a company instead. This problem should have initiated a recall - causing a very dangerous vehicle to drive on the road. What I don't understand is why are the customers shouldering the expense if the ECU was defective in the first place? As per the other posts, this defective ECU would result the transmission to be replaced if not fixed right away.

So now, I'm stuck with the bill of ECU replacement ($1000), Transmission replacement($6000), diagnostics charge for checking the engine and moving the floor mat ($120), and lastly the frustration ($priceless).

So far, the dealership has treated me okay but would like for them to shoulder the costs for the ECU ($1000) and refund my $120 for moving the floor mat/doing diagnostics. As per the transmission replacement, I think it's something I have to accept but would really have been prevented if the ECU was recalled.

I'm going to file a complain through the Better Business Bureau and Toyota Corporate just to make Toyota aware that they should recall the damn thing. I need this car to be fixed so I could upgrade to another one i.e. Highlander. But it will all depend on how my issue with Toyota is going to be resolved. If it's not reasonable, I will send a mass email to everyone I know NOT to buy TOYOTA!!!

- , Richmond, BC, Canada

problem #4

May 052008

RAV4 2.0L

  • Automatic transmission
  • 115,000 miles


Called Toyota and the 1st rep was very rude! Lia Toyota of Wilbraham, Ma was a joke the General Manager would not return my call- I would NEVER BUY another TOYOTA...per my mechanic Toyota is aware of the problem and a lot of people have made complaints.

- , Enfield, CT, USA

problem #3

May 272008


  • Automatic transmission
  • 102,000 miles

Like everyone else my Toyota Rav-4 has major transmission problems. I had my car in for the expensive 90k tune up and told the "certified Toyota tech" about the violent shaking, jerking and difficulty shifting. They finished the tune up and said they found nothing wrong. Two days later it was back and worse than ever-I was barely able to get the car to a local shop-the dealership is 70 miles away. Now I owe the mechanic $650 for his time ripping the transmission apart with the only solution being another $3000.00 just to repair the transmission. I am paralyzed at this point not sure what to do. Do I cut my losses? Sink thousands more into the car in an attempt to fix it? Sell it as is? I am afraid the real issue is the electrical system-can't imagine what that will cost...I feel very bad for all of the people on this site having this problem-shame on Toyota! Where is their concern for quality? For their customers? Check out the 2002 complaints-same thing. All we can do fight them-make phone calls, file complaints. I would love to be involved in a class action lawsuit. Also, be prepared when I told Toyota about this website they said "oh you can't trust anything you read on the internet" nice...

- , Gaylord, MI, USA

problem #2

May 222008


  • Automatic transmission
  • 93,000 miles

My wife was coming home from work when she said it had no power when accelerating from a stop light. Towed the car to AAMCO and they said the transmission was bad. We spent over $2800.00 to have trans rebuilt. When we went to pick it up from AAMCO they said there is a TSB from Toyota addressing this problem and the ECM would have to be replaced. Took it to the dealer and they said they could not find anything wrong except that it was shifting hard into 3rd gear. They recommended we take it back to AAMCO to get it checked. They had another RAV4 in the shop with same problem which had the ECM replaced so they took our trans out and put it in that one and trans worked fine. Now they are saying that we need to take it back to the dealer for $1200.00 ECM replacement. All this time my wife has been using my F150 truck for her work and the price of gas is really hurting our pocket book since she is a Nanny and a County Health care specialist so she drives many miles throughout the day to different job locations. I am using my companies vehicle to go back and forth to work since we both need transportation. Yes it would have cost me about $900.00 more at the dealer for them to do the trans but I think they would have researched it and determined that the trans went bad because the computer was bad and then fixed the whole problem. Now I am towing our car to our house from the trans shop because if I drive it the warranty on the trans may be voided. Now we have to save up for a computer. My question is why is there a limit of time and mileage that Toyota established for a computer problem that they have acknowledged that there is something wrong. It was there fault the trans went bad. That's all I have to say for now.

- , North Las Vegas, NV, US

problem #1

Jul 262007

(reported on)

RAV4 4WD 4

  • Automatic transmission
  • 103,000 miles

My RAv4 would delay in shifting. The shift, hard and lurches forward with a loud bang. This went on for weeks. I took it in and they said I needed a transmission flush. Paid $150.00 The next week, I was back to the same problem, but worse. On way to work, it just could not make the hill. The engine light never came on. They checked the code, and said I needed a new transmission. The repair took another week, and costs $3,150. They told me it would not be more than $3,000. I had also received a coupon in the mail ( a mass market type from Toyota headquarters) for 10 percent off on repairs. The dealership would not honor it and said we already took 10 percent off your bill. I pay the bill, I drove 30 miles away, the "check engine light" comes on, with the "re manufactured transmission! I bring it back to the dealership, a few days later, its now the computer system, and they want another $1200. I have read on other sites that Toyota has a "transmission defects in design", and "chip" problems with the computers.. I told them that I want to meet with their general manager tomorrow. I will also be filing a complaint with the Secretary of State, regarding the coupon, and the verbal agreement for the repair of no more than $3,000. I also called the Toyota headquarter in California, 800 number and filed a verbal complaint about the transmission problem. The got back to me in three days, verified that I did do the repair, asked me to send them a copy of my bill, proof of payment and the work order. And approved a $750.00 one time "Good Will assistance" for the repair. I was shocked to get that! But the same week as my problem, I heard from two other RAv owners with the exact same problem, their transmission went on their car and they had to replace it.

- , Stowe, VT, USA

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