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:
117,086 miles
Total Complaints:
17 complaints

Most Common Solutions:

  1. replace faulty ecm (13 reports)
  2. replace ecm (3 reports)
  3. not sure (1 reports)
2003 Toyota RAV4 transmission problems

transmission problem

Find something helpful? Spread the word.
Get notified about new defects, investigations, recalls & lawsuits for the 2003 Toyota RAV4:

Unsubscribe any time. We don't sell/share your email.

2003 Toyota RAV4 Owner Comments

problem #17

Sep 292017

RAV4 2.2L

  • Automatic transmission
  • 86,700 miles


I received this RAV as an inheritance from my mother (which was in her 80's) in 2014 so that tells you it wasn't driven much. It only had 40,000 to 50,000 miles on it so we thought it was like brand new. We drove it from California to Arkansas and once things emotionally settled some I started driving it to work daily. I noticed that every morning it seemed like it struggled to shift out of 2nd gear so I took it to the local dealership. They recommended a transmission service so I did that. The dealership said it seemed fine to them. This vehicle was always serviced by a Toyota dealership. Well here I am 2017 and the transmission seems to be slipping and when it does shift it makes a clunk noise and a rough shake to the vehicle. Of course I Google it and found out that these vehicles had an ECM problem that Toyota knew about so then I contact Toyota and the local dealership. Toyota explained to me they enhanced the warranty to cover this to 10 years or 150,000 miles. Guess what the 10 years past so no warranty. It has 86,000 miles on it now. So after $700.00 dollars later and a refurbished board (new at Toyota dealership $1200 to $1600.), 1 week later it is fine.

- , Conway, US

problem #16

Apr 132017


  • Automatic transmission
  • 157,000 miles

The transmission Slips in lower gears and it is scary. After I get in higher gears it is OK.

- , Blackshear, GA, US

problem #15

Jun 182016


  • Automatic transmission
  • 92,727 miles

My 2003 Rav4's transmission starting shifting erratically, starting in 3rd gear instead of 1st, sluggish to get moving after stopping, etc. When I took it to the dealership they said that a warning had been issued in 2006 on this model for a faulty ECM and that they extended the warranty to 10 years and 150K miles. Well my RAV 4 is now 13 years old but only has 95,000 miles on it. Toyota refused to fix my car because the warranty ran out and are charging me $1700+ to replace the faulty ECM. THIS IS WRONG ON ALL LEVELS - THERE SHOULD HAVE BEEN A RECALL AND BEEN FIXED!!!!!

Before I arrived at the dealership with my faulty RAV4 I was crossing 4 lanes of traffic and my car hesitated in the middle of the turn and would not go into gear, a car was headed straight into my side and was able to swerve into another lane and not hit me. I COULD BE DEAD OR IN THE HOSPITAL RIGHT NOW DUE TO THIS FAULTY ECM.

I had promised by grand daughter that I would give her this car for college and I would get a new one. There is no way that I would ever let her drive this car. If something happened to her I would NEVER forgive myself.

Toyota please stand up to the plate and fix these vehicles that are still on the road.


problem #14

Aug 252015


  • Automatic transmission
  • 71,537 miles


I am extremely annoyed with this problem since Toyota knew years ago that there was a problem with the Rav 4's ecm's. I had never heard of it before I experienced my situation. Then I began to research the problem and it certainly opened my eyes.

- , Macungie, PA, USA

problem #13

Apr 062015

RAV4 L 2.0L

  • Automatic transmission
  • 118,450 miles

My car transmission is not working properly and we need it to go to work. I really need to solve the problem ASAP.

- , San Diego, CA, USA

problem #12

Mar 032010

RAV4 4x4 2.0L

  • Automatic transmission
  • 65,070 miles

Transmission jerked and car hesitated during left turn with oncoming traffic. Yeah, scary. Immediately drove to my Toyota dealer. They fixed the problem with a new ECM---no cost. Not a single problem since at 104k miles. Anyone with a 01 to 03 RAV4 should pony up for a new ECM (about a grand, I think) from the Toyota dealer. This is a great vehicle WITH a new Toyota ECM.

- , Little Rock, AR, USA

problem #11

Dec 052009

RAV4 XE 4 cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 130,000 miles


I love my toyota Rav4 but, in December 2009, it started hesitating and not going into 2nd gear, I had it checked out and it was the computer and it cost me $1500. Now, it is February 2011 only 14 months later and I'm having the same problem. I don't want to invest another $1500 for the same problem. Is this not an issue that Toyota should have to fix?

- , Mount Airy, NC, USA

problem #10

Sep 162010

RAV4 4-cyl. 2.0L

  • Automatic transmission
  • 112,703 miles

When stopping at a stop sign or stop light and then start to pull out in the intersection, the car almost had no power to get going. The car would jerk while in low gear but after getting into a regular gear, the Rav4 drives good. It only happens when stopping and starting over again. I was told that there is no extended warranty one day and then another day I was told there was an extended warranty put out by Toyota but I never got a notice of it of any kind. Now they say I have to put out big bucks if I want to get it fixed. This is not fair if Toyota knew there was a problem to begin with. All this has left a sour taste in my mouth for Toyota.

- , High Point, NC, USA

problem #9

Dec 012009


  • Automatic transmission
  • 98,000 miles

I had shifting problem with the car and it only happen later in the day or rather after several hours after the first used of the car for the day. I had the ECU replaced and now the shifting problem happens in the beginning of the day. I was told by Toyota to replace my transmission not just the ECU but that will cost 5000. It is their fault that there is a problem and I already paid 1200 for their mistake. Is there a class action lawsuit in WA that anyone can direct me to.

- , Seattle, WA, USA

problem #8

Mar 102010

RAV4 /Gray 4 Cyclinder

  • Automatic transmission
  • 118,000 miles

Just heard from the dealership and they think it is the ECM and transmission fluid needs to be changed at this time they don't think transmission is hurt. My trust with Toyota has declined. I am looking at $2000 to repair, they don't have a loan car because of all the recalls, my job depends on having dependable transportation. I am a disabled senior citizen and really thought this would be last car since I brought it brand new. I brought a 2003 Rav4 - automatic and I love it. I did the required maintenance on it. Why isn't there a class action on these Rav4 from 2001-2003?

Update from Apr 25, 2010: Well after talking with the Asst. Manager at my local Toyota dealership they are going to help with the cost. He talked with the factory distributor and even though its not half it is better than nothing and at least they are willing to help. For all of you out there, fight fight fight ..... but remember you can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar. Jo

- , Topeka, KS, USA

problem #7

Oct 082009


  • Automatic transmission
  • 175,436 miles


Toyota is making bad cars and it seems like they are putting the bottom line of making money instead of making quality cars like they use too. I will think very carefully for now on buying their cars. They still won't acknowledge that they have a problem with this particular model.

- , North Little Rock, AR, USA

problem #6

Nov 162009


  • Automatic transmission
  • 124,274 miles

Had the same problem that others have already listed here. Replaced the ECM after transmission was jerking. Less than 2 months later, engine light is back on and now the code coming up says it's the catalytic converter. Anyone else having the same problem? I've owned many domestic cars in the past and for many years but have never had to replace the computer in a vehicle or the catalytic converter. I thought I had a great vehicle when I purchased the Rav4 brand new. Over $2000 in less than 2 months on a vehicle that isn't even 7 years old yet? By the way, not that it may matter in this situation, but the vehicle is in a garage every night and completely highway driven. What gives??

- , Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

problem #5

Dec 242009

RAV4 2.0L

  • Automatic transmission
  • 138,700 miles

Day before Christmas, finishing my shopping, I went out to do one more errand. I had just gotten back from the mall 20 minutes before and had no problems. I started the car and put it in drive and it felt like the emergency brake was on. I stopped and checked it, then checked that it was in Drive and not D2 or D3. Pulled back out and it wouldn't shift, then lurched into gear. Went to the end of the street and it did the same thing. I pulled out into traffic( cause I was in the middle of the intersection, and it finally shifted at about 25 MPH. It then drove fine until I stopped again. I went around the block and back home. My regular mechanic said it sounds like the transmission and recommended a shop. They also told me that there have been a lot of problems with the ECM (engine computer module) failing, which causes the transmission to fail, in the 2002 and early 2003 RAV4s and that the computer may be covered by a "silent recall" . The transmission shop told me they wouldn't know if it was just the computer or if the transmission was damaged until the got in it. I brought it in ( it drove fine until I was about 1 mile away) and they called me the next day and said that the transmission definitely needed to be rebuilt and that when they do the RAV 4's they always replace the computer as well. (I am wondering if the transmission really needed to be replaced after reading all the complaints on this site as I have been having issues with the check engine light coming on and off sporadically all year.) The bill was $3590.00. $1123.00 for the ECM- Model # 89661-42890. The transmission guy said I should call the dealer and try to get reimbursed for the computer. Needless to say I got no where with the dealer. That is when I found this site. I filed a complaint with the transportation safety board TSB, (On line- search TSB ) What if I were pulling onto the highway when the car pulled into traffic and wouldn't move? And I called Toyota customer service 1-800-331-4431, where I was told that it is not covered by any recalls, and It wasn't a recall it was a computer re-flash for the 2002 RAV's. They also said that I don't have any recourse to be reimbursed for the computer because the work wasn't done at the dealership. I wish I had looked at the site first, from what I've read I may have been able to replace just the ECM. I bought the Toyota because I put a lot of miles on my car and Toyota's are supposed to run forever. I loved my RAV until this spring when I started having problems. Hope this rant helps save someone some serious $.

- , Lynn, MA, US

problem #4

Dec 182009


  • Automatic transmission
  • 110,000 miles

I've been a strong advocate of Toyota for 22 years. I've defended Toyota to my father in law who is retired from Ford, shame on me!! Ford NEVER would have put saving a buck before their customers safety. Toyota may make a reliable car if your lucky enough to find one that doesn't have a factory defect. If you are one of those unlucky consumers Toyota WILL NOT have your back. Toyota seems to weigh the cost of recalls more than the safety of their customers. I will be out $4400 repairing their mistake. As for their dealerships, I was cursed at by the owner and told to get a lawyer because I asked why I was not informed of this defect. The defect was know about 1 year before I purchased my car. When I purchased my car the sun visor was falling down and they didn't even want to spend the couple of hunderd dollars to fix that the suggested I velcro the visors to the roof of my car. TOYOTA IS A JOKE!!!

- , Indepencdence, MO, USA

problem #3

Dec 262009


  • Automatic transmission
  • 134,000 miles

My well maintained 2003 RAV4 began doing all the things others are complaining about here, starting about 134,000 miles. I noticed some gear slipping gradually over the past week, and suddenly, wham! The car was hesitating to where it almost stalled when I accelerated at a light, then instead of losing power altogether slammed forward and bucked violenty. It does the same thing on a turn. This car is a serious safety hazard. I took it to the dealer where I have been having it serviced for the 7 years I have owned it. I am the original owner. The found nothing, of course. Hah! I asked them to check the ECM and drive it around until they felt the problem. Finally I was able to speak to the mechanic who had heard of ECM problems and said he thought maybe he could reprogram.

In the meantime I reported the problem to Toyota by email, I logged a compaint with the National Transportation at and urge you to do the same as with enough of these complaints it can FORCE TOYOTA to recall. Then I looked up the class action lawsuit. This is not to be confused with another recent lawsuit that has to do with fast acceleration and floor mats. The right place for the ECM related class action suit is below. I am contacting them to see how I can be a part of this. Here are the contacts - Beth Terrell, Terrell, Marshall and Daudt -, 206-816-6603. Jeffrey Cereghino, - Merrill, Nomura and Molineux. 925-833-1000.

- , Jackson, NJ, USA

problem #2

Jun 142009

RAV4 2.0L

  • Automatic transmission
  • 142,915 miles

A technical service bulletin was issued in 2006 stating that there is a known problem with the ECM which could result in a complete failure of the transmission. Toyota failed to inform owners of this issue meaning that the owners would have to pay for the damage when the warranty ran out. The cost to overhaul the transmission came to $2900.00, taxes in. Had I been informed of this issue in 2006 the ECM could have (should have) been replaced under warranty thus saving the transmission problem later on.

- , Belleville, ON, Canada

problem #1

May 262009


  • Automatic transmission
  • 114,954 miles

Ok, here goes...why in God's green Earth if Toyota KNOWS that the ECM/PCM problems exist with 2001 to 2003 Rav4's why haven't they issued a recall??? When the service bulletins state that "there may be a problem with the ECM, and the codes may or may not be present...." --there was no warning for this problem so that I, as an owner would have been alerted to a potential problem before my transmission F^&*cked up completely?? It's just recently (yesterday) cost me $3400 Canadian and the ECM problem will cost me more yet again by end of June 2009....would somebody please explain to me why they deny there's a problem, yet my transmission shop has had 2 Rav4's in with the SAME Problem, and the computer part, (according to Toyota....) is on back order for 3 weeks? BACK ORDER?? THERE'S A PROBLEM here!! Let's all get together and start a class action suit for Rav4 owners and make Toyota admit the problem and offer some compensation for a problem they just hoped would go away!!

If anyone is interested in that feel free to contact me via email. I might be mad enough to do it.......

- , Kitchener, Ontario, Canada

Not what you are looking for?