Toyota RAV4 Problems: 5 Common Issues

While Toyota is well known for reliability, some mistakes slip out of the factory, even for the good ol’ Toyota RAV4.

The Toyota RAV4 suffers from automatic gearbox issues, defective piston rings, steering noises, glare issues on the infotainment system, and hesitation lurking at lower speeds.

To help you make a more informed decision, we’ve broken down these issues below and looked at some RAV4 recalls you need to be aware of (especially if you have one of these models).

toyota rav4 spirited gravel driving

5 Main Toyota RAV4 Problems To Be Aware Of

1. Gearbox ECM Defect

This was the second worst problem reported over all the generations of RAV4. This problem is only limited to the Toyota RAV4 XA20 (2001 to 2005).

The ECM (Electronic Control Module) for the gearbox had an issue where it did not control the solenoid pressure inside the transmission and caused it to slip and overheat.

When caught early enough the damage is minimal, and the only thing needed to be replaced is the gearbox oil and filter. Then the ECM needs to be reflashed with updated firmware or needs to be replaced with a newer one.

If you, however, ignore the slipping transmission, it can cause it to overheat too much and cause the degradation of the oil viscosity, causing the transmission to fail at some point which can cost up to $2,540 to replace.

2. Defective Piston Oil Rings

The worst problem reported, because it can cause engine failure, is limited to the Toyota RAV4 2.4 liter 4 cylinder XA30 (2006 to 2012).

Due to the defective piston oil rings, the engine uses an excessive amount of oil. If you do not control the level of the oil enough and run without engine oil, it can cause engine damage, and then the engine needs to be rebuilt or replaced.

You can get the piston oil rings replaced with updated versions, but it can cost up to $1,890.

3. Clunking Sound When Steering

While this isn’t going to cause any damage or leave you stranded next to the road, it is a sound that can cause unnecessary stress on a new vehicle owner.

Only the Toyota RAV4 XA30 (2006 to 2012) is affected by this problem. 

The problem is wear and tear on the steering rack and intermediate steering shaft, and the only fix is to replace the affected parts, which will be fixed until it is worn out again.

4. Infotainment Screen Glare Issues

The infotainment installed in the 4th generation Toyota RAV4 XA40 (2013 to 2018) is installed at such an angle that it glares so that the driver can’t see anything during the day. 

The issue is the screen brightness isn’t high enough. Some owners claimed to fix it with an anti-glare film on the screen, while others had no luck.

The best bet is to replace the head unit with an aftermarket one.

5. Hesitates And Lurches At Low Speeds

This problem is only on the Toyota RAV4 XA50 (current model). 

The car hesitates under low throttle input situations and can cause the car to lurch or buck at low speeds. 

The solution is just a software update on the vehicle’s ECU.

Toyota RAV4 Recalls

While many Toyota RAV4s have been recalled, many out there were still not repaired, so consider these problems when buying a second-hand RAV4. 

If you own a RAV4, take your vehicle to a dedicated Toyota dealer to rectify these problems as soon as possible.

2009-2010 Recalls

  • 2005 to 2010 models are not equipped with the right load-carrying capacity labels, which can cause the vehicle to be overloaded and increase the risk of a crash.

2011 Recalls

  • 2006 to 2010 models’ throttle pedals can get stuck in the wide-open throttle position due to it being trapped by an unsecured or incompatible floor mat which can cause a crash, serious injury, or death.
  • 2007 to 2008 models with curtain airbags systems have two sensors designed to detect a rollover these sensors have a defect if one fails, the airbag warning light will illuminate, and the rollover detection system will not work. If both sensors fail, the seatbelt pre-tensioners could inadvertently activate and can cause injuries to the occupants.

2012 Recalls

  • 2011 models with curtain airbags have an issue with the propellant used to inflate the airbag, which can cause the airbag not to deploy properly or not at all.
  • 2006 to 2011 models have an issue where if the nuts for adjusting the rear wheel alignment are improperly tightened during service (rear suspension arm) it may develop unwanted movement and lead to rust on the threads and can lead to part failure that can cause abrupt changes in the vehicle’s alignment that can cause a crash.
  • 2007 to 2009 models might have faulty master power window switches that can overheat, melt, or even cause a fire.

2013 Recalls

  • 2009 to 2012 models with modifications on the front seat like seat covers, seat heaters, or DVD headrests can cause the occupant sensing system not to operate as designed and cause the airbags to not deploy or deploy incorrectly.
  • 2010 to 2012 models are not equipped with the right load-carrying capacity labels, which can cause the vehicle to be overloaded and increase the risk of a crash.

2014 Recalls

  • 2012 models may have an electrical component within the brake actuator that adjusts the fluid pressure for each wheel, which can experience an increased resistance resulting in various warning lights, including the VSC (Vehicle Stability Control), ABS (Antilock Braking System), and traction control system. This fault can cause reduced directional control assistance from the stability and traction control system.
  • 2006 to 2008 models have a Flexible Flat Cable (FFC) inside the spiral cable assembly that connects the driver airbag to the airbag module, which can be damaged when turning the wheel due to a bad FFC retainer location and design failing to deploy the airbag in a crash.
  • 2006 to 2011 models may experience compression of the seat cushion, which can cause damage to the seat heater wiring that can cause the wires to short and increase the risk of the seat burning and cause occupant injury.
  • 2014 models may have accessories installed by Southeast Toyota Distributors, like running boards, that were incorrectly fastened and can cause the accessories to detach.

2015 Recalls

  • 2013 to 2015 models equipped with the accessory trailer module may fault within the module’s software that can incorrectly detect an electrical short and preventively turn off the electrical current to the trailer lights.
  • 2014 to 2015 models may have a component of the EPS (Electric Power Steering) damaged during manufacturing, resulting in future power steering failure.
  • 2004 to 2005 models equipped with dual-stage driver frontal airbags may be susceptible to moisture intrusion over time and cause the inflator to rupture, which can cause serious injury when deployed.
  • 2009 to 2012 models may have an issue where water drips on the joint that connects the wiper linkage to the wiper motor, which causes it to rust and wear out the joint, resulting in wipers that do not function.
  • 2006 to 2011 models master power window switch isn’t protected against moisture and debris and can cause the switch to short, overheat, melt or even catch fire.

2016 Recalls

  • 2006 to 2012 models have a risk in a frontal collision that the rear seat belts for the outboard seats may be cut by the seat cushion frame, increasing the risk of injury.
  • 2016 models may have a damaged O-ring in the ABS actuator, resulting in improper brake fluid pressure that may cause loss of vehicle control.
  • 2016 models are not equipped with the right load-carrying capacity labels, which can cause the vehicle to be overloaded and increase the risk of a crash.

2017 Recalls

  • 2017 models spare tire air pressure was not adjusted to the proper pressure as stated by the tire pressure label.
  • 2017 models are not equipped with the right load-carrying capacity labels, which can cause the vehicle to be overloaded and increase the risk of a crash.

2019 Recalls

  • 2018 to 2019 models are not equipped with the right load-carrying capacity labels which can cause the vehicle to be overloaded and increase the risk of a crash.
  • 2019 models may have a brake booster pump that can fail to cause the VSC to deactivate and loss of braking assistance.
  • 2019 models may have a damaged electrical connector that can cause the backup camera not to activate when the vehicle is in reverse.
  • 2004 to 2005 models had their airbag inflators replaced by a previous recall with the same design. Deu to propellant degradation over time and exposure to high humidity can cause it to explode, resulting in serious injury or death.

2020 Recalls

  • 1998 to 2000 models are equipped with Non-Azide Driver airbag Inflators (NADI) and do not contain Phase Stabilized Ammonium Nitrate (PSAN) propellant, this causes the inflators to absorb moisture, and the inflators will rupture or underinflate the airbag that, can cause serious injury or death.
  •  2019 to 2020 models may have porosity in the engine castings, resulting in cracks that allow coolant to leak internally or externally. This can cause the engine to overheat or even fail.
  • 2019 to 2020 models may have cracks in the lower suspension arms that may result in the suspension arm separating from the wheel assembly.
  • 2019 to 2020 models equipped with Electronic Power Steering may have an issue where the water enters the steering gearbox cover and cause loss of steering assistance.
  • 2019 to 2020 models have a low-pressure fuel pump in the fuel tank that may fail, which can cause the engine to stall.
  • 2020 models have break-away pins within the steering column designed to absorb energy and reduce injury in a crash that may have been damaged during production, which can affect the performance of the driver airbag in an event of a crash.

2022 Recalls

  • 2022 models have an issue where the Skid Control ECU software may not turn on the VSC (Vehicle Stability Control), which can cause an increased risk of a crash.
  • 2022 models may have been assembled with interference between internal parts of the front passenger seat that can cause the Occupant Classification System (OCS) sensor to incorrectly detect the occupant. This causes improper deployment of the airbag during a crash.
toyota rav4 climbing a mountain

Final thoughts on Toyota RAV4 problems

While there are problems with the RAV4, it still has minimal issues compared to other vehicle models, like the Jeep Patriot.

There are also a number of recalls you should be aware of when shopping on the second-hand market.

The best thing to do if you own a Toyota RAV4 is to take it to a Toyota dealership and have them check for any recalls that haven’t been completed.

If you are in the market for a used Toyota RAV4, get a full vehicle history report and avoid any models with an outstanding recall.

Hopefully, you found this article helpful, and you can go to your next RAV4 test drive knowing what to look out for.


What year RAV4 has transmission problems?

Between 2001 and 2005 model-year Toyota RAV4s had a gearbox ECM defect.
The Electronic Control Module did not regulate the gearbox oil pressure correctly and caused the transmissions to slip and overheat.
This was not ideal if you were planning on towing with your RAV4.

Is the Toyota RAV4 a reliable car?

Yes, averaging between 70 and 88 on the J.D.Power quality and reliability it is one of the most reliable compact SUVs on the market.
A rating of 70-79 is average and 80-89 is great, with a yearly maintenance cost of $550 it is also one of the cheapest compact SUVs to maintain as well. 

What are the worst years for the Toyota Rav4?

The third-generation RAV4s produced between 2006 to 2012 was the worst model years.
With the defective piston oil rings, the engine was a ticking time bomb, but at this stage, most of these model-year vehicles would have been repaired by now.

Photo of author
Article by

Jaco Schrader

Jaco is the automotive heart of our platform. Born and raised in Namibia, he began his journey in the automobile sector in 2012. Launching his own automotive repair business in Africa and fitting a Toyota 1UZ-FE V8 in a Ford Sierra, Jaco brings over six years of hands-on automotive experience. He’s a self-taught expert in various mechanical and electrical aspects of vehicles.

Leave a Comment