The Toyota RAV4 is the keystone to Toyota’s success, and the Toyota RAV4 has been America’s top-selling non-pickup truck for nearly a decade.
Though it is the best 5-passenger crossover on the market, there have been some complaints, and the typical Toyota RAV4 problems are quite numerous.
The typical car complaints about the Toyota RAV4 tend to focus on three areas: powertrain and transmission issues, engine issues, and steering issues.
Here are the most reported problems as well as the typical causes and ways to have them fixed.
Problems With Toyota RAV4 Powertrain and Transmission
The most common problems and reported issues are powertrain and transmission issues.
Over 300 Toyota RAV4 owners reported jerking or hesitation with their automatic transmission when trying to accelerate the vehicles.
When these owners had the stumbling transmission looked at, the transmission and the ECM unit were the problems.
Transmission gear slipping
Other complaints involved gears slipping without warning.
This issue has caused lawsuits against Toyota.
Toyota has responded by extending the powertrain and transmission warranty to 10 years or 150,000 miles.
The check engine light constantly comes on, and the vehicles stall spontaneously and randomly.
This issue typically was the result of a faulty solenoid.
Many owners also complained about a noisy transmission.
Unlike most other Toyota RAV4 problems, this seems to continue even with newer models.
Owners complain that the transmission is either or a combination of:
- Grinding during acceleration
- Grinding when decelerating
- Grinding after going from FWD to 4WD
- Grinding when in reverse.
Probable Causes of Powertrain and Transmission Issues
The three most common issues have been found to share some similar causes.
The most common causes of transmission problems are as follows:
Malfunctioning needle roller bearings
Inside the torque converter are small parts called needle roller bearings.
Their function is to prevent grinding inside the torque converter.
If the needle roller bearings wear out, then there is nothing to prevent grinding, and thus you will hear the grinding noise.
Contaminated or low transmission fluid
Regardless of whether it is an automatic transmission or a manual transmission, transmission fluid is critically important to both the part’s life and performance.
Thus, transmission fluid must be kept clean and at proper levels.
When the fluid becomes contaminated or runs low, it can result in the transmission running hot and eventually overheating.
Which results in the gears slipping or surging chaotically instead of moving in a controlled manner.
Blocked transmission fluid filter
Likewise, just as contaminated fluid is bad, no fluid at all is worse.
If the transmission fluid filter becomes clogged and blocked, the inevitable result will be a transmission that grinds itself into locking up.
What you should do
Powertrain and transmission problems are not only among the most expensive to fix, but they are among the most expensive parts to replace.
First and foremost, you can prevent many of these problems with proper preventative maintenance.
Keep an eye on how long is left on your warranty, and try to get as much done on your RAV4 while the warranty is still valid.
Problems With the Toyota RAV4 Engine
Engine issues account for the second most commonly reported Toyota RAV4 problems:
Extremely high engine oil consumption
Many RAV4 owners have complained that their RAV4 is eating oil.
Some owners report that excessive oil consumption amounts to having to replace 2 to 3 quarts of oil every 800 to 1000 miles.
Thus far, the excessive oil consumption problem seems to only affect RAV4s that have more than 90,000 miles.
Malfunctioning check engine light
An issue that many cars seem to deal with is the check engine light.
However, with the RAV4, the check engine light issue has developed past simply being an annoying light on the dashboard.
Many owners report that not only does the check engine light routinely turn on once they reach a speed between 10 to 35 mph, but the vehicle begins to experience a power loss.
Leaking water pump
A leaking water pump is a problem that RAV4 owners begin complaining about much earlier than other cars.
Typically said to be accompanied by a loud noise, owners state the water pump simply begins leaking without any apparent cause or reason.
Water pump issues seem to begin developing around the 25,000-mile mark.
Issues with engine exhaust
Another issue that seems to have a considerable amount of complaints involves very bad engine exhaust problems.
The exhaust reported has a potent smell as if something is burning and exhaust fumes are reaching into the cabin area.
These issues seem to be isolated to pre-2010 models.
Probable Causes of Toyota RAV4 Engine Issues
These common engine issues seem to result from one of the following five reasons:
Flawed piston rings
The engine is a sealed combustion chamber.
So, if there are any openings, there are leaks.
A common issue being found is defective piston rings.
If piston rings become worn out or damaged, it allows engine oil to leak into the internal combustion chamber.
The oil will burn away inside the chamber, leaving carbon deposits, but a constant leak means that the oil level will constantly keep dropping and thus need constant leveling up.
Gaskets that have become worn out
Another cause of oil loss can be bad gaskets.
A defective gasket in the valve cover or crankshaft will result in leaking oil.
Not only will this result in leaking oil, but also coolant leaks from the water pump.
Failed oxygen sensor
In virtually every car on the market, an oxygen sensor failure is one of the most common reasons for the engine warning light to come on.
Fuel cap that is too loose
Another very common fix that turns off the engine light is simply making sure the fuel cap is on tight.
A loose fuel cap can even affect your car’s fuel economy and gas mileage.
Malfunctioning catalytic converter
The catalytic converter is the car’s anti-pollution mechanism.
For vehicles that need to pass an emissions test every year, this is one of the most crucial parts of passing that test.
The catalytic converter prevents toxic odors from escaping into the atmosphere.
If the converter is defective or damaged or even overheating, you will smell innocuous fumes that have a nasty sulphuric odor.
What you should do
If you are experiencing any of these engine issues, you should take your RAV4 to get a diagnostic check regarding any of the parts and gaskets mentioned.
Problems with the Toyota RAV4 steering
The final commonly reported issue is with the RAV4 steering:
Steering noise issues
Many owners state a clicking noise develops in the steering column, most commonly at low speeds or in reverse.
Steering wheel failure
A problem that also has scared many owners is that the steering wheel apparently fails while driving, and has reportedly resulted in causing accidents.
This problem seems to primarily affect RAV4s with more than 50,000 miles and from a model year before 2010.
Power steering light coming on abruptly
This is the earliest reported issue by RAV4 owners and seems to occur around the 4,000 to the 5,000-mile mark.
The steering light comes on as a result of a loss of power steering as the vehicle becomes incredibly difficult to turn.
Probable Causes of Toyota RAV4 Steering Issues
Possible causes for steering issues in the Toyota RAV4 include:
- Leaking fluids
- Contamination of power steering fluids
- Faulty steering racks
- Bad tie rod ends
- Bad ball joints
- Worn out steering belts
- Defective column bearing.
What you should do
Problems with steering have already resulted in accidents and should be considered the most dangerous of the Toyota RAV4 problems.
If you have any steering issues, stop driving the vehicle immediately and take it to a qualified auto center.
How many years can a Toyota RAV4 last?
This greatly depends upon how you drive your RAV4 and whether or not you follow a proper preventative maintenance schedule.
However, the RAV4 has typically been able to drive 200,000 to 250,000 miles, which is approximately a life of 15 years.
Why is my Toyota RAV4 shaking?
There are a few common reasons why the RAV4 shakes, typically while driving at highway speeds.
Those reasons include; tire damage, a bent rim, loose lug nuts, unbalanced wheels, bad wheel bearing(s), or the vehicle being out of alignment.
How long do Toyota RAV4 head gaskets last?
Head gaskets can last up to 100,000 miles.
However, this is based on properly maintaining the vehicle, including regular oil changes.
The head gasket can fail at any time, but with proper preventative vehicle maintenance, you should be able to get the full life of each part.
Is the Toyota RAV4 engine reliable?
Yes. From 2012 to 2018, the RAV4 was repeatedly ranked as the most reliable vehicle by Consumer Reports.
During those seven years, the RAV4 scored a perfect five out of five in their ranking.
Every model of the RAV4 consistently ranks well for reliability.
Toyota RAV4 problems can be relatively easy to fix or require a trained specialist, but either way, there seems to be a remedy for all the things owners complain about.
You may also want to read: Toyota RAV4 Years To Avoid
The RAV4 continues to be a best-selling car in America and the top-selling vehicle for Toyota.
Even with the problems, the RAV4 continues to power on!