6 Common Toyota RAV4 Problems (Worst & Best Years)

The Toyota RAV4 is one of the nation’s most highly-sought after compact SUVs. It boasts an 8.5/10 rating from Car and Driver and a well-deserved 8.4/10 from Motor Trend. Toyotas are notorious for quality, and it’s not uncommon to see a Toyota that surpasses 200,000 or 300,000 miles.

Nevertheless, Toyotas have their downfalls, and the RAV4 isn’t a stranger to common problems and issues. Some of these issues have been addressed by recalls issued by Toyota. However, other problems have not yet been resolved and are part of ongoing class action lawsuits.

If you’re in the market for a RAV4, you should be aware of the most common problem and issues you can expect.

The most common problems and issues with the RAV4 include steer clunking, oxygen sensor malfunctions, and transmission issues. Additionally, the RAV4 has oil consumptions problems that hinder the SUV’s fuel efficiency. RAV4 owners have also reported “parasitic” battery drain that causes the battery to die while the vehicle is turned off.

 Let’s explore some of the most common RAV4 issues, compare the RAV4 to other vehicles in its class, and discuss whether you should buy a RAV4 new or used.

Does The RAV4 have Issues?

Are you experiencing issues with your RAV4? If so, you’re not alone. While the RAV4 is a dependable vehicle that holds its value, it’s not uncommon for defects to arise from time to time.

In some cases, these defects may be covered under a recall or manufacturer’s warranty, meaning you won’t have to pay a penny to repair the issue. On the other hand, some problems come from normal wear and tear. 

How Reliable Is the RAV4?

Toyota is notorious for manufacturing reliable cars that last for a long time. The RAV4 falls into this category. Most mechanics would classify the RAV4 as four out of five stars, with one star being the least reliable and five being the most reliable.

These ratings consider the severity and frequency of repairs and the costs to complete them. Although there are a few common issues with the RAV4, these problems don’t undermine the vehicle’s reliability.

The Most Common Issues With the RAV4

Although a RAV4 is a reliable vehicle, it still faces issues from time to time. Some of the most common problems with the RAV4 include the following:

  • Transmission issues
  • Steer clunking
  • Battery issues
  • Oil consumption problems
  • Evaporate system issues
  • Oxygen sensor

Let’s outline the most common issues with the RAV4, possible solutions, repair costs, and what years are impacted.

1. Transmission Issues

Many RAV4 owners have reported transmission issues, particularly in 2013, 2014, and 2015. Some RAV4 owners have reported more than transmission issues – they’ve described complete transmission failure.

For instance, one driver said their car hesitated when they tried to shift it into the correct gear. A surge suddenly passed through the vehicle, causing it to jerk.

They claimed that this occurs when they accelerate from a stop into first and second gear. In this particular situation, the transmission failure is due to a faulty engine control unit (EGC).

Nonetheless, transmission issues are complex, and there are a lot of other culprits. For instance, low fluid, overheating, and factors from the outside can trigger transmission issues. Here’s a list of some telltale signs of transmission problems in a Toyota RAV4:

  • The transmission warning light turns on
  • You notice the transmission fluid leaking
  • You start to smell burning smells coming from your transmission
  • There are grinding sounds when you shift gears

Transmission issues could be unique to the problems described earlier; however, they may arise from ordinary wear and tear. Nevertheless, having a mechanic check out potential issues is important, as replacing a transmission can cost a few thousand dollars.

Years impacted: 2013, 2014, and 2015
Cost of labor: $500
Cost of parts:  $2,500

2. Steer Clunking

Steer clunking, commonly described as “steer noise,” comes from the intermediate steering shaft. There are two ways you can fix steer clunking in a RAV4. The first way is to put oil or grease into the splines.

You can replace the intermediate steering shaft if that doesn’t do the trick. If your car is still under warranty, you may be able to replace the shaft at no cost. Some drivers use a few DIY techniques to fix the steer clunking issues, but it’s easier to bring your RAV4 to a mechanic to assess the problem.

Years impacted: 2006 – 2008
Cost of labor: $120
Cost of parts: $750

3. Battery Issues

The most infamous RAV4 battery issues impact the 2020 model. Consumers filed a lawsuit against Toyota Motors Corp, saying the 2020 model year RAV4 suffers from a “parasitic” battery drain that can cause the vehicle’s battery to die while it’s turned off.

The complaint says the issue is from problems with the electronic control modules (ECMs) and the drainage of electricity through systems governed by ECMs. According to the lawsuit, this battery issue poses a safety risk because it causes everything connected to the vehicle’s electrical system to malfunction, including headlights and taillights.

Suppose you’re experiencing battery issues that you think are “parasitic” battery drain. In that case, you should consult a mechanic as soon as possible. Having a mechanic inspect your battery can help avoid further damage to your vehicle’s components.

You could also replace your battery, but it’s best to look for underlying problems to prevent costlier issues. Note: the parasitic battery drain issue is not part of an active recall but may be covered under warranty.

Years impacted: 2022
Cost of labor: Free
Cost of parts: $500 to $300

4. Oil Consumption Problems

Some RAV4s may experience oil consumption problems, particularly excessive oil consumption. Toyota RAV4 drivers have reported excessive oil consumption between oil changes. In fact, this occurred before the engine warning light. Excessive oil consumption isn’t necessarily unique to the RAV4, per se.

However, oil consumption problems can come to light when you don’t change your oil frequently, resulting in worn piston rings and engine sludge.

Depending on the severity of the engine sludge, you may need to replace the engine’s piston rings or fix other internal components. Fortunately, you can avoid most oil consumption problems by changing the vehicle’s oil every 3,000 miles and ensuring you’re using the correct grade of oil.

Years impacted: 2004 – 2008
Cost of labor: $500
Cost of parts: $1,500

5. Evaporate System Issue

Toyota RAV4 owners sometimes notice a check engine light due to an EVAP system fault. There are several reasons why this light could be illuminated, so bringing your RAV4 to a mechanic is the best course of action.

The most common culprits include a failed charcoal canister or worn gas cap. There may also be an EVAP leak, which should be addressed by a mechanic as soon as possible. Although fixing issues with the evaporate system is relatively affordable, neglecting EVAP can lead to costlier problems.

Years impacted: 1998, 2002, 2005, 2011, and 2013
Cost of labor: $200
Cost of parts: $450

6. Oxygen Sensor

The purpose of the RAV4 oxygen center is to monitor the oxygen content in gases output through the engine. If your check engine light goes on, there’s a good chance you need to replace your oxygen sensor. Telltale signs of a faulty oxygen sensor include poor mileage, stalling, and other forms of hesitation from the engine.

Moreover, suppose you live in a state like Arizona or Nevada. In that case, you may fail an emission test due to a faulty oxygen sensor. Fortunately, a faulty oxygen sensor isn’t a repair you must make as soon as possible. The vehicle will still function with a less-than-stellar sensory. However, your car will run better when you replace the sensor.

You may wonder, “what causes an oxygen sensor to fail?” An oxygen sensor failure doesn’t mean you receive a faulty sensor from the manufacturer. These sensors typically fail due to contamination from coolants and oils. Fortunately, they’re easy and cheap to fix. Most mechanics can fix a faulty oxygen sensor in under an hour. 

Years impacted: 1998, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014
Cost of labor: $70
Cost of parts: $330

What Year Did the RAV4 Have Problems?

While the RAV4 has many successful years with low-to-minimal problems, more issues started to arise in the 2006-, 2019-, and 2020-year models. Some of the most common issues experienced with these models include the following:

  • Rough acceleration
  • Steer clunking and transmission vibration
  • Difficulties putting the vehicle into the proper gear
  • Oil consumption problems
  • Battery drain

Outstanding Toyota recall numbers have already addressed some of the issues mentioned above. However, not all have been addressed, and some problems are the subject of class action lawsuits. If your RAV4 is experiencing any common issues associated with the 2006-, 2019-, and 2020-year models, you should have it inspected by a mechanic to determine the extent of the issues.

The 2000-, 2004-, 2014-, and 2015-year models have the fewest problems and are the most reliable in the long run. Nonetheless, normal wear and tear can lead to issues, especially if you don’t take care of routine maintenance.

Not only that, but you can also be unlucky enough to receive the dreaded ‘lemon’ that breaks the second you drive off the car dealership’s car parking lot. Therefore, if you’re in the market for a RAV4, it’s in your best interest to purchase one of these years.

The RAV4 is unique in that the problems are relatively spaced out. This is, the problem didn’t start in the early 2000s and disappear in the early 2010s. As you can see, the timing of the issues is rather sporadic, with the first issues starting in 2006 and the latest in 2020. Either way, it’s always a smart idea to have a mechanic inspect a RAV4, especially if it’s an older vehicle with many miles.

Recent Recall Numbers

  • 22V519000: Toyota has recalled the 2022 RAV4, RAV4 Hybrid, and RAV4 Prime vehicles due to interference between internal parts that may cause the Occupant Classification Sensor (OCS) to detect a passenger erroneously. Because of this issue, these vehicles do not comply with the Occupant Crash Protection of the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard number 208.
  • 20V682000: This recall number impacts the 2019 – 2020 RAV4. The recall’s details say that the fuel pump could fail, causing the engine to stall. If the engine stalls, the driver could crash the vehicle.
  • 20V734000: This recall number relates to the RAV4’s frontal airbags. According to the recall

description, breakaway pins could have been damaged in production, which could negatively impact the driver’s airbag. However, this recall wasn’t widespread, with only about 161 units impacted.

Check to See Whether Your Vehicle Has an Open Recall

While we have noted some of the most popular Toyota RAV4s above, there will always be more recalls in the future. In most cases, Toyota will send you a physical notification of the recall in the mail.

However, many of us don’t read our snail mail, and that document could easily end up in the trash cash. Using Cars.com is a more effective way to see current RAV4 recalls.

How Does the RAV4 Compare to Other Cars?

CarMPG (Highway)MPG (City)Maximum MileageAnnual Cost to MaintainMSRP (Basic Model)
2022 Toyota RAV435 mpg27 mpg200,000 – 250,000 miles$440$26,975
2022 Honda CR-V34 mpg28 mpg250,000 – 300,000 miles$400$26,800
2021 Nissan Rogue35 mpg27 mpg200,000 – 250,000 miles$470$26,050
2021 Chevrolet Equinox31 mpg26 mpg150,000 – 200,000 miles$540$23,800

Is It Worth Buying Used?

It’s worth it to buy a RAV4 used in some cases. First, you should remember that a RAV4 can reach up to 250,000 miles in its lifetime. However, once a vehicle surpasses the 100,00-mile mark, the owner will experience more problems. These problems will translate to time at the mechanic and more money out of your wallet.

On the same note, some used RAV4s could have underlying mechanical issues that you can’t identify easily with the naked eye. Therefore, it’s always a good idea to have a mechanic look at a RAV4 before you take the plunge. In addition, you should look at Kelly Blue Blook’s Vehicle History Report to see if the vehicle has been in any accidents or has a salvage title.

You may wonder, “when does it make sense to buy a used vehicle?” It makes sense to buy a used RAV4 if it has relatively low mileage, a clean title, and is available at a competitive price. When you buy a used RAV4 compared to a new one, you can save around $6,000 to $7,000, depending on the vehicle’s conditions and how many miles the car has.

If you’re looking for the latest safety features and the newest technology, then you might want to consider a brand-new RAV4. You’d be hard-pressed to find some of the same neat features in older RAV4 models. For example, the 2022 RAV4 has dynamic torque vectoring AWD and a seven-inch multi-information display.

What Is Good and Bad About the Car?

We can confidently say that the RAV4 has more pros than cons. To begin, the vehicle gets 35 mpg on the highway and 27 mpg in the city. It also has a wide range of cool features, such as Android Audio, Apple CarPlay, and Amazon Alexa. And aside from the handy technology features, the RAV4 has a spacious cabin, making it a great vehicle for road trips or camping.

Front passengers can relax their legs with 41 inches of legroom, and passengers in the back will stay comfortable with 37.8 inches of legroom. It’s also quite clear that the cabin features premium materials that will stand the test of time.

Now that we’ve spilled out the “good,” let’s focus on the bad. To preface, the RAV4 doesn’t have many negatives. Some people don’t like that you only have a few engines to choose from, making it difficult to customize the RAV4. Moreover, other drivers argue that the lower trims feel basic and don’t add much by way of design.

Overall, the RAV4 is a phenomenal car if you can overlook a few of the drawbacks.

What Do Owners Say About the Car?

The Toyota RAV4 has a rating of 3.4 stars out of 5 on Edmunds. While this might sound like a poor rating, you should keep in mind many car owners leave a review when they have a negative experience compared to a positive one.

Let’s start with positive feedback. One reviewer says the RAV4 is the “best car they’ve ever had.” They went on to say that they love the vehicle’s workmanship and how the vehicle feels when you drive it.

The reviewer is confident that the car will last and is a solid investment. Another positive reviewer says the RAV4 has excellent visibility, making it easy to change lanes (they also like the alert feature). They also love viewing their car’s GPS on the screen.

Now, what’s a review website without a few negative reviews? The RAV4 has its fair share of negative reviews, but it’s always important to take them with a grain of salt.

One reviewer says the RAV4 has an interior that is poor quality and “below industry standard.” They say the seats are uncomfortable. Another not-so-happy reviewer says the vehicle receives below-average AWD, is noisy, and has a low-quality feel.

 If you’re not how you feel about the RAV4 after reading these reviews, we recommend taking a test drive at your nearest Toyota dealership.

The Bottom Line

The RAV4 isn’t a sports car by any means, but it’s a reliable and safe compact SUV that is good for families and people who enjoy the outdoors. If you currently own a RAV4 (or plan to purchase one), you should be mindful of the common problems and issues we have noted above (i.e., oil consumption problems or a broken oxygen sensor).

These problems are rather trivial than what you may run into with another vehicle. However, some of these issues may be covered under the manufacturer’s warranty and a recall. And since Toyota is a Japanese car company, repairs are much more affordable compared to European cars.

The Toyota RAV4 makes a great starter car or family vehicle for those who don’t want to spend a fortune. As long as you stay on top of maintenance and monitor recalls, the car should last for years, allowing you to get your money’s worth.