Home Reliability Toyota RAV4 Years To Avoid: Are They A Poisoned Chalice?

Toyota RAV4 Years To Avoid: Are They A Poisoned Chalice?

by Kelvin Yates

The RAV4 is Toyota’s compact crossover. It is by no surprise that in the past few years, it has become Toyota’s best-seller, outselling every Toyota model, including the popular Camry and Corolla. This article delves into the best model years for the Toyota RAV4 and Toyota RAV4 years to avoid or pay extra attention to because of certain underlying mechanical issues.

Let’s inspect Toyota’s bestseller, the RAV4. If you’re shopping for a compact crossover vehicle, then the RAV4 may be a great option to consider. In 2020, the RAV4 achieved a major milestone by hitting 10 million sales worldwide. Surprisingly, in 2019 alone, the model sold nearly one million units globally, with more than half coming from American consumers.

Toyota RAV4

Over the past twenty years, we’ve seen a shift in consumers’ buying preferences as it relates to car shopping. American consumers are opting for crossover SUVs when given the choice, hence the rise of the compact crossover. You’ll notice that parking lots across North America are dominated by crossovers. Why?

The crossover is usually more affordable than a traditional SUV. They are smaller and easier to get around in, have better fuel economy, lower sticker prices, are stylish, and can be quite zippy depending on the engine size. For consumers who need something bigger than a car, but not looking to go as big as a traditional SUV, and don’t want to drive around in a minivan, the crossover is a great option!

Is RAV4 A Good Car

Toyota offers many RAV4 trims for every type of consumer. Whether you’re looking for a budget-friendly option or opting for some luxury or even some outdoorsy fun, there are plenty of choices. According to the Toyota website, the 2021 RAV4 is offered in 11 different trims.

This includes the base model LE to the plush Limited version, and everything in between to take you from luxe to adventure. Want some off-road thrills? No problem, there’s even a TRD Off-Road option. So while the RAV4 may be considered one of the automaker’s smaller SUVs, the options are not small, no way!

Toyota RAV4 Specs & Features

The RAV4 has a long list of standard features. Such features include Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and a user-friendly infotainment system with a 7-inch touchscreen. Standard safety features include lane keep assist, lane departure, and traction assist, which keeps the vehicle centered in the lane, even on curved roads.

Also included are forward-collision warnings, automatic emergency braking, and pedestrian detection. The RAV4 comes with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and an eight-speed automatic transmission.

Toyota RAV4 Years To Avoid

Front-wheel drive is standard but all-wheel drive is optional on the LE, XLE, XLE Premium, and Limited, and standard on the Adventure and TRD Off-Road models. Taking cues from other Toyota legends, like the Tacoma and the 4Runner, the RAV4 front-end design is rugged and stylish.

Because it is a crossover, it looks like a smaller SUV but drives smoother than both the Tacoma and 4Runner. It is a well-rounded crossover with a roomy cabin made with quality materials. It’s fuel-efficient yet can deliver power too. Below are the starting MSRP for the different RAV4 trims.

  • LE – $26,050
  • LE Hybrid – $28,500
  • XLE – $27,345
  • XLE Hybrid – $29,795
  • Limited – $34,580
  • Limited Hybrid – $37,030
  • XLE Premium – $30,050
  • XLE Premium Hybrid – $32,500
  • Adventure – $33, 155
  • TRD Off-Road – $35,780
  • XSE Hybrid – $34, 450

Toyota RAV4 Problems

Although the RAV4 is a great compact SUV and has proven to be reliable, owners have had some challenges with certain model years. Here are the most commonly reported problems as reported to RepairPal, as well as the associated average cost of the repair. These are some good signs to know which Toyota RAV4 years to avoid.

Toyota RAV4 Years To Avoid, Problems #1. Faulty EVAP Vapor Canister

The vapor canister has been reported to plug or clog the vent valve because it releases charcoal pellets resulting in a fault code of either P0441, P0442, or P0446, which is the primary code associated with this failure and an electrical failure.

Proper repair involves replacing the entire canister with all the valves as a unit. Unfortunately, this repair can be expensive as it is on top of the fuel tank. Model years affected were 1996 to 2016 with an owner-reported cost of about $1,000 to $1,500. The average mileage was 106,403.

Toyota RAV4 Years To Avoid, Problems #2. False Catalytic Converter Failure

Owners reported the Check Engine Light would illuminate, pointing to a bad catalytic converter. The issue ended up being a software issue, which Toyota remedied by upgrading the software to correct the false “bad catalytic converter” message. This affected the second and third-generation model years 1996 and 2001-2007. Average mileage when it occurred: 149,044 miles. The average cost to diagnose the Check Engine Light is between $88 and $111.

Toyota RAV4 Years To Avoid, Problems #3. Failed Oxygen Sensor

The Check Engine light comes on when one or more of the oxygen sensors fails, resulting in reduced fuel economy, rough idling, or a hesitant engine that possibly skips or misfires. Other symptoms include a ‘rotten egg’ smell of black smoke coming from the exhaust. Model years affected: 1998, 2001 – 2003, 2006 – 2012, 2014 at an average mileage of 247,047. The average cost to replace the RAV4 oxygen sensor is anywhere between $275 and $297.

Toyota RAV4 Years To Avoid, Problems #4. Transmission Shifting Issues

At higher mileage, the automatic transmission may not shift correctly, which may be caused by the throttle position sensor being out of alignment or a shift solenoid needing to be replaced. Ten model years were specifically affected by this shifting issue: 1996, 1997, 2000-2008 at an average mileage of 133,569.

This was corroborated by carcomplaints.com’s database, which lists transmission issues as the worst problem for the RAV4. The worst model years in terms of transmission complaints are 2002 (368 complaints), 2001 (180 complaints), and 2003 (120 complaints). To fix transmission problems, your budget would be around $2,400 and occur around 70,000 miles on average, depending on the specific transmission issue.

Toyota RAV4 Years To Avoid, Problems #5. Excessive Oil Consumption

Drivers noticed excessive oil consumption between oil changes. Many times, losing oil was drastic, causing the engine’s oil warning light to display. Usually, this problem occurs when the vehicle’s oil is not changed frequently.

However, this problem has been reported consistently for a few model years, specifically those in the third generation. Owners said their RAV4’s engine would burn lots of oil, causing them to add more oil more than once per month. The vehicle’s engine should be cleaned of oil sludge, but if the excessive oil consumption continues, the vehicle may require new piston rings. Five model years were affected, that was 2004 to 2008 with an average mileage of 121,285.

Best Year RAV4

As we’ve mentioned before, the RAV4 has shown that it is a reliable compact SUV, so when looking to determine the “best,” it was quite challenging, considering the fourth-generation model years have near-perfect reliability. But we sorted through the data and have decided that the 2016 model year is the “best” Toyota RAV4 and worthy of your hard-earned cash. Here’s why:

The 2016 Toyota RAV4 earned a perfect reliability score from Consumer Reports and when it was put to the test, literally, by J. D. Power, it came up on top, beating out model years of 2017 and 2018 by just a smidge. So while our “best” RAV4 is the 2016 model year, you really can’t go wrong with the newer two years, 2017 or 2018.

The 2016 model earned an overall score of 86 based on the J.D. Power 100-Point Score, which is based on thousands of unbiased opinions of verified owners. Overall, it ranked number 1 in the J.D. Power Top 10 Rated SUV list comparing similar compact SUVs, beating out the likes of Honda, Nissan, Mazda, and other popular brands, like Chevy and Ford.

For quality and reliability, it scored an 86, boasting a “great” for its driving experience and a “best” score of 91 for its resale value. The 2016 Toyota RAV4 was also the winner of the J.D. Power Performance Award for its design and performance after the first 90 days of ownership.

While 2016 has more complaints than the 2018 model year, it’s also two years older and the most common complaints fell within the interior accessories category, specifically the cruise control function. The 2016 model years are ranging in price from $15,000 to just under $20,000.

Toyota RAV4 Years To Avoid

While the Toyota RAV4 is a very reliable car, if you look at the RAV4’s history, there are a few years to avoid or get thoroughly checked out before purchasing. We recommend you get any previously owned vehicle checked out before you buy it.

That’s especially so once you’ve figured out which Toyota RAV4 years to avoid. This information is not meant to discourage you from buying a Toyota RAV4, but to give you the information you need to make the right buying decision.

Sometimes, you can get a great deal on a particular year of RAV4 because they may be a bit more difficult to sell, and if you can make sure the issue is addressed or use it as a negotiation point, you may buy with peace of mind and save some money over another model year.

We’ll start with the latest generation and work our way back because while older RAV4s are still on the market, it is more likely that consumers looking for a used one will look for one less than 10 years old.

2007 Toyota RAV4

The 2007 model year is one of those years to tread lightly. It was notorious for engine issues, particularly excessive oil consumption. Owners reported having to refill their oil frequently between scheduled oil changes. Moreover, the steering column presented problems. Users reported a whining noise when turning. Be aware that if you’re buying a 2007 RAV4, ensure that these issues have been addressed.

2006 Toyota RAV4

Coming closely after its predecessor, the 2006 RAV4 wasn’t immune to problems either. The primary concern revolved around transmission hesitation. Users mentioned that the vehicle would occasionally hesitate when accelerating, posing potential safety concerns. Another common issue was related to the sun visor falling down unexpectedly, a minor but irritating problem. Always cross-check service records if you’re opting for this year.


2002 Toyota RAV4

2002 was a problematic year for the Toyota RAV4. Transmission failure was the top complaint. Owners often noticed harsh or erratic shifting. The fault frequently lay with the ECM, or the engine’s computer. Replacements were often required, which wasn’t cheap. Furthermore, there were complaints about the engine light turning on without any discernible cause. This can cause unease for drivers, never quite knowing what might be wrong.

2001 Toyota RAV4

Just a year prior, the 2001 RAV4 was plagued with transmission issues as well. Many users faced hard shifts, often needing to replace the ECM. Some owners also reported paint problems, with the paint chipping or peeling off in sizable chunks. This not only affects the aesthetics of the car but also its resale value. If you’re keen on the 2001 model, it’s essential to do a thorough check.

1999 Toyota RAV4

While the 1998 and 1999 RAV4 models were generally seen as improvements, the 1999 model had a peculiar issue. Several owners reported door problems. Specifically, the doors wouldn’t lock or unlock, or sometimes wouldn’t even open or close properly. Also, a few faced problems with the differential. The potential costs for repairs might not justify the purchase of this particular model year.

5th Generation (2019 + present)

For being a fairly newer model, you wouldn’t expect it to be on our “avoid” list, especially since Toyota is known for its reliability, but 2019 has some issues you should make certain you are aware of and address. Over the past 20 years, not only has the 2019 model had the lowest reliability score of 2 out of 5 from Consumer Reports, but it also has quite a few complaints already. And the complaints being reported are not cosmetic either, they affect the transmission and engine components.

In the 2019 RAV4, owners have experienced gear slippage, hesitating or lurching forward at slower speeds, loud acceleration, and a faulty gas gauge that some owners have said does not read the amount of gas correctly, so you never know how much gas is actually in the tank. One owner noted that the tank never seems to read over three-quarters full. If you’re after a newer RAV4, the 2018 model year would be our choice.

4th Generation (2013–2018)

Overall, the 4th generation produced some great RAV4s, but for this exercise, we’d suggest avoiding the RAV4 model year 2013. While it had a reliability rating of 5, it was the year that experienced the most complaints, with the worst complaint being a major safety issue.

Owners noted their RAV4 would suddenly speed up and would not stop even after pressing the brakes. Owners reported accidents, which resulted in the deployment of the airbags and, sometimes, a total loss of the vehicle. For this reason alone, 2013 is not a safe bet.

If you’re set on an older RAV4, consider other model years that are part of the fourth generation. These may be model years 2017, 2016, or even 2012.

3rd Generation (2006–2012)

The 2008 RAV4 also has a few issues you will want to have addressed. Otherwise, avoid and consider getting another model year that is likely a bit more reliable. There may be better options for the price and with far fewer complaints. Toyota has been making the RAV4s since 1994, spanning five generations. Out of all its model years and generations, 2008 was labeled as the “Worst” model year ever. This is according to data from carcomplaints.com. In looking at the data, we couldn’t agree more.

Model years 2006 through 2008 had a high number of complaints annually. Most of the issues associated with those complaints were severe. Some were citing engine and transmission issues, as well as steering and exhaust problems.

While the 2008 model had fewer complaints than the 2007 model year, the engine and transmission issues plagued the 2008 model year. These repairs are typically more expensive and occur at lower mileage. Below are the top 3 most common complaints owners reported in the 2008 model year.

  1. Excessive oil consumption. The average cost to fix this was $3,300.
  2. The airbags did not deploy. The average cost to fix this was $3,000.
  3. Transmission Jerking. The average cost to fix this was $900.

2nd Generation (2001-2005)

A faulty ECM (engine computer) in the 2001 to 2003 models had problems with the way the automatic transmission shifts. The ECM needed to be replaced with an updated part to address this issue. Aftermarket parts of this generation are still available, but you need to check the ratings and reviews before buying. Leaking engine valve seals also cause blue or gray smoke at a startup.

An air-to-fuel ratio sensor was fairly common to fail, often causing the Check Engine Light with the code P1155. Replacing the air or fuel ratio sensor costs between $65 to $320 part plus $50 to $150 labor. The mass airflow sensor also was reported to get dirty, causing hesitation in acceleration.

A worn-out steering rack caused a clunking noise in the steering. Replacing a steering rack could cost from $600 to $1,000. The hinges of the rear swing door could wear out because of a lack of lubrication and a heavy spare tire. This caused the rear swing door to be difficult to close. That’s why it’s important to have the hinges well lubricated.

The difference in tire pressure or tire size could cause issues with the AWD system. This was solved by keeping the tire pressure up to the specs in all tires. There were reports of stripped threads in the 2004 to 2005 2.4L 2AZ-FE engine cylinder block. The repair was quite expensive.

Symptoms included coolant leaks on the back of the engine, overheating, misfiring at startup, and running rough. The years to avoid in this generation are the 2001, 2002, and 2003 models that had a lot of transmission-related complications.

1st Generation (1996-2000)

The first generation RAV4 was released in 1995 and would end up in showrooms for the 1996 model year. The original RAV4 was very customizable. When buying a RAV4, buyers would have the choice between a two or a four-door version, an FWD or an AWD, as well as the option of a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. However, all RAV4s shared the same 2.0l I4 engine which produced 120 hp.

Its innovation did not go unnoticed, as it received the honor of being named the 1997 Automobile of the Year by Automobile Magazine. Although the first-generation RAV4 had rugged looks, it didn’t have the safety to back it up. When it was tested, the RAV4 got an overall marginal score. Another problem for the original RAV4 was under-inflating airbags, which it would later be recalled for in 2000. The first-generation RAV4 is reliable, reporting about 60 or fewer complaints each year.

It’s safe to say the only first-generation RAV4 that should be avoided is one that was not regularly maintained. However, the 1998 model year and later seem to be the best because they offer seven more horsepower and have a quieter cabin. The convertible option was nixed in 2000. So, if you want to feel the wind in your hair, you’ll have to go with a 1998 or 1999 model year.

Toyota RAV4 Reliability

Toyota has built a reputation for producing reliable cars and SUVs, so as you would expect, the RAV4 comes with raving reliability scores. According to RepairPal, the Toyota RAV4 earned a 4 out of 5 stars on the firm’s Reliability Rating scale, which makes it 3rd best out of 26 compact SUVs.

When compared to other vehicles, the RAV4 has excellent ownership costs, with repairs being less severe and less frequent than other compact SUVs and vehicles overall, making it one of the most reliable vehicles on the road.

On other reliability scales, the RAV4’s reliability scores are consistent with that of RepairPal’s. Using Consumer Reports’ data, the RAV4’s decade-long average reliability came in at an impressive 4.5 out of 5, and a 4.1 when we averaged its scores over the past 20 years! So the legendary Toyota reliability does not waver for the RAV4.

Reliability And Cost Of Ownership

The average annual repair cost is $429, compared to an average of $521 for other compact SUVs. The frequency you can expect visiting a repair shop is low too and comparable to its classmates.

Toyota RAV4 owners have to bring their vehicles to a repair shop for unscheduled repairs an average of 3 times per year, compared to an average of 4 times per year for all other vehicle types. For severe repairs, you’ll be pleased to know that the probability of a repair being major is about 10%, so not urgent. Other SUVs in its class average 11%.

While repairing a Toyota RAV4 can be less expensive than other brands, you could still come across a hefty repair bill at some point, so we recommend adding additional coverage through a mechanical breakdown insurance provider (MBI), or a vehicle services contract (VSC). These are often referred to as an extended car warranty. An MBI or VSC can help take the sting out of an unexpected repair and give you peace of mind.

Toyota RAV4 Maintenance Cost

In terms of general maintenance, it should be free for the first two years or 25,000 miles if you purchase a brand-new RAV4. All new Toyotas come with the Toyota Car plan, which takes care of normally scheduled maintenance and includes engine oil and filter changes, tire rotation, a multi-point inspection, and fluid level checks and adjustments.

After the first two years, most maintenance will average anywhere between $100 and $200, but for higher mileage-specific service checks, you can expect to pay anywhere from $300 to $400.

Toyota RAV4 Used Car Buying Guide – Facts

  • Toyota RAV4 is the first and the best-selling compact crossover (CUV) SUV in the US, spanning five generations since 1996.
  • The RAV4 has undergone a transformation from a much more rugged-styled off-road vehicle to a practical four-wheel-drive compact crossover with SUV powers and real everyday sedan luxuries.
  • A well-maintained Toyota of any kind will last long. For something more rugged, an older generation might be the right choice. For newer tech, driver assist and safety technology, a late fourth-generation or fifth-generation Toyota RAV4 is recommended.
  • The 2019 Toyota RAV4 has had transmission and brake problems reported by consumers. Hesitating, lurching at slower speeds, and transmission slippage with rough shifts were reported with low mileage. Brake system issues, such as squealing, clicking, and not working correctly, were also reported.
  • Fourth-generation (2013) RAV4s have had complaints about poor navigation visibility in sunlight and vibrating feeling that shakes the whole vehicle at low speeds, and transmission problems.
  • All models from the fourth generation have experienced infotainment problems such as the radio rebooting itself.
  • Third-generation (2009-2012) RAV4s were reported to have unwanted acceleration, causing accidents.
  • Second-generation (2001-2003) RAV4s had problems mainly with the transmission, with over 60% of 500 total complaints being transmission-related.
  • 2006-2008 RAV4s had at least 600 complaints per model year. Engine problems accounted for 15% of those complaints, and a defective steering shaft for 50% of the complaints. The RAV4 was also reported to burn a massive amount of oil that smells and costs money.
  • The Toyota RAV4 received a poor rating for the side crash test, according to the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS). However, if the RAV4 was equipped with safety-side airbags, the rating would likely improve.

Toyota RAV4 Years To Avoid: In Conclusion…

Up to now, one thing is clear here. Going generation by generation, year by year, and model after model, there are, of course, problems with the RAV4 that come up with each model year. But one thing that is for sure, is that no vehicle will have a 100% satisfaction rate. Every vehicle on the market has one or two mechanical-related issues. No model year will be perfect, and more often random problems will continue to occur and the RAV4 isn’t an exception.

The RAV4 has for quite a long time proven to be a reliable vehicle, especially within the last 5 model years. Some model years are less prone to mechanical problems than others. So if you’re planning to purchase a RAV4, it will be very important to do extensive research on your preferred model and make a choice that’s best for you and meets your needs.

Toyota RAV4 Years To Avoid

Toyota RAV4 Years To Avoid: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

If you’re still unsure about the Toyota RAV4 years to avoid, our FAQs here might have some answers…

What Years Toyota RAV4 To Avoid

Generally speaking, the RAV4 is a fairly reliable vehicle, as is the case for practically any Toyota. However, there are certain model years that are best avoided, which carry certain unreliable traits about them. For example, even a later 2019 model year RAV4 has been noted to suffer from transmission, engine, and fuel gauge issues. Meanwhile, the earlier 2013 RAV4s had braking problems. The 2008 RAV4, thus far, has the most reliability issues of any RAV4 model year, stemming from a myriad of engine, gearbox, steering, and exhaust problems. Meanwhile, one of the first RAV4s, made between 2001 and 2003 had transmission issues, as well.

Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Years To Avoid

On the other hand, the hybrid variants aren’t excluded when looking at the Toyota RAV4 years to avoid. For starters, it’s best to avoid the very first year when the RAV4 was introduced with a hybrid powertrain, back in 2016. It had numerous growing pains, such as poor braking performance, steering issues, and fuel system problems, among others. In the 2019 model year, Toyota revamped the RAV4 Hybrid, then introduced even more issues. These covered issues ranging from the brakes, suspension, engine, cooling, electrical, fuel system, airbag sensors, door locks, safety aids, and more.

Toyota RAV4 Gas Mileage

The most recent 2022 Toyota RAV4 scored decently well in gas mileage for its class. The most efficient variant of the RAV4 is the plug-in hybrid with an all-wheel drive. Combined, it scored a respectable 40mpg, with 41mpg (city), and 38mpg (highway). Most other trims of the 2022 RAV4 scored around 30mpg. However, it starts to dip below the 30mpg mark once you account for the AWD versions (non-hybrid). The poorest performing RAV4 is the TRD OFFROAD trim, with all-wheel drive, rated at 28mpg combined.

Where Are The RAV4 Made

Being one of their most popular models around the world, the RAV4 is assembled in numerous plants globally. It’s made in Toyota’s plants across Japan, China, and Canada. Most recently, RAV4s are also assembled in Toyota’s newest plant in Georgetown, Kentucky. You can always check the VINs of these RAV4s to find out precisely where they’re built.

What Does RAV4 Stand For

The RAV4’s name has an interesting origin. Rather than opt for words that already exist, pertaining to mythology, or a reference to Japanese culture, RAV4 is an abbreviation. Specifically, it’s short for Recreational Active Vehicle with 4-Wheel-Drive. Though, it’s worth noting that not all RAV4s are 4WD.


Among the most popular trims for the RAV4 are the LE and XLE. They’re mostly similar, in that they’re both powered by the same 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine. And, they’re paired with the same 8-speed automatic. However, the XLE is a more luxurious trim level and includes certain niceties that the LE doesn’t offer. For example, the XLE gives you 8-way power-adjustable seats with lumbar support. Or, how about a leather, heated steering wheel? You also get smart key integration with a push-button start. There’s also dual-zone climate control, a power sunroof, and a power liftgate. Other nice-to-haves include new projector LED headlights, rain-sensing automated wipers, and sports-tuned suspension in the XLE.

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