Toyota RAV4 ECM & Transmission Failure

RAV4 ECM Transmission Failure
How Transmission Woes Prompted thw Automaker to Extend Their Warranty (image via wikipedia)

There are a ton of vehicles out there eligible for the title of "worst transmission on the road" and the 2001-2003 RAV4 is in the mix. Harsh shifting, jumping from gear-to-gear, sluggish acceleration and ultimately transmission failure are common complaints direct from RAV4 owners.

What's Causing the Transmission Failure

In 2001 Toyota came out with a completely redesigned RAV4. The new look was a welcome change and generated a lot of buzz about the already popular SUV. Unfortunately it appears Toyota also made some changes under-the-hood that took the vehicle from zero-to-craptastic in 6 seconds flat.

The culprit is the electronic control module (ECM) that sends signals to the transmission on when and how to shift. Apparently it just doesn't work and Toyota was well aware of it for over 4 years until they actually did something.

In March 2006, Toyota sent dealers a Technical Service Bulletin telling them that consumer "might complain" about harsh shifting. How quaint. What it should have done is warned dealers that really pissed off owners would probably be coming in with torches and pitchforks demanding something be done and with good reason.

Toyota went on to say that improvements has been made to the ECM to "reduce the possibility of this condition occurring". There's two problems with that statement: 1) It really didn't and 2) For many owners it was too late, because too much damage had been done to their transmission already.

Finally Toyota said the dealers might have change out the ECM, which would be covered under the federal emissions warranty of 8 years / 80,000 miles and if that didn't work the transmission was probably damaged beyond repair and needed to be replaced. Here's the catch: the transmission was only covered under Toyota's 5 year/60,000 mile warranty, leaving many owners in a situation where they needed to pick up the $3,000 tab.

ECM transmission failure seems to affect early 2nd generation RAV4 (2001-2003) the most.

Extended Warranty

Facing rising pressure from the California Air Resources Board, a pending class action lawsuit and an increasing number of complaints from owners, Toyota extended the warranty of nearly 250,000 RAV4s in July 2010.

The new policy covers certain RAV4's transmissions and ECMs for 10 years/150,000 miles (whichever comes first) from the time the vehicle was new.

Reimbursed Repairs

Toyota also says with "proper proof" that owners who previously paid for repairs will be reimbursed even if they no longer own the vehicle. No mention on what "proper proof" entails, so good luck collecting on that one.

Customers who wished to be reimbursed should send the repair bill, proof of payment and proof of ownership at the time of the repair to Toyota Motor Sales, Customer Experience Center (WC-10) 19001 South Western Ave., Torrance, Calif. 90509.

Actions You Can Take

This step is crucial, don't just complain on forums! The sites below will actively manage your complaints and turn them into useful statistics. Both and the CAS will report dangerous trends to the authorities and are often called upon by law firms for help with Class Action lawsuits. Make sure to file your complaint on all three sites, we can't stress that enough.

  1. Step 1: File Your Complaint at is a free site dedicated to uncovering problem trends and informing owners about potential issues with their cars. Major class action law firms use this data when researching cases. Add a Complaint

  2. Step 2: Notify the Center for Auto Safety

    The Center for Auto Safety (CAS) is a pro-consumer organization that researches auto safety issues & often compels the US government to do the right thing through lobbying & lawsuits. Notify the CAS

  3. Step 3: Report a Safety Concern to NHTSA

    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is the US agency with the authority to conduct vehicle defect investigations & force recalls. Their focus is on safety-related issues. Report to NHTSA

What Other Owners Are Saying

“I'm a huge Toyota fan, have driven them for decades, and have loved my RAV4 until now. I started experiencing a random jerky shift problem, always in the lower gears, usually early on after starting out on the road. It's very scary.”

Lisa B., Berea, OH

“Like hundreds of other 2002 RAV4 owners I had the ecm fault wrecking the transmission problem. I caught it early in the transmission failure stage and my wise mechanic said. "Trade it in now while you can still drive it to the lot." Recommended solution!”

TJ P., Salem, OR

Share Your Complaint

Add Your Complaint

Join thousands of frustrated car owners who have voiced their opinion and notified other consumers of issues at

Toyota Customer Assistance Center

19001 S. Western Ave. Dept. WC11 Torrance CA 90509-2991