1997 RAV4 Won't Reverse

My parents have a '97 Toyota RAV4 with almost 109,000 miles. The car runs fine in drive, but when you shift into reverse and apply the gas, it doesn’t move. I recently did an experiment with it in front of my house. It turns out that it will reverse, but only ay a slow roll, and only at or above 2000 rpm. It also used to have trouble in drive, hunting between gears. This was 9 months ago. Any ideas?


From what you describe you have a badly slipping transmission. Every single time you are making that tranny slip, you are damaging it even more that it is already, potentially increasing the cost of repairs, so please stop experimenting !

  1. Did you check the tranny fluid level? Make sure you do it EXACTLY by the book, if you do not know how. The procedure is outlined in the Owner’s Manual.
  2. What is the maintenance (time & mileage) that has been done to this transmission so far?
  3. What was done to fix the “hunting between gears”, nine months ago?

A few weeks ago, my dad did some routine maintenance at home (the car was purchased used, in good condition) and there was a hose that had come unhooked from the transmission, which has been reconnected. I forgot to mention in the original post, we have taken it to multiple shops, and they did all the usual transmission diagnostics. I haven’t noticed low tranny fluid levels, but i will check it out. The experiment was well controlled and only conducted once to see if it would reverse at all, as a diagnostic tool. I do not claim to be a mechanic, but any information to add to the symptom list gets me closer to the problem, but your suggestion is noted and I wont do it again.

As for transmission maintenance, it was purchased used, so we don’t know if the schedual was followed or what work has been done, but it was driven 5,000 miles before any problems were noticed. (the car had about 105,000 miles when we got it.

We were quoted $4000 to get a refurbished transmission,and a few hundred for labor to put it in. Does that sound about right?

Providing details is not your forte, apparently.
We are reading a computer screen, not leaning over your engine bay.

What routine maintenance.
What hose came unhooked.
What multiple shops.
What was the diagnosys from those shops.

There are four engagement elements that have to lock up to gain reverse. These are the 3rd/reverse clutch, the 1st/reverse brake clutch, the underdrive brake clutch, and the torque converter, of course.

The first thing would be to make sure that the manual cable linkage is adjusted correctly i.e. the reverse is selected and in the center of its detent. There is no electronic input from the ECM for Reverse. You might check the throttle valve cable but I would not worry about that since regular drive does not display slippage.

Several driving tests could be used to narrow down the friction element of concern. Shift the transmission into low; accelerate the car; and release the throttle. If there is no engine braking i.e. the car is free wheeling, the 1st/reverse brake or the underdrive brake is suspect. Next release the overdrive button so overdrive is locked out. With the transmission in Drive, accelerate the Rav to a good speed; and release the throttle. If there is no engine braking, the underdrive brake is suspect. How is the 2-3 shift? Is the shift crisp engagement? Any signs of slipping with over drive disengage, i.e. engine flare on acceleration before down shift?

The next step would be to take the Rav to a transmission specialist. They can do a pressure checks especially in Reverse to see the condition of the pump and the apply elements. They should also drop the pan; change the filter; examine the debris; clean the pan and magnet(s); reinstall; and road test. Most likely this transmission will have to be rebuilt but it is good to touch all bases to forestall needless work.

Get back to us when the problem is finally resolved – I for one am curious what has gone wrong.

It is VERY rare for 95-2000 rav4 autos to go bad, follow researchers advice and make sure to check hose that came loose,it may have been a vacuum hose.
Do NOT do a flush unless it is the very last thing to try before replacing.

Like i said in my last reply, I don’t claim to be a mechanic and my car knowledge is limited. As for the maintenance that was done by my dad, he changed the break fluid, oil, and ran the engine in park so that the car wouldn’t just sit there and have other problems arise from prolonged siting around not running. I looked at the service manual, and it is quite possible that it was a vacuum hose that came undone. The shops we took it to are as follows: 2 local mechanics, the Toyota dealer, and a transmission shop. All have said that it is a transmission problem, but we have been hoping it is something else, due to the $4000 rebuilt transmission that has bee quoted to us.