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2001 Toyota RAV4 - Transmission or ECU?

I have a 2001 RAV4 4WD. I gave the car to my sister. When she and other family members drive it, the car revs to 4K rpm without moving, hesitate, then drives. It is dangerous to merge. I know there is a bulletin on this problem for model years 2001 to 2003, and Toyota will replace the ECU and transmission, if damaged, extending the warranty to 150K miles or 10 years (the car has 108K miles, and approaching 10 years). However, no engine light and no code shows up. We took it to 2 transmission specialists; both will not touch the transmission because they (independent of each other) feel it’s the ECU. (We have used them in the past for other cars.) We then took it to 2 Toyota dealerships; Toyota won’t fix it, recommends replacing the transmission. We are stuck because we can’t get answers and can’t get any solutions to our problem. We called Toyota; the Toyota case worker has been useless, says he sees nothing wrong with the car and said it’s safe to drive (it’s not, especially when merging). Both local transmission specialists said they would not drive the car in that condition. Right now it’s sitting in the driveway, totally useless. Any recourse?

“I have a 2001 RAV4 4WD.”

Not if you gave it to your sister. If you gave it to your sister, then your sister “has” a 2001 RAV4 4WD. That’s how “giving” works. You no longer “have” a 2001 RAV4. Why is this your problem?

Did this problem manifest itself before you gave the car to your sister? This is an important piece of information.

You didn’t tell us how many miles your sister’s 2001 RAV4 4WD has on it, or had on it when you gave it to her.

If you want help you have to provide information. Real information.

What’s the maintenance history of this vehicle?

Sorry, you’re right, NEI (not enough information). I see them regularly so the car, which has been decent to me for 9 years, feels like part of the family. Car has 108K miles, is almost 10 years old, regularly maintained with scheduled maintenance (with Toyota while under warranty and with a local trusted mechanic) and any repairs needed (immediately). Car has been fine for one year after I gave it to my sister; it just started about a month ago (taking this long to bring to mechanics, transmission specialists and Toyota themselves). Car has been driven to local places (no long daily commutes) for the past year. I was shocked to find so many problems with 2001-2003 RAV4s online, so our frustrations are shared with other RAV4 owners.

One more thing…I gave the car to her when it had about 100K miles; it now has 108K miles (like I said, mostly used for local driving, and occasional longer trips with about an hour highway driving every 3 or 4 weekends).

I agree, this is sad to hear, but sometimes that’s the way it goes. Toyota vehicles, in general, are very reliable, and your RAV4 proves it, but once you pass ownership of the vehicle to someone else it becomes their problem, not yours.

Your sister is not complaining about her RAV4; why are you?

You’re complaining about a vehicle you no longer own.

What’s wrong with this picture?

I’m just trying to help her with her problem. There’s no hard feelings, no blame; we’re just trying all resources to get ideas toward a solution. She’s calling Toyota and taking it to all the places. I’m merely trying another resource since I listen to CarTalk. Nothing wrong with helping out family or friends, is there, McParadise?

Just another point I want to make: in our (separate) online research, it is astounding to read the number of problems with the RAV4, years 2001 to 2003 (2002 is, by far, the worst of the 3 years).

No, of course there’s nothing wrong with trying to help family and/or friends. That’s what life is all about.

But the vehicle we’re talking about is ten years old. You GAVE it to her. Very nice of you. I’m sure she appreciated it. Giving absolves you of any responsibility.

You gave the car to your sister. Let her deal with it. Whatever happened/happens is not your fault, nor is it you responsibility.

You’re her sister, not her mother.

It doesn’t matter how many problems a certain year RAV had. That doesn’t mean your, or your sister’s, particular RAV4 is part of the “problem.”

You thought it was a wonderful vehicle while you owned it, correct?

No, I’m not her mother, but we do expect a Toyota transmission to last more than 100K miles. So I appreciate it if you stop harping on the gift; that’s not the point of this post. Thank you, anyway, for your input. Also, I purchased another Toyota and based on this experience and the unusually high number of recalls Toyota has had in the past 2 years with newer vehicles (mine being one of them), I no longer have such a high opinion of Toyota.

Don’t get excited. I’m just asking questions. No harm intended. Sorry if I ruffled your feathers.

What’s the maintenance history of this transmission?

How often have you had the transmission fluid changed?

I have no idea why anyone would be quibbling about why you’re concerned about this. I’m not. People are often posting about other people’s problems. I don’t find it odd at all.

I also hate stuff like this - being caught in the “middle” with two sets of supposed “experts” each pointing at something different while neither can really tell you what is going on.

My own approach would be to continue climbing the Toyota hierarchy. Go over the head of whomever is refusing to deal with this. So I don’t know who the “case worker” is, but your next phrase is “I’d like to speak with your manager, please.”

I presume that no one at the dealerships has been able to reproduce the problem? I can only make WAGs about it - but an intermittent problem that sets no codes would leave me wondering about an electrical phantom - i.e. maybe an ECU.

You might also do an end around being stuck where you are. I can’t tell you how feasible this is, but you can often get used ECUs for not much money and they are normally very easy to replace. I don’t know the RAV 4 so there could be things about it that make this difficult. But a lot of the time it is actually an easy & straightforward thing. So you may be able to just a new ECU on it to see what happens. For finding out whether or not this is feasible the internet is your friend - especially dedicated RAV4 forums.

Normally I’d never say try parts replacement as a guess, but you’re obviously not getting help from the “experts.”

…and a 10 year old 108K RAV4 is by no means over the hill. Its barely broken in.

Thank you, cigroller. My sister is planning to bombard Toyota, with your valid point about piercing through the hierarchy. Yes, the Toyota dealership hasn’t been able to replicate the problem, and stated there was no issue until my sister made a technician sit in the car with her while she drove it around (and the problem occurred). Without that error code, they won’t do anything, though. Good idea about the used ECU; worth the minor investment towards the solution.
Thanks for staying on point (the car problem, not the shift of responsibility in some people’s eyes…)

eBay does have a couple of companies that are selling either repair of yours or repaired units that are basically plug & play, and the reference is directly to that TSB issue. They run about $200-300 and its pretty straightforward. It can be a little creepy doing stuff like this on eBay, but their feedback system is fairly good. You can also normally find people in dedicated forums who have bought from this or that company on eBay.

Here’s one:

For my $$, $200 is too much to spend on a guess though. I’d chase Toyota more first.

In my neck of woods, for such a problem $200 is a reasonable gamble. Two hours of labor, vs a new transmission without even knowing that she needs one or it will fix the problem.

This issue has been posted by multiple RAV4 owners on this board. I have no idea of outcome but similar.

Here is a search query with real search engine that works:

If I were you guys I would simply trade the vehicle in at a Toyota dealer.

I believe this repair is excessively expensive not under warranty/goodwill as the ecu can lead to damage of transmission.

Toyota makes decent cars usually but this one has serious, dangerous and expensive fault in this vintage of RAV4.

good luck

This site may give you important information…I haven’t dealt with them, but it looks interesting, anyway:

They state $400 + change, but also seem to guarantee the repair of the ECM at least…not that it’s actually the problem, though.

As above, drill your way up the Toyota chain. Someone will listen. Be patient, insistent, and consistent. You have recall information, so verify your car fits into the specific recall you’re talking about, and keep going…at every turn, tell them it’s their problem to fix.

Update: the engine light came on after about a month and a half of the first initial problem. The dealership has confirmed that the codes are related to the bulletin issued by Toyota regarding faulty ECU and will replace FOR FREE the ECU, along with any related transmission work/checkups done (the warranty was extended to 150K or 10 years). Several eye-opening perspectives (and hopefully this will help others with 2001 to 2004 RAV4 experiencing the same problems): 1) the local transmission shop gave information on the bulletin, and would not do any transmission work because he felt it was ECU-related (despite the Toyota case-worker’s insistence that absent any engine light warning, the car was perfectly safe to drive); 2) this particular vehicle was outside of the VIN number range for affected vehicles (according to Toyota); 3) the dealerships quoted a price to replace both ECU and transmission for over $4,000. This was a frustrating process, and we’re not done talking to Toyota. During the entire time, the car reacted worse (creating unsafe merging and highway driving situations) with no engine light on. We are very grateful for the transmission expert who convinced us not to replace the transmission unnecessarily. I am posting this in the hopes that this gives pause to other who may be experiencing the same issues.

Very glad to hear that it is getting resolved and many thanks for the follow-up post. Its all too rare an occurrence, but we’re all always curious.

Thank you, cigroller, for your and other CarTalk fans’ suggestions. The real hero in this case is the local transmission guy, and I’ll be sure to give him kudos in the Recommended Mechanx section on the website.

Further update (4/22/11): My sister spoke to a customer service rep in California (the “reimbursement” dept). The customer service rep was surprised that my sister got the run-around from the dealerships when told about the situation. He said that the bulletin clearly states any “harsh shifting AND/OR engine light with specific codes” will be covered under the extended warranty. He said a recall in 2007 to upgrade the computer software did not fix the problem like they thought it would, so this is why the extended warranty was given (to 150K/10 years). He was surprised that the dealerships didn’t just replace the ECU immediately, rather than advise her to “drive around until the engine light comes on.” So people who have this problem (and possibly those who paid to fix the problem), you might want to contact customer service (800 number in CA)… all dealerships have this number available if you need this (it may also be listed on the website). Also rememeber that any case-workers assigned to address your problem may be well-trained to deflect the problem off Toyota (as my sister encountered). Hope this helps anyone else who have gone through frustrating attempts to get the problem fixed.