2004 Rav4 "Dragging" After Having Stabilizer Links Replaced

Hey everybody,

This question is regarding a 2004 Toyota RAV4 2.4L L4 DOHC 16V with AWD which I purchased used with 120k miles about a year ago.

A couple weeks ago I noticed a sound under the hood as if something was loose and jostling around under there. I took it in to a mechanic where they told me it was the stabilizer links, and replaced them. They also reset something “in the electrical” in an attempt to fix the tire pressure light, which always remains on and pretty much has never worked.

Literally the moment I drove the car off after picking it up from the mechanic (after they had closed for the day), I immediately noticed what felt like resistance at all times while driving. I don’t know how best to describe it except that it almost feels as if the car is in a lower gear all the time, and the difference between D and 2 is barely noticeable now whereas it was stark before. After taking my foot off the accelerator at any speed, the car no longer coasts, but slows down noticeably more quickly than it used to as if there is braking in the engine. I can also “feel” the engine working in my feet when I accelerate at any speed: the accelerator vibrates noticeably whereas it did not before. It’s gone from being a relatively smooth ride to feeling like my '94 Prizm did months before I finally had it junked last year.

I brought the car back to the same mechanic today, and their guy claims to have no idea what I’m talking about and says the car feels fine. I’m dropping it off again at the end of the week when they’ll have more time to drive it and attach instruments and what not, in order to “have proof” that there’s nothing wrong with it. Of course, I drove the car every day for a year, so I know what is normal and what is not.

Any ideas what could be causing this?


It might be the brakes dragging. I hope they checked for this. If the sound you heard was at idle, unlikely that it was the stabilizer bars. They might had been shot anyway at that mileage, but not sure if they were the source of the sound.

You might need another opinion.

Thanks, man.

The sound was not present at idle, only when driving over bumpy ground. Replacing the stabilizer links seems to have solved that problem. My concern now is that whatever they did in replacing them obviously caused a problem elsewhere.

Does anyone have any insight on what could have gone wrong in replacing those parts that would then result in the dragging I’ve described? I mean, I wouldn’t think they’d have to touch the brakes to do that, but I don’t know enough about cars to even speculate.

"it almost feels as if the car is in a lower gear all the time, and the difference between D and 2 is barely noticeable now"

What can you tell us about the tachometer reading when the car is in second gear, as opposed to when it is in D?

I suspect that you have a slipping transmission, but the actual RPMS when you are driving in second gear, and also after the transmission upshifts to its top gear (I assume that this is a 3 speed transmission) will be very revealing.

Thanks, man. I’ll check this as soon as I get home. Can you tell me what you’d like me to provide exactly? Is it just:

RPMs while in D
RPMs while in 2
RPMs at moment of upshift to 4th? (it’s a 4 speed)

Does it matter how fast I’m moving at the time?

RPMs while in DYES
RPMs while in 2YES
RPMs at moment of upshift to 4th? (it’s a 4 speed)–YES

Does it matter how fast I’m moving at the time? Definitely!
Please report mph, as well as the RPMs at those speeds

Could the tires being severly under inflated cause the problem? Could the OP and the shop overlook such a simple and obvious situation??? Just thinking onto my key board so to speak.

Ok, will do, VDCdriver.

Thanks Rod Knox, but the tire pressures got special attention given the tire pressure light issue that has never really stayed resolved. I actually watched him check them.

If you do not use a parking brake on a regular basis maybe they set it and you just need to release it.

If the shop hasn’t raised all 4 wheels off the floor and spun them each by hand to determine the amount of drag on each wheel that should be done. And of course, if brake drag is the issue a short drive would result in a great deal of heat from the problem wheel(s).

So, I tried gathering that data on my drive home last night, but I don’t get on the highway, so it was not easy to get up to a speed naturally that would get me into 4th gear. From what I saw, the car generally hovers around 2000 to 2500 RPMs when I keep a consistent pressure on the accelerator. I’d say that’s accurate from about 1st to 3rd. The only time I was able to get into 4th was while briefly accelerating much faster than that, at which point it jumped into the 5000 RPM zone just after switching gears, before backing down into the 2000s. 1st to 2nd seemed to happen at about 18 to 20mph, 2nd to 3rd at about 30 to 35, maybe. 3rd to 4th at 60mph or so. Hard to tell while driving.

The bottom line is it generally doesn’t feel very off when switching gears, although occasionally, after having slowed to a stop, it will be impossible to give it gas slow enough to smoothly accelerate from 0 again. No matter how slowly I press, the car will jump for a quick second with no smooth transition. And, from time to time, it will take longer than I’m expecting to pop into the next gear, and when it does, the engine will rev briefly before settling back. I’m just not knowledgeable enough about cars in general to know what’s normal vs. not. I can only say how it used to feel vs. how it now feels. It just feels like it’s struggling now where it wasn’t before.

The thing I can’t figure out is what they might have done to cause this. It’s just straining credulity to believe this is just a coincidence that it was fine for a year, and the one day they happened to have it, something went wrong that has nothing to do with the work they did. It must be something they did, either deliberately or inadvertently, to suddenly cause this problem.

To Barkydog: I do use the parking brake every time I put the car in park. It’s almost unconscious for me at this point.

To Rod Knox: I tried feeling the rims after my ~15 minute drive, and both the front rims were certainly warm, but neither was suspiciously hot by my estimation. Does that sound right to you?

If the RPMs backed-off to ~2k in 4th gear, it doesn’t sound to me as if your trans is slipping.

However, since you bought this vehicle with 120k already on the odometer, unless you have hard copies of maintenance receipts proving trans fluid changes every 30k miles/3 years, I would recommend that you have the trans fluid & filter changed at an independent trans shop. Even if this doesn’t eliminate the current problem, it may help to prevent the death of your transmission.

Unless the trans was serviced 4 times already, then you are probably in store for a very expensive trans overhaul in the near future, and servicing it properly at this point might help to delay that process.

Thanks, man. I appreciate your advice and will definitely take it. I do have all the service records, so I will take a look.

With regard to the current problem I’m experiencing, I was doing some googling and came across the following. Apparently a faulty ECM can cause all kinds of problems with the transmission:


What do you guys think? Is there a chance this could be the problem? I understand there was a warranty extension for covering the 2001-2003 models, but I have a 2004. The site claims they can be affected as well, but I don’t know whether to trust that or not.

Jack up each wheel and see if it spins freely. Include the rear wheels too, even though they didn’t officially do any work there.

If the tire pressure light is staying on, with good tire pressure, then the sensors have not been “synced” to the car. Any tire shop should know how to do this - or, the tires were never equipped with the transmitters.

…or the batteries in the transmitters died long ago…

That’s my feeling too, regarding the tire sensors. I just figured the batteries are dead, and screw it at this point. We’ve survived as a society for almost 100 years without tire pressure alerts. I think I can manage.

I don’t have access to a lift, but I do know they put it up on a lift when evaluating it after I described the symptoms. I assumed that was why, but who the heck knows. I’ll confirm that when next I speak to them.

I hope it doesn’t turn out to be the transmission. Or if it does, that the ECM is the issue and I can get that thing repaired for $200. Most importantly, I hope I don’t have to hear them tell me again that nothing is wrong, as that will anger me.

You might post this at the Rav4 forum

You should find out what the electrical thing they did.
Maybe disconnect the battery for a half hour to reset the computer will help

To the others the abs fouling up due to tire pressure sensors giving false readings, can you pull a fuse to bypass abs and test that way?

The front wheels shouldn’t be very warm at all after driving unless you’ve used the brakes. Which you probably have. So maybe do an experiment where you drive in a circle in an empty parking lot and never put your foot on the brakes. Do any of the wheels feel unusually warm, or one warmer than the others?

When other posters here have complained of this or similar symptoms, the problem sometimes is a plugged catalytic converter. Shops have fairly simple methods to test for that. Exhaust back-pressure. Intake manifold vacuum reading, etc.

Edit: Sometimes a shop will disconnect an electrical connector or vacuum hose to gain access to something, then forget to reconnect it when they are done. Usually that would turn on the check engine light. That light isn’t on is it?

Another edit: Ok, here’s something else to check. If they changed the stabilizer links, maybe the wheel alignment got fouled up. For that to cause this symptom it would have to be pretty far off. So check for weird tire wear patterns.