2007 Rav4 transmission fluid is black

My mechanic says the transmission fluid in my 2007 Rav4 (about 47K, normal driving) is black and needs replacing ($144). I called the local Toyota service department who said this car has a sealed transmission and replacement is not needed. The Toyota maintenance schedule does not recommend replacement until 120K miles.

Does anyone have advice one way or another?

Thanks very much.


Black transmission fluid is not a good sign, especially at that low mileage. Assuming you trust your mechanic (and that it’s not a quick-lube place), I’d change the fluid and keep my fingers crossed.

If the fluid is already black, by all means it should be changed.
However, once trans fluid gets to this stage, it is possible that a fluid change at this point is too little, too late. Think of it as a Hail Mary Pass that might save the day.

Yes, the Toyota maintenance schedule claims that the trans fluid is “lifetime” or “long-life” fluid. However, only people who believe in The Easter Bunny should believe fables like that.

Trans fluid should be changed every 30k miles or 3 years (whichever comes first), even if the car mfr does not list this service. When a trans is not serviced on that schedule, trans failure can take place any time after ~90k miles, and is pretty much of a sure thing after ~120k miles.

By that measure, the OP’s discolored trans fluid seems to be very premature, but…if the vehicle was ever used for towing, or if it was used for a lot of mountain driving, or if the engine ever overheated, it is possible that these factors led to such early symptoms.

Yes, change the fluid and the filter–if it has a trans filter.
Make sure that your mechanic uses ONLY genuine Toyota trans fluid, rather than a generic fluid that is supposedly OK in all imported cars. (It isn’t)
Then, begin a Novena for the continued health of the transmission, and also resolve to always have your transmission serviced on the schedule that I noted above.

Sincere good luck with the transmission!


I picked up the Rav4 today at the shop and took a look at the fluid myself. It does still have a slight red appearance on the stick. If you put a drop on a piece of white paper it is dark, but no grit of any kind evident. So, I would not say it’s dark black, maybe very dark red.

Called Toyota service a second time and they swear up and down that this car never needs a transmission fluid change due to the transmission design. The model year (2007) seemed important in their declaration. They said if a nondealer garage tried to do it, they would not have the proper scanner/equipment and would not be able to hold the transmission at the proper temperature during the ~2 hour procedure. And they would end up having to tow it to the dealer to finish the work.

Does any of this make sense at all? I realize there is a mantra of changing all transmission fluid on all cars based on historical criteria. Is there any chance that Toyota has something new here that does not hold to previous norms?


Rather than have a regular mechanic do the fluid change, take the car to an independent trans shop, NOT to a chain operation like AAMCO, Lee Myles, Cottman, Mr. Transmission, etc. If there is a special blessing that must be chanted while changing the Rav’s trans fluid, a trans specialist will know about it. However, I am willing to bet that he confirms my suspicion that the dealership is engaging in scare tactics that are baseless.

Sorry to say my take is the transmission has problems, I do not know what to recommend at this point.

Thanks for your comments.

CTMike, first off the RAV4 transmission is NOT sealed. There is a dipstick up top and a drain plug underneath on the pan. To get to the drain plug you must either remove the plastic cover or cut an access hole in it. There is also a filter above the pan that you can replace. Yes, Toyota claims their WS (World Standard) transmission fluid does not need to be changed under normal conditions, but who drives normally? I highly recommend only using Toyota WS fluid–there are many brands out there that claim to be compatible, but cause problems later on down the road.

Please join us at RAV4World.com and post your question there. You will get lots of valuable info and how-to’s with pictures showing how to change your fluid. Good luck!

Agree with Junebug. I have a 2007 I4 RAV4 and had the transmission fluid changed at 60K miles. The WS fluid does turn dark, was dark in my vehicle that has no apparent transmission problems, and the dealer reported that was normal.

Agree with Junebug about RAV4World.com as well, where several people have reported the dark ATF fluid on a change.

When you talk to a dealer you’re generally dealing with a service writer or service manager. Very, and I mean very, few of these people have any mechanical knowledge or aptitude to speak of.
Anything they say should be taken with many grains of salt.

Out of both species (writer and manager) I can count on one hand the number I’ve personally known that I would rely on to change my oil; assuming I was even going to have someone do it for me.

I had a similar experience with my 2007 Rav4 at 30,000 miles. I had them change the fluid. now at 38,000 miles I am getting a vibration at 40 mph while driving up a slight incline. RPMs drop from 2000 to 1500 and car starts to rumble and make growling noise. Spent $250 at Toyota dealer who determined that my transmission is starting to fail. Out of warranty because I’ve had the car more than 5 years, even though I only have 38,000 miles. Unbelievable. Last Toyota I buy!

@mnguy I feel your frustration.

But you’re reviving an 8 month old thread.

The change usually costs $80 at the dealer to change the fluid, at least on a Corolla.