The RAV4 is Toyota’s compact crossover. It is by no surprise that in the past few years, it has become Toyota’s best-seller, outselling every Toyota model, including the popular Camry and Corolla. This article delves into the best model years for the Toyota RAV4 and Toyota RAV4 years to avoid or pay extra attention to because of certain underlying mechanical issues.
Let’s inspect Toyota’s bestseller, the RAV4. If you’re shopping for a compact crossover vehicle, then the RAV4 may be a great option to consider. In 2020, the RAV4 achieved a major milestone by hitting 10 million sales worldwide. Surprisingly, in 2019 alone, the model sold nearly one million units globally, with more than half coming from American consumers.
In this article we focus on:
What Is The Inspiration Towards Toyota RAV4
Over the past twenty years, we’ve seen a shift in consumer’s buying preferences as it relates to car shopping. American consumers are opting for crossover SUVs when given the choice, hence the rise of the compact crossover. You’ll notice that parking lots across North America are dominated by crossovers. Why?
The crossover is usually more affordable than a traditional SUV. They are smaller and easier to get around in, have better fuel economy, lower sticker prices, are stylish, and can be quite zippy depending on the engine size. For consumers who need something bigger than a car, but not looking to go as big as a traditional SUV, and don’t want to drive around in a minivan, the crossover is a great option!
Toyota offers many RAV4 trims for every type of consumer. Whether you’re looking for a budget-friendly option or opting for some luxury or even some outdoorsy fun, there are plenty of choices. According to the Toyota website, the 2021 RAV4 is offered in 11 different trims.
This includes the base model LE to the plush Limited version, and everything in between to take you from luxe to adventure. Want some off-road thrills? No problem, there’s even a TRD Off-road option. So while the RAV4 may be considered the automaker’s smaller SUV, the options are not small, no way!
Toyota RAV4 Years To Avoid, Key Features Of RAV4
The RAV4 has a long list of standard features. Such features include Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and a user-friendly infotainment system with a 7-inch touch screen. Standard safety features include lane keep assist, lane departure, and trace assist, which keeps the vehicle centered in the lane, even on curved roads.
Also included are forward-collision warnings, automatic emergency braking, and pedestrian detection. The RAV4 comes with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and an eight-speed automatic transmission.
Front-wheel drive is standard but all-wheel drive is optional on the LE, XLE, XLE Premium, and Limited, and standard on the Adventure and TRD Off-road models. Taking cues from other Toyota legends, like the Tacoma and the 4Runner, the RAV4 front end design is rugged and stylish.
Because it is a crossover, it looks like a smaller SUV but drives smoother than both the Tacoma or 4Runner. It is a well-rounded crossover with a roomy cabin made with quality materials. It’s fuel-efficient but yet can deliver power too. Below are the starting MSRP for the different RAV4 trims.
- LE $26,050 LE Hybrid $28,500
- XLE $27,345 XLE Hybrid $29,795
- XLE Premium $30,050 XLE Premium Hybrid $32,500
- Limited $34,580 Limited Hybrid $37,030
- Adventure $33, 155
- TRD Off-road $35,780
- XSE Hybrid $34, 450
Toyota RAV4 Years To Avoid: Common Problems
Although the RAV4 is a great compact SUV and has proven to be reliable, owners have had some challenges with certain model years. Here are the most commonly reported problems as reported to RepairPal, as well as the associated average cost of the repair. These are some good signs to know which Toyota RAV4 years to avoid.
1. Faulty EVAP Vapor Canister
The vapor canister has been reported to plug or clog the vent valve because it releases charcoal pellets resulting in a fault code of either P0441, P0442, or P0446, which is the primary code associated with this fail and an electrical failure.
Proper repair involves replacing the entire canister with all the valves as a unit. Unfortunately, this repair can be expensive as it is on top of the fuel tank. Model years affected were 1996 to 2016 with an owner reported cost of about $1,000 to $1,500. The average mileage was 106,403.
2. False Catalytic Converter Failure
Owners reported the Check Engine Light would illuminate, pointing to a bad catalytic converter. The issue ended up being a software issue, which Toyota remedied by upgrading the software to correct the false “bad catalytic converter” message. This affected the second and third-generation model years 1996 and 2001-2007. Average mileage when it occurred: 149,044 miles. The average cost to diagnose the Check Engine Light is between $88 and $111.
3. Failed Oxygen Sensor
The Check Engine light comes on when one or more of the oxygen sensors fails, resulting in reduced fuel economy, rough idling, or a hesitant engine that possibly skips or misfires. Other symptoms include a ‘rotten egg’ smell of black smoke coming from the exhaust. Model years affected: 1998, 2001 – 2003, 2006 – 2012, 2014 at an average mileage of 247,047. The average cost to replace the RAV4 oxygen sensor is anywhere between $275 and $297.
4. Transmission Shifting Issues
At higher mileage, the automatic transmission may not shift correctly, which may be caused by the throttle position sensor being out of alignment or a shift solenoid needing to be replaced. Ten model years were specifically affected by this shifting issue: 1996, 1997, 2000-2008 at an average mileage of 133,569.
This was corroborated by carcomplaints.com’s database, which lists transmission issues as the worst problem for the RAV4. The worst model years in terms of transmission complaints are 2002 (368 complaints), 2001 (180 complaints), and 2003 (120 complaints). To fix transmission problems, your budget would be around $2,400 and occur around 70,000 miles on average, depending on the specific transmission issue.
5. Excessive Oil Consumption
Drivers noticed excessive oil consumption between oil changes. Many times, losing oil was drastic, causing the engine’s oil warning light to display. Usually, this problem occurs when the vehicles’ oil is not changed frequently.
However, this problem has been reported consistently for a few model years, specifically those in the third generation. Owners said their RAV4’s engine would burn lots of oil, causing them to add more oil more than once per month. The vehicle’s engine should be cleaned of oil sludge, but if the excessive oil consumption continues, the vehicle may require new piston rings. Five model years were affected, that was 2004 to 2008 at an average mileage of 121,285.
What Is The Best Year For The Toyota Rav4?
As we’ve mentioned before, the RAV4 has shown that it is a reliable compact SUV, so when looking to determine the “best,” it was quite challenging, considering the fourth-generation model years have near-perfect reliability. But we sorted through the data and have decided; The 2016 model year is the “best” Toyota RAV4 and worthy of your hard-earned cash. Here’s why:
The 2016 Toyota RAV4 earned a perfect reliability score from Consumer Reports and when it was put to the test, literally, by J. D. Power, it came up on top, beating out model years of 2017 and 2018 by just a smidge. So while our “best” RAV4 is the 2016 model year, you really can’t go wrong with the newer two years, 2017 or 2018.
The 2016 model earned an overall score of 86 based on the J.D. Power 100-Point Score, which is based on thousands of unbiased opinions of verified owners. Overall, it ranked number 1 in the J.D. Power Top 10 Rated SUV list comparing similar compact SUVs, beating out the likes of Honda, Nissan, Mazda, and other popular brands, like Chevy and Ford.
For quality and reliability, it scored an 86, boasting a “great” for its driving experience and a “best” score of 91 for its resale value. The 2016 Toyota RAV4 was also the winner of the J.D. Power Performance Award for its design and performance after the first 90 days of ownership.
While 2016 has more complaints than the 2018 model year, it’s also two years older and the most common complaints fell within the interior accessories category, specifically the cruise control function. The 2016 model years are ranging in price from $15,000 to just under $20,000.
Toyota RAV4 Years To Avoid
While the Toyota RAV4 is a very reliable car, if you look at the RAV4’s history, there are a few years to avoid or get thoroughly checked out before purchasing. We recommend you get any previously owned vehicle checked out before you buy it. That’s especially so once you’ve figured out which Toyota RAV4 years to avoid.
This information is not meant to discourage you from buying a Toyota RAV4, but to give you the information you need to make the right buying decision. Sometimes, you can get a great deal on a particular year of RAV4 because they may be a bit more difficult to sell, and if you can make sure the issue is addressed or use it as a negotiation point, you may buy with peace of mind and save some money over another model year.
We’ll start with the latest generation and work our way back because while older RAV4s are still on the market, it is more likely that consumers looking for a used one will look for one less than 10 years old.
5th Generation (2019 + present)
For being a fairly newer model, you wouldn’t expect it to be on our “avoid” list, especially since Toyota is known for its reliability, but 2019 has some issues you should make certain you are aware of and address. Over the past 20 years, not only does the 2019 model have the lowest reliability score of 2 out of 5 from Consumer Reports, but it also has quite a few complaints already. And the complaints being reported are not cosmetic either, they affect the transmission and engine components.
In the 2019 RAV4, owners have experienced gear slippage, hesitating or lurching forward at slower speeds, loud acceleration and a faulty gas gauge that some owners have said does not read the amount of gas correctly, so you never know how much gas is actually in the tank. One owner noted that the tank never seems to read over three-quarters full. If you’re after a newer RAV4, the 2018 model year would be our choice.
4th Generation (2013–2018)
Overall, the 4th generation produced some great RAV4s, but for this exercise, we’d suggest avoiding the RAV4 model year 2013. While it had a reliability rating of 5, it is the year that experienced the most complaints, with the worst complaint being a major safety issue.
Owners noted their RAV4 would suddenly speed up and would not stop even after pressing the brakes. Owners reported accidents, which resulted in the deployment of the airbags and, sometimes, a total loss of the vehicle. For this reason alone, 2013 is not a safe bet.
If you’re set on an older RAV4, consider other model years that are part of the fourth generation. These may be model years 2017, 2016, or even 2012.
3rd Generation (2006–2012)
The 2008 RAV4 also has a few issues you will want to have addressed. Otherwise, avoid and consider getting another model year that is likely a bit more reliable. There may be better options for the price and with far fewer complaints. Toyota has been making the RAV4s since 1994, spanning five generations. Out of all its model years and generations, 2008 was labeled as the “Worst” model-year ever. This is according to data from carcomplaints.com. In looking at the data, we couldn’t agree more.
Model years 2006 through 2008 had a high number of complaints annually. Most of the issues associated with those complaints were severe. Some were citing engine and transmission issues, as well as steering and exhaust problems.
While the 2008 model had fewer complaints than the 2007 model year, the engine and transmission issues plagued the 2008 model year. These repairs are typically more expensive and occurred at lower mileage. Below are the top 3 most common complaints owners reported in the 2008 model year.
- Excessive oil consumption. The average cost to fix this was $3,300.
- Airbags did not deploy. The average cost to fix this was $3,000.
- Transmission Jerking. The average cost to fix this was $900.
2nd Generation (2001-2005)
A faulty ECM (engine computer) in the 2001 to 2003 models had problems with the way the automatic transmission shifts. The ECM needed to be replaced with an updated part to address this issue. Aftermarket parts of this generation are still available, but you need to check the ratings and reviews before buying. Leaking engine valve seals also caused blue or gray smoke at a startup.
An air to fuel ratio sensor was fairly common to fail, often causing the Check Engine Light with the code P1155. Replacing the air or fuel ratio sensor costs between $65 to $320 part plus $50 to $150 labor. The mass airflow sensor also was reported to get dirty, causing hesitation in acceleration.
A worn-out steering rack caused a clunking noise in the steering. Replacing a steering rack could cost from $600 to $1,000. The hinges of the rear swing door could wear out because of a lack of lubrication and heavy spare tire. This caused the rear swing door to be difficult to close. That’s why it’s important to have the hinges well lubricated.
The difference in tire pressure or tire size could cause issues with the AWD system. This was solved by keeping the tire pressure up to the specs in all tires. There were reports of stripped threads in the 2004 to 2005 2.4L 2AZ-FE engine cylinder block. The repair was quite expensive.
Symptoms included coolant leaks on the back of the engine, overheating, misfiring at startup, running rough. The years to avoid in this generation are 2001, 2002, and 2003 models that had a lot of transmission-related complications.
1st Generation (1996-2000)
The first generation RAV4 was released in 1995 and would end up in showrooms for the 1996 model year. The original RAV4 was very customizable. When buying a RAV4, buyers would have the choice between a two or a four-door version, an FWD or an AWD, as well as the option of a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. However, all RAV4s shared the same 2.0l I4 engine which produced 120 hp.
Its innovation did not go unnoticed, as it received the honors of being named the 1997 Automobile of the Year by Automobile Magazine. Although the first-generation RAV4 had rugged looks, it didn’t have the safety to back it up. When it was tested, the RAV4 got an overall marginal score. Another problem for the original RAV4 was under-inflating airbags, which it would later be recalled for in 2000. The first generation RAV4 is reliable, reporting about 60 or fewer complaints each year.
It’s safe to say the only first-generation RAV4 that should be avoided is one that was not regularly maintained. However, the 1998 model year and later seem to be the best because they offer seven more horsepower and have a quieter cabin. The convertible option got nixed in 2000. So, if you want to feel the wind in your hair, you’ll have to go with a 1998 or 1999 model year.
Toyota RAV4 Years To Avoid: Reliability
Toyota has built a reputation for producing reliable cars and SUVs, so as you would expect, the RAV4 comes with raving reliability scores. According to RepairPal, the Toyota RAV4 earned a 4 out of 5 stars on the firm’s Reliability Rating scale, which makes it 3rd best out of 26 compact SUVs.
When compared to other vehicles, the RAV4 has excellent ownership costs, with repairs being less severe and less frequent than other compact SUVs and vehicles overall, making it one of the most reliable vehicles on the road.
On other reliability scales, the RAV4’s reliability scores are consistent with that of RepairPal’s. Using Consumer Reports’ data, the RAV4’s decade-long average reliability came in at an impressive 4.5 out of 5, and a 4.1 when we averaged its scores over the past 20 years! So the legendary Toyota reliability does not waver for the RAV4.
Reliability And Cost
The average annual repair cost is $429, compared to an average of $521 for other compact SUVs. The frequency you can expect visiting a repair shop is low too and comparable to its classmates.
Toyota RAV4 owners have to bring their vehicles to a repair shop for unscheduled repairs an average of 3 times per year, compared to an average of 4 times per year for all other vehicle types. For severe repairs, you’ll be pleased to know that the probability of a repair being major is about 10%, so not urgent. Other SUVs in its class average 11%.
While repairing a Toyota RAV4 can be less expensive than other brands, you could still come across a hefty repair bill at some point, so we recommend adding additional coverage through a mechanical breakdown insurance provider (MBI), or a vehicle services contract (VSC). These are often referred to as an extended car warranty. An MBI or VSC can help take the sting out of an unexpected repair and give you peace of mind.
Toyota RAV4 Years To Avoid: Maintenance Costs
In terms of general maintenance, it should be free for the first two years or 25,000 miles if you purchase a brand new RAV4. All new Toyotas come with the Toyota Car plan, which takes care of normally scheduled maintenance and includes engine oil and filter changes, tire rotation, a multi-point inspection, and fluid level checks and adjustments.
After the first two years, most maintenance will average anywhere between $100 and $200, but for bigger mileage-specific service checks, you can expect to pay anywhere from $300 to $400.
Toyota RAV4 Years To Avoid: Final Thoughts
Up to now, one thing is clear here. Going generation by generation, year by year, and model after model, there are, of course, problems with the RAV4 that come up with each model year. But one thing that is for sure, is that no vehicle will have a 100% satisfaction rate. Every vehicle on the market has one or two mechanical-related issues. No model year will be perfect, and more often random problems will continue to occur and the RAV4 isn’t an exception.
The RAV4 has for quite a long time proven to be a reliable vehicle, especially within the last 5 year models. Some model years are less prone to mechanical problems than others. So if you’re planning to purchase a RAV4, it will be very important to do extensive research on your preferred model and make a choice that’s best for you and meets your needs.
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