The Toyota RAV 4 hit the market in the mid-1990s and held its popularity in the following decades. As one of the first crossover SUVs in the industry, it led the way for this now popular class of vehicle that serves as a mix of a small car and a full-sized SUV. But what are the best and worst years for the Toyota RAV4 if you’re thinking of buying one?
The RAV4 is now in its fifth generation and shows no signs of slowing down in popularity. Almost everyone has known someone who’s driven this well-known car. However, despite its long time on the market and notableness as a trustworthy vehicle, it’s had years where it performed much better than others.
If you’re in the market for a used Toyota RAV4, you are likely to want to consider this information in making your decision. Here, we’ll guide you through everything you need to know about the best and worst years for the Toyota RAV4, from its initial year to the latest release.
Toyota, in general, has a reputation for reliable vehicles. Despite this positive reputation, a few significant problems have come to light with some years of the RAV4.
For example, some models have shown that the transmission has trouble shifting gears at lower speeds. The result is abrupt movements when the vehicle tries to get into the next gear.
There are also concerns about the RAV4 consuming more oil than it should, especially when the vehicle reaches over 75,000 miles. This area is one concern that Toyota addressed by extending the warranty.
Other owners have reported problems with engine leaks or the vehicle pulling to one side as it turned. Some other models also had safety issues. In fact, it issued a recall in 2000 for underinflating airbags in some models, and some of them also scored poorly in side impact crash test ratings.
As far as aesthetics go, some years have received complaints about peeling paint. Customers say the paint just peels off on its own, and it’s an expensive fix. Inside the car, there have also been issues with navigation systems, glove boxes, and the stereo system.
Most of the model years on our “worst list” below are there because they have significant problems at relatively low mileage. The ones on the “best list” have shown the expected reliability the vehicle is known for and make good options when selecting a used RAV4.
If you find a Toyota RAV4 from one of these model years, you should feel confident that you have a reliable vehicle, as these years showed the fewest complaints or issues.
This model gained popularity for its third-row seat and roomy cargo area. It also ranked high for safety, reliability, and resale value. Fuel economy was good with this model, whether you chose the V6 or 4-cylinder option. It also had a backup camera, smart keyless entry, and push-button start, which people appreciated and weren’t standard in all vehicles at the time. With its low number of complaints this year, the Toyota RAV4 proved itself a dependable vehicle worth the money.
The reliability and favorable reviews from the 2009 model also carried over into the 2010 version. This model received high ratings for quality, reliability, and resale from J.D. Power and Associates, and some customers praised that it continued to run reliably, even after reaching the 200,000-mile mark.
The 2016 model was the middle of the fourth generation of the RAV4. This year had very few complaints and stood out as one of the best years for the vehicle. It had the option of a standard or hybrid power and a sport edition. The customers also appreciated its quiet interior, which was notable regardless of the trim level purchased. The vehicle’s front end also received a style makeover this year, which was well-received by customers. To this date, the 2016 model has very few customer complaints.
In 2017 Toyota introduced Toyota Safety Sense into the vehicles and made it a standard offering for all trim levels. It’s a good and reliable model that scores excellent points for its resale value and carries the same desirable features from the 2016 model that customers loved so much.
2018 saw the addition of an “adventure” trim level package, which included 18-inch black alloy wheels and other features that made it stand out among the pack. They also included an outlet in the cargo area, and the minimum towing capacity was raised to 3,500 pounds. This vehicle also has a minimal number of customer complaints and stands out for reliability and low cost of ownership. Many will say that this year represents the least amount of problems with the RAV4.
Before we dive into the specific issues with these years, here’s a quick list of the Toyota RAV4 model years that you likely want to avoid.
As you can see from the list, there are a few consecutive years where the Toyota RAV4 seemed to have its share of issues, primarily 2001-2003 and 2006-2008. Let’s look a little bit more at why.
The 2001 RAV4 was the first model of the vehicle’s second generation, and it experienced a significant re-design. However, what the company meant to be an improvement, ended up having its fair share of issues. This model is one of the worst, with transmission problems and issues shifting between gears. It also had other mechanical problems that led to significant failures when driving it.
It seems as though Toyota did not fix its transmission issue when it released the 2002 model, and it has the most customer complaints of any of the years of the vehicle. This vehicle would not give a smooth ride due to these transmission problems, and the engine control model also tended to overheat, causing its own set of problems. Customers stressed that these issues were quite pricey to repair, leading to low satisfaction.
The year 2003 continued with many of the same issues as the 2001 and 2002 models. However, it seems at this point that Toyota was at least trying to address them. Overall, the issues were fewer, but they still hadn’t taken care of the biggest problem with the transmission not running smoothly and often failing.
The 2006 Toyota RAV4 was the first of the third-generation models. However, it didn’t get off to the best start. This year had 59 different faults associated with it and received about 600 complaints. Major problems included the engine and the steering, including the excessive oil complaint.
This year had all of the previous engine and steering issues and several associated electrical issues. The oil consumption was still excessive, and the NHSTA expressed concern about its suspension and steering.
Rounding out the third year in a row for some significant issues, the 2008 RAV4 seemed to have even more problems than the following two years. Toyota still did not fix the steering and engine issues from the 2006 and 2007 models, and customers still complained about the oil consumption.
After several years of models where Toyota finally seemed to have worked the kinks out, the 2012 model had issues that occurred at very low mileage. Some customers even complained about these problems before the vehicle hit the 10,000- mile mark. This year’s most significant problem was a sudden acceleration issue that caused crashes. Less severe issues included problems with the navigation system and a smell that occurred from the ventilation.
2019 was another year with expensive issues that occurred at very low mileage. At less than 5,000 miles, many customers complained that the vehicle would lurch suddenly or show hesitation at low speeds. Fixing these problems caused a very significant amount of money. Customers also grew frustrated that the fuel gauge wouldn’t always show as full, so they would have difficulty assessing the current fuel level.
The 2023 model of the Toyota RAV4 is expected to continue being a popular choice. It has the same body style as the 2022 model, which received a few upgrades. The newest model is also anticipated to have improved technology, such as more robust infotainment interfaces and various connectivity options as standard. There’s also the introduction of a Hybrid Woodland edition with TRD-tuned suspension and bronze-colored wheels.
Early reviews suggest that this model will continue to be an easy-to-drive and well-laid-out sensible choice for a crossover SUV. However, it’s not anticipated to stand out in terms of performance or even styling, which is typical for the Toyota RAV. It’s not a vehicle you purchase to stand out in the crowd, but one you buy for a reliable mode of transportation.
Only time will tell if it will remain a solid and reliable model, so it’s something to watch if you’ll be in the market for a used car a few years from now. Toyota seems to know its market with the RAV4 and is keeping the formula the same to please its demographic.
Overall, this crossover SUV receives high marks and is a good option for someone looking for a reliable and cost-effective vehicle with decent cargo room and passenger space. Additionally, it’s a vehicle with slightly lower maintenance costs on average than others within its class, which the owners definitely appreciate.
Most of the newer models (from 2016 on) have the kinks worked out and very few issues and overall customer complaints. These vehicles are also known to often continue to run well over the 200,000-mile mark, proving their value. In fact, the RAV4 has proved itself to be better overall than the Honda CRV, which does share comparable reliability ratings.
Customers find that most years (other than the few with the significant issues we discussed) require minimal repairs, and the body and parts do not tend to break down very quickly. All of these points make good considerations when looking to purchase a used car.
We would say that if you’re in the market for a crossover vehicle of this type, you probably won’t find disappointment with the RAV4, as long as you familiarize yourself with the years that had major problems and steer clear of purchasing those.