Best and worst Toyota RAV4 years — which to avoid
In this guide, we identified the best and worst Toyota RAV4 years, focusing on common problems and real owner feedback, to help you make a smart, informed choice.
Making a well-informed Toyota RAV4 purchase decision gets a lot easier when you’ve got all the information on best years to buy and worst years to avoid. Regardless of the model’s overall reliability, certain model years have been deemed worse than others based on drivers’ complaints and repetitive issues.
We evaluated the Toyota RAV4 years to avoid based on their bad ratings and driver complaints, and that’s how we hand-picked the best and the worst years for you. Our automotive experts considered all the Toyota RAV4 recalls and we also went through the official NHTSA reports to deliver pieces of info on proven issues of the model, so let’s check out the details together.
Why you can trust REREV’s advice on which car model years to avoid: Our car experts look at official data, ask real drivers what they think, and talk to experienced mechanics to make sure our list is useful. This reliable info can make buying a car easier for you. Want to know how we do it? Find out more about our research methodology.
How we rated the best and worst Toyota RAV4 years
In the making of this guide, we’ve evaluated the RAV4 years through a series of driver complaints and experiences, as well as referred professional automotive experts and agencies.
While the experiences of different drivers may vary, we have to trust the numbers we’ve derived from organizations like the NHTSA, or the common problem reports we’ve obtained from the trusted Kelley Blue Book website even for the latest models.
We also browsed different forums where RAV4 owners have shared their opinions. Last but not least, our team explored the list of recalled model years from trusted sources like Cars.com and we’ve also inquired regarding the reasoning behind those recalls so we could bring you the updated list of common issues.
|Toyota RAV4 Generation
|Best Toyota RAV4 Years
|Worst Toyota RAV4 Years
|2006, 2007, 2008
|2016, 2017, 2018
Most common Toyota RAV4 problems
The RAV4 is the most known compact SUV in sales and is also Toyota’s best-selling model. Despite being renowned for its exceptional dependability, it has experienced specific problems. According to user reports on the Car Complaints platform, the most common problems with the RAV4 are:
1. Cylinder head gasket problems
The most common problem for Toyota RAV4 owners seemed to be the failed cylinder head gasket. It happened a lot due to torqued bolts which caused the cylinder head gasket to fail. This, along with the intense heat, can cause several problems for your car, but the best fix is to find a replacement cylinder head gasket and have it installed to get it back in working condition.
2. Transmission lurches and hesitations
The second most common RAV4 problem includes gearbox lurches and hesitation along with a little whining sound coming from the transmission.
While the noise coming from your gearbox or transmission should be further analyzed to determine the root cause, gear slipping is a known issue that Toyota has sought to address by extending the warranty they offer to cover more kilometers.
3. Steering wheel problems
There have been numerous reports of the clicking sound, with some drivers saying it occurs more often when turning slowly. Some users have experienced more severe instances of the steering wheel failing. Having a mechanic offer you a professional diagnostic for any steering wheel concerns is the best solution for this.
4. Water pump failure
Drivers more frequently reported the next problem after traveling about 25,000 miles. The RAV4 has had water pump failure more than once, often accompanied by obnoxious noises from the engine. You would need to replace the water pump to avoid any more serious problems.
5. Navigation and audio screen problems
This particular problem is cosmetic because it doesn’t directly compromise the car’s safety. Some RAV4 owners have expressed dissatisfaction with the positioning of the navigation and audio system because of how sunlight reflects on the screen, making it less than user-friendly.
Besides adding a screen protector to reduce glare, the only solution is to test these features before making a purchase to determine how important they are to you. It’s something you could only easily fix.
6. Engine light problems
An engine light’s only function is to alert the driver to a problem that has to be fixed. Owners of RAV4 vehicles have reported that while driving, usually at lower speeds, their “check engine” light will illuminate. This makes it difficult to diagnose and could be caused by various things, but it’s always advisable to have your car checked out to be cautious – it might just be a loose connection.
Sure, you can use a trick to turn off the check engine light, but that’s not the whole point here, since even false warnings could keep your attention off the road.
Worst Toyota RAV4 years to avoid
Like with other models, the Toyota RAV4 has some model years that you should avoid. We’ve explored the driver reports and reviews along with recalls and commonly reported issues to the NHTSA to determine the model years that you should avoid at all costs, so here’s a list of those:
It’s not just enough to know the years to avoid in general, which is why we’ll dive deeper into the specific issues reported for each of these models by RAV4 generations below.
First-generation RAV4 (1996 model year)
Most drivers prefer newer model years, but if you are not ‘most drivers’ and love them old or as a convertible, the 1996 RAV4 should not be an option. Overall, this model year is reliable, easy to drive, and has good gas mileage, but technology and safety are outdated.
Under-inflating airbags are also a problem with this oldie. Unless you are ready to install new ones and get your vehicle to modern standards, you should avoid purchasing one.
Second-generation RAV4 (2002 model year)
If you are looking to buy an older model of a RAV4, then avoid the 2002 Toyota RAV4 like a poisoned chalice. With over 500 complaints, this model year has the most complaints in the Toyota RAV4 group. From severe transmission problems to jerking at low speeds to computer and transmission failure, improper acceleration, and air-to-fuel ratio sensor failure, the check engine light with the code P1155 and many other issues are triggered.
They also have other problems, such as rattling, overheating, clunking noise in the steering, and trouble shifting gears. This shows that the 2002 Toyota RAV4 is not a good pick and probably the one to avoid the most.
Third-generation RAV4 (2006-2008 model years)
According to Car Complaints and the NHTSA, there are hundreds of complaints from owners of the 2006 Toyota RAV4. Most of which stem from engine and steering problems. With a rating of 3 out of 5 for reliability and owner satisfaction, this model year is known for its excessive oil consumption, poor comfort, disappointing driving experience, and expensive repair costs. These are problems you don’t want to experience.
As the first Toyota with three rows, the 2007 Toyota RAV4 was joyfully received by users with families and those with more than two kids. But this joy was short-lived when the complaints started pilling in. This model year is even worse than its already disappointing predecessor. On top of that, we’ve encountered numerous drivers with increased oil consumption experiences for diesel-powered versions from 2006 to 2008.
Aside from the already existing excessive oil consumption and engine and steering problems of the 2006 model, the 2007 Toyota RAV4 adds exhaust problems and average mileage. So far, it has garnered about 300 complaints on Car Complaints, which makes it one of the most faulty RAV4s ever. The CR rating for reliability is the same as the previous year, but the numbers got even worse for styling and comfort.
For lovers of older vehicle models, it would be best to tread cautiously around Toyota’s 3rd generation of RAV4s. The 2008 RAV4 is similar to its predecessor, although the number of complaints dropped to about 100. The engine problems and excessive oil consumption remain significant issues.
Still, the 2008 RAV4 picked up a different problem, the airbag non-deployment issue, which has a severity rating of 10.0, which is too awful for a car of its class. Other issues include average mileage and transmission jerking.
According to CR, the reliability rating got an extra point making it 4 out of 5, its comfort improved to 42 out of 100, the owner satisfaction remains the same as in 2007, while the drive system rating dropped to awful 1 out of 5.
Fourth-generation RAV4 (2013 model year)
Although Toyota got its acts together in the 4th generation, the 2013 Toyota RAV4 made it to the avoid list for its horrible driving experience. The worst of these experiences is its tendency to accelerate unexpectedly and not stop even after mashing the brakes, resulting in crashes.
The ventilation system also emits a stench, making breathing uncomfortable inside the cabin. Besides, there are various complaints by the 2013 Toyota RAV4 about miserable interior quality, lousy fuel economy, noisy acceleration, lack of trunk space, poor emergency handling, vehicle vibration at low speeds, and high cost of repairs.
For reliability, Consumer Reports gave the 2013 Toyota RAV4 a perfect 5 out of 5 rating, but its owner satisfaction score is down to 2 out of 5.
Fifth-generation RAV4 (2019 model year)
The 2019 Toyota RAV4 should not be an option when buying a more recent Toyota model. For starters, the 2019 RAV4 is ever so fueling hungry, and the gauge never indicates full, which means you never know how much fuel you need. According to the NHTSA reports, hundreds of complaints from owners of this model year are traceable to the fuel system problems.
For a brand like Toyota, renowned for reliability and owner satisfaction, the 2019 RAV4’s abysmal score of 2 out of 5 is a big turn-off. There have also been several complaints about its lack of trunk space, hesitating or lurching forward at slower speeds, noisy acceleration, faulty braking system, average millage, as well as the outrageous cost of repairs.
What are the best Toyota RAV4 years to buy?
Toyota is without a doubt one of the most reliable brands out there, so not everything is as bad as it seems for the RAV4 model. Just like we discussed some of the worst RAV4 years, we’ve also hand-picked some of the most reliable ones based on drivers’ reports and complaints.
So, are you wondering what are the best Toyota RAV4 years? Looking at the driver reports, the absolute best Toyota RAV4 model years are the 2009 RAV4 and 2018 RAV4. Several model years also come pretty close to those two models, so here’s a full list of hte best RAV4 years:
Of course, each of these years is backed up by a low number of complaints and problem reports, so we’ll explain the details for each.
2009 Toyota RAV4
The 2009 Toyota RAV4 deserves a place on this list. As one of the highest-rated cars in its class, this model year is known for its longevity, ample cargo space, third-row seat option, safety, and inexpensive repair costs.
More importantly, it has a 4/5 reliability rating and only 67 complaints on Car Complaints, which is the best rating out of all the third-gen models.
2010 Toyota RAV4
The 2010 Toyota RAV4 is similar to its predecessor regarding space, safety, and reliability. It has also been applauded for its engine’s impressive performance even after 200,000 miles.
Still retaining the 4/5 reliability rating, this model year has 75 complaints on Car Complaints, all of which are not damaging and are affordable to repair.
2016 Toyota RAV4
One of the key contenders for the most reliable RAV4 ever made is the 2016 Toyota RAV4. It has a reliability score of 4 out of 5 and an excellent average annual repair cost of about $400. So far, it has one of the lowest complaint records on the Car Complaints platform.
With only about 37 Complaints, The 2016 Toyota RAV4 is one of the most unproblematic RAVs anyone should own.
2018 Toyota RAV4
Last but not least, we’ve got a clear winner in terms of Toyota RAV4 reliability as the 2018′ model only had 27 complaints so far, which puts it as the front-runner on our list.
We also checked the NHTSA reports and recalls for this one, and we could see that none of the issues reported were common since less than 5 drivers reported each problem. Based on that and the excellent Consumer Report drivers’ satisfaction score, our team deemed this one as the most reliable Toyota RAV4 model to buy on the used market.
Is the Toyota RAV4 worth buying?
Generally, the Toyota RAV4 maintains a high reliability rating among most of its model years, but like every other vehicle, there is no guarantee for 100% owner satisfaction and reliability.
That’s why we base all of our reviews on real ownership experiences and rigorous research while aiming for details and info from renowned and trusted automotive sources. It’s common for a model to have some great and some less-great years, so RAV4 isn’t alone in that sense.
If you wish to see more examples of similar vehicles and our review methodology first-hand, you can always check out other articles like Hyundai Santa Fe years to avoid, and Honda CR-V years to avoid. Don’t let yourself become one of the unsatisfied owners sending reports to NHTSA – make your next buying decision confidently with expert advice and support from our team via our trusted guides.
What year is the most reliable Toyota RAV4?
The 2016 and 2018 model years are key contenders for the most reliable RAV4s. Although none has a 5-star rating, they have the fewest complaints, cheaper repair costs, and excellent features and performance.
What year should you avoid RAV4?
Some model years to avoid include 2019, 2013, 2009, 2008, 2007, and 2006. The CR ratings for some of these model years are also poor. Certain model years of the Toyota RAV4 require caution or total avoidance when purchasing a vehicle. This is because of the myriads of complaints from their owners on the Car Complaints and the NHTSA platforms.
Which version of RAV4 is best?
You can’t go wrong with RAV4’s fourth-generation model years, especially 2016, 2017, and 2018 model years. They have a near-perfect rating and fewer complaints, but if we must name the best, it has to be the 2016 RAV4. The 2016 model year, which won the J.D. Power performance award with a score of 86 for its outstanding driving experience and elegant styling, deserves your hard-earned money. Although the 2018 model year had fewer complaints, most complaints associated with the 2016 model year fell within the interior accessories category.
What year did the Toyota RAV4 have transmission problems?
A prevalent fault among the Toyota RAV4s is transmission problems, which may be obscure in certain model years but are glaring in others. Most 2nd generation RAV4s, built between 2000 and 2006, have transmission problems to blame for their poor reliability and complaints