Best & Worst Years of Toyota RAV4

The Toyota RAV4 is a compact SUV that’s been on America’s roads since 1996. With so many models to choose from, it’s difficult to know which ones are reliable. While the automaker is known for making durable vehicles, there are some clear distinctions between the best and worst years of Toyota RAV4 models.

Based on various data points, we were able to determine which Toyota RAV4 models are the best and which ones should be avoided. We’ve also narrowed down the most common complaints and answered your top questions in this comprehensive guide.

Best Toyota RAV4 Model Years

If you want the best Toyota RAV4 model, consider checking out the 2005 and 2018 model years. Based on consumer reports, the 2015, 2014 and 2023 Toyota RAV4 models are also top contenders in their respective price ranges. 

Let’s examine what these RAV4 models have to offer.

1. 2005 Toyota RAV4

2005 Toyota RAV4 - one of the best model years

If you need a budget-friendly RAV4, you can find one of these to be the least troublesome. The 2005 model continues to be praised by auto enthusiasts everywhere because it is mechanically sound.

While some people were upset that the JBL stereo wasn’t offered during this year, there are some other perks. For example, there’s a Sport package that added a metal mesh grille, along with silver sport pedals for an exciting look. 

2. 2018 Toyota RAV4

2018 Toyota RAV4 - one of the best model years

As a newer model, there’s a lot going for the 2018 RAV4. This year provided the debut of the Adventure model, which is geared for off-road travel. 

It’s also worth noting that the Sport SE model earned a higher clearance and provides superior towing capacity at 3,500 pounds. Combine that with the lack of customer complaints and we have ourselves a winner.

3. 2015 Toyota RAV4

2015 Toyota RAV4 - one of the best model years

The 2015 Toyota RAV4 added to the benefits of previous versions with some important safety upgrades. In fact, this SUV earned the highest scores from the IIHS. 

We are impressed with the optional features that you might find on used models. The Limited models have a special appearance package with sleek wheels and a unique Blizzard Pearl color. You can also find the power liftgate on some XLE trims. 

4. 2014 Toyota RAV4

The 2014 RAV4 is a carryover model, so no new technologies were introduced. While this isn’t a favorable thing for people looking to constantly upgrade, it does mean that there was less to go wrong.

Toyota did release a Technology package for Limited models, which was an added benefit. This package put blind-spot monitoring, automatic high-beam control and a lane-departure system into the mix, adding more safety.

5. 2023 Toyota RAV4

How could we ignore the benefits of a newer RAV4 model? It contains the latest and greatest tech features along with boasting of superior performance. 

Customers have been happy with this RAV4 so far, and it’s covered by a warranty, so there’s less to worry about. We are exceptionally thrilled with the larger infotainment system screens and off-road trip options. 

Worst Toyota RAV4 Model Years

Not all Toyota RAV4 models are worth driving. Some have been found to have serious defects and much lower consumer ratings. We would recommend staying away from the 2007, 2020, 2012, 2009 and 2008 Toyota RAV4 models if you want to avoid costly repair bills. 

Here’s a closer look at what’s wrong with each model year.

1. 2007 Toyota RAV4

2007 Toyota RAV4 - one of the worst model years

Of all the RAV4 models made, this may have the most complaints overall. The biggest issue comes down to the steering system. Power steering goes out because of a faulty steering assembly, leaving drivers to muscle their way off the road.

This RAV4 also deals with excessive oil consumption, which can leave the engine unprotected. For that reason, a lot of these RAV4s have gone through motors. 

2. 2020 Toyota RAV4

2020 Toyota RAV4 - one of the worst years

The biggest issues with the 2020 RAV4 models seem to come down to the hybrid models. Customers have been very upset over the reported gas mileage and how it doesn’t line up.

Plus, the gas tank doesn’t seem to fill all the way up. On top of that, the fuel gauge readings are inaccurate in many cases, leaving owners in the dark about how much fuel is left. 

3. 2012 Toyota RAV4

We had to include the 2012 RAV4 in the list of ones to avoid because of the brake pedal issues. It appears that when the pedal is pushed, the SUV will sometimes accelerate instead. This issue has led to accidents. 

While less important, drivers also complain about the visor falling down, leading to visibility concerns. It’s probably best to stay clear of this one if you want a safe drive.

4. 2009 Toyota RAV4

Vehicle speed controls also seem to be an issue with 2009 RAV4 models. There have been reports of sudden engine revving, even when the accelerator pedal isn’t pushed. 

Others have reported sudden lunging forward. Additionally, there are issues with the brakes, making it more difficult to stop the SUV. All in all, this one has malfunctions that can easily lead to an accident and costly repair bills. 

5. 2008 Toyota RAV4

Excessive oil consumption appears to be the most significant problem with the 2008 RAV4. The engine burns oil so rapidly that owners have to put more in between changes. This fault can lead to the engine overheating, a burning smell and complete failure.

Other people have expressed issues with the airbags. In some cases, they haven’t deployed during an accident. 

Most Common Toyota RAV4 Problems

Among the most complained about problems, the Toyota RAV4 deals with EVAP system failures, catalytic converter concerns, excessive oil consumption, steering malfunctions, transmission problems, and trouble with the oxygen sensors. 

Here’s more information to keep in mind while you do RAV4 shopping.

EVAP System Failure

EVAP leak

Some older RAV4 models could have a faulty evaporative system vapor canister. This issue turns on the Check Engine Light.

In some cases, the vapor canisters let out charcoal, which gets blocked in the vent valve. To repair it, the canister needs to be replaced. 

Catalytic Converter Trouble

Catalytic converter metals

The problem with the RAV4 is that the Check Engine Light can mean expensive repairs. That’s what owners think when they see warnings about the catalytic converter.

However, it turns out that many of these warnings aren’t real. Some RAV4 models show a fault for the catalytic converter when all it needs is a software update. 

Excessive Oil Consumption

bad oil consumption

Most concerning are the reports about oil consumption. Some RAV4 models tend to burn oil faster than normal, requiring regular top-offs. It became so bad that Toyota had to extend the warranty on some older models.

On top of the extra consumption, the engines are also prone to leaks. When the engine can’t get enough oil, overheating and failure are sure to follow, leaving people with costly repairs. 

Steering Malfunctions

turn steering wheel

As we discussed earlier, some models have serious steering concerns. Drivers can lose power steering at any time, which can lead to an accident.

The vehicle may suddenly start to pull to one side. There can also be strange knocking sounds heard while turning. 

Transmission Issues

neutral transmission

The transmissions in the RAV4 haven’t always been reliable. There were some models that exhibited trouble shifting

A few of the newer models have struggled with this complaint. While it didn’t make our list of worst models, the 2019 has been known to have some transmission trouble. 

Oxygen Sensor Failure

oxygen sensor

Oxygen sensors are vital to the proper operation of the engine. They help determine an appropriate fuel-air balance for combustion. Yet, some RAV4 models have oxygen sensors that appear to fail prematurely. In return, drivers are left with poor fuel economy and failed emissions testing.

The only fix is to replace the sensor. Yet, when this needs to be done more frequently than normal, it can start to add up. 

What is the best year to buy a Toyota RAV4?

We found the fewest complaints and higher customer satisfaction scores with the 2005, 2018, 2014-2015 and 2023 Toyota RAV4 models. These are all recommended for various reasons, whether they are reliable and cheap or newer and better filled with the top technologies.

What year did the Toyota RAV4 have transmission problems?

There have been issues with the transmission on older and newer models. Back in the day, the 2001-2002 and 2006-2008 RAV4 models seem to struggle. Yet, even some of the newer generations have trouble, such as the 2019. It’s best to research the model you want to drive before buying it.

What is considered high mileage for a Toyota RAV4

Toyota is known for making reliable vehicles that last. While most Toyota RAV4 SUVs can rack up more than 200,000 miles, you need to be careful which model you buy. If you end up with one that has engine or transmission issues, no amount of maintenance can prevent premature failure.

Is RAV4 the most reliable SUV?

According to data from RepairPal, the Toyota RAV4 earns a 4.0 rating out of 5.0. This is an above-average score and places the RAV4 in the third spot out of 26 compact SUVs that were evaluated. The average maintenance and repair cost is also lower than most vehicles. However, there are some bad eggs to stay away from, so it’s important to do your research before buying any used RAV4.

There are plenty of Toyota RAV4 models that are worth driving. The model years that do it right are worth praising because they will last much longer than normal SUVs with proper maintenance. All of those models are worth investing in.

Yet, there are also some that you should stay far away from. Whether it’s the excessive oil consumption leading to premature engine wear or issues with the automatic transmission, some models are more of a headache than they are worth. That’s why your research is invaluable before deciding which RAV4 model to drive. 


Categories: General

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