2001-2003 Toyota RAV4 owners suffer gearbox problems

News reports are emerging from the United States that Japanese-built Toyota RAV4 models built between 2001 and 2003 are suffering from major automatic gearbox problems that are putting owners at risk, both physically and financially.

The New York Times reports that there have been more than 120 official complaints so far in the United States, all related to the failing auto gearbox of the previous-generation Toyota RAV4. And the worst part is that Toyota is aware of the problem, but is quietly trying to not do anything about it, possibly to safeguard its flagging reputation for quality.

In March 2006, Toyota sent U.S. dealers a technical service bulletin warning them that some consumers might complain about harsh shifting. It said improvements were made to the computer “manufacturing process to reduce the possibility of this condition occurring.” It then told the dealers to replace the electronic module, and if that did not work, to replace the transmission. But owners owning the vehicles were never notified about the problem.

When harsh shifting occurs, it is recommended to stop driving the vehicle and get it fixed before major transmission damage occurs. However, since the public was not told of this, some RAV4 owners went on to have repair bills totaling around $4000.

A U.S. Toyota spokesman now claims that this is not a safety issue, and that they fixed this problem when it occurred under warranty, but will not cover it now. However, some owners are facing this problem out of warranty, and a few say their cars shut down on the highway, almost causing major accidents.

So far, the NHTSA has refused to issue a recall, but they claim to be “closely” watching over the issue.

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