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How 2 Avoidable Defects Destroyed the Toyota RAV4's Reliability Rating

The Toyota RAV4 led the industry in terms of reliability for many years. Then two odd defects came along and put the RAV4 well below its peers. Here’s what happened.
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From 2012 through 2018, Toyota’s RAV4 earned the highest score for reliability from Consumer Reports. A perfect five for five each of those seven years. That run is unusual for any brand except Toyota. Its models often score perfect for many consecutive years. It looked as if the RAV4 was sorted out and would continue to lead the segment for reliability. Then the score dropped to a ⅖ in 2019 and 2020. That score is one away from the lowest possible, and it has resulted in Toyota dropping to number three overall among the highest-ranked brands for reliability. Just two issues caused this fall, and neither are horribly broken engines or transmissions, or vexing infotainment systems. The reasons are odd. And very preventable.

Related Story: Why Toyota’s RAV4 Has a Much Lower Reliability Rating Than Its RAV4 Prime

Toyota QDR
The Toyota brand is built on three things; quality, durability, and reliability. Toyota calls this QDR, and you won’t attend a media launch for any new Toyota product without hearing that term. A lot. Toyota is not widely known as a performance brand, though it is and always has been. Nor is Toyota known for flashy good looks, though many of its cars are quite handsomely styled. It’s reliability that most buyers think of first when they buy a Toyota. And they buy them over and over again. They don’t break. You don’t burn valuable vacation days dealing with breakdowns. You can pass them to your children as reliable used cars. At least that was the case.

Data by Consumer Reports chart by John Goreham

RAV4 Leads The Industry
The RAV4 is Toyota’s most important model. It is the top-selling Toyota, the top-selling non-truck nameplate in America, and the RAV4 resides in the largest vehicle segment in America. It is no surprise the RAV4 is so good. Toyota can’t afford not to have the best five-passenger crossover in the market. Or at least the one with the broadest appeal to the broadest range of buyers. The RAV4 is available in off-road trims (TRD and Adventure), bare-bones family trim (LE), value trims (XLE), premium trims (Limited), and Hybrid trims which sell in greater numbers than many brands' entire crossover lines. The RAV4 Prime is the pinnacle of the segment and the RAV4 Prime was the second-fastest-selling vehicle in America this past summer. So how in the world did Toyota let its RAV4 fall to a reliability rating just half that of its peers like the Subaru Forester, Mazda CX-5, and Honda CR-V?

Related Story: Mazda Second Only To Lexus In Consumer Reports Brand Reliability Rankings

Problem One - Fuel Pumps
The first problem is one that the above-mentioned peers are not going to escape. Denso, the component manufacture that supplies fuel pumps to all of those models, messed up apparently. An impeller in the pumps it makes had a problem related to solvent exposure and they may fail. This means they need to be replaced. Many owners have reported problems before the recall, and even after it. It’s not pretty. To its credit, Toyota was among the first manufacturers to recognize the issue and deal with it. That is why the other brands’ models’ reliability scores have yet to see the full effect of unhappy consumers being forced to take vehicles in for a recall repair. Our coverage of the fuel pump issue here tapped a nerve. The stories are among the most viewed and have pages of comments from unhappy Toyota owners.

Problem 2 - Fuel Tanks
The second problem is an odd one. Some trims of the RAV4 suffer from a fuel tank that seems unable to make use of about 30% of its capacity. The tanks tell the driver they need fuel after only 11 gallons, even though they have many gallons greater capacity. This has caused frustration, uncertainty, and doubt in the minds of many owners. Which is worse than a problem with a known cause and known fix. Again, our reporting on this topic is widely read and widely commented on.

Toyota is taking a beating from EVangelists and EV advocacy publications for having let its leadership in green vehicles fall away since the days of RAV4 EVs. Toyota doesn’t have a single battery-electric vehicle for sale in America and most likely won’t for a year or more. New EVs often have some problems, but none of them have defective fuel pumps or gas tank filling problems.

Torque News would like to thank Steven Elek of Consumer Reports for his input on the data related to this story.

Top of page image by John Goreham


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Comments

It's a uniquely American problem. In Australia, the fuel tanks were never an issue. The RAV4, here is a STAR !
The fuel tank problem has nothing to do with reliability. I have a RAV4 XSE and I have ZERO issues. I did the fuel tank swap only because everyone else was doing it. Not because I was having issues. People are a bunch of mamby pambies.
How do you like the transmission?
Agree regarding comments on fuel tank etc.. mine is a 2007 Rav4 and so far no fuel pump or fuel gauge readings or fuel tank issues.
I don't know that the term "mamby pambies" is applicable to the tens of thousands of customers with serious functional issues, just because you happened to get a vehicle without the defects. The first 15 months I had my brand-new 2019 RAV4 it was in the shop, as the fuel tank issue led to me having less than a 100 mile range, which wasn't enough for my daily commute. After the fix, it now only shorts the tank by 20%, and has a non-working fuel gauge the dealer tells me is unfixable. Those would seem to be legitimate gripes for the tens of thousands of people who paid up to $40k for a new vehicle, and whose resale value will likely suffer. If you really don't see that loss of value and of functionality as issues of concern, you apparently have much more cash to burn than the rest of us!
I have only 20k miles on my 19 RAV4 LE but have ZERO complaints about its performance gas tank or anything. And running an engine too low on fuel CANT BE good for the fuel pump of any vehicle so getting fuel when the tank is down to 2 gallons just seems to be a protector for people that don't know any better and drive around on empty. I got whatever the recall was on taken care of in like an hour by my dealership so no huge inconvenience for me.
Toyota front brakes on my '17 Rav4 hybrid are crap. And Safety sense 1 should be part of a class action lawsuit to have it removed or be upgraded.
You mention full EVs in a year or more? Orders for the Toyota BZ4X are supposed to start in May with supply in July or August? Subaru also launches full EV off the same line. Good things are coming soon!
Looks like it is paid artical. Surprisingly i see mazda on top. I drove mazda for 5 years. when i bought.. off lesse 68k. I 5 years i found mazda Has so manny problems.. at least 4 recals. Fule economy was worst..gass guzzler.. maintenance too high.. mazda is lemon. I will never buy mazda again. CRV.. allways has oil problem, mixed oil with gass in turbo engine. Cheap honda still putting halogen bulbs in base models. After driving toyota rav4 2021 almost year.. i can say You can not compare mazda or honda to toyota.. true fule economy. Stability, safety.. vlaue 100%.RAV4 has more cargo space, more Powerthen CRV. I feel fortunate i did not buy CRV.. And Satay away from mazda.. specially used one.
I bought a used 2018 Mazda cx-5 gt and I agree the fuel economy is really bad. Even my Sienna has better fuel economy.
EVs are not the solution in many countries, especially countries that burn coal to supply electrical energy, which unfortunately are the countries with the highest populations. Hybrids are still the best way to commute to lower Co2. Toyota is the worldwide leader in hybrids. They have been tinkering with a hydro-cell, we will see what that brings...
It is a shame that Toyota missed the opportunity to resolve these mechanical issues early, and communicating openly with customers, because the cost in current and future sales lost is much higher than just fixing the issues and being honest about there being a problem in the first place. Trust is hard to earn, and easily lost. But Japanese companies are focused on not losing face, so they often go to great lengths to hide and ignore problems, rather than simple resolving them. Mitsubishi had similar reporting/resolution issues, and similar bad outcomes.
I discovered the problem with the fuel tank in August. The dashboard light came on for low fuel but when I filled the tank it didn't take more than 11 gallons. We were on a long stretch of road with no gas stations at night. I really wish they would fix it so I wouldn't have to go thru that again since you really don't know how much you have left.
This was more of a hit piece on Toyota. All brands have mechanical issues and Toyota is normally the best in handling warranty repairs. Are they perfect? No, but none of them are. If the dealership can't fix your issue, contact the corporate office in Texas and a representative will open a case to review the warranty claim you are making.
My daughter is about to buy a 2022, the basic model, is that model having those issues because in this articles the years are not mentioned. I’ll appreciate you enlightened me, thanks!
My 2020 RAV4 Hybrid had the fuel tank issue, fixed promptly under recall. No issues since it was fixed. I use it for Uber, nearly all city, stop and go driving. It gets 43-50 mpg in that usage. Incredible car!
I love my Rav4 Hybrid. I only wish it had the same system and gas milage as the Prius or Prius Plug in I owned. They have the technology they should put it in the Rav4 Hybrid.
I am a service manager and former Toyota/ASE Master technician with over 25 years of Toyota experience now running the shop at a nationwide used car retailer. Funny how Toyota is being dinged for 2 issues that they know about and have done everything they can to fix the issues. In my opinion, the RAV4, in all trims and Hybrids are extremely reliable, and very inexpensive to keep on the road for their owners. We sell tons of them. If you want to talk about the ones that cost my shop thousands of dollars and have to be subletted to their respective dealers.... The list is long....and all of my Technicians hate to work on them. Ford Escape- Engines, Transmissions, Electronics, and have huge bills. Chevy Equinox, Engines- constantly replacing them. transmissions-not so bad, but audio....crud. Any Chrysler suv....Jeep Cherokee, Patriot, Compass, Journey, Renegade, What horrible crud. Any Nissan SUV with a CVT. Costs thousands. Any European SUV. If it isn't still in factory warranty...RUN AWAY! They cost my company thousands! Mazdas, Hondas. Not too bad. But cost more than Toyotas to repair, and have a few more issues.
I am a service manager and former Toyota/ASE Master technician with over 25 years of Toyota experience now running the shop at a nationwide used car retailer. Funny how Toyota is being dinged for 2 issues that they know about and have done everything they can to fix the issues. In my opinion, the RAV4, in all trims and Hybrids are extremely reliable, and very inexpensive to keep on the road for their owners. We sell tons of them. If you want to talk about the ones that cost my shop thousands of dollars and have to be subletted to their respective dealers.... The list is long....and all of my Technicians hate to work on them. Ford Escape- Engines, Transmissions, Electronics, and have huge bills. Chevy Equinox, Engines- constantly replacing them. transmissions-not so bad, but audio....crud. Any Chrysler suv....Jeep Cherokee, Patriot, Compass, Journey, Renegade, What horrible crud. Any Nissan SUV with a CVT. Costs thousands. Any European SUV. If it isn't still in factory warranty...RUN AWAY! They cost my company thousands! Mazdas, Hondas. Not too bad. But cost more than Toyotas to repair, and have a few more issues.