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Toyota’s RAV4 Prime PHEV Rivals Battery-Electric Vehicles Like Tesla Model Y For Reduced Repair And Maintenance Needs

Toyota’s RAV4 Prime plug-in hybrid-electric eliminates nearly every common repair and maintenance need. Here’s how, and a reminder that many of the systems Toyota pioneered on hybrids are now commonly used in EVs.

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Battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) like Tesla’s new Model Y crossover should have a lower cost for maintenance and repair when compared to traditional internal combustion engine-powered vehicles (ICE vehicles). But is that the only comparison? As the Toyota RAV4 Prime plug-in hybrid-electric vehicle proves, there is another option for those seeking a very low cost of ownership and simplicity of maintenance and repair.

Related Story: Toyota RAV4 Prime vs. Tesla Model Y Maintenance Cost Analysis - A Surprising Outcome

Toyota RAV4 Prime - No More Tune-Ups
In the old days of ICE vehicles, a tune-up would involve distributor caps, frequent spark plug changes, and carburetor service. Those days have been gone for over a decade. Distributor caps and carburetors are long gone, replaced with no-maintenance or low maintenance systems. Spark plugs in Toyota vehicles have a change interval of over 100,000 miles.

Toyota RAV4 Prime - No Power Steering Fluid Changes
Old-school ICE vehicles also needed power steering fluid changes. Every modern automobile, including EVs, now uses an electric motor to drive power steering, and there is no maintenance required.

Toyota RAV4 Prime - No More Timing Belt
However, until very recently, there were some pretty expensive to maintain and repair systems in ICE vehicles. For example, the timing belt. Toyota has eliminated this pricey to maintain in the RAV4 Prime item by replacing it with a timing chain that requires no maintenance.

Toyota RAV4 Prime - No Accessory Belt
Those who have owned ICE vehicles know that the accessory belt was still a pain in the neck. It drove the alternator, AC compressor, and water pump. Let’s break those items down and see how Toyota has eliminated the maintenance of every one of them, and therefore does not need an accessory belt.

Toyota RAV4 Prime Heat Pump HVAC System & Cooling System
Toyota’s HVAC system uses a high-efficiency heat pump system. Just like those found in the best battery-electric vehicles. It requires no drive pulley to operate. The water pump is electrically driven and has no maintenance requirements. The engine coolant in the RAV4 Prime’s engine is designed to last 100,000 miles.

Toyota RAV4 Prime - No More Alternators
Toyota has shifted away from troublesome alternators in its line of hybrid vehicles. For decades, modern hybrid-electric vehicles like Toyota’s Prius have used a DC to DC converter, just like those now adopted by EVs like the Tesla Model Y. DC to DC converters use the power of the traction battery to keep the 12 Volt accessory battery charged. They have no moving parts. We changed the alternator in a more conventional Subaru Forester this month which failed after just 28,000 miles. The cost was over $900. Vehicle owners are going to appreciate Toyota’s pioneering the DC to DC converter as they are more widely adopted.

Related Story: Hidden Benefit - Toyota Hybrids Often Go 100K Before Needing Brakes

Toyota RAV4 Prime - No More Transmission Fluid Changes
The eCVT transmission employed by the RAV4 Prime is unique to the Toyota brand. It was first used in the Prius and then the RAV4 Hybrid and has proven extremely reliable. One interesting part of the proven electronic transmission is that Toyota eliminated routine transmission fluid changes. In the RAV4 Prime, the transmission fluid is designed to last the life of the vehicle. Those owners who wish to change it proactively can. Toyota suggests a 60,000-mile interval for owners who may tow frequently or carry heavy loads. A group that is likely to be very small given the mission of the RAV4 Prime.

Toyota RAV4 Prime - $15 Tool-Free Filter Replacement In 3 Minutes
The RAV4 Prime has an engine air filter element that requires changing at 30,000-mile intervals. Changing the engine air filter requires no tools, and can be completed in under 3 minutes. Toyota placed the filter housing on the top of the engine in the front driver's corner for easy access. The replacement filter element has a price of $35 from Toyota and is available on Amazon for $15.

Toyota RAV4 Prime - Oil Changes
As you can see, the Toyota RAV4 Prime has a drivetrain that reduces the need for engine work and the associated cost considerably. There is still engine oil. The engine has a 10,000-mile change interval for most drivers or a 5,000-mile change interval for those who tow or drive in dusty, salty, or other challenging conditions.

Tesla Model Y Requires Service Each Year
Interestingly, Tesla’s Model Y also has a service interval in areas that use road salt for winter safety. The brakes require service every 12,500 miles. Tesla owners also report requiring tires more often than most conventional crossovers do. Tesla has responded with a frequent tire rotation schedule of as little as 6,250 miles. Thus, both vehicles are likely to see a dealer or local mechanic a couple of times per year on average. You can find the Tesla Model Y service interval on page 158 of its owners manual.

It may have taken a century, but Toyota and other manufacturers have been reducing the service requirements of internal combustion engines. That pace has accelerated in the past 20 years. As the global vehicle fleet evolves to a greener design, expect plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles like the Toyota RAV4 Prime to rival battery-electric vehicles for costs of maintenance and repair.

You can view the owners’ manuals for both vehicles mentioned in this story in the links below.
Tesla Model Y Owners Manual
Toyota RAV4 Prime Owners Manual

John Goreham is a long-time New England Motor Press Association member and recovering engineer. John's focus areas are technology, safety, and green vehicles. In the 1990s, he was part of a team that built a solar-electric vehicle from scratch. His was the role of battery thermal control designer. For 20 years he applied his engineering and sales talents in the high tech world and published numerous articles in technical journals such as Chemical Processing Magazine. In 2008 he retired from that career to chase his dream of being an auto writer. In addition to Torque News, John's work has appeared in print in dozens of American newspapers and he provides reviews to many vehicle shopping sites. You can follow John on Twitter, and view his credentials at Linkedin

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Dave (not verified)    August 31, 2020 - 5:38PM

This article has some inaccuracies, primarily when you compare the Toyota Rav4 Prime with the Tesla Model Y . "Tesla Model Y Requires Service Each Year" All vehicles should have their brakes inspected regularly when driving on salted roads; salt can be a major contributor to early brake wear due to corrosion. Requiring more tire changes is really just dependent on the driver, as with any car or any tire, when making a statement such as that you really should cite a source, not just that you read it on the internet. You specify 6,250 miles for a tire rotation as frequent, yet, the Toyota Rav4 Prime specifies every 5,000 miles, or every 6 months. Also on page 158 of the Tesla owner's manual it specifies that servicing the Model Y is on an as needed basis. Outside of tire rotations, of which anyone with a jack and and hour to spare can do, the most frequent recommended service is every 2 years, replace the air filter and check the brake fluid. Lastly, the manual you posted for the Toyota Rav4 Prime is the warranty/maintenance manual not the owner's manual.

While both the Rav4 and Model Y are fantastic vehicles it does both vehicles a disservice when you attempt to tear one down with inaccuracies and misdirection.

Tre Born (not verified)    August 31, 2020 - 10:42PM

I have had a Tesla for nearly 3 years. No maintenance service done. No requests by Tesla for me to do them.

I did have to replace the 12 volt battery and replace a tire that blew out. But your article is about maintenance. None other than a tire rotation

Paul Fosse    August 31, 2020 - 11:42PM

Great Article. My 2 year old Tesla Model 3 has needed wiper blades and a cabin air filter and a tire rotation in 26,000 miles. Glad Toyota is also reducing maintenance needs.

The biggest problem I have with the Toyota RAV4 Prime is availability. With such a great car, they should have anticipated more demand and built more. Oh well, they will probably correct that next year.

D Keller (not verified)    March 7, 2021 - 10:09PM

Just about every point you make can be applied to the regular Rav4 hybrid.
And If you don't let the gas engine run occasionally on a Prime that can cause problems.

Mike (not verified)    April 18, 2021 - 12:43PM

Good info on the Rav4 Prime. I own a 2018 Prius Prime and have a 40 Amp Clipper Creek (Wahoo go Northern CA!) charger. I understand the PHEV philosophy and even with a 25 - 30 mile range on the traction battery, I have averaged 100 mpg since Sept 2018. (I keep a running spreadsheet of gas I put in the car ) I usually keep it at 70 mph on the highway and probably go to the mountains (100 feet above sea level to 8K+ feet) at least 20 or more times a year so no babying here. This weekend I went to look at a Rav4 XSE prime with all the toys. Build a Toyota had it at around 50K MSRP. I knew about the limited production for this year but was shocked to hear about the 10K+ price gouging (total hogwash). Nice vehicle and what I am looking for. I figured if I can average at least 80 mpg basing it on (a guess?) the Prius and that it is 1K lbs heavier it would be decent and having a14+ gallon gas tank would work out as well. The price gouging really aggravated me and is/was a cheap shot. So I guess the question is for about the same price and a similar sized vehicle is it the price gouged Rav4 or a Model Y WITH full self driving capabilities? Hmm...? As many have stated it is the range of the Model Y that are keeping some from buying and making Tesla customers buy a PHEV. Personally, I am going to wait a year and see if the price gouging drops off on the Rav4 or the Y increases (significantly, in my dreams probably) in range. Yup hurry up and wait.

Robert Barton (not verified)    August 25, 2022 - 7:20PM

I have a Rav4 Prime and love it. I have a question. With regard to the DC to DC converter that keeps the 12v battery charged, does it operate only when in READY mode or all the time as in when the car is completely off in temporary storage?