It’s a long story, so bear with me. For those who may be having the same issue, you can skip to Section Three. Maybe we can help each other out. I’m writing this for you more than for Toyota.
Section One: The Toyota RAV4 Transmission problem
The best thing I can do here is provide some links to the history of this problem. Check out these articles from the New York Times Wheels blog.
Also, look at the warranty policy document for these model years which indicates:
This warranty enhancement is being offered for 10 years or 150,000 miles from the vehicle’s date-of-first-use for a MIL (check engine light) “ON” condition with diagnostic codes P0750, P0753, P0755, P0758, and /or P1760 stored and/or a harsh shift of the automatic transaxle.
Section Two: My Story
I bought my 2001 Toyota RAV4 in a private party transaction around May 28th, 2010. I come from a “Toyota family” and was excited about this car. I had just become unemployed, and found what I thought was a good car, at a good price.
A couple days later, I left the San Francisco Bay Area and started my 2-month cross-country drive, which was why I bought the car in the first place. Sometime about a week later, in the first week of June, my check engine light went on. I was in Moab, Utah and as far as I knew there was no Toyota service station in the area. I went to a mechanic that my hotel concierge recommended. The mechanic hooked up the computer, and pulled no codes. The check engine light turns off and he said it could be something to do with the heat (I think it was 95+ degrees at the time). Not knowing any better, and since the car seemed to be performing fine, I moved on.
A week or two later, I was leaving Denver and had the same experience: check engine light on, no Toyota service station in the area, computer hooked up by local mechanic, no codes pulled, check engine light goes off without any intervention. I moved on. Later, I think it came on a third time, then went off again within 24 hours or so.
Here’s where it gets really questionable…
Cut to August 2010 and about 6000 miles later: I am now back in California and the check engine light goes on. At this time, I am also starting to feel some shifting problems between 2nd and 3rd gear. I bring it to the Toyota dealership & service center in San Francisco. My service record from this visit states that “CSR reports harsh shifting. Diagnose and advise.” They hook up the computer, do a diagnostic and tell me it’s a bad catalytic converter. I have it replaced later in Reno, Nevada (closer to where I live) for about $1100. Even after describing the “mystery check engine” light experience from a few months earlier, they do not document or make any recommendations regarding the transmission issues and warranty extension which had just been announced by Toyota 10 weeks earlier for exactly my year, make and model.
A few weeks ago, around May 20, 2011, I’m driving through Death Valley on a vacation with my girlfriend. The car suddenly loses power and revs high before it shifts to 3rd gear. It also loses a significant amount of accelerating power. Even a rookie like me can sense it. This happens a couple times. No check engine light. The next day, after we leave Death Valley, it seems to get better. I thought that it could be the heat (as proposed by the mechanic in Moab the previous year), the very low elevation or some bad gas that I got at a local gas station. In any case, no further problems…until a couple days ago.
On June 27, 2011, the weird shifting between 2nd and 3rd gear happens again, this time a little more severe and frequent. Also, the car demonstrates a clear lack of accelerating power. To be safe, I didn’t want to drive it too much. Instead of making the one-hour trip to Reno, I have a local mechanic who I trust take a look at it. The check engine light is not on. He hooks up the computer, finds nothing, and recommends a fluid and filter change, which he does for a couple hundred dollars.
The next day, the check engine light goes on and the car continues to perform very poorly in 2nd and 3rd gears. I call my mechanic, he hooks up the computer and pulls the “755″ code, which I learn later is the code associated with the warranty extension. He tells me that the best thing to do is take it to Toyota in Reno. I call them to make an appointment, and that’s when I learn about the warranty extension. They advise me to call the Toyota National Service line, which I do.
They tell me the details about the warranty extension — extended to 150,000 miles or 10 years, whichever comes first. My car has 106,000 miles, or approximately 66% of the miles covered under warranty. However, my date-based warranty expired in March, about 90 days ago. They offer no additional help or options.
Later that same day, the check engine light magically goes off again.
Today (June 29), I drove it to Toyota in Reno. The check engine light is still not on, but they pull the “755″ code. They also tell me that to fix the ECM module (the computer which controls the transmission and the first repair required) and, potentially, to replace the transmission could cost me $5,000.
After a couple calls to the Toyota National Service Line, I’m getting no help. So, I’m writing this to plead my case. If you are reading this, Toyota, please consider the following:
- In my family, there are seven driving adults. Four of us own Toyotas, and this is my second;
- Despite explaining the mysterious “check engine” light behavior to them several months ago, and the experience of harsh shifting reported by San Francisco Toyota, I was not advised to on the transmission warranty when I brought it to be serviced;
- I am currently un-/under-employed, so a $5000 repair would be quite painful;
- Given the recent reliability and safety issues Toyota is experiencing, the company might consider taking a “whichever comes last” approach to this warranty extension. This would clearly be in the best interest of your consumers. In my case, the 10-year warranty is invalid by 90 days. But, in miles driven, which is clearly the best indication of vehicle reliability, I am well under the maximum miles stated in the warranty, and would like to be covered;
- The check engine light is/was clearly performing erratically.
Section Three: Let’s Do Something
Maybe I’m just a dreamer, but I have to think that this is something I cannot be responsible for. If you…
- …had a similar issue with the check engine light acting inconsistently;
- …had a similar experience with a Toyota service center that failed to inform or advise you on the warranty change;
- …feel that, under the circumstances, Toyota should take a “whichever comes last instead” of a “whichever comes first” position on this warranty extension…
…please add a comment below, or follow me on Twitter @ rickwhitney. One can only try.