2001-2005 Toyota RAV4 expert review

Overall rating:4.5 Star Rating: Recommended
Updated: April 20, 2017
2004 Toyota RAV4
2001 - 2005 Toyota RAV4, (Photo: Toyota Canada)

The 2001-2005 Toyota RAV4 is one of the most fuel-efficient SUVs on the market after hybrids. With its sleek, sporty styling and great fuel economy, the RAV4 is a good choice if you need a small practical SUV.
Available as two- or four-wheel drive, the RAV4 has a car-based unibody construction with a 4-cylinder engine and a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. The 2001, 2002 and 2003 RAV4 came with the 148-hp 2.0-liter 4-cylinder DOHC engine with Variable Valve Timing with intelligence (VVT-i). Starting from the 2004, the RAV4 received the 161-hp 2.4-liter engine. Both engines use a maintenance-free timing chain; there is no timing belt to replace. Both engines are reliable if maintained properly.

Toyota RAV4 interior
2005 Toyota RAV4 interior. (Photo: Toyota Canada)
Toyota RAV4 cargo area
2005 Toyota RAV4. (Photo: Toyota Canada)
Toyota RAV4 2.4L engine
2005 Toyota RAV4 2.4L VVT-i engine. Photo: Toyota Canada
Toyota RAV4 EPA Fuel Economy: MPG
city/hwy
L/100 km
city/hwy
2001-2003 2WD manual 22/28 10.7/8.4
2004-2005 2WD manual 21/27 11.2/8.7
2001-2003 2WD auto 21/26 11.2/9.0
2001-2003 4WD auto, manual 20/25 11.8/9.4
2004-2005 4WD auto 20/24 11.8/9.8
2004-2005 4WD manual 19/25 12.4/9.4

AWD system: The RAV4's full-time 4WD system uses a viscous coupling center differential to distribute power to the front and rear wheels. When front wheels start slipping, more power is transferred to rear wheels and visa versa. Although this four-wheel drive system is not designed for real off-roading, it will offer you some advantage on slippery roads.

Inside: The RAV4's interior is simple and comfortable. High driving position offers very good all-around visibility. Controls are conveniently located and easy to use. Fit and finish is good. The rear swing door glass does not open separately as in the Honda CR-V, but the low cargo floor makes loading easier. On the downside, the rear seat space is fairly limited and the driver's seat feels a bit small.

Handling: Toyota RAV4 is agile and fun to drive. It handles like a car and has a fairly smooth ride. Tight turning circle makes it feel very maneuverable around town. The engine is a bit noisy and lacks highway passing power, but is very fuel-efficient.

Pros: Sleek styling, versatility, fuel economy, car-like handling, fun to drive, reliability

Cons: Front seats are not very comfortable, limited space, rear door glass doesn't open separately, lack of highway passing power, road noise, engine noise, rattles

Fuel Economy: The RAV4 is one of the class leaders in terms of fuel economy. With mostly highway driving, the 2005 FWD RAV4 with a manual transmission gets up to 346 miles (557 km) on a 14.8-gallon (56 L) tank.

Overall: If you want an inexpensive used 4WD vehicle that is good on gas, there aren't that many options. The RAV4 is reliable, easy to maintain and widely available on the used car market. Thanks to Toyota reputation for reliability, the RAV4 holds value well and you won't have troubles selling it. Maintenance costs are pretty low compared to other SUVs.
The 2001-2005 RAV4 didn't have too many problems, but there were some complaints about the automatic transmission shifting problems caused by a faulty ECM (engine computer) in the 2001-2003 models; read more on the next page. Still the overall reliability is above average. Among competitors, consider Subaru Forester or Honda CR-V; both are pretty good choices.

Similar cars:


Safety:

Toyota RAV4 NHTSA crash tests
Frontal
Driver
Frontal
Pass.
Side
driver
Side
Pass.
Rollover
2001 4 Star 4 Star n/a n/a 3 Star
2002 4 Star 4 Star 5 Star 5 Star 3 Star
2003 4 Star 4 Star 5 Star 5 Star 3 Star
2004 4 Star 4 Star 5 Star 5 Star n/a
2005 4 Star 4 Star 5 Star 5 Star n/a

Antilock brakes, traction control and stability control are standard from 2004.

Toyota RAV4 problems: A faulty ECM (engine computer) in 2001-2003 models can cause a problem with the way the automatic transmission shifts. According to many sources, the ECM warranty has been extended to 10 years or 150,000 miles. If you suspect having this problem in your RAV4, you might want to check with a Toyota dealer. The ECM needs to be replaced with an updated part to address this issue.
A few other things to know about: Leaking engine valve seals can cause a blue or grey smoke at start-up. The air/fuel ratio sensors are fairly common to fail, often causing the Check Engine light with the code P1155. The mass airflow sensor can get dirty causing hesitation on acceleration.

What to look for when buying a used Toyota RAV4: Before buying a used RAV4, check its history records, to verify that the vehicle wasn't involved in an accident or had other problems in the past. Watch out for a blue or grey smoke on start-up after the vehicle was sitting for a while. Usually it's more noticeable when the engine is started cold in the morning. Commonly the smoke is caused by bad valve seals. For 2001, 2002 and 2003 RAV4, you may want to check if the ECM has already been replaced with an updated part.
If the "Check Engine" light is on, have the problem checked out before buying a vehicle. When test-driving, make sure, the automatic transmission shifts properly and smoothly in all conditions. Read our illustrated used car checklist for more info. Have the vehicle properly inspected before buying. Consider an extended warranty at least for the powertrain to protect from unexpected repair costs.

Guides for used car buyers:

Maintenance tips: Keep your tires properly inflated. Change transmission fluid regularly; it's best to use genuine Toyota transmission fluid. You can find transmission fluid capacity in the 'Specifications' section of your owner's manual. Keep all other fluids clean and topped up. In the 4WD models, transfer case oil and rear differential oil also need to be replaced regularly. If you notice any issues with the way the automatic transmission shifts, have it looked at before the problem gets worse.
Regular oil changes will help to keep the engine running longer. Toyota recommends using 5W-30 oil. When replacing a faulty ignition coil, it's good idea to replace all the spark plugs if they are old. When doing any repairs, it's always better to use original Toyota parts.
Have your vehicle inspected in a repair shop annually to keep it safe. You can check the maintenance schedule online at the Toyota Owners website. The same website provides access to the electronic copy of the owner's manual.
You might also be interested:

Resources:
Safety Recalls - NHTSA - check for recalls.
Transport Canada - Road Safety Recalls - check for recalls in Canada.
Toyota Owners - maintenance schedules, electronic owner's manual and how-to videos.

2005 Toyota RAV4 short specifications

Dimensions:
Overall length:
Overall width:
Overall height:
Wheelbase:

166.6 in(4232 mm)
68.3 in (1735 mm)
66.1 in (1680 mm) (4WD model)
98.0 in (2490 mm)

Seating capacity:

5

Cargo capacity:
Behind rear seats:
With rear seats out:

29.2 cu. ft
68.3 cu. ft

Towing capacity:

1500 lb. (680 kg)

Engine:


2.4-liter DOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder with VVT-I
161 hp @ 5,700 rpm, 165 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm

Recommended Fuel:

Regular unleaded

Fuel Tank Capacity:

14.7 US gallons (56 liters)

Engine Oil Capacity L4-2.4L (2AZ-FE):

With filter: 4.0 US qt. (3.8 L)