2011 Toyota RAV4. Click image to enlarge
Model: 2006 to 2012 Toyota RAV4
Vehicle Type: Crossover SUV
History Description: The Toyota RAV4 is arguably the small SUV that started a now intensely competitive compact crossover scene. Introduced in 1996, it was one of North America’s first SUV models that boasted tremendous fuel efficiency, fun-to-drive dynamics and four-wheel drive.
Things have changed considerably since the RAV4 hit the market—and nowadays, most carmakers offer a machine with similar intentions. Consider this one alongside the Subaru Forester, Honda CR-V, Ford Escape and others.
Additionally, a new-for-2013 RAV4 is launching soon, which means the last-generation RAV4 has traveled even deeper into used-car territory.
Engines/Trim: RAV4 shoppers can select between four- or six-cylinder power, and a number of trim levels and options to fine-tune the model to their precise needs.
Four-cylinder power was standard, namely from a 2.4L unit with 166 horsepower early on, and a 2.5L four-cylinder, making 179 horsepower from 2009 on. The available 3.5L V6 made just shy of 270 horses, resulting in hot-rod like power output. The RAV4 with V6 power went like bananas, and was also better suited to towing and frequent travel with a full complement of passengers and cargo.
Most models got an automatic four-wheel-drive system as standard, and a push-button ‘Lock’ mode was featured for preemptive traction ahead of driving in slippery conditions, or bashing through the snow-plow hump at the end of your driveway. Otherwise, the system was fully automatic and operated with no driver involvement. Note that a fuel-saving front-drive configuration was offered for several years.
2010 Toyota RAV4. Click image to enlarge
Look for a sport-appearance package that added a chrome tailpipe and deleted the rear spare tire for a cleaner, leaner look. Other packages included the ‘Leather’ package, which added more upscale seats and trim, a ‘Leather and Navigation’ package, a seven-passenger seating package which added a third row of seats, and an ‘Upgrade’ package on lower-end models that included 17-inch alloy wheels, a CD changer, satellite radio and rear privacy glass.
Top-line ‘Limited’ package models added things like push-button start, unique styling accents and steering wheel–mounted audio controls.
What Owners Like: RAV4 owners taking to the internet to share their experiences typically praise a ‘comfy’ interior, car-like handling, acceleration performance with the V6, and wintertime traction and confidence on models with the 4WD system. Many owners say they feel ‘safe’ driving their RAV4 in snow. Interestingly, several owners even commented positively on the effectiveness of the climate control system and the legibility of the instrument cluster. Flexibility and cargo space are highly rated, too.
What Owners Dislike: Some owners have reported disappointment with the fuel consumption of the RAV4, in particularly with their inability to achieve the figures claimed by Toyota. Other owners wish for a ‘richer’ feel to the RAV4’s cabin, which is largely trimmed with hard, crispy plastic. Some drivers wish for more planted handling while cornering, and a few parents say the second row of seats is tight with a pair of child seats mounted. The four-cylinder model is said to be sluggish by some folks, too.
Common Issues: Start your test-drive of the RAV4 with the usual exterior checks—ensuring all lights work, that windshield wipers are present and functional, and that there’s no unexpected rust, denting, peeling of paint or other visible damage. Be sure to check for rust on the inside, lower edges of all doors, and the tailgate.
Once on board, be sure all electronics work as expected—paying special attention to the automatic climate control system (if equipped), all windows, and the power seats and sunroof (if equipped). On models with a sunroof, press your hand or a rag into the front footwell carpeting, under the floor-mats, to check for signs of moisture—which could result from a leaky or plugged sunroof drain.
Then, find a place you can drive at low speeds and make plenty of turns. You’re checking for a well-documented problem with the RAV4’s steering system, likely caused by a faulty steering shaft.
Turn moderately, and at fairly low speeds, and ‘listen’ for a clunking, popping or knocking sound. If it’s present, call it into pricing negotiations and arrange to have the problem checked by a Toyota dealer—who will be familiar with it. Note that this may be a safety concern, so be sure to attend to it. Additionally, the problem seems to affect mainly early models, 2006 and 2007.
Next, check the instrument cluster for any warning lights. These should turn off a few seconds after starting the engine. Warning lights may indicate a problem with the brakes, engine electronics, four-wheel-drive system, transmission, or just a loosely-tightened gas cap. If you see a warning light, be sure to determine why it’s lit up. Your favorite mechanic can help.
A RAV4 that’s slow to start and performs poorly may be suffering from a battery that’s about to kick the bucket. If you suspect this may be an issue, budget for a new battery alongside your purchase price. If you take your used RAV4 candidate to a mechanic ahead of a purchase (you should), have them check the condition of the battery to be safe. A pre-purchase mechanical inspection will also tell you if the seller is trying to pass off a badly worn set of tires, brakes or other issues.
2010 Toyota RAV4. Click image to enlarge
Be sure the mechanic also inspects the RAV4’s rear suspension for signs of excessive rust that could be caused by an improperly aligned or improperly installed bolt. Check the level and condition of the RAV4’s engine oil, transmission fluid and engine coolant, too.
Finally, check to be sure there’s no oil leakage in the engine bay of the model you’re considering, especially if it has the V6 engine. The 3.5-litre engine had a well-documented problem with external oil lines that like to rupture and break, spewing engine oil all over everything but the important stuff inside the engine. If this happens to your RAV4, you’ll experience anything from a giant mess to a blown engine. Note that this problem applied mainly to earlier models.
The Verdict: Don’t let Toyota’s largely good reputation for reliable vehicles cloud your judgment when shopping for a used RAV4. Toyota or not, a RAV4 is a machine made from parts and components that will eventually wear down and break. Poor maintenance speeds this process up.
As such, be sure the model you’re considering has been treated to factory-prescribed maintenance measures, as set out in its owner’s manual. Frequent oil changes are important, too.
Since the RAV4’s most worrisome problems are of moderate concern (and easily identified), a pre-purchase inspection from a Toyota mechanic ahead of your purchase is strongly advised. With a two-thumbs-up from a mechanic, you can expect your used RAV4 candidate to be a confident, surprisingly flexible and agile little crossover.
2006-2012 Toyota RAV4