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The Best and Worst Years for a Used Toyota Rav4

Toyota Rav4

Throughout history, the car industry has strived to make revolutionary vehicles that improve how we travel. One such revolutionary project was Toyota’s RAV4, which sought to create a reliable crossover SUV and ushered in a new era for American drivers. With the emergence of vehicles like the Toyota RAV4, crossovers began to emerge as number one for U.S. drivers and remain powerful parts of the market.  

Despite being on the market for decades, the Toyota RAV4 has only built upon its initial popularity and continues to add new features and more power so that drivers are always getting a better ride. The RAV4 has become associated with roominess, cargo space, comfort, reliability, and efficiency. Plus, it has a relatively affordable cost and maintenance costs that make it a cost-effective crossover option.

While most customers have loved their purchases of a Toyota RAV4, not all models of this vehicle have been equally praised for their design. If you’re looking to get a Toyota RAV4, you’ll want to determine what years offer the best vehicle for consumers who want to make the most of their money. Read on to discover how the RAV4 came to be, why buyers chose this vehicle, and which years were the best and worst for Toyota RAV4. With this information, you can make an informed decision when getting a new vehicle.

The Popularity of Crossover SUVs

To understand how life-changing the RAV4 has been for many people, it’s important to understand the impact of crossover SUVs and how they have taken over the American market. Crossover SUVs especially have proven themselves as a popular choice for individuals and families. In fact, among all vehicles, crossovers are the most popular in the light vehicle market, followed by pickup trucks, and regular SUVs. These vehicles account for more than 40 percent of all car sales in America despite being a relatively new phenomenon.

What is a Crossover?

Many people have heard the term crossover, but they don’t really see much of a difference between a crossover and any other SUV. However, there are some key differences buyers must understand. As the name suggests, a crossover is a combination between an SUV and a car. Crossover vehicles often look very similar to SUVs, although often in a more compact form, but they are built differently. While an SUV uses a body-on-frame structure, cars usually use a unibody structure in which the frame and body of the vehicle are one car. Crossovers use the unibody structure to promote smoother driving and comfort while still allowing much of the functionality that a traditional SUV provides.

How Crossovers Came to Be

Throughout the late 1980s, SUVs had become popular because they offered a powerful driving experience and plenty of space for families and people with lots of cargo. However, while functional, SUVs were not always that comfortable or smooth for everyday use. Thus, car makers began to make new vehicles to try to combine the perks of SUVs with those of cars.

Even before the market had big demands of SUVs or crossovers, car companies were already playing around with vehicles resembling crossovers. Vehicles like the Lada Niva, AMC Eagle, or Jeep Cheroke XJ strived to use a unibody frame while also allowing more off-roading opportunities. However, it wasn’t until the Toyota RAV4 was introduced in 1994 that the term crossover came to be. Seeing the potential of the design, other carmakers began to make crossover models like the Subaru Forester or the Honda CR-V, which were both released in 1997.

Throughout the 2000s into the 2020s, crossovers became increasingly popular and continue to have a huge place in the vehicle market. All thanks to forerunners like the Toyota RAV4, which remains a popular choice for those looking to get a trustworthy and well-tested crossover.

Benefits of Crossover Vehicles

Many benefits make so many consumers drawn to crossovers. For one, the handling of crossovers is smooth, making it easier for drivers to use crossover vehicles versus SUVs.

While SUVs have better off-road capabilities, crossover vehicles do have some off-roading tools, and most drivers do not need to focus on off-roading because their normal tasks don’t require the more extreme perks of SUVs. Additionally, SUVs are known for having terrible fuel efficiency. Crossovers allow better fuel efficiency, which is not only better for people’s wallets, but it’s also better for the environment.

Overall, crossovers give drivers and their passengers the best of both worlds, which often best fulfills the lifestyles of American drivers.

Pioneer Among Vehicles: History of the Toyota RAV4

There’s no doubt that, as the first vehicle officially called a crossover, that the Toyota RAV4 is a pioneer in the industry. Although the first RAV4 was unveiled in the 1990s, the concept car was developed in 1989. It was designed to be a vehicle that would offer the same benefits as an SUV but without the size. According to Toyota UK Magazine, the first RAV4 was built on a Corolla platform with two doors. It was not until the second generation that the RAV4 became the four-door SUV we know today. The car was first released in Japan and Europe in 1994, but it didn’t hit the North American market until one year later.

The third generation, unveiled in 2005, saw a complete vehicle redesign. It was now built on a larger platform and featured a V6 engine option. And the fourth generation was unveiled in 2012. It is built on an all-new platform and features a more aggressive design. The fifth generation RAV4 was unveiled in 2019 and is the most recent model. It features an updated design and new engine options.

What Defines the RAV4

There are many ways that the RAV4 stands out and shows potential buyers that this car is worth the purchase. The RAV4 is one of the earliest crossovers and emerged as a successful model before most car manufacturers had even attempted to make a mass-produced crossover as their own. Ever since its founding, the RAV4 has established itself as a trustworthy vehicle. With ample trunk space and an affordable price, the RAV4 is great for people who want a car they can count on without having to pay an absurd price. These vehicles are known for having good lifespans and tons of versatility so all drivers can find some value from this car.

The RAV4 has also done a great job of keeping up with emerging trends. Some manufacturers fail to keep up with emerging trends, and in the process, once great cars can fall out of popularity. The Toyota RAV4 has not suffered that fate and remains a pioneer in the industry. New models of the vehicle have much-desired tech features, such as infotainment systems, smartphone capability, and AI capabilities. The Toyota was one of the first crossover models to offer Android compatibility in its vehicles.

Beyond just the tech, the RAV4 has also paid attention to environmental concerns and the demand for more environmentally friendly vehicles. In the past, they were an early adopter of electric and hybrid vehicles. They offered a 2014 model that was fully electric. They have since discontinued the all-electric model, but you can still find used models. You can also choose from one of their hybrid models, which are still sold and combine a gas and electric powertrain for better fuel efficiency and the option for limited electric drive mode. Likely, Toyota will continue to develop its electric capabilities in the RAV4, but many are disappointed that Toyota has not made greater progress in the EV space.

The RAV4 has a stylish body, but it is plenty rugged, so it can handle both daily use and adventures. While some critics have concerns about the direction of the RAV4 and its ability to keep up with the market, most users still love that Toyota is a reliable company that continues to offer relatively inexpensive and modern vehicles. There’s a reason that Toyota customers often stay Toyota customers.

The Best RAV4 Years

Like many car manufacturers, Toyota has had a few hits and misses over the years with the RAV4 despite being a well-respected brand in the crossover space. However, there have been some clear standouts. These are the best Rav4 models based on reviews, sales, and awards. And if you are in the market for a used car, these are the years you should be targeting, but you also have to consider your personal needs because certain features may be more important to you than others. The following models represent those with an overall strong balance of all features.

2009 RAV4 Model

The 2009 RAV4 is arguably the best RAV4 model ever made. Toyota redesigned it entirely that year, and Toyota hit it out of the park. The new design was more stylish and modern without sacrificing the utility that made the RAV4 so famous in the first place. It was also more efficient, with an excellent reliability rating. It took the 2008 version and added a new four-cylinder engine that helped improve overall performance.

This version of the vehicle stands out because it offers third-row seating, but this seating is cramped so isn’t necessarily the best option for people who need constant use of that third-row. Other than the small third-row, it generally has a significant amount of cabin and cargo space, and the V6 option allows drivers to get more power.

According to Vehicle history, the vehicle was well-built to last over 300,000 miles with just minor repairs and a paint job. Many of these cars are still on the road, so while this car is over a decade old, it still has a place in many people’s hearts and drivers are reluctant to get a new car when this one works so well! This car is the perfect example of Toyota’s “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy.

2010 RAV4 Model

Although not as outstanding as the 2009 model to many reviewers, the 2010 model also fared quite well, with few changes from the stellar 2009 model. It did get a slightly more powerful engine, which was a nice touch. In terms of power and fuel economy, it was pretty much on par with the 2009 model. It also got a few new safety features, including lane departure warning and blind spot monitor, but there were no major changes to the vehicle.

While this car is nearly as well-rated as the RAV4 2009, it didn’t quite get as good reviews as its forerunner. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad car, though. The sport trim particularly was criticized for having a firm ride and complaints about the cramped third-row continued. It retained safety and reliability scores and is known for offering an overall good ride.

The 2009 and 2010 models are both still relevant today and would be great additions to any used car, and while the 2009 often pulls ahead, the two years are head to head. With a spacious interior and a comfortable ride, the 2010 RAV4 is still an excellent choice for a used car, and some drivers may prefer to have some of the added safety features that distinguish this vehicle from the 2009 model, but drivers love both.

2016 RAV4 Model

Toyota did a fantastic job on the 2016 RAV4. And this explains it has made our list of the best RAV4s ever made. Its consumer ratings are above average. Most users had and still have good things to say about it, and it shows that Toyota’s reputation for reliability is never far from mind when cars are being designed.

According to Repairpal, average annual repair cost of the 2016 model is 429 dollars. This made it one of the most affordable cars to maintain, which can save you tons of money in the long run. Most importantly, only 37 complaints have been filed against it to the NHTSA. And this is relatively low compared to other models from the same year and manufacturer.

The 2016 model is a great choice for used car buyers who want a car that still has a lot of life left but is exceedingly affordable on the secondhand market. Yes, it’s still quite old as far as cars are concerned, but when well-kept, these cars can drive for many, many years.

2018 Toyota RAV4 Model

The stylish and modern 2018 Toyota RAV4 is another great choice if you are in the market for the best-used Toyota RAV4. It shows that Toyota took its time on this model’s interior design. The cabin is spacious and well laid out, with high-quality materials. Regarding the Toyota safety sense, the 2018 RAV4 comes standard with many features, including lane departure warning and blind spot monitor.

It is also one of the most fuel-efficient RAV4s ever made. Toyota also upgraded its infotainment system for this model year, making it one of the most user-friendly systems on the market.

Most Americans want a utility vehicle with ample storage space. Fortunately, this is a concept that Toyota understood from the get-go. As a result, they made sure that each Toyota RAV4 model had more than enough space to store all your belongings. The 2018 model is no different, with a whopping 73 cubic feet of cargo space with the seats down.

As for the driving experience, the 2018 Toyota RAV4 is as good as it gets. It is comfortable, capable, and smooth. Not to mention, it is also one of the most reliable cars on the road. So if you are looking for a used car that ticks all the boxes, the 2018 RAV4 should be at the top of your list.

2023 RAV4

If you want a newer model, look no further than the Toyota RAV4 2023, which has already sold more than 102,313 units and has been ranked by Kelley Blue Book as the best-selling SUV of 2023.

The 2023 model has transformed itself from the 2022 in some key ways. One exciting feature is the improved infotainment system, which is larger and more easy to user, reducing distractions for drivers. Some version of this car may also have a 12.3 inch digital gauge cluster, which offers information in a clearer way.

Some of the pros of this vehicle include, cargo space, roomy seating, highly user-friendly infotainment system, many features that come standard, and good fuel economy.

While this car is overall a strong model, there are some criticisms that have made it perhaps less thrilling than some of the other best option. Critics suggest that its very utilitarian and doesn’t have the extra sheen that many car owners want when shopping for a car. Some people have reported that its engine is noisy, but others are not too bothered by this. Despite its faults, the 2023 model is overall a strong choice for those who want a used car that still has tons of life yet.

2024 RAV4

The most recent version of the Toyota RAV4 has continued to build on the success of the 2023 RAV4 and many other successful models. It has been ranked by Edmunds as the #9 among small SUVs, so while it may not be at the top of its class, it is still doing well and is known for offering a smooth ride, pleasant interior, and great utility features.

The 2024 update may not be worth the extra money for many buyers. It hasn’t had many significant upgrades from the 2023 version, so while this car is still serviceable, if choosing between a 2023 and 2024 model, buyers won’t get huge changes. As it is very similar to the 2023 model, this vehicle stands out because it has many standard features, lots of space for people and cargo, a comfortable ride, and good fuel economy.

Critics suggest that the engine and steering could be better, but for many drivers, it is still a very serviceable car and allows them to have the versatility they desire. It also has the same loud engine complaints of the 2023 version. This vehicle is well-rounded, a good value, and reliable, but it isn’t all that groundbreaking.

The Most Problematic RAV4 Years

Are you looking for a used crossover SUV that’s affordable and reliable? The Toyota RAV4 has undoubtedly been a great choice over the years. However, as with all cars, there have been some lemons. In this section, we cover the most problematic RAV4 years, so you can avoid them when shopping for a used car. Some of these cars aren’t necessarily awful and there are still many people who love these vehicles, but they have greater issues and are less likely to be a satisfactory investment when better versions are available.

2019 and 2020 RAV4

2019 and 2020 were not the best years for the Toyota RAV4. Toyota’s goal was to update the RAV4, but the design options didn’t work out in the way the brand had hoped. However, they have since learned from their mistakes to start making better upgrade decisions in the most recent years.

In 2019, Toyota decided to redesign the Toyota RAV4, resulting in a more stylish SUV that was just as reliable and efficient as ever. The improvements focused on fuel economy, the safety department, and the infotainment system. And even though the car looked much better than the previous generation, it was still very much recognizably a RAV4.

However, the new 2019-2020 RAV4 was far from perfect. It had many problems, including engine issues, transmission problems, and infotainment system glitches. According to Consumer Reports, the 2019 RAV4 had the worst rating of any Toyota model year. In fact, there were several recalls issued for the 2019 RAV4 model.

Toyota improved the 2020 RAV4. But unfortunately, they did not iron out some of the previous year’s major problems. So, while the 2020 RAV4 was a marked improvement over the 2019 model year, it still had its fair share of issues. These problems include a failing fuel system and multiple undesirable rattles and squeaks emanating from its body.

But the most troubling issue was the vehicle hesitating to move when driving forward and then unpredictably lurching ahead. This was a serious safety concern. Toyota recalled the 2019-2020 RAV4 models a whopping 13 times. When choosing a Toyota RAV4, it’s better to be safe than sorry, so stay away from 2019 and 2020 models.

2013 RAV4 Model

The 2013 RAV4 was a formidable SUV with impressive ratings. Some of its highlights included comfortable seating, a user-friendly infotainment system, and a fuel-efficient engine. Regardless of these ratings, this crossover SUV has had the highest complaints from both new owners and those who bought it used. It looked good on paper, but it couldn’t offer the reliability that is expected in Toyota’s cars.

The main issues include the inability to get a clear view of the navigation display during the day, paint peeling off the car, rusting, and a peculiar noise during the braking process. The most troubling consumer concern includes the car shuttering when you drive between 20 to 50 miles per hour. This led to Toyota recalling the 2013 RAV4 for a software update.

The 2006-2008 RAV4 Models

The 2006 RAV4 was the third generation of this crossover SUV, which greatly improved over the 2005 model year. Its new features included a more powerful engine, an updated suspension system for a smoother ride, and a restyled exterior that made it look more like a wagon than an SUV. It also had better safety features, with side curtain airbags becoming standard.

Despite the significant upgrades in the 2006, 2007, and 2008 RAV4 models, they had a poor reliability score among consumers. Owners were dissatisfied by the disturbing clunking noises from under the car when steering. There were also complaints about faulty oxygen sensors and gears jerking unexpectedly.

What’s more, is that the vehicles consumed oil excessively after the first 60000 miles. According to Toyotaproblems, a section of the 2006-2008 RAV4 owners filed a class action lawsuit alleging that they had to spend a significant amount on oil due to the vehicle’s defective engines.

The 2001-2003 RAV4 Models

Customers complained about the 2001-2003 RAV4 models having numerous reliability issues, which have made these models some of the worst of all RAV4 vehicles.

Among these models, the 2002 RAV4 had the most complaints in the vehicle’s history. These models’ common problems included gear slipping and poor transition after hitting 60,000 miles. Infect, owners claimed that auto repair shops billed up to $4000 to replace the transmission system.

Upon realizing this, Toyota extended its warranty on the automatic transition from 60,000 miles to 150,000 miles. Additionally, they decided to reimburse anyone who had paid to replace their transmission system. While these issues were addressed, they still leave a lingering sense of doubt among these models. It’s better, therefore, to choose some of the other models on this list to get more features, power, and trustworthiness.

Tips for Buying a Used Toyota RAV4

A used car may serve you just as well as a new one, especially if it’s a Toyota RAV4. This is because this model year has good resale value and a reputation for reliability. But before you pay the owner and drive off, you should perform the following checks to make sure that you are getting the most out of your money.

Quick Visual Checks of the Exteriors

Start by examining the car’s exterior for any damage. Look out for scratches, dents, or chipped paint. While at it, ensure all the panels are of the same color. And this is an indication that the vehicle has been in an accident and repaired using aftermarket parts. These may be cosmetic issues that you can live with, but they will lower the car’s value.

Check for Rust

Next, check for rust, especially around the wheel wells and under the car. If you find any, the vehicle has not been well-maintained. A little rust is not a deal breaker, but excessive rusting will reduce the car’s lifespan. Besides that, rust is difficult to repair, and it will lower the car’s value if you decide to sell it in the future.

Look at the Tires

Check the condition of the tires. Uneven wear is an indication that the car’s suspension needs attention. Also, make sure the tread depth is above the legal limit. You can use a coin to check this. If you can see Abraham Lincoln’s head, the tires need to be replaced. If the tires are old, use them to negotiate to lower the purchase price.

Under the Hood

Look out for excessive oil consumption and oil leaks and ensure all the hoses are in good condition. Also, ensure the coolant is at the correct level and that there are no signs of corrosion. These are all easy things to fix, but they could indicate bigger problems.

Think About Repairs

Not all cars are equally repairable, and when some cars break down, they are harder to fix than others. This is true across various Toyota RAV4 models. If you’re in the market for a used Toyota RAV4, your decision about which model year to buy may be swayed by reliability concerns. Some parts are not readily available or are incredibly expensive.

Older cars may also have more problems that emerge, but that is not always the case, especially when previous owners have tended to their car well. Fortunately, maintenance costs for the RAV4 are relatively affordable.

Test Drive the Toyota RAV4

Take the car for a test drive. Pay attention to how the car handles and whether there are any strange noises. If everything feels good, then you can go ahead and make an offer. But if you have any doubts, have a mechanic check the car before you make a decision.

Consider buying a certified pre-owned car

You can never be too sure when buying a used car, but you can do your best to protect yourself by purchasing a certified pre-owned (CPO) vehicle. CPO cars must meet the manufacturer’s criteria and usually come with extended warranty protection. So, if you get a RAV4 from the best years to buy a used car, it’s still a good idea to look for one certified.

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Benjamin Smith

Written by Benjamin Smith

Benjamin Smith is one of the managing editors of Moneyinc. Ben's been focusing on the auto and motorcycle sector since 2005. He's written over 1000 articles in the space and continues to learn about it each day. His favorite car is "any Bugatti" and he's a die hard Harley Davidson fan.

Read more posts by Benjamin Smith

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