Servicing is a Big Issue With the Toyota RAV4 EV (Especially Outside California)

By · February 21, 2014

Toyota RAV4 EV

The RAV4 EV: With a little help from our Tesla friends. But do the companies' components play well together? (Toyota photo)

Toyota is facing a small tsunami of concern relating to servicing of its RAV4 EV, which sports many components (electric powertrain with battery pack, charging system, inverter, motor, gearbox and associated software) from Tesla.

Servicing That's Not Routine

In our previous article on this topic, Toyota said that the car can get routine servicing at any Toyota dealer, but in an online forum RAV4 owners deny this. Jspearman writes, “Toyota WILL NOT provide routine service to RAV4 EVs outside of their 25 [specially designated EV] dealers….Despite the fact I paid an extra $1,200 for Toyota Extra Care, it doesn’t matter. I have to drive 2 1/2 hours to a certified dealer to even get a firmware update. Lousy service. I promise that I will never ever own another Toyota unless they get their act together.”

There’s also a lot of complaints with the ill-performing and Tesla-supplied Gateway ECU, which handles communications between Toyota and Tesla parts. Apparently, they don’t always speak the same language. One owner, “Raver,” reports getting a “screen of death” with just 2,500 miles on the odometer. “Sea Monster” of Tiburon and “TonyWilliams” of San Diego report similar issues, with both cars in the shop for extended periods.

Tesla declined to comment, and it’s unclear why the company isn’t more responsive in answering service questions about the car. According to Toyota's Jana Hartline, "The RAV4 is a Toyota product, and Tesla is a supplier for that product. We do work closely with Tesla to ensure the quality and durability of the vehicle and all components."

No One's Home

Other owners are mega-annoyed after showing up for scheduled maintenance at one of the certified EV service centers and being sent home because no qualified tech is available. Problems are especially acute for out-of-state owners, who really have to jump through hoops to get service—and can’t get the free 5,000- and 10,000-mile ToyotaCare service or roadside assistance.

“RAV4 EV ToyotaCare does not apply out of state,” says Hartline. “Although a customer can technically take their vehicle to any dealership for, say, a tire rotation, that service would not be covered under ToyotaCare.”

Hartline defends the company’s service network. “There are actually 53 Toyota dealers in California who sell and service the RAV4 EV, not 25 as some have said on the EV forum,” she said. “These dealers voluntarily opted-in to the program, and they invested in specialized equipment and training.”

Why Aren't They More Worried?

Since Toyota is renowned both for quality and service, one does have to ask, as owner Dr. Mike Bornstein does, “Why is Toyota doing this? Is there some financial reason behind their actions?...Although built as a compliance car, the RAV4 EV would be very popular in the EV community if properly advertised.”

I agree. As Brad Berman wrote in this space, it’s basically a bargain Tesla, wrapped in the body of a proven-in-the-field high-utility Toyota. What’s not to like? The Chicago Tribune praised “a midsized SUV that holds both people and stuff, which makes a pretty decent family vehicle.” The reviewer adds, “Because it has Tesla underpinnings, we had hoped that you might be able to take it to Tesla dealers for service, but Toyota says no.”

A California Car

That’s a big double no. Since Toyota gets California EV credits only for cars actually sold in the state, it’s strongly discouraging those cross-border buys. Toyota wants the RAV4 EV sold, driven and repaired only in California, by its own service centers. Hartline points to a customer disclosure form that says, because of the single-state service network, “Toyota does not recommend home-basing the vehicle outside the State of California.”

Hartline adds, however, “The car has wheels. We know there are customers out of state that require assistance, and we are exploring options to support service outside of California. Creating a positive customer experience is always the goal.”


· · 4 years ago

"Since Toyota is renowned both for quality and service"....really!? It seems the author has been drinking Toyota's marketing koolaid. Ask any Toyota pick up owner from the late '99's to the early 2000's. Toyota's quality was so great they had to replace the entire frame in my '04 Tacoma and they didn't cover the AC condenser coil that fell apart a few weeks after the warranty expired. There's a long list of Tundra owners in the same boat. Oh, and let's not forget the runaway Prius issue. The only place Toyota has a bullet proof reputation for quality in in their TV commercials. And while I can't fault their service there's more than a few Prius owners who might disagree with that assertion as well.

· · 4 years ago

Its clear to me stop buying compliance cars as others have suggested but didn't go far enough, STOP BUYING new vehicle put a hurt on the bottom line, after that the ones that survives will be glad to make, service what you need.

· · 4 years ago

The Tesla motor has also been a problem for many customers. Mine went in the shop with 5000 miles on it after the "screen of death" and it took a week to diagnose the problem and another 3 weeks to get the motor from Tesla that needed to be replaced. 4 weeks in the shop is a long time! At this point I'm not so sure that a "compliance" car is such a good idea. I guess I'll feel better if it stays out of the shop.

· · 4 years ago

With the average American moving every 5 years, how can a car be sold with service in a single state? Toyota needs to step-up to devise a plan to service the RAV4 EV like every other car it sells.

Does Nissan, Fiat, BMW, Ford, Chevy, etc. also limit the service available to the state where you purchased the car?

· · 4 years ago

As an out-of-state owner of a Rav4Ev, this article sadly hits home with facts. First of all... the vehicle is amazing, and I have had no issues to date, 10,000 miles so far. But the misinformation during my purchase time frame made matters worse. I was aware, and willing to accept shipping to CA for repairs, and I signed a document to that fact, but my local dealer lead me down another path. Twice prior to purchase I inquired about service, and both times told me "no problem'. After the vehicle arrive I was even invited to a "new car owner" meet and greet. Again I was told "service is no problem". Months later my 5K service was ready, I scheduled, and they performed the work under "ToyotaCare"... What B.S... A week later the sheepish Service Manager called and said Toyota would not honor the 5K service, and do not touch the car again... Not even tire rotation.
Toyota... if you are listening... You have achieved one thing. You've driven me directly into Tesla's waiting arms for all future purchases. Your dealer model is dead. Your disregard for "valued" customers will be your demise. It's sooo sad, because it's such a great vehicle.

· · 4 years ago

@ricosoma I had a new '99 Taco Prerunner for three years. It was made in the Numi plant in Freemont, CA, now Tesla. Got in two accidents with it. Had all kinds of issues with the idling speed, the alignment, the squeaky leaf springs, the tires, the slip yoke, the brakes, even the radio volume button. Toyota service was rather difficult to deal with, they could never balance the tires right, refused to acknowledge the alignment issues, made the brakes worse by managing to lock the rear shoes and having them overheat while I was on the highway.

What really put me off happened a few years after I traded the Taco for something else. Two of my friends and I went to test-drive a new Scion tC. The sales people acted really odd, refused to let us drive one, said it was because my friend's girlfriend's license was from another state and the insurance wouldn't let them. When we asked to speak to a manager as we didn't buy this nonsense the manager came out and basically kicked us out. Only later it dawned on me what had happened as I had never experienced it.

My friends were Asian and black, everyone at that dealership was white.

· · 4 years ago

Was this a customer residing in a CARB section 177 state as part of California’s ZEV program? I believe ZEVs available in California are required to be also offered & serviced in: Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont as well.

From forums, getting the impression that deliveries by Toyota for RAV4 EV are being denied to non-residents since Nov 2013. Sad that Toyota is not responding to customers.

· · 4 years ago

"From forums, getting the impression that deliveries by Toyota for RAV4 EV are being denied to non-residents since Nov 2013. Sad that Toyota is not responding to customers."

They cannot keep you from getting one from a California dealer and taking it out. However, they have stopped allowing the lease incentive (currently $16,500) if you don't have a California address on the purchase contract and new vehicle registration. The purchase rebate is only $2,500 with 60 month 0% financing and you can claim the $7,500 Federal Tax Credit on the purchase. So, that's only $10,000 of incentives, which compares rather poorly to the lease which is available with unlimited mileage and nearly zero money factor. Purchase and 3 year lease are both eligible for the additional California rebate of $2,500.

Long story short, Toyota legal is pushing all the buttons they can to get the ZEV credits this car is designed to harvest for Toyota. Unfortunately, it's pissing off a lot of owners and potential owners.

· · 4 years ago

What is the experience of the original EV Rav owners.. DIY? Everyone seems to think these are great too (still!)

· · 4 years ago

I also wouldn't say that Toyota is known for quality and service, but, Toyota has a reputation for making reliable ICE cars, and has made marketing strides for hybrids. BUT...

The real problem here is that Toyota is not committed to making battery electric cars at all, they affirmed this a few months ago by stating how they are committed to hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles and, much more so, hybrids. Toyota's years working with GM rubbed off on them. They stand to make more profits off hybrids and plug-in hybrids than they do off true EVs. The hydrogen fuel cell thing is a push from big oil to slow progression for battery electrics. And, unfortunately, fuel-cell cars will qualify them for ZEV, as they have no tailpipe emissions. That's not to say that they are better than ICE, as, currently, hydrogen fuel production is costly and dirty.

So, it comes down to the fact that the Rav4 EV is strictly a compliance vehicle, to meet ZEV standards in California. Toyota is trying to get out of the BEV market altogether, as I stated above.

As far as service goes, Tesla implemented a user-updatable system, which all the rest need to follow. Those that require you come in for service are only trying to maintain control and make more profits off service. See "Who killed the Electric car" for reference.

· · 4 years ago

I pontificated many of these issues in an article I wrote on this forum some time ago:

Since I wrote that article, I took Toyota to a "Lemon Law" hearing for them to take back my car, after it spent over a month in the shop. For the several (many?) other Rav4 EV's that Toyota has voluntarily taken back with a hushed tone with no public hearing or fanfare, and with many of the same issues as my car, Toyota decided to fight me.

The "evidence" that Toyota used in the hearing to indicate that their car is perfect, and that I'm a bad person who destroyed their perfectly fine car came from literally THOUSANDS of my forum posts and articles. They actually had them printed out in a big, thick pile. Let's just say that the arbitrator is paid for by Toyota and I lost that round, and now I have to go to real court to get this resolved. Since I am frequently out the country on business, this whole process is a real pain.

I otherwise really like the car, if it could just stay out of the shop. Sadly, in the last week or two, the car refused to go into gear with my wife at the wheel and me half way around the world. Sadly, I know the issue all too well, and the best I'd get from Toyota is that they either couldn't duplicate the problem, or they couldn't fix the problem. That doesn't mean that the folks at Tesla and the folks in the research end of Toyota in Detroit, Michigan aren't working on all these problems. There is a new firmware update regularly, the latest being version 1.3.83, from 1.3.50-ish when I bought my car.

So, what's next for me? I bought a second Rav4 EV for our company, Quick Charge Power LLC, so that we can use it to develop a CHAdeMO quick charge port for those cars. We call that project "JdeMO". Much like Tesla Model S can do now, I hope to be able to drive a Rav4 EV from Mexico to Canada with nothing but DC quick charging all along the route.

Hopefully, Toyota will get most of the bugs addressed before the production stops sometime this year. I fear that once they are producing their hydrogen Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) compliance car for California only, this CARB-ZEV compliance car will be quickly forgotten. Perhaps, with good riddance!

For the record, Toyoyta and other companies producing ZEV hydrogen cars for California will get 9 credits per car, with $68 million in California tax payer money devoted to building hydrogen stations for them. Obviously, nobody will want to take one out of state. Win, win, win for Toyota.

In contrast, the Rav4 EV only gets 3 credits, people like them outside of California where Toyota doesn't get 3 credits, and they have to pay a sub-contractor (Tesla) a lot of money per vehicle. Plus, there is no diligent California program for EV quick charging like Washington state and Oregon have with their West Coast Electric Highway.

The Rav4 EV was always the interim compliance car, and it shows.

· · 4 years ago

Sometimes, history reacts itself:

"Toyota believes that the execution of the retail program launch was very successful. A comprehensive marketing program, strong dealer support,and an enticing pricing level were keys to this success. However, sales levels were very low. As a result, no business case could be made for continuing sales of the RAV4 EV at these volumes. We believe that advances in hybrid technology and other advanced systems have a much greater potential for the environment and Toyota."

· · 4 years ago

@reeler wrote: With the average American moving every 5 years, how can a car be sold with service in a single state?

That gets to the heart of the matter, though alas, in the form of exactly the wrong question. The real question is why would anyone buy such a car?

To be brutally honest, nobody who isn't a lifelong California resident with deep ties to the state and little to no chance of leaving in the next 5 years had any business buying the current generation RAV4 EV - or any other compliance car for that matter. To whine about poor RAV4 EV service outside CA when Toyota all but stenciled "EV buyers outside CA are useless saps fit only for exploitation and disappointment" across the car's windshield strikes me as the height of self-absorbed nitwittery.

I hope this serves as a lesson and warning to today's EV shoppers - compliance cars are a bad deal in every way for everyone except the automakers exploiting this loophole in CARB regulations. Leave them in the showroom unless they're all but giving them away, because they'll have no resale value and are likely to be intolerably expensive to maintain over what would otherwise be their usable life.

Compliance cars suck.

· · 4 years ago

Since Toyota is renowned both for quality and service, one does have to ask, as owner Dr. Mike Bornstein does, “Why is Toyota doing this? Is there some financial reason behind their actions?...Although built as a compliance car, the RAV4 EV would be very popular in the EV community if properly advertised.”

Jim, is this some attempt at humor, or are you actually as clueless as Dr. Bornstein?

Even at $50k, the RAV4 EV was being sold (however infrequently) at significant unit losses, since Toyota didn't really give a damn what they cost to build. Unfortunately, they've been forced by the market to sell them for even less so Toyota can earn its needed ZEV credits. Sunk costs in R&D (such as it was) aside, Toyota loses money outright for every single RAV4 EV it sells. This will never change, at least for this particular car - the more they sell, the more they lose.

If you're still asking "Why is Toyota doing this?", try this question on for size: How strongly would you promote the sale of parts that cost you $55 when you can only get $39.99 for them?

· · 4 years ago

Some car companies are betting electric cars are going to be a passing fad. Its clear Toyota is one of those companies and without bettter batteries I'm not so sure their wrong, the more I read, the more I want no part of them.

· · 4 years ago

I am also an out of state Rav4 EV owner. It is an amazing vehicle at $6k miles I have not had any issues to date. Toyota may have made some service agreement changes from when the vehicle was originally launched to now. I took mine into the local dealership where I used to have my Prius serviced. They performed the 5k mi service and said it was covered by Toyota care. Not sure if they did the firmware update although I may not have needed it as I received the car in Oct 2013. I bought it just in time before the Nov-2013 cut off as described above.

I really cannot believe how nice the car runs. Big disappointment that they will only make 2500 copies.

· · 4 years ago

Hey Hartline, it doesn't take a specialized technician to rotate the tires on an EV. My only beef with Toyota is their refusal to do routine, non-EV maintenance. It's stupid, and it is the reason a Toyota will never again be parked in my garage. If that's worth it to the imbecile who is making this decision, then so be it, I'll gladly carry my money to Tesla, who will pick the car up from my house and leave a P85+ in its place.

· · 4 years ago

This is true. Servicing is a big matter with the card. And for this reason many people do not buy such good staffs.

  • The tripp pants material is often the color dark-colored but they also might be some other colors also like green, red.

· · 4 years ago

As far as I'm concerned this is the perfect EV, I am an out of state owner (east coast) with zero issues and Toyota will do the software/firmware updates if you contact corporate to request them. They use Traveling Field Technicians that will come to your local PIP certified dealer on a case-by-case open ticket.

· · 3 years ago

Hold on guys. The tech is not soooo complicated, granted I'm driving a converted vehicle with golf cart parts, but I have a lot of experience with faulty software. When this happens it is either due to poor organization of files, and versions of software, or purposely sabotaging the hardware. Im not implying a sourcenpf sabotage, but let us remind ourselves of the issues surrounding these vehicles, yes they were pressured to make this vehicle, yes many people hate us ev guys, for many reasons, jealousy leading to most of them. I love toyota, lote of experience with 80's models, I also love tesla tech. I dont understand why they dont get along.
Just remember that lack of SUPPORT, is usually due to hatred. Dont let hatred stop the electric vehicle at any point in its life. This battle must be fought on all fronts, from the conception of the idea to the 30 to 40year old antique, needing some batteries! And for many generations! Fight the fine fight, never give up! This is a battle woth fighting for.

· · 3 years ago

This battle is worth fighting for, sorry for the typos!

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