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.”

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