TDWU Long-Term Arrival: 2003 Toyota RAV4 L

Yes, this is the second TDWU Road Test (the first one was submitted by T-Rod). I chose this particular vehicle to test because…it’s my wife’s new (to her) vehicle! Actually, a brief history about this particular 2003 Toyota RAV4 L…it was originally my father-in-law’s, then was passed down to my mother-in-law, then was driven by both of my wife’s younger brothers…and now, my wife and I will be driving it for the last leg of its sojourn here on Earth. I estimate that we’ll have this RAV4 for at least a year, if not longer. We’ll see how things go.

So, as it stands right now, the RAV4 has about 124K on the clock. Being a L, it has some of the nicer options like electric windows and mirrors, an automatic transmission, and a CD player and cassette (can you believe that a cute-ute had a cassette player?), coloured-key door handles, foglights, alloy wheels, a roof rack and step bars, although I wonder why it has them…ingress/egress is quite easy. I think that the step bars were a dealer-installed accessory option.

Initial thoughts:

  • The engine is quick off the line, with lots of low-end torque. However, it gets hard to build up speed as you get around the 40-60 range, then it becomes easier. Granted, it’s equipped with the four-cylinder, but it’s still a good engine. I kind of wish that it had the V6, but I suspect that the gas mileage wouldn’t be as good. Speaking of which…
  • The gas mileage is great for a smaller five-seat SUV. Yes, I know that it’s really a crossover, but most people will call it an SUV. It sure handles like one…but more on that later. Right now, after driving through about two tanks of petrol, I’m getting about 24 miles to the gallon. Not bad, and for comparison’s sake, my old 2006 Kia Spectra EX got the same gas mileage. They even have the same size gas tank! So, for me, there’s not a real drop in fuel economy…even though I only drive it while we’re both together.
  • It rides reasonably well. It also handles reasonably well, but I can’t take corners in it like I can the Mazda CUVs. Then again, not many CUV’s can handle like them. In any event, the ride height and driver’s position is great…I can see why so many people like driving these types of vehicles. It’s both odd and cool to have the windshield so close to you…the visibility is really wonderful, especially when switching lanes on the highway. The seats are fantastic, and easily support my 6’6″ frame. Not to mention that they are really comfortable! I find these and the seats in the 2003 Toyota Camry to be really comfortable.

Of course, there are some negatives about this Toyota RAV4 L:

  • The front passenger electric door lock is broken. Well, I would say…yes, it is completely broken. It doesn’t respond to the locking button inside, nor the remote. Although this isn’t an uncommon occurrence in most vehicles, I expected not to encounter this in a Toyota. You know, because they have this supposed “Toyota quality”.
  • It already had a cracked head. My mother-in-law noticed that it wasn’t driving right, so she took it to her technician that’s literally around the corner. Great guy, he replaced the A/C blower motor in my Spec last year. Anyways, turns out that it had a cracked head, and was replaced. Again, not out of the ordinary, but I expected better from a vehicle with relatively low mileage…and something that wasn’t a Subaru.
  • It’s making a funny noise. Now, I’ve never encountered this before, but whenever I put it in reverse, it begins to make this high-pitched sound. I initially thought that it was the brakes, but I’ve determine it to be something coming from either the transmission, or the steering column/pump (it usually makes this noise whenever I turn the wheel while in reverse). Oddly enough, the squeaking noise stops whenever I apply the brakes. I suspect that the wheel bearings are going out, or that something is rubbing on something else. Or it could be something completely off-the-wall.
  • The steering wheel is not aging well. Either my younger brothers-in-law have a nervous picking habit, or the steering wheel is made out of crappy materials. My gut instinct is the latter…and it makes for a rather uncomfortable drive, at least as far as my hands go. After seeing a few RAV4s of the same vintage, I’ve concluded that it’s the latter. Poor choice of material for the steering wheel there Toyota.
  • It only has “four” cupholders. Well, the fourth one is a square, but my wife insists that it is an actual cupholder. The other three can only carry kid-sized drinks. Heaven forbid if we put in a tall cup! Red Bulls need not apply here, for it will fall out of place. Of course, this is better than the cupholders that were in my old ’95 Lincoln Town Car…cups and bottles were known to do somersaults in the air while taking a hard turn!
  • The air conditioning doesn’t cool very well. Typical of most Japanese vehicles, it only really cools down the vehicle from a hot Texas summer when turned on the highest setting, and the recirculation button pressed. Otherwise, it’s a light, cool breeze at best. Not a good thing whenever it’s over 100 degrees and 95% humidity outside.

All of that being said, I’ve always stated that despite my own hatred for Toyotas nowadays, that I would drive one if one was given to me for free. Looks like it’s time to put that to the test…literally. I’ve be driving this 2003 Toyota RAV4 L like I do every car and truck that I’ve ever owned…and I don’t baby my vehicles! Stay tuned for the next update, to see if this Toyota can stand up to the abuse that I’m about to put it through…

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