2021 Toyota RAV4 Problems and Top Complaints – Is Your Car A Lemon?

Shattering sunroofs and windshields, as well as fuel and electrical system, steering, and brake issues are among the top complaints received by the NHTSA from vehicle owners

Updated on Author: Brian Jones | Reviewer: Sergei Lemberg

Did your sunroof shatter unexpectedly? Find out if you are eligible to join our RAV4 Shattering Sunroof class action investigation.

When it comes time to drive a trusty SUV, many consumers turn to the 2021 Toyota RAV4 thinking it will provide everything they desire. The automaker claims this model is “both a segment leader and a segment disruptor.” On the contrary, owners experiencing some of the many problems plaguing the 2021 RAV4 are finding it negatively disruptive to their lives. Many are dealing with shattering sunroofs, cracking windshields, undersized fuel tanks, defective steering, faulty brakes, and vehicles that catch fire.

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Most Common Problems with the 2021 Toyota RAV4

Between September 8, 2020, and February 21, 2023, 99 people complained to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) about the 2021 Toyota RAV4 SUV. There are also 41 complaints that relate specifically to the Prime model and 3 to the Hybrid. Problems are varied, ranging from windshields and sunroofs cracking and exploding, and vehicles catching on fire to undersized gas tanks, brakes that fail, and steering that leads to backover prevention issues.

These main issues are seen by complainants as problems with visibility, structure, the fuel/propulsion and electrical systems, brakes, steering and lane departure, and the powertrain. Other components and systems that are identified as being problematic are airbags, the engine, exterior lighting, forward collision avoidance, latches/locks/linkages, seats and seat belts, suspension, tires, traction control system, vehicle speed control, and wheels.

Airbag problems are worth noting since several complaints state that people were injured when they malfunctioned. The husband of a woman who was injured, states that no safety devices worked when the RAV4 crashed after another vehicle ran a red light. She was wearing a seat belt, but that didn’t work properly, and the airbags didn’t deploy. The result was that she hit the dashboard and had to be transferred to a hospital in an ambulance.

Four people were injured in a crash in Florida. “The knee airbag deployed during a collision and caused devastating shin injuries. The muscle and skin were ripped off the driver’s legs revealing bone.”

2021 Toyota RAV4 Complaint Summary

Complaint CategoryNumber of Complaints
Unknown Or Other
Electrical System
Air Bags
Fuel/propulsion System
Service Brakes
Forward Collision Avoidance: Automatic Emergency Braking

Cracking & Shattering Windshields and Sunroofs

Some of the most common problems faced by owners of the 2021 Toyota RAV4 relate to windshield and sunroof or moonroof glass. Lemberg Law is already investigating complaints about defective 2021 RAV4 sunroofs that explode and shatter for no apparent reason. But windshields that crack or shatter are also proving to be an enormous problem.

We have highlighted some of the complaints about sunroofs and moonroofs in our post, Toyota RAV4 Shattering Sunroof Problem. But it’s clear that the problem isn’t going away any time soon, as this January 15, 2023, complaint from a 2021 RAV4 from Indiana shows. The sunroof “exploded and shattered” on a highway. “I heard a loud explosion sound and found the sunroof glass shattered and falling.” There were no vehicles near the RAV4 and the complaint says that nothing struck it. “I found other similar complaints online on spontaneous sunroof explosion of Toyota RAV4 and they looked similar to what I experienced. I contacted my dealer and they told me to go to a Body Shop on Monday (closed on weekends) for an inspection.” This is, of course, a common response from dealerships.

Windshield Problems

A typical complaint about 2021 RAV4 windshield cracking comes from an owner in Virginia. The vehicle was in a parking lot and “nothing hit it.” The RAV4 was only 5 weeks old at the time. It broke randomly, radiating out from the bottom edge near the wiper toward the center of the windshield.

An owner from Massachusetts also discovered a crack in the windshield when the RAV4 had been in an outdoor parking lot. “I found the windshield had a long crack.” But the dealership said it wasn’t a quality issue and, therefore, it wasn’t covered by the basic warranty.

A complaint from an owner in Arizona is more telling. While the windshield hadn’t cracked, the complaint states that it was defective and visibly distorted. “I had ordered the vehicle and put a deposit on it to hold. I didn’t get to drive it till the paperwork was done and I was driving off the lot. Within 20 minutes (the) problem was apparent.”

A brand new 2021 RAV4, the complaint states that it is a “safety hazard to drive as I can’t see properly through it, everything is blurry. Eyes can’t focus – like looking through someone else’s glasses! Makes me physically ill as well due to the continued eye fatigue/strain.” The problem was confirmed by two dealer technicians. But the dealer refused to fix it. This is because, “Every RAV currently on the lot has a defective windshield, most worse than yours!” The owner was told that “if they did fix it I could end up worse off because all the windshields are coming out defective currently, some with even worse ‘visible waves’ in the glass.”

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Problems with the Fuel System

A well-working fuel system goes completely unnoticed because it is doing its job. That’s not the case with the 2021 RAV4. An increasing number of owners are complaining that their gas tanks are undersized. For example, an early complaint from an owner in Wisconsin states that you cannot fill the fuel tank completely full. “Had some tests run by Toyota and they found that there were only 12.5 gallons in the 14.5-gallon tank when the pump shuts off. I was told this was ‘within the spec’ and (was) offered no further help.”

An owner from Washington says it’s worse than that. This complaint maintains that you “can only fill 10+ gallons, not 13 or 14 gallons as they falsely claim. (The) real range of your RAV4 prime/hybrid is only 470 miles, not 600!” An owner from Pennsylvania says it takes 11.8 gallons to fill an empty tank. So the amounts vary, but the complaints all agree that they have been ripped off by claims that the RAV4 tank will hold more than it does.

As another complaint states, this discrepancy “results in us having to fill up every 400 miles when it should be closer to 600 miles.” This owner has ”complained at least four times to the dealership and escalated with Toyota HQ.” According to the complaint, the “Toyota engineers acknowledged they have seen this trend from other RAV4 Primes out in the field, but are deeming 10-gallon fill-ups a ‘normal’ characteristic of the car. This is bait-and-switch false advertising and an infuriating quality failure by Toyota.”

Claims That Gas Tanks Are Defective

Many of the complaints state that the gas tanks are “defective,” including a Washington 2021 RAV4 owner. “The gas tank does not carry the 14.5 gallons as advertised, the gas gauge cluster is inaccurate, and the mileage remaining on the dash cluster is inaccurate. These defects were not disclosed to me prior to the sale. Immediately after seeing the problem, I brought the vehicle in for service at Vancouver (WA) Toyota. They botched the repair job and the vehicle is emitting gas vapors non-stop. Over the weekend, my house was inundated with gas vapors.” Symptoms suffered by those in the “household” include “dizziness, irritability, poor eyesight, and nausea.”

Furthermore, the issue is ongoing and clearly, Toyota is aware of it because they have issued letters to dealerships stating how to fix it. For example, service bulletins 20TE06 and 20TE04talk about the fuel gauge displaying less fuel and the tank capacity being off because of the shape of the tank while the car sits on an incline. But they blame the drivers and not Toyota! They state: “These conditions can cause the fuel level to be read incorrectly and may cause the low fuel light to illuminate with more fuel in the tank than usual.”

Nevertheless, in 20TE04, they did tell dealerships that because “we at Toyota care about our customers’ ownership experience,” they will cover repair costs for this problem. This communication is dated July 12, 2021.

The conundrum is, why are 2021 RAV4 owners still complaining about this issue in February 2023?

Steering and Lane Departure Problems

Being able to control an SUV is a given that is expected by any driver. But some RAV4s act like they have a mind of their own, creating unsafe situations everywhere they go.

More than half of the steering-related complaints lodged with the NHTSA are regarded as lane departure problems. An owner from Ohio who listed the problem under Steering and Lane Departure was told by a dealer to just turn off the “lane keep” feature. “I did not buy a car with this feature to turn it off.”

The complaint states that it “will pull and yank all over the lane. This is an SUV and it is a very scary experience feeling a taller vehicle make quick adjustments and almost feel as if the steering wheel is going to be yanked out of your hands. This will happen at all speeds (when) cruise control and lane keep are active.”

An owner from Tennessee crashed after “the vehicle independently veered off to the right” and the driver lost control. The RAV4 flipped and went “down a mountain.” The driver was injured and the vehicle, with only 620 miles, wasn’t drivable. “The black box read that the accident was self-inflicting.”

Dealer Confirms That There is an Issue

An owner from Washington stated that the steering consistently steers the driver “to a road shoulder or into another lane. A less experienced driver would have crashed. The steering pull is so significant that one is unable to take a drink or turn on the radio without the possibility of an accident.” But Toyota stated that the “vehicle is operating as designed” and “some customers are overly sensitive to the safety features.” When the owner insisted that “the next incident could kill someone,” they did some digging and discovered a video from the video from this vehicle. It “confirmed my complaint that the steering had indeed hijacked the vehicle and steered into the path of a cement truck.”

Eventually, the Toyota service department apologized and said there had been a previous technical bulletin that confirmed this owner’s July 2021 complaint!

Toyota’s Steering Recalibration Bulletins

There are, in fact, two technical service bulletins (TSBs) on file with the NHTSA about this steering problem. The first was filed on March 22, 2021, and the second on March 15, 2022. The original TSD has been updated, so both are now the same.

The documents titled Tech Tip T-TT-0616-20 state that some customers experience an abnormal steering sensation that is described as pulling or drifting. The cause seems to be related to disconnecting or replacing the car battery. Basically, whenever the battery is disconnected or discharged the steering needs to relearn how to work, causing owners to need help from the dealership. The TSBs describe how “the Steering Angle Neutral Point Memorization and the Steering Sensor Zero Point Calibration must be performed.”

Brake Problems

We’ve also seen reports by owners of 2021 Toyota RAV4s about brake malfunctions. It’s a major safety issue.

In addition to the comments we quoted in our post about Toyota RAV4 Brake Problems, there are some serious brake issues that have been reported in more recent NHTSA complaints. The trend we mentioned continues, with crashes and near misses. For example, an owner from Oklahoma was trying to park when the brakes failed and he hit a brick wall. The complaint states he “had no control of the car” and was injured in the crash.

Another crash, reported as a powertrain issue, comes from an owner in California. There were three children in the 2021 RAV4 LE at the time. The vehicle was in Park and the automatic hand brake had come on. But, “the RAV4 does not have a hand brake like other cars, it only has a small pull button.” The vehicle rolled down a slope and hit a tree. The complaint states that fortunately, the children were asleep in the vehicle at the time and not injured. But the “car has a lot of damage in the front area and on the driver’s side.” Also, the dash displayed messages saying “system fail (Pre-collision system).”

An owner from South Carolina tells how when approaching a traffic light she “depressed the brake pedal but failed to stop the vehicle and rear-ended another vehicle.” The airbags didn’t deploy either!

The same thing happened to a New York owner trying to stop on his own driveway. Fortunately, the car stopped as it tapped the garage door with the bumper.

There are also parking brake failure complaints and one that relates to the brake-hold feature on the RAV4.

Electrical Problems Resulting in Fire

There are all sorts of reasons for electrical system complaints including rearview mirrors that vibrate and shake and door lock actuators that fail. But the issue that stands out is vehicles catching fire.

A 2021 RAV4 owner from California was driving at about 35 mph when there was a smell of burning rubber in the cabin. He stopped, got out of the SUV, and saw flames coming from the engine compartment. The fire department extinguished the flames, but the vehicle was destroyed. Because of this, the cause of the “failure” couldn’t be determined. However, the owner stated that the vehicle had “recently been repaired after a front-end crash.”

Another owner from California states that before smoke was seen coming from the rear of the driver’s side, there were steering issues and the lights were flickering. The complaint likens the scenario to those described by owners of the 2017 model.

An owner from Iowa was parked at a store with the engine off. After 3 minutes, another customer ran into the store and said a car was on fire. “The rear tail light was all melted and on fire. Billowing smoke was coming out the sides of the hatch. So I opened it quickly to get the fire out. The store employee put the fire out with his fire extinguisher.” At the time of the complaint, October 31, 2022, the vehicle was at a Toyota dealership “while they determine the cause.”

Possible Causes of Fires

While there’s no indication of whether a cause of the Iowa RAV4 fire was found, it’s unlikely. After all, there is still an open NHTSA Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) into fires like this in 2013-2018 Toyota RAV4 vehicles. NHTSA PE21005, which is referred to in the first complaint mentioned above, was opened on February 25, 2021, after the NHTSA received 11 complaints from owners. Most had taken place when the SUV was being driven and 4 took place with the ignition off. They think that these fires originated from the 12V battery area. The ODI summary states that “improper battery installation or prior front-end collision repair” seemed to be relevant factors.

Your Lemon Law Legal Rights

Do you think you have a lemon? If so, you can sit back and let the experts work out your lemon case at no cost to you. The law makes Toyota pay legal fees, and you may be able to get the lemon out of your life. Every year, auto manufacturers buy back, replace or pay cash settlements to thousands of ‘lemon’ owners. Call our Helpline or fill out a contact form and we’ll assess your problems.

Brian Jones

About the Author:

Brian Jones spent more than 30 years working as an ASE Certified Master Tech and Parts Specialist at multiple dealerships. Brian has become an authority in the industry, traveling across the country to consult for car dealerships and contributing his expertise as a writer for several major automotive publications. In his spare time, Brian enjoys working on pickup trucks, muscle cars, Jeeps and anything related to motorsports.

See more posts from Brian Jones
  • Vladimir

    We have problems with RAV4 2021 plug-in hybrid. The plastic components of the exterior have been melting under the sun. We spent hours with Toyota dealer and headquarters but they refuse to cover the cost of replacing the low quality plastic even as the car is under warranty. I
    They almost sounded they were waiting for a class.action lawsuit to correct the problem. On forums, there are many people who report similar issues.

  • Cesar d

    I have problems with my 2021 RAV Electric driver seat rail problems

  • F@r!D

    I recently bought a 2021 Toyota RAV4 Limited with 16,200 miles, which had a small number of crashes. In my first driving experience, I realized that steering is not easy and fast at all. And when the fuel tank light came on and the tank was almost empty, it was filled with only 12.5 gallons of gasoline. And while driving at a steady speed of about 45 miles, I was entering the highway when suddenly his own car accelerated and almost hit the car in front .. Toyota really disappointed me with this awful production. I’m really sorry I bought such rubbish.

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