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Is there a Problem with the Brakes in the Toyota RAV4?
There is zero doubt that there is a major problem with the 2021 Toyota RAV4’s brakes. Also, it is clearly a safety issue.
So far, owners of the 2021 Toyota RAV4 have filed 17 complaints with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). These complaints include brake issues with the Hybrid and Prime models. At least four of the complaints report accidents, one of which involved four vehicles (including the RAV4) and resulted in three injuries. Many more report near misses.
The owner of a 2021 RAV4 Prime states in his NHTSA complaint: “It appears to be an issue with the regenerative brakes switching over to the mechanical brakes when the car believes there is wheel slip.”
Another Prime owner states: “While braking there is a brief release, which I believe happens when (the) car switches from regenerative to friction braking. It feels like I have taken my foot off the brake for a moment, but I have not. Result is (that the) car briefly stops braking, which can cause (a) loss of control. Has happened consistently for months, less pronounced with hard vs soft braking.”
Previous Toyota Recall for Brake Failure
Another 2021 RAV4 Prime owner points out that the 2010 Toyota Prius had a similar brake issue for which a recall (NHTSA CAMPAIGN 10V039000) was issued.
Toyota Lexus HS250H vehicles were also recalled. Dealers were required to rewrite (the) programming of the anti-lock braking system (ABS) control unit free of charge.
The recall stated that customers “experienced an inconsistent brake feel after ABS actuation during slow and steady application of the brakes on rough or slick road surfaces. Stopping distances may be increased compared with a customer’s expectation for a given pedal force.” The consequence, it said, was that “vehicle stopping distances may increase relative to a customer’s expectation, increasing the risk of a crash.”
Whether the cause of brake problems in the 2021 Toyota RAV4 are exactly the same isn’t known because Toyota denies there is a problem. But an owner from California believes it is, stating in his complaint:
“When the vehicle goes over a pothole (or bad road condition) while you are braking, the brakes don’t work for a second, the car feels like it is surging. I almost hit the car in front. This happens a lot. It’s the exact same problem with the 2010 Prius.”
Despite accidents caused by brake failure, there isn’t a single manufacturer communication on file with the NHTSA that deals with 2021 Toyota RAV4 brake problems. The company seems to be in denial.
As another RAV4 complaint states: “Every time I try to talk to Toyota about this they tell me there is nothing wrong.”
What Problems are 2021 Toyota RAV4 Owners Experiencing with the brakes?
2021 Toyota RAV4 owners are experiencing the same or similar problems that 2010 Toyota Prius, and 2021 Toyota Highlander and Sienna owners have experienced. Most state that when they press down on the brakes the car doesn’t stop. Some say that their cars speed up instead of slowing down when they press the brake.
There are too many NHTSA complaints to quote them all. So, we have singled out those that report accidents as well as a couple where drivers were able to avoid accidents.
Complaints That Report Accidents
Accident in Maryland
The Maryland owner of a RAV4 Prime that crashed says the SUV “was in stop and go traffic. Brakes did not switch from regen (regenerative) braking to physical brakes. Slammed on the brakes several times, they did not slow the car enough. Eventually, the brakes locked up as the RAV4 rear-ended the car in front.”
The car in front smashed into the next one and that one into the one in front of it. Three cars were damaged and three people were injured. One was taken to the ER.
To make matters worse, the airbags didn’t deploy.
According to the complaint, Toyota Motor North America inspected the vehicle and said from the event data recorder they could tell the ABS had activated. The owner disagrees.
“There was no notification, and the brakes locked up. Speed went from 46 to 21.1 mph. This occurred at 3,573 miles on only a few month-old RAV4. I’m well aware of what ABS feels like when it goes off.”
Accident in Virginia
The owner of a 2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid states that while driving approximately 10 mph, the vehicle failed to stop while the brake pedal was depressed. This resulted in the SUV crashing into two parked vehicles. It eventually came to a stop after crashing into a curb. Like the incident above, there were no warning lights and the airbags failed to deploy.
The owner filed a police report and the vehicle was towed to a local mechanic and then to a local dealer where it was awaiting diagnosis. The failure mileage was approximately 8,000.
Accident in Arizona
This complaint describes two sudden acceleration incidents. The first was on October 6, 2021. The car lurched forward and hit a pole after the brake did not engage. “My car has an auto-braking system which did not function as designed. I took it to Toyota. They determined there were no issues with the vehicle.”
The owner insisted there was something wrong and warned that it would happen again – and could be much worse.
Two months later, while in a drive-thru using the hold button that holds the brake in place, the car began to accelerate and the brakes would not engage.”An error message on the dash said ‘BRAKE MALFUNCTION’. I could not stop the car. I put (it) in Park, but it did not stop the car.” The car jumped the curb, drove into oncoming traffic, and hit two cars.
“They were traveling north, I was traveling west. It’s a miracle another car did not hit and kill me. The most frightening experience of my life.”
After another inspection, Toyota once again said “they could not find anything wrong with the vehicle.” They also maintained “that the brakes were never engaged, which is an outright lie and utterly insane.”
“My car has an auto braking system, so why didn’t it work? Clearly, it malfunctioned.”
Complaints That Describe a Close Call
Incident in Texas
Collecting medication from a pharmacy drive-thru, a 2021 RAV4 owner used the brake-hold feature on the vehicle. This meant he didn’t have his feet on any pedals and wasn’t holding the steering wheel.
“I did not get any notifications, warnings, alerts, or beeps from the vehicle prior to the incident. As I reached my arm out to get my medications and payment from the pharmacy window, the vehicle sped off (accelerated) at a high rate of speed. The vehicle was on break-hold and I did not touch anything. I was able to bring my arm inside and stop the vehicle and put it into the park position. I then put it into reverse and returned to get my medications.
“When I went to put it back into drive, the brake-hold indicator was still on and so I pressed the button to disable it. I drove the vehicle home and parked it. The vehicle did not roll forward. The vehicle took off at a high rate of speed and my arm was sore afterward. Luckily, there was no one in front of me at the time of the incident. The pharmacy technician stated, ‘That was close!’ The next day, I took the vehicle into service at the Toyota dealership.”
After an investigation, the dealership said they couldn’t find anything wrong.
Incident in New Jersey
While exiting an interstate and applying the brakes, the 2021 RAV4 struck a small bump (pot-hole) in the roadway with the front passenger wheel.
“The car lurched forward and stopped slowing down. The brakes had disengaged on all wheels. After approximately 2 seconds, the car started braking again and I was able to regain control and stop. This momentary loss of braking ability could have caused me to rear-end the vehicle in front had I not left excess room. The loss of brakes increased the braking distance required and could lead to the loss of control if the roadway is slick.
“I have been able to reproduce this issue. No ABS or TCS lights illuminated. No beeps or other warning messages materialized.”
The ABS monitors the speed of the individual wheels to detect locking. The TCS detects when there is a lack of traction and wheels lose their grip on the road.
What Should You Do if Your RAV4 Has Brake Problems?
Think you have a lemon? Sit back and let the experts work out your lemon case at no cost to you. The law makes Toyota pay legal fees. You may be able to get your lemon out of your life. Every year, auto manufacturers buy back, replace or pay cash settlements to thousands of ‘lemon’ owners like you.
About the Author:
Brian Jones spent more than 20 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.