Another cold weather transmission issue post -with details, videos, and dealer visits - Toyota RAV4 Forums
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post #1 of 5 (permalink) Old 04-09-2019, 11:56 PM Thread Starter
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Another cold weather transmission issue post -with details, videos, and dealer visits

I don’t mean to be making just another “Rav4 Cold Weather Shifting Problems Thread” as I know there have been a few lately, however, I haven’t seen any resolutions to anything on any of the threads and most have had no real follow up on what they’ve found out or tried. Before I dive in, I have read through all the similar threads I could find on this forum, as well as Highlander forums, Camry forums, etc.. I’ve taken my car to the dealer several times, and I’ve documented everything I can in various videos which I will link as I go.

So here is my story: 2015 Rav4 XLE FWD, 54k miles. It is still under the factory 60k powertrain warranty, and it currently still has a couple hundred miles of Certified Comprehensive Warranty, as well as 40k miles of Certified Powertrain Warranty left.

I live in the Midwest, and it got bitterly cold this past January. We had a whole week where morning temperatures were around -20 F (the actual temperature, not wind chill), and during this time, I was careful to let the Rav warm up for at least 3-4 minutes if not more before driving it. I then started having cold weather transmission problems. Basically, I would start the car, let it idle for a few minutes and then back out of my parking space. I would then drive forward 50 feet or so through my parking lot, up to the road, and I would wait to merge into traffic. Everything would work just fine up to this point. After waiting for 30-60 seconds to pull out onto the street, I would see a gap in traffic and start to pull out onto the road. As soon as I let off the brake, I could tell that the car would not want to move. I would give it gas and the RPMs would go up appropriately, however the car felt like I was trying to drive it up onto ramps. The RPMs would rise, but it would barely move forward. Of course, once I was half into traffic I would reluctantly give it more gas to merge and this resulted in a slow, eventual, terrible shift into the next gear. It sounded like the RPMs were surging between the shifts. Maybe the transmission was just slipping? Once the car made it into 2nd or 3rd gear and I got up to 30mph, things would settle down and the drive became more normal. After this happened a couple times, I started to try to film it. There weren’t any issues with first leaving my parking spot or driving up to the road, but it is almost as if the 30 second wait to pull onto the street caused something to change.

Here is my first video of the ordeal – the action happens at 12 seconds. The video is pretty terrible, but if you listen to the shifting from 1st into 2nd, you can sort of hear what I’m talking about. It was also up to 3 degrees F this day, which is not unusual for a Midwest morning. https://youtu.be/qDqyOAn_46c

Here is the second video—action at 1:41. This one has a better shot of the RPMs jumping around. It seems to “surge” 3-4 times before finally grabbing 2nd gear. It was 8 degrees this day. https://youtu.be/u6l3GiCbHvo

Third video—14 degrees. This was either the shift from 2 to 3 or 3 to 4. It’s not as bad and I probably wouldn’t have noticed or cared, but in light of the rest of the issues, it seems relevant. https://youtu.be/tqBxRF9Lrps

Here is the last video. It was 7 degrees this day. I did stabilize this video which makes it look weird, however you can see what is going on pretty well. https://youtu.be/ocNJYXXglOI

I took the car to my local dealer and sent them the first video. Despite my clear description of exactly what was happening (reverse, pull forward 50 feet, wait 1 minute, drive again) they were unable to reproduce it and gave the car back. It got cold again in the meantime, and I filmed the second video. I brought the car back per their request as they admitted it seemed to be slipping from my video. On the second visit, they filmed this “response” video and sent it to me—note that they were still not able to experience the issue first hand. https://youtu.be/k2ImJDp_1j8 . Basically, the tech says my transmission is like an ice cube and I need to idle the car for 10-15 minutes before driving. This may indeed help with my issue as it is related to the cold, however if I were to idle my car for 15 minutes every time it drops below freezing, I would probably idling my car for close to 100 hours over the course of the winter—this doesn’t seem right. Everything I’ve read says it’s best to drive the car gently to warm it up, but in my case, I can’t. Do note that I do still let it idle for a couple minutes when it’s cold. I always at least wait until the RPMs normalize down to 1k, and in all the videos posted, I let it idle for at least 3-4 minutes each time.

I stayed in contact with the dealer throughout all of this and the tech I had been working with asked if I’ve been having and stuttering/vibrations issues when shifting. I asked if he was referring to the torque converter TSB, and he said yes. I said I wasn’t sure as it’s hard to tell, and he said he’d be happy to change the torque converter under the 60k powertrain warranty, and so that is what I did. It did not have any effect on the cold weather issues however. The dealer did return it to me leaking transmission fluid due to a defective or incorrectly fitted axel seal, but after one more trip, they re-fixed that as well.

So in short, the torque converter issues do not seem to be related. For a while I was sold on the parking brake/regular brake sticking as I am a daily parking brake user. I read in the Tacoma forums that a number of people were having a similar problem with their rear drum brakes sticking due to a leaking axel seal and the fluid basically gumming up the brake components and freezing them when it was cold. This makes some sense to me as once the car has driven a couple hundred feet through the first few gears, any friction dragging the brakes would probably heat them enough to thaw out. I even tested the Rav’s parking brake and noticed that with it set to a couple “clicks” on the handle, I can reverse through the brake with ease, but I cannot drive forward with the same amount of brake applied. The only problem to this theory is that I was still able to drive up the road first thing without trouble. I have also since experienced the problem after the parking brake was left off.
Everything I have read says that an issue like this indicates low transmission fluid. The problem is, the dealer says they tested the level the first time and found no issue, and they obviously checked it as part of the torque converter replacement and after it was leaking out. So unless the dealer is not checking it correctly, there is no way it is low on fluid. I understand that the fluid does expand with warmth, so I am sort of wondering if the spec’d amount is simply too little for temperatures below freezing? I’ve never had an trouble with any other car at these temperatures.

I do also have some gear whine when accelerating form 50-60MPH, and a different whine when slowing down from 50-40MPH, but I don’t think they’re related.

I guess my main question is should I continue to pursue something with Toyota about this? If my transmission is slipping, is it causing damage each time it happens? I have not had any luck with the dealer recreating the issue, and since it is related to cold temperatures, it has been a nightmare trying to watch the weather and drop the car off after work the night before it gets cold so that they can perform a cold start in the morning, just to tell me they can’t recreate it. I plan to keep this car to as far past 250K miles as it will take me, so if there is an issue, I definitely want to do everything I can up front.

For those interested, here is a similar thread that has not been resolved.
https://www.rav4world.com/forums/126...mperature.html
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post #2 of 5 (permalink) Old Yesterday, 02:14 AM
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No, that's not normal transmission behavior. No, you shouldn't have to let your car warm up for 10-15 minutes before you drive it just so the transmission will behave, even in very cold temperatures. That's utterly absurd. Yes, you should continue to pursue this with Toyota or you should consider troubleshooting yourself by adding additional fluid.

Does the drivetrain behave normally once it warms up?

I drive in Wyoming and Colorado in super cold below-zero deg. F temperatures. My transmission behaved quite similar to yours after the dealer performed the torque converter swap. (No transmission surges in the 100,000 miles prior to the torque converter swap.) On a few occasions, I didn't get immediate forward movement after pressing on the gas pedal immediately after backing out of the driveway (after a cold soak, of course). Additionally, the first few shift would either hang or would surge or stutter. The transmission behaved normally after just a few minutes of forward speed.

I added 1 quart of ATF and the problems immediately went away. My theory is that the designated fluid level is right on the edge of not being enough in very cold temperatures. (Assuming, of course, that the techs are truly doing the complicated fluid check properly. See video below). The transmission pump pulls fluid out of the pan faster than the cold fluid runs through the valve body and back into the pan. The valve body then gets starved of fluid and can't do its job properly. As the fluid warms up, expands, and thins out, it's able to flow much faster through the valve body and back into the pan. Therefore, the pump isn't starved of fluid.

What about overfilling? 1 quart is 57 cubic inches of fluid. The pan appears to be about 12" x 8" = 96 square inches, give or take. How much would 1 quart raise the level in the pan? 12" x 8" x X" = 57 cubic inches. Solving for X gives .59". Or less than 2/3". (Someone check my math). I think there's plenty of room in that pan for that before there'd be any interference with the bottom of the valve body. If you're worried about a full quart, try a half quart.

This is all just a theory, but if you can't get Toyota to treat you right, adding fluid yourself may be your next best troubleshooting step.

A great video talking about underfilling problems:
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post #3 of 5 (permalink) Old Yesterday, 09:48 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks for the reply! It does behave normally once warmed up, best I can tell.

I did find this video back when this all started, but did watch it again now--it's incredibly helpful. I noticed this time that when the guy mentions that these transmissions are very picky, he says that they can sound just like a hydraulic steering pump that is going bad. Would you say that this is accurate of your Rav, either before or after adding extra fluid? I've thought this from very early on with this car (I got it about a year ago) but I've never owned a Toyota before so I don't really know what is considered normal with it and couldn't find anything about it when researching it.

I definitely like the idea of adding fluid to see if it changes anything, but with it being under warranty and in the middle of all these issues, I may see how far I can get with Toyota first. I would really hate to have more problems down the road, just to have them find out I've added more fluid than what is spec'd. It's tricky because everything you've said along with all my other research indicates that it is behaving like it is low, but why would Toyota have designed it with such little room for error? Is it possible that the level when hot is also very close to being too full? I did notice in the video that the top of the red straw appears to be pretty close to level with the edge of the pan. That would mean that when the transmission temp is within 104-113F the fluid is already sitting pretty high in the pan, and then even more so when at normal operating temperature. I'm not sure what is on the bottom of the transmission or how high up the fluid can go before causing trouble.

I did try to verify that the dealer was checking everything correctly, but I didn't want to come across as insulting since I'm sure everyone there knows far more about cars than I do. I think I'm going to try to take the car back in to get a record of my whine problems on file, and maybe I'll try to go over everything with the service rep again and make sure they were following everything precisely.
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post #4 of 5 (permalink) Old Yesterday, 09:58 PM
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I also think the fluid is low, even if it’s not by much.

I got my torque converter changed and live in a very cold climate and I don’t have these issues. I think you should go to another dealer and have them check the level
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post #5 of 5 (permalink) Old Today, 03:28 PM
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I have a post with similar issues this past winter. Most replies indicated low fluid level although the dealer checked it and stated it was fine along with stating they couldn't find anything wrong. I will be adding some fluid before next winter and see what happens. I'm thinking of just adding 1/2 litre since as mentioned above, it won't affect the level in the pan too much.
I've never had problems like this in any previous car I have owned so this s definitely a black mark on my first Toyota owner experience as well. Your issue doesn't sound quite the same however. I couldn't even get out of my driveway without having issues. Surprised you were able to get down your street before you noticed a problem.

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