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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited by Moderator)
Hello I am a mechanic (and owner of a 2007 Base 4-cyl 4WD RAV4) and will address the weaknesses of the 2006 to 2010 RAV4s in order of importance, the most pressing and expensive being the automatic transmission of the U code family in these vehicles. The model of your transmission is printed on the corner of the vehicle ID tag on the driver's door post. Most Toyota auto transmission are manufactured by the AISIN company and although not a bad design they do need specific care and maintenance schedule to insure trouble free life.

First and foremost you will disregard what Toyota dealers recommend and change the oil and filter every 30,000 miles in the northern half of the USA and every 20,000 miles in the lower and HOTTER states. This a bold statement but I will here explain some corporate facts: It turns out that carmakers are now often taxed on the ecological footprint each new vehicle will have in their average life, in plain English how much petroleum based fluids it will use over an average 10 to 12 years and so environmental impact before end of useful life. So in response many carmakers have "stretched" the limit in engine oil changes and others including the transmission in order to be taxed less. There is no such thing as a lifelong fluid, not even synthetics.

Secondly the fluid recommended for these transmissions has been found to be significantly weaker than previous fluids. Toyota calls it WS for world standard. Its only specific purpose and thus weakness is that it is a much thinner fluid with the main objective of saving fuel, and so by that fact alone degrades much faster.

Lastly these transmissions are small and so hold less oil and by default run hotter. You can verify the previous statements and look it up elsewhere on the net. I have seen many RAV4s with very dark fluid at 30,000 miles or even less, and keep in mind we have 5 months of winter so failure of these transmissions increases sharply in warmer climates. Before I even researched the subject on forums and the net I had noticed that my wife's RAV4 ATF fluid was significantly darker after a long family trip and only 30,000 miles with no towing.

By the way you cannot tow with the base 4 cylinder U140 transmission without a massive cooler added because the transmission will simply cook and die, even with light loads. After research I found on the net that AISIN qualifies these transmissions as light duty and is secretly in conflict with Toyota over the many failures and bad reputation on these vehicles. I was stunned to see a post where a dealer said that the transmission was sealed and not serviceable if only by them, which is utter bull****. These transmissions have a drain plug, removable pan to access the filter and a filler tube with dipstick.

Moving on to what type of fluid I recommend, since you don't know me from Adam and may be wary, at least buy the Toyota WS ATF fluid from the dealer if in doubt, not "fit all" or "universal import fluids." However the price difference versus the many advantages of synthetic fluid easily warrants the extra cost if you want to keep the vehicle. Amsoil makes an outstanding synthetic fluid that is qualified for transmissions with the WS fluid requirement. I have also used the somewhat thicker earlier Toyota type 4 fluid with absolutely no problems or ill effects. The resistance of synthetic ATF is at least 4 times stronger and more mechanically resistant than base fluid and has been proven to run cooler which is a key to longer life as heat is the number one cause of transmission failures. It is also much more fluid in very cold weather startups. Don' t use fluids that don't have the Toyota type 4 or WS qualifications because these 2 Toyota qualifications include friction modifiers for clutch and torque lockup (4th gear) life and proper operation.

If the fluid is dark it may need 2 or 3 changes to flush the transmission before it stays clean so if you want to do it yourself and have some basic car knowledge you can drain it and refill it with base fluid a few times till it stays clean, then drop the pan, change the filter and put in your more expensive synthetic. Dropping (unscrewing) the pan can be messy so cover the ground under the vehicle against spillage because when you undo that last bolt the pan may drop and it always has residual fluid left in it. NEVER use a transmission flush "miracle" product as they contain harsh chemicals. If you are in a do or die last resort in trying to save a very dirty transmission you can try TRANSTUNE by SEAFOAM and follow instructions. NEVER use LUCAS transmission treatment as it is nothing more than an oil thickener for worn out transmissions which can easily jam the delicate gear control valve body that is the shifting brain of your transmission, you may get MASSIVE IRREPARABLE DAMAGE with that crap.

Get the filter from Toyota or a reputable transmission shop, not a cheap no name one. If the filter clogs or is too restrictive the transmission will die. For those of you that have shifting problems even after an oil change, get the red LUBEGARD bottle ATF treatment, it will safely clean valve bodies and solenoids over time. For external leaks and slow shifting I like a cheap but very effective GUNK brand product that is called TRANSEAL, which will make seals hardened from heat and time more pliable and do the same to internal passage sealing rubber O rings. As with all automatic transmissions, fluid changes and a schedule adapted to your environment and weather is the key to long trouble free life but is crucial on these vehicles, and that includes MOST IF NOT ALL Toyotas since 1998. On Toyotas a transmission overhaul STARTS at $2,000 so change the oil or lose the transmission. If you shop for and find a clean Toyota vehicle over 50,000 miles that has very dark ATF walk away because your the one that's gonna pay for that overhaul even if grandma Jones was driving it.

Our RAV4 has 150,000 miles and the transmission works like new and has never been touched aside from fluid changes. My daughter drives my mother's 2002 Camry that now has over 200 thousand miles and that transmission has also never been touched aside from fluid changes. Both vehicles run on Amsoil synthetic ATF WITH a small bottle of red LUBEGARD additive in each and 30,000 mile AFT fluid and filter changes. You be the judge. Jeff
 

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So Jeff, do you think the U151 5-speed transmission is very similar to your 4-speed? Mine was replaced under warranty at 19,000 miles and the new one has 32,000 on it now. Do you recommend I have the fluid changed now?
 

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I can attest to the heat these transmission generate... before my oil cooler was added, I could see 190F, in Canada where it's not even that hot in summer.... towing my travel trailer with my cooler I will see 215F (imagine without my oil cooler)

I personally will change the oil for something better now that I'm out of warranty, the WS turns dark too fast for my liking
 

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Discussion Starter #8
As a precaution every and all toyota auto transmissions especially more recent models running on WS fluid should have basic oil and filter changes every 30 thousand miles and even non mechanics can learn to monitor the color of the fluid with some experience. Just google " That ( model # )toyota transmission problems" and follow down links especially those put out by transmission repair associations .You may think that some shops push unnecessary jobs but in this case use them as guides for averages and believe me most will report the same findings. Ask around to find an average price for oil change. Try and get reviews or ratings from others and the net. Also something i forgot to mention is that the valve body ( control module) tends to wear out faster by themselves in the last 10 years and cause problems which i will explain in the easiest terms : The directional or shift control valve has hard steel moving parts that slide back and forth in a softer aluminum housing. The steel is much harder and wears out the passages with time causing shift delays from internal leakage and operating pressure loss, and in extreme cases transmission stoppage. This is worse on older V6 equipped Camrys Solaras or Lexus. A professionnaly rebuilt or machined valve body is very expensive by itself, around 700$ without labor. Check Ebay for fun. Some reliable vendors on Ebay will sell a good tested and verified valve body for much less sometimes, check their satisfaction rating. In a many cases depending on the year a slow or problematic shifting Toyota transmission can be fixed by rebuilding the valve body or changing it with a decent one with proper clearances, use that info so you dont get screwed by an unscrupulous shop, they may be stunned that you know about this. Changing it is a job best left to mechanics or better yet good trans repair shops. Do not attempt if unsure. Synthetic transmission oil practically eliminates any wear everywhere during the life of the fluid so for the liitle price difference i will always recommend that. Hope this helps. Jeff
 

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Trans fluid exchange or flush; cooler?

Jeff, I have a 2012 RAV I4 with the 02AU140f auto trans. It has 31,000 miles on it. I was considering have the trans fluid changed at 50,000 miles but now your post has me thinking maybe I'll do it sooner. So should I get a "drain and fill" or a "flush"? Also, I just bought a very small camper (800 lbs), should I have a trans cooler installed or just have fluid changed more often? Thanks for your info.
 

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.... Synthetic transmission oil practically eliminates any wear everywhere during the life of the fluid so for the liitle price difference i will always recommend that. Hope this helps. Jeff
So it Toyota WS synthetic or not? Would you use Synthetic Valvoline ATF certified as compatible with WS?
 

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Discussion Starter #11
Factory fill WS fluid is definitely NOT synthetic. Valvoline is an excellent company and as long as their synthetic fluid is WS compatible you will be fine and benefit from longer transmission life and cooler running temperatures
 

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Discussion Starter #12
50 thousand miles is too far an interval. If you tow anything even only on vacation you must convert to synthetic oil. If your vehicule does not have a factory " towing package" cooler installed you must have one put on by a PROFESSIONAL Trans shop that has technical info : Otherwise even a well meaning mechanic can reverse the inlet and outlet of the cooler and render it nul. All fluid must first pass thru the mini standard cooler at the base of the radiator, then go through the aftermarket added air cooler before going back to the transmission. Location of the cooler is also key, it needs to be able to get fresh air but not be at risk of damage from road debris or hanging too low on the vehicule. It is always located to be the very first cooler in front , always in front of the air conditionning condenser and the radiator.
 

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Discussion Starter #13
Sorry i did not finish answering the question about drain and fill or flush. Many professional shops now have a machine that will run and filter new oil through the transmission to clean it and push out the old oil before dropping the pan to change the filter. Technically it is obviously a good idea but i prefer to only drain and fill for a very specific reason : This way when i drop the pan i can always examine the bottom of the pan for specific debris that can give clues of advanced wear or specific upcoming problems. Heavier debris will always collect at the bottom of the pan. If you have the tranny flushed most of these may be washed away. A small amount of dark sludge-like deposits is normal. A large amount is not. A bit of metallic tint mixed with old fluid is normal. A large amount of anything metallic is not. Larger Bits or chips of anything lying around is not good. Any good mechanic or do it yourselfer can spot this with experience
 

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Making me feel bad for putting off the ATF change. At 60K now and on the original fluid. Have some amsoil on the shelf ready to go. Question you warned against cheap tranny filters. The OE filter material looks to be a fine wire mess screen. The aftermarket that I got looks to be a yellowish fiberish materiel. Was thinking that this would filter better?

Thank you for this post.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
The mesh type similar to the factory type is better and less restrictive. The fiber or fabric type is cheaper but more restrictive for the pump oil suction and in 2 cases i have seen these have bits of fabric come apart ! If in doubt at all get it from Toyota. Something else i forgot to mention overall is the need and life extending benefit of letting these transmissions warm up a bit in cold weather.
 

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Jeff again. The filter has no screws and just pushes in place BUT where it snaps to there is a rubber sealing o ring that seals the base of the filter. Make sure the old one comes off and make sure to put the new one on which is supposed to come with the filter , otherwise you will not fully go thru the filter. If the old stays there you will have problems putting the new filter on. Coat new o ring with some fluid so it won't rip.
 

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The mesh type similar to the factory type is better and less restrictive. The fiber or fabric type is cheaper but more restrictive for the pump oil suction and in 2 cases i have seen these have bits of fabric come apart ! If in doubt at all get it from Toyota. Something else i forgot to mention overall is the need and life extending benefit of letting these transmissions warm up a bit in cold weather.
The tranny always seems to thunk when you put it in Drive. How do you warm up that tranny. Just warm up the car in park.
 

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Discussion Starter #18
Warming up the car is what i meant generally but also try not to speed up too fast and keep engine revolutions lower for the first half mile. All overdrive transmissions need to reach a certain temperature before the final 4th gears shift comes on smoothly. In cold weather you will see many transmissions refuse to shift into 4th or 5th till the oil has warmed up and that is normal , but if you get pissed and insist that it shifts by driving faster it wont help the life of the transmission for the long run.
 

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Discussion Starter #19
A thunk or clunk when engaging in drive or reverse may not be directly transmission related but can also come from worn axleshafts, engine or transmission mounts etc that need to be checked physically
 

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Jeff again. The filter has no screws and just pushes in place BUT where it snaps to there is a rubber sealing o ring that seals the base of the filter.
This is the type of filter on my transmission. As you can see it has 3 screws that hold it on as well as the o-ring:



 
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