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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
Hi I just picked up 2010 rav 4 base model. The transmission fluid is dark, not burt smelling. A little pink left. I plan on changing fluid ASAP. But what is “base transmission fluid “? I understand using it to cycle through old fluid, then putting the synthetic fluid in. Should I drive the car if I’m draining from pan? Or just let it idle and go through the gears? Thank you
 

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Hi I just picked up 2010 rav 4 base model. The transmission fluid is dark, not burt smelling. A little pink left. I plan on changing fluid ASAP. But what is “base transmission fluid “? I understand using it to cycle through old fluid, then putting the synthetic fluid in. Should I drive the car if I’m draining from pan? Or just let it idle and go through the gears? Thank you
There are 2 ways to go about this. The first method is just do a drain and fill. The second method is a flush. I prefer a return line flush using the transmission pump to push the fluid out. Method one is simply mixing new fluid with the old fluid. The problem is that a drain and fill does not get the fluid stuck in the torque converter. The torque converter hold more than half the fluid. A bit of a let down if you think adding synthetic fluid to system all will be all good. If you want to get all the fluid out a return line flush is the way to go. This method ensures your entire system has no old fluid and get the maximum benefit of synthetic fluid. A good practice would be to change the filter first or clean the screen (on 4 cylinder they have a cleanable screen filter but on the V6 it is a paper filter) before you do the flush. What you have as a filter depends if the original one is still there if it is a 4 cylinder.
 

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Hope I'm not digging up too old of a thread, but what are the thoughts on using Valvoline MaxLife fully synthetic. It says it's Toyota WS compatible? I'm having trouble getting Amsoil or Redline as recommended earlier in the thread.

I have 140K miles on my 2.4L RAV4 2008 and did one drain and refill about 60K miles ago! Should have paid more attention I guess! Little nervous about doing the drain pan drop, so might do 2 or 3 drain and fills?

Thanks!
 

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Hope I'm not digging up too old of a thread, but what are the thoughts on using Valvoline MaxLife fully synthetic. It says it's Toyota WS compatible? I'm having trouble getting Amsoil or Redline as recommended earlier in the thread.

I have 140K miles on my 2.4L RAV4 2008 and did one drain and refill about 60K miles ago! Should have paid more attention I guess! Little nervous about doing the drain pan drop, so might do 2 or 3 drain and fills?

Thanks!
If you are going to do just a drain and fill stick with Toyota WS. You will not get the full benefit of full synthetic since you are basically mixing dirty oil with clean synthetic oil. The result is just a weak mixture of the two. To get the full benefit of synthetic you must get rid of all the oil which only a flush can do. I did my flush and replaced the filter around 4 years ago and used MaxLife full synthetic. It still looks pink and new looking. When I did mine I did a return line flush which is different than those commercial flush that use a machine.

As for doing a pan drop it is not that bad as long as you are careful removing the pan bolts. I say be careful since you can snap them if you use a power tool. I used plenty of penetrating oil and removed them first with a ratchet and then a nut driver. The threads have blue locktite on them and that makes it more harder. The pan bolts are not on that tight. It is that the locktite is making some resistance when removing. Also it took a bit of time cleaning all the pan bolts of the locktite. Also a good idea to flatten the pan gasket with some heavy books ahead of time so it is perfectly flat. I was very nervous doing this procedure due to the fear the bolts would snap. I know rust can make life miserable if you get unlucky with a bolt.
 

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Hope I'm not digging up too old of a thread, but what are the thoughts on using Valvoline MaxLife fully synthetic. It says it's Toyota WS compatible? I'm having trouble getting Amsoil or Redline as recommended earlier in the thread.

I have 140K miles on my 2.4L RAV4 2008 and did one drain and refill about 60K miles ago! Should have paid more attention I guess! Little nervous about doing the drain pan drop, so might do 2 or 3 drain and fills?

Thanks!
Hope I'm not digging up too old of a thread, but what are the thoughts on using Valvoline MaxLife fully synthetic. It says it's Toyota WS compatible? I'm having trouble getting Amsoil or Redline as recommended earlier in the thread.

I have 140K miles on my 2.4L RAV4 2008 and did one drain and refill about 60K miles ago! Should have paid more attention I guess! Little nervous about doing the drain pan drop, so might do 2 or 3 drain and fills?

Thanks!
Opinions here can be divided. The key here is that you’re WAY past warranty so it’s entirely up to you. There are skeptics who wonder how exactly VML is compatible with so many fluid specs, and they surmise that it must not be meeting all the specs (I agree with this thought). There are others who swear by it while swearing AT Toyota’s WS fluid for not being synthetic. There are many people who have used it and reported no ill-effects. There are others who won’t try it due to the skepticism factor.

Last summer I dropped the pan on my 4-speed and drained all the factory WS that I could; this turned out to be about half the system, based on stated capacity and refill volume. I filled (but didn’t flush) with VML, and have since put about 20,000 km on the mixture, with a fresh filter. Our 4-speed comes with a screen only, not a proper filter, and I’m going to clean mine and reinstall with fresh fluid and then a return line flush, this summer. I have had no ill effects from running the mixture, based on drivability and feel. The real test will be when I drop the pan soon, and check my filter and magnets. Keep in mind much of my driving is city with frequent runs from 0-60 km/h (not full throttle) and frequent stops due to signal timing. I also tow a pop up camper and a cargo trailer, max load between 1500-2500 lbs.

Search for return line flush in 4.3 Mechanical - you will find the process there, what DL175 refers to above. Most members highly recommend doing this. Good luck!

Ps. I should add a note to DL175’s suggestion to use WS for a drain/fill. It depends on where you are and what your budget is for the fluid. Some places (Canada) and times, stock on WS is restricted and very expensive per bottle, making a $33 jug of VML much kore attractive. Even if mixing, you won’t get the full benefit but you won’t get fully dinged in the wallet either.
 

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Am I the only one here that never have done a transmission pan drop before? I only used an electric pump I got from eBay to suck the old oil out from the dipstick every three years. And just filled up with WS afterward.
 

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Am I the only one here that never have done a transmission pan drop before? I only used an electric pump I got from eBay to suck the old oil out from the dipstick every three years. And just filled up with WS afterward.
I think you’re the only one doing that method! Lol. If it works for you then go for it. The pan drop will allow you to check the filter/screen and clean the filings off the magnets, and a return line flush will let you get the oil in the torque converter too. Your method (like a pan drop) will get about 1/3 to 1/2 of the fluid in one shot.
 
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On my V6 transmission there is a drain bolt right in the middle of the pan! Why would you mess with the suction?
So i can put the drain line into a jag to take a measurement of how much oil to put back into the transmission.
 

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I usually put a oil pan under and drain that oil pan into a jug. I keep around an empty gallon jug (engine oil) 😀
For me it was like 4 Qt each drain (or 3.5 liters). I did it three times, at 100 miles intervals.

Annoying part was that the bottom plastic shield is kind of in the way, it needs to be removed. It had a hole in it, but was in the wrong place... don't know why.
 

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I think there is about 1/2 quart also that comes out when you remove the filter. This is where it gets messy. You should really have a tarp in case some of the oil spill past the oil container. Have rags to clean up.
 
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