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After much research, I bought my first Toyota in 2006. A used 2001 Sienna with 150K miles. Drove it hard for 50K miles. It had a rear main seal leak and a valve stem seal leak that eventually killed it. I bought a used (200K mile) engine, put new gaskets, seals, axles, front end parts, brakes, struts and stuff and have driven that another 75K miles and going strong. I bought another 2001 Sienna (cheap money-with a blown engine) in 2011 and installed a 0 mile engine, got 50K on that with some headaches but still going. We want a small 4 wheel drive vehicle and am looking at the RAV4. I can't decide what is the better year for used. i have considered other models but too many frame issues for my price range. I would like 5000- 8000$ range with no known motor or tranny issues. Looks like I am leaning towards a 2010, but I like a couple of 2009 limited versions. Am I looking for the right vehicle? Is it even a RAV4 that I want? I just do not want to buy a vehicle with known engine or transmission problems. So it looks like pre 2009 is out? what do you think?
 

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A RAV4 is certainly a small SUV with 4WD (well, AWD really). Then again so is a Honda CR-V, a Mazda CX-5, or a Subaru Forester. It might be worth test driving a few just to see what you like before you specifically focus on one thing or another simply because of brand. Then again, if you just want a small vehicle and aren't focused on an SUV, there are other sedan options which don't carry the SUV premium. There are plenty of Subaru Outbacks and Legacys to choose from, for example... (I only bring this up because it seems like you haven't made up your mind about even the basics yet.)

I personally bought my RAV4 about a month ago because I very specifically wanted a recent model-year vehicle with AWD and a hybrid powertrain (that fit within my somewhat limited budget). It essentially limited me to a slightly used RAV4 Hybrid or a more used Highlander Hybrid. Had it not been for my desire for a hybrid (owing to the very heavy traffic and long commutes here in California), I definitely would have been cross-shopping other makes. Whatever your specific requirements are, a RAV4 is definitely not going to be a bad option to consider.

I would say that if your main concern is reliability, then I wouldn't necessarily limit yourself to specific model years. Some years may have more issues than others "in general", but if you can find an owner that has all maintenance records for the life of the vehicle and can honestly point out any issues it may have, that'd be the one I'd go with even if it's a "bad" year... No sense in buying a 2012 if the oil has only been changed twice in 60,000 miles just as there's no sense in avoiding a 2008 if it's been religiously serviced every 5,000 miles and you have a mechanic that can tell you it's as good as the day it drove off the showroom. Toyotas overall are very solid (as you know) and chances are, if it's been well cared for from the start, it'll keep running forever. And frankly, although this is a RAV4 forum, I'd say that advice could apply to any number of other reliable automakers (obviously avoiding some of the luxury brands that don't age quite so well). My family has owned Hondas, Nissans, Fords, Mazdas, and Toyotas. We rarely had issues with any of them. Regular proven maintenance is key.

Hope you figure out what you're looking for and good luck finding it!
 

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2006-2008 2.4l four cylinders are the ones to stay away from. I'm not aware of any huge issues with the 2009.
 
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