Skip to main content

Toyota has long been regarded as one of the most reliable brands. In the eyes of consumers, Toyota and Honda are the brands to beat when it comes to reliability. That might come from a stigma that’s been around since the 1980s. American cars back then were hot messes, and next to the reliable Hondas and Toyotas it was a no-brainer. 

Today, American cars are reliable, but they still carry that same reputation from 40 years ago. Some consumers may look at Toyota with rose-tinted glasses, pointing at the past to prove its dependability. Today, however, may paint a different picture.

Countless class-action lawsuits

Toyota 4runner frame rust
Toyota 4Runner Frame Rust | ELG, P.C.

For a brand that supposedly makes some of the most reliable cars ever, Toyota has a habit of putting its cars’ owners in danger and then ignoring it. Toyota just settled a $3.4-billion class-action lawsuit for rusted frames in its trucks, just a few years ago. Unless Toyota got a time machine, it’s going through the same thing again. 

As of 2018, Toyota is in another class-action lawsuit over more rusted frames, this time in its 4Runners from 2003-2009. That’s not all either. Toyota has undergone over 300 lawsuits in both state and federal courts for its faulty accelerators. 

Horrible engine and transmission problems

Owners experienced sludge buildup in their Toyota engines. This came to a head in 2007, when Toyota settled a class-action lawsuit covering 2.5-million vehicles under Toyota and Lexus brands, between 1997-2002. Toyota chalked it up to poor maintenance, but fixed the problem anyway. 

While it could very well be due to poor maintenance, sludge buildup occurs when the oil is exposed to high heat for a long time, and typically doesn’t manifest as sludge in as quick as five years. Even if it was from negligence, 3.5 million owners experiencing the same problem is an awfully big coincidence

Automatic transmissions were a constant point of failure in the RAV4 for multiple generations. Owners cite violent jerking and banging noises, and total transmission failure. These problems continued through 2019. Some transmission problems were traced back to the ECU, which would cause gear slippage and the car to jerk forward. ECU failure wasn’t cheap, and Toyota didn’t recall the issue, nor did it recall the sludge problem.

The Toyota RAV4 is particularly problematic

Toyota RAV4 outside dealership
Toyota RAV4 outside dealership | Getty Images

Though several Toyota models suffered from the various issues listed, the RAV4 seems to have caught the brunt of it all. Sludge buildup, ECU failure, transmission failure, and rear suspension arm tie rod corrosion all affected the RAV4 at some point. For being touted as one of the brand’s most reliable cars, this history certainly doesn’t bode well. 

Is Toyota still one of the most reliable brands?

Considering its checkered history, and how far other brands have come with their own reliability, it’s probably a toss up. Comparing a Camry to a Civic is probably a moot point, as is comparing a Tundra to an F-150. Reliability has come a long way for many brands, so realistically it’s fair to say they’ve probably caught up to Toyota. 


Most Reliable Cars From the 1990s (Including the Toyota Land Cruiser)