By on December 23, 2019

toyota

Buyers of the revamped-for-2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid seem pleased with their vehicle’s upgraded fuel economy, but ask them about range, and you’re liable to get an earful.

In an unusual development not often associated with non-EVs, RAV4 Hybrid owners have begun complaining about lackluster driving distance — an issue that stems from the model’s redesigned gas tank.

The issue is simple. Apparently, the RAV4 Hybrid gets full too early. Owners have complained to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that their vehicles can’t accept a full tank, with some reviewers making a similar discovery.

Automotive News shed light on the issue, referencing the tank design’s transition from a longitudinal vessel to a lateral, side-saddle layout, which shouldn’t necessarily lead to fueling confusion. Volume is 14.5 gallons, though many owners say they can’t get that much in there. Not only that, but the vehicle’s fuel gauge can prove misleading, often registering a level too high.

None other than John Davis of MotorWeek has called out the problem. In an email to AN, Davis said, “On highway trips, when the gas gauge reads between 1/8-1/4, it will take about 9-9.5 gallons max in a fill-up. At that point the gas gauge reads nearly full, but just barely.”

Complaints filed to the NHTSA all claim that the RAV4 Hybrid’s fuel tank comes up roughly 5 gallons short during the refueling process.

While the problem is annoying, it’s more of an inconvenience than anything else. The low fuel warning light will still come on when the fuel level nears the bottom, and owners won’t be caught off-guard by a vehicle running low; the problem is simply that owners can’t achieve the bladder-busting 500-plus-mile range touted in Toyota ads.

For its part, the manufacturer is aware of the problem. In response to AN‘s questions, Toyota said it is “investigating a fuel tank shape issue on certain RAV4 Hybrid vehicles.”

“In these cases, variations in fuel tank shape may prevent a full refill by up to several gallons,” the automaker stated. “This condition may impact the vehicle’s total available driving distance. As a best practice, customers should refuel before or when the low fuel light illuminates, to prevent running out of fuel.”

As you read here last week, the RAV4 Hybrid has catapulted to the top of the Toyota hybrid food chain, easily outselling the once-dominant Prius. For 2019, the hybrid crossover earns a 40 mpg combined rating from the EPA.

[Image: Toyota]

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55 Comments on “Drinking Problem: Owners Cry Foul Over Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Gas Tank...”


  • avatar
    Heino

    I have a 2017 RAV4 Hybrid and have a similar issue. We only drive 3K a year, otherwise it would get annoying fast.

    • 0 avatar
      pinkslip

      Im curious: Why pay the premium (nominal in MSRP, but very significant in lack of dealer discount) for the Hybrid model, if you drive so few miles? You likely could have bought a RAV4 gas trim for $3k less. That’s a 10% difference.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        As someone who owns a Highlander Hybrid and drives ~5k mi/year, I’ll give answers. Hybrids are not just about gas mileage. The hybrid version of both of these cars is smoother, quieter, and torquier than the gas-only version. It allows seamless start-stop and idling with the engine mostly off but the climate control happily working.

        • 0 avatar
          ToddAtlasF1

          I’ve been reading that hybrid batteries will go hundreds of thousands of miles, but those miles need to be driven in ten to twelve years. After that, the batteries fail from old age.

      • 0 avatar
        Greg Hamilton

        The Rav4 Hybrid is more powerful AWD is standard and if you do alot of city driving the mpg difference is significant. Although financially no one should ever really buy a new car at all, unless you’re going to keep it until the wheels fall off and you don’t trust the general public to perform proper maintenance on their car when you do buy used.

      • 0 avatar

        If you don’t drive on freeways much having hybrid makes all the sense.

      • 0 avatar
        Heino

        The hybrid premium was only $750 but Toyota had a $3000 rebate for most hybrids (Nov 2017). My wife’s parents both drive the Prius and of course everybody loves REI.

    • 0 avatar
      spookiness

      I used to think this way, but after driving and being a passenger in a few hybrids, I think for some the premium is worth it no matter what. I do like the quiet and smoothness in city driving.

    • 0 avatar
      Greg Hamilton

      I have a 2016 never had this problem. Also no one on carcomplaints.com seems to have it either for the previous generation Rav4 hybrid.

  • avatar
    ajla

    “comes up roughly 5 gallons short during the refueling process.”

    That’s a pretty large flaw.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    Nonsense…Only GM would do something like this.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      Art, the Japanese have stretched the truth many times in the past. This article is about Acura MDX using more than one SAE standard to advertise their numbers. Ho David reguallarly uses rear passenger floor space in their inflated quotes.

      https://www.cars.com/articles/why-cargo-specs-can-stretch-the-truth-1420663026654/

      At least when GM announces a segment best 81 cu ft cargo capacity for Equinox and Terrain they are taking advantage of a physical ability to fold the front passenger seat flat.

  • avatar
    cprescott

    A Toyoduh with a design defect? If only the ones tailgating me in the slow lane would run out of gas….

  • avatar
    JimC2

    I’ve seen sort of the same thing on my 2008 Toyota. The owner’s manual says it’s an 18.5 gallon tank, but the very most I’ve ever got in was 17-17.5 gallons, after running it 10-20 miles past “0 miles to empty” and the needle just below E, and filling about 2-3 gallons past the first “click” on the pump, the last few presses a few cents at a time, wait for the “glug glug glug” sound in the filler neck, and sometimes a few drops spilling out the filler (money shot).

    Don’t worry, I did it all in the name of science.

    But I do wonder if anybody has run one a late model RAV4 out of gas and seen how much fuel it takes then.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      I used to own a Lexus LX 570, which of course got somewhere slightly above 0 mpg in city driving, so I was refilling often. It advertised a 24-gallon tank, but the light would turn on at around 18.5 gallons used. I once did drive it 60 miles, using 4 gallons, after the light came on, and put in just short of 23 gallons.

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      In the name of science, take a couple jerry cans and run it ’til it dies. Most vehicles seem to be capable of doing another 100 km (60 miles) after distance-to-empty reads zero.

    • 0 avatar
      Dan

      Toyota has calibrated the Tundra this way forever, the light comes on with the needle on E with 6 gallons left – this on top of the idiotic underspec of installing a 26 gallon tank in a huge truck that gets 15 mpg with a tailwind. A decent driving range is one of my pet peeves and that oversight made the decision between Ram and Toyota for me in 2014.

      Toyota finally woke up and put in a commensurately sized tank in 2016, and from what I’ve read in the forums they took advantage of the increased capacity – 38 gallons! – and adjusted the light to come on with 8 gallons left instead.

      • 0 avatar
        NormSV650

        We already know about Toyota high emissions.

        “Hamilton cites last year’s EPA report on emissions and fuel economy trends which concluded that from 2012 through 2017, the five years in which the combined EPA Greenhouse Gas Emissions and NHTSA CAFE regulations have been in place, “Of these thirteen manufacturers [Honda, Mazda, Hyundai, Subaru, Kia, Nissan Mitsubishi, VW, BMW, Toyota, Mercedes, Ford, GM, FCA] all except for Toyota improved CO2 emissions and fuel economy.”…Hamilton explains how this happened:

        Their pick-up trucks are less efficient than most of their competitors and they are far behind the industry leaders when it comes to electrification – their plug-in Prius can go a mere 25 miles on a charge before turning over to the admittedly efficient gasoline engine, and they offer a low-volume fuel cell vehicle only in California. They aren’t currently selling any other EVs across the US.

        https://jalopnik.com/toyota-isnt-the-environmentally-friendly-one-1839969117

    • 0 avatar
      SoCalMikester

      the gas coming out of the filler is also flooding your EVAP system. its eventually going to lead to a check engine light. one or two last pulls after the first click should be fine, though

  • avatar
    REAL_sluggo

    “lackluster driving” – Of course a rav4 is lackluster!. All econo-boxes are merely about going from point A to B and back again. That’s it. Nada. No mas

    Having a rav 4 and calling yourself a “motoring enthusiast” or a Petrolhead, is akin to having a cuppa of hot chocolate on New Years Eve and referring to yourself as a Party Animal. It’s just daft

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    OEM’s have been skimping on fuel tank capacities for about 10 years now.

    The reserve capacity is only useful if you know how much is there; otherwise it is wasted mass and excess inventory. :-)

    My usual procedure with a car that is new to me: Drive until the needle is right on E (and/or the fuel light comes on – your choice). Fill up. Grab the “capacity” from the owner’s manual and subtract. Now we ‘know’ how much fuel is left when the needle is on E (and/or the fuel light comes on). But it shouldn’t be this hard.

    Most vehicles I’ve driven with a “miles to empty” reading blank-out when the fuel level gets low – which is exactly when that information becomes most useful to me.

    Useful how? I would like to know if I can make the next exit – that’s all. Because range is a thing. (Range is a bigger thing than most OEM’s acknowledge. Addressing it would not be a major challenge.)

    • 0 avatar
      smartascii

      I believe I know the reason for this. Many fuel pumps are 1) inside the gas tank, and 2) cooled by the fuel. They want you to be absolutely positive you need to refuel before you run the level so low that the fuel pump overheats. I’m not defending the design, which obviously has drawbacks. Just speculating that this may be why there always seems to be so much unused fuel in the tank when the car is screaming that you’re about to run out. And as a secondary benefit, the roadsides are not littered with people who were “pretty sure” they could make it a few more miles before gassing up.

      • 0 avatar
        ToolGuy

        That makes a lot of sense, thank you.

        (I had a car which had something like a 10-gallon tank, and of that about 2 gallons were the ‘mystery/unusable reserve’. ~8 gallons times reasonable highway fuel economy does not get you amazing range. This is not only an issue when traveling long distances – it also determines whether you fill up once a week or every 4 days for a commuter vehicle.)

      • 0 avatar
        JimC2

        Those are exactly the two reasons why fuel gauges, specifically the “empty” mark, are calibrated so conservatively.

        • 0 avatar
          JMII

          Pretty much every modern vehicle I’ve owned had 1 to 3 gallons left in the tank once the gauge hit E. Depending on mileage this could be 20 to 80 miles of range. The low fuel light comes on even sooner, normally indicating (via the onboard calculations) 40 miles to E. However we already established that E isn’t zero gallons there is clearly a good safety margin before you run dry.

          In my wife’s Q60 and my C7 you get a three separate clues that you are going to run out of fuel: a message the dash, a warning light, PLUS the gauge pointing at a big red E. Despite all of this you STILL see people on the side of the road filling up with jerry cans.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    As said, you have get to know your car. But it’s crazy to expect anywhere near 40 mpg strictly hwy with a lifted hybrid. Probably 25 mpg at 90 mph.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      Why would the EPA measure consumption at 90 mph when that speed is not legal anywhere in the US?

      There are 75-85 mph rural freeways, but most people aren’t driving them. Most freeways most people are driving most of the time are in urban areas and have 55 to 65 mph limits. I bet the RAV4 Hybrid will indeed get 40 mpg at a steady 65 mph.

      My older, bigger, 6-cylinder Highlander Hybrid gets 30 mpg at 60 mph; 27.5 mpg at 70 mph; and 25 mpg at 80 mph.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        I just gave a “for example”, your speed may vary and over 100 is rarely advisable. But from your experience (at 80 mph) I’m more than right at 90. Otherwise varying hwy mileage is what I expected, but trying to keep it simple. You can mostly expect around 60 mph is optional for saving fuel (hwy), especially in vehicles not cheating the wind much, but not so much for saving time on road trips.

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          Sure, all of that makes sense, but they are advertising a number that is the result of an EPA test. I don’t know why the EPA should call for testing at a speed that is 1) not legal and 2) far above what most people not in the mountain west are experiencing most of the time. I think people making a typical highway commute in any of the nation’s biggest metros except maybe Houston or Atlanta can expect to see 40 mpg or close to it.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            That’s great and all, but drive it fast enough, still at legal speeds, and it drops to F-150 mpg.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            No it won’t drop to F-150 levels if both are driven at the same speed and conditions. Both will be well below their Hwy rating if driven at 90 mph since the hwy fuel economy test is at an average of 48mph and never exceeds 60mph.

            On the various Hybrids I own or have owned when doing trips with the cruise set at ~80mph they get about 10% less than they do in the everyday driving.

  • avatar
    JimZ

    I wonder if the “saddle” tank design requires the pump to transfer fuel to the other side of the tank when filling, and it’s not doing so fast enough.

  • avatar
    PJmacgee

    “a fuel tank shape issue on certain RAV4 Hybrid vehicles” …*certain* RAV4 Hybrids, but not others? So they already knew about it and started redesigning the tanks before now, but didn’t offer to fix anything until enough people complained. Sigh…

    • 0 avatar
      MidnightCPT

      Not exactly, certain RAV4 Hybrids means not all model years or all models. That doesn’t mean they changed the design mid cycle, it means that they had a different design on some models. It could also be that only come cars are seeing this issue which could be a quality control issue with the mounting of the new tank that causes some vehicles to have a portion of the tank above the fill line making it impossible to really fill completely.

  • avatar
    2drsedanman

    I was always surprised how close my 2016 Sienna is on the gas gauge. I have drove it down until the low fuel light comes on (not something I liked to do but it happens) three different times. Each time it takes over 18.5 gallons to fill it up on a 20 gallon tank.

    I had a 1982 Civic I could drive back and forth to school all week when it was on E.

    • 0 avatar
      ========Read all comments========

      Yeah, but it wouldn’t have done that if you were driving 90 miles an hour, like DenverMike recommends!

      (Big fan of the old Civics… they were amazingly good vehicles!)

      • 0 avatar
        ToolGuy

        My college girlfriend had a Civic of that vintage. Her very mechanically-inclined father explained to me that once you loosened a bolt on that vehicle, you could back it out easily by hand (because of the precision threads), and how you couldn’t do that on his or my Detroit iron.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    I top up every 4 days at roughly half-tank and always have. This would be such a non-issue for me.

    Is this a case of people hunting for something to be cross about?

  • avatar
    beerster

    Last week I made a comment here about how the front brakes on my ’17 Rav4 Hybrid Limited are squirrely as all hell. I have 25K miles on my car, I have been thinking the gas low light has been coming on way too early and that I still have 4 gallons (120 miles) left in the tank. This is very disturbing to learn that I was really getting ready to run out of gas. I also bought a 2018 Tacoma and I’m beginning to wonder if Toyota is hiring ex-Boeing engineers. My Tacoma has also had a few goofy issues. I have 2,800 miles on it. There is a sensor on the front of it that screws up when it rains.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    I was researching the Malibu hybrid has a crimp in the neck not allowing full tank access unless the owner manually filled the last 2 gallons. Going from something like 13gallons to over 16, allowing 650+ miles.

  • avatar
    jimmyy

    Say what you will, but in jet setting Newport Beach, Ca, where the smallest of homes that needs work starts at 2M, the new Rav4 Hybrid is everywhere. Rich people like them and are buying them like mad. So, while a few people are having a pissy about some minor gas tank issue, fact is people love these things. They look great.

  • avatar
    jimmyy

    Say what you will, but in jet setting Newport Beach, Ca, where the smallest of homes that needs work starts at 2M, the new Rav4 Hybrid is everywhere. Rich people like them and are buying them like mad. So, while a few people are having a cow about some minor gas tank issue, fact is people love these things. They look great. At the Balboa Bay Club, where 6 figure luxury cars are common, a steady stream of Rav4 Hybrids are showing up. Congrats to Toyota on a job well done.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      The best selling vehicle among people that make over 250k a year is…wait for it, the Ford F150.

      I’m not sure the market in that part of the country is representative of the country as a whole.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    I fail to see how this is a safety issue and hwy NHSTA is accepting such complaints. I don’t see how fooling people into filling up early is unsafe. Now if they ran out at 1/8 or 1/4 of a tank then yeah I could see that as a safety issue.

    Fact is the fuel gauge is a purposeful lie, with at least a gallon or maybe two when the gauge reads E and/or the distance to empty reads zero. Additionally most gauges are purposely non linear and under report in the bottom 1/3 or so as an extra measure of safety against people running out of gas and being pissed.

  • avatar
    rav4Susan

    2019 XSE with 10K in 7 1/2 months. Noticed fill issue from first fill up in Oregon on trip home to Sacramento after purchase in Springfield, Oregon. At 5K Toyota authorized replacement of sending unit, gasket, and fuel tank. At very next fill up still couldn’t break 10 gallons even past slightly empty light with negligible DTE. Then advised to await Toyota engineers who are diligently working on the fix! Filed reports on gov site and complaint with Toyota. Per last check in with Toyota, they hope to have resolution known “soon”. I like my XSE otherwise. My complaint is misrepresenting the range. Also find it difficult to believe the brains at Toyota are still stumped. Lacking is corporate ownership IMO.

  • avatar
    salguod

    The second generation Prius had fuel capacity issues as well. It designed with a bladder in the tank which would expand and contract with the fuel load. The intent was to minimize the fuel vapor and therefore the vapor emissions while refueling, I guess. Problem was that in the winter, the bladder shrank and was less flexible. I rarely put more than 8 gallons in our 2007’s supposed 11.9 tank. In the summer it rarely took more than 10.

    Fuel economy drops from the mid 40s in the summer to the mid 30s as well. So, a summer tank of fuel got you a 450 mile or so range, the winter was only 280 or so. Certain pumps made it worse, too. Sometimes I was only able to pump a gallon or two and had to go to another station to fill the rest.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    I think this issue is nothing new. I’ve noticed that all mfrs are putting smaller and smaller fuel tanks in cars. While I never run my cars to E unless absolutely necessary, I don’t think I’ve ever put more than 13 (out of 16 gallon capacity) in my G6 in the 10+ years of ownership. I’ve owned other cars over the years that you could hear the fuel splash in the tank when filling from indicated empty.

    It makes sense, why load down a car with more fuel than necessary for a given advertised range? The added weight and potential for other issues probably are overruled by an algorithm in some corporate computer somewhere. But if you’ve ever had to walk to the gas station after thinking you can make it, I can live with this trade off.

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      Did you even read the article? The issue is a badly designed fuel filler. Don’t let reality influence your point though. You never do.

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        While my post was supposed to be in response to Tool Guy’s post from last Monday (my bad for not hitting the correct “reply” button), you are correct.

        Reality is a construct that my insect brain can’t comprehend. I surrender my intellect to you, my alleged superior. Because clearly, you know all there is to know in this world and probably several others we can’t imagine.

        Anyone can make a mistake, especially with this new commenting system. Not my favorite, but I’m sure they’ll refund my subscription fee if I complain loudly enough…

        • 0 avatar
          ToddAtlasF1

          I’d have given you the benefit of the doubt, but you called me out as a paid Honda shill when I was the first one to say that they jumped the shark going to ChiCom compliant engines and Obama-compliant transmissions.

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