The Toyota Sienna is a Toyota family minivan that was first introduced for the 1998 model year and has been in continuous production ever since. The 2nd generation of the Sienna came out in 2003, the 3rd gen in 2010, and the latest 4th gen Sienna was released for the 2020 model year. In this article, we will focus on all the issues with the 3rd and 4th generations of the Sienna, so if you are interested in buying one, this article will give you a complete assessment of what to look out for.
The most common 3rd and 4th generation Toyota Sienna problems include dashboard problems, rust problems, components detaching, sliding door issues, oil leaks, engine fire, gasket issues, drive shaft breaking, the car rolling away on its own, worn transmission valve body, hybrid system issues, stability control issues, issues with the seats, and issues with the airbags.
It’s important to remember that even with these issues, the Sienna can still last well over 200,000 miles.Now it’s time to go in-depth about all these issues individually, including the model years that are the most problematic and how you can approach fixing these issues.
We will kick off this list with the Toyota Sienna’s structural problems, including problems with the dashboard, rust issues, sliding doors, and specific trim panels detaching.
If you’ve owned an early 2000s Toyota, chances are that you have either heard or witnessed Toyota dashboards melting, cracking, and warping since 2003. Sadly, this issue is common for 3rd generation Sienna models, predominantly the 2010 model. Toyota first recognized this issue when they released a TSB for Lexus models, where they said that some models could experience similar dashboard issues.
These repairs were covered under warranty, but the 2010 Sienna is way out of warranty, which means that if this happens to you, you will have to cover it out of your own pocket. This also led to a few lawsuits here and there, but no recalls were ever issued for the Sienna.
Thankfully, the Toyota Sienna was not affected by notorious frame-rusting issues typically found on Toyota SUV and pickup truck models, but that’s not to say that the Sienna does not experience rust issues in general, because it does. A few owners of the 2010 Sienna did report some corrosion settling on the passenger seat rails, but these don’t seem overly common for the most part.
Be that as it may, a relatively common rust-caused issue is one where the cable that holds the spare tire in place corrodes and thus causes the tire to break away from the vehicle and lead to an accident. Therefore, Toyota issued a recall in April 2010 (10V160000) for 2010 Sienna models, where they offered to replace the faulty cable and all its associated components.
Sliding Doors Issues
Problems with the sliding doors have become somewhat customary to a wide variety of 3rd gen Sienna models, mostly made between 2011 and 2016. One owner of a 2013 Sienna reported that the passenger side sliding doors ultimately came off while on the highway, which caused significant additional damage to the car.
Many 2011-2016 Sienna model owners reported the sliding doors failing or closing/shutting automatically. This might just as well be the most talked about problem with the 3rd gen Sienna as a whole and also led to a recall.
The recall occurred in November 2016 (16V858000) when Toyota recalled almost 750,000 2011-2016 Toyota Sienna models and promised to fix the issue by replacing the doors, the wiring, all the cables, and all the hinges.
Panels Detaching From The Car
The Toyota Sienna also suffers from a peculiar issue where some interior panels can detach and cause severe injuries during airbag deployment or even more minor accidents. This sure did cause a lot of stir with numerous Toyota Sienna owners, which prompted Toyota to do three separate recalls to combat this issue. These go as follows:
- 11V566000 – Toyota recalled certain 2011 Sienna models back in November 2011 due to the possibility that a damaged A-pillar trim panel retention clip can cause the trim panel to come off and injure an occupant in the event of an accident.
- 15V236000 – Toyota recalled certain Sienna models made between September 2014 and April 2015 back in April 2015 due to a damaged clip within the infotainment system which can hamper side curtain airbag deployment and cause injuries in an event of an accident.
- 15V240000 – Toyota recalled certain Sienna models made between January and April 2015 back in April 2015 due to a damaged clip within the infotainment system which can hamper side curtain airbag deployment and cause injuries in an event of an accident.
It’s common knowledge these days that Toyota makes some of the most reliable engines in the automotive industry, but that does not mean that Toyota engines are entirely free of faults, as we are now going to demonstrate in the following few paragraphs. These issues include oil leaks, engine fire, and a blown gasket.
Oil leaks seem pretty common on many high-mileage and older models, and the Toyota Sienna is no different. Oil leaks have mostly been reported for Sienna models between 2010 and 2013. However, all 3rd generation Sienna models sometimes suffer from this issue. These can be due to several reasons, many of which lead to a faulty VVT-i oil line.
Other areas where the Sienna might leak oil are the oil pan, the engine block, and the infamous timing chain oil leak.
A more dangerous and frightening issue with the Sienna is a potential engine fire that can occur after a minor crash or even without any crash. These seem to have happened to 2010-2019 models intermittently, which means this issue appears to be related to the 3rd gen Sienna. A few owners reported that the car caught on flames while idling, while some said more minor accidents to the front caused the car to burst into flames.
One owner of a 2014 Sienna reported a loud bang that led to a fire and even locked the doors, which made it difficult for the owner to exit the car. One owner of a 2017 Sienna reported that his car started smoking and that the entire intake housing was melted.
A blown gasket might not be the most common engine-related issue with the Sienna, but it sure is an expensive one. One owner of a 2015 Sienna reported that he replaced the gasket once, and it blew. Later he replaced the entire engine, but the gasket blew once more. Many believe that this is due to Toyota using plastic heater core hoses, which causes the issue.
The sad part is that replacing a head gasket is quite a costly repair and relatively difficult to perform. If the reason is due to wear and tear, it is reasonable to assume that these will become more and more common in the future.
Powertrain-related issues with the Toyota Sienna are almost exclusively related to the transmission, except for some drive shaft issues. These include a worn valve body, potential rollways, and delayed shifts.
Drive Shaft Breaks
As mentioned above, the Sienna is not only vulnerable to transmission issues as a decent amount of 2010 Sienna owners have had problems with the drive shaft breaking and causing the car to lose all motion power. This eventually led to a recall back in June 2011 (11V306000) when Toyota recalled a few dozen Sienna models due to the possibility of the front right driveshaft breaking as it was not manufactured correctly from the factory.
Worn Valve Body
The 2011-2016 Toyota Sienna uses the U660E transmission, which generally seems to hold up relatively nicely. However, there were issues where the transmission started suffering from contaminated transmission fluid and a vitiated torque converter lockup. The selector position plate sensor can sometimes overheat and thus happens to be the most commonly replaced part of this transmission.
Regarding the Toyota Sienna rolling while parked, there are two specific issues to speak of. The first one is when the shift lever assembly fails and enables the car to roll even when placed in park. This leads to the car rolling, which can be a hazardous issue. Therefore, Toyota recalled specific 2010 Sienna models in October 2017 (17V657000) to replace the shift lock solenoid and reapply the necessary grease free of charge.
The second instance when this also became a problem takes us back to 2014 (14V414000) when Toyota recalled specific 2014 Sienna models due to the transmission shift cable failing and thus not matching the gear indicated on the shift lever. As such, this could also lead to the car rolling away, as you can never be too sure if the car is in park or not.
These include problems with the new hybrid systems, issues with the stability control, and issues with the seats.
Hybrid System Issues
The 4th gen hybrid Toyota Sienna (2020 and later) is sometimes known to prompt a p0aa6-49 warning code which refers to the isolation of the hybrid/EV battery voltage system. Some say this problem is shared across multiple hybrid Toyota models and affects the Sienna. The problem is that Toyota seems to be pretty reluctant to replace the associated parts under warranty which caused a few lawsuits to be claimed.
Stability Control Issues
The Sienna also seems to be suffering from peculiar stability control issues, which seem to happen with various generations of the Sienna. One owner of a 2017 Sienna reported that the instrument cluster repeatedly prompts up a “track off – check AWD system” even though everything seems to be okay with the AWD system. One owner of a 2010 Sienna reported that his car is sometimes known to engage the ABS for no apparent reason.
Moreover, a few Toyota Sienna owners also complained about the C1433 code constantly popping up on their dashboards.
Electrical Seats Issues
To round up our list of the most common electrical issues with the Toyota Sienna, we also need to talk about specific seat-related problems that can become hazardous if not dealt with in time. It is worth mentioning that Toyota recalled the Sienna three times due to seat-related issues. These are:
- 13V014000 – Toyota recalled certain 2010-2013 Toyota Sienna models back in January 2013 due to the front passenger seat airbag sensing system failing to recognize a passenger and thus not deploying the airbag when needed.
- 14V743000 – Toyota recalled certain 2010-2011 Toyota Sienna models back in November 2014 due to issues with the seat heater electrical wiring, which can short circuit and burn through the seats, even potentially causing injuries to the passenger or catching fire.
- 16V396000 – Toyota recalled certain 2010-2011 Toyota Sienna models back in June 2016 due to a damaged copper strand heating element that can burn the seats and potentially even start a fire.
To finish our list of the most common Toyota Sienna issues, we also need to discuss airbag issues, as these are traditionally common on almost all cars. The most common problems with the airbags are inflator ruptures, which resulted in many recalls (16V340000, 19V005000, 19V741000, 18V024000), and issues associated with the airbags not deploying when needed or aforementioned occupant sensing technology failing to recognize a person in the seat.
The Toyota Sienna, while an iconic family minivan with a proud legacy, does come with its share of problems. Over the 3rd and 4th generations, issues have varied from dashboard malfunctions, rust, components detaching, to more serious concerns like engine fires and stability control issues. Hybrid system problems also pose a challenge for newer models.
However, knowing these issues before purchasing a Sienna can provide you with a significant edge. You can make an informed decision about the ideal model year to opt for or, if you already own a Sienna from these generations, better manage your maintenance schedule. Even though these issues may seem intimidating, remember that they don’t define every Sienna out there; many owners have enjoyed years of smooth and satisfying ownership.
With proactive checks and regular maintenance, many of these problems can be mitigated, if not avoided. Just as you wouldn’t drive without knowing the right type of fuel for your Sienna, you don’t want to purchase without knowing the most common issues.
Always ensure to research the common issues associated with the model year you’re interested in and use that knowledge when inspecting a potential purchase or maintaining your vehicle. If you plan to buy used, we strongly recommend a pre-purchase inspection by a trusted mechanic.
Marko´s interest in cars runs in the family. His father was a car trader and regularly took him to car dealerships when he was younger.
These days, when he isn´t watching Drivetribe or Doug DeMuro videos, he´s building up quite a resume as an automotive writer since he´s also a regular contributor on Cararc.com, Tirehungry.com, and Luxurycarsa2z.com.