When you mention the words “flagship” and “sedan,” most people would immediately think: Mercedes S Class. However, those that love Japanese reliability and looks would immediately think Toyota Avalon. Our primary focus today will be the Toyota Avalon’s transmission reliability in the past two decades. Here is a quick summary of our findings.
All transmissions in the past three generations of the Avalon have proved highly reliable. Standard automatic transmissions in the 3rd and 4th generations are known to shift harshly, especially as they reach higher mileage and experience damage to the valve body, shift solenoids, and torque converter.
Despite the recent announcement that the Avalon is being discontinued, it is still a fantastic car to pick. From its simple fuel requirements to its stylish look, there’s a lot to love about the Avalon. For those of you in the market for an Avalon, sit tight as we review all the transmissions of the Avalon. We observed what the owners reported about these transmissions and checked for potential recalls and technical service bulletins. Keep reading!
Common Toyota Avalon Transmission Problems
To make things clearer, we broke up this section into different generations. We then listed all the transmissions used in a particular generation of the Avalon and reviewed each on its own.
Fifth Generation – XX50 (2019-2022
The latest and perhaps the last generation of the Avalon featured two different automatic transmission technologies; direct-shift and continuously variable transmission. Here is the entire transmission pallet offered:
- Direct Shift-CVT (2.0 L I4)
- UA80E 8-Speed “Direct Shift” Automatic (2.5 L I4 & 3.5 L V6)
- eCVT (2.5 L Hybrid)
There is not much to tell about these transmissions, and we expect more problems to pop up as these cars age; however, that does not mean they are perfect.
Still, we can also look at how these transmissions perform in other Toyota vehicles for an even better idea. While it’s not a perfect apples-to-apples comparison, we also see the eCVT in the hybrid versions of both the Camry and Corolla with very few transmission problems in either.
UA80E 8-Speed “Direct Shift” Automatic (2.5 L I4 & 3.5 L V6)
Despite the low count (3) of seemingly isolated transmission-related NHTSA owners’ complaints, our internet research soon revealed that many of the 3.5L V6 Avalon owners experience jerkiness, rough shifting, and fluctuating RPMs.
This problem is well documented on ConsumerReports and various owners’ forum threads (1,2,3). The problem is more pronounced when the transmission isn’t warmed up. This issue is addressed in a Toyota Camry TSB T-SB-0330-17. Both the Camry and the Avalon share the same transmission.
The TSB states that an update to the Powertrain Module should resolve the issue. This is the only problem with this transmission we were able to find. Good job, Toyota!
Direct Shift-CVT (2.0 L I4)
The “Direct Shift” part in the name of this transmission indicates the fact that a Launch Gear is added to the CVT, combining the best components of traditional transmissions and CVTs.
As a result, the transmission has a first gear for acceleration from a stop and then acts like a CVT at higher speeds to take advantage of the benefits of both. This takes off the stress of 1st gear torque on the CVT assembly, which was the primary reason for previous CVT problems.
Currently, there are no real problems, and Toyota is being praised for solving the “CVT reliability” puzzle. However, several owners do complain that the moment when the Direct-Shift CVT shifts from the physical first gear to the CVT assembly, a slight jolt or vibration can be felt.
eCVT (2.5 L Hybrid)
The eCVT transmission is not a classic continuously variable transmission with a belt and pulley system. Toyota uses a planetary gear set, similar to the standard automatic transmission, to blend the power from the combustion and the electric motor.
These transmissions are highly reliable, and there should be no problems if the transmission is not abused. With appropriate maintenance, this transmission should last as long as the car. No worries here.
However, do be aware that the hybrid version of the Avalon isn’t problem-free. Read this article to learn more about all the problems the hybrid version of an Avalon has.
Fourth Generation – XX40 (2013-2018)
Fourth generation Avalon was the first to feature a hybrid drive train. Together with the drivetrain also came the eCVT transmission unit, which we already mentioned is entirely different compared to a standard CVT. Here are the two transmissions that were offered:
- 6-Speed U660E Automatic
- eCVT (Hybrid)
The second transmission offered in all non-hybrid versions was the standard 6-speed automatic, also present in the 3rd generation Avalon.
It is not often that we come across so few NHTSA complaints of transmission problems. For all the model years of the 4th generation Avalon Hybrid, only 2 NHTSA complaints reported transmission failure and three complaints about transmission problems.
Those three reports containing information about transmission problems include jerking, hesitation to upshift, and vibration. Based on the low number of complaints, we cannot conclude that these are, in fact, common problems.
We also have no proof that these vehicles were adequately serviced and driven. Based on the low amount of reports, no recalls, or TSBs that would address transmission problems, we can conclude that these transmissions are, in fact, highly reliable.
As we mentioned before, eCVT units are in no way typical continuously variable transmissions, and they are widely accepted as highly reliable. This article by John Goreham explains why that is.
6-Speed U660E Automatic
By 2013 the U660E and the U760E transmissions were well-known and mostly free of initial problems. This is backed by the extremely low count of NHTSA owners’ complaints regarding this transmission.
We want to cover a few points from an excellent article in Gears Magazine that covers the common problems of the U660E transmission.
We want to start things off by pointing out the importance of using the correct transmission fluid. If you are servicing your transmission at an independent mechanic, ensure that the correct transmission fluid is used.
Failing to do so can lead to the torque converter clutch applying shudder, erratic shifting behavior, and shift/pressure solenoid problems.
This transmission also exhibits a shuddering sensation when driving between 25 mph to 50 mph under light throttle. Wrong transmission fluid, a failing torque converter, valve body, shift solenoid problems, or adaptive TCM values can also cause this condition. Toyota mostly resolved this issue by reprogramming the TCM.
As these cars reach higher mileage, it is not uncommon to experience valve body wear problems and mechanical damage/failure of the shift solenoids. Both issues are best resolved by installing aftermarket parts which often come at a lower cost and with improved design.
Torque converter failures are reported to happen on this transmission; however, they can be significantly delayed by regular maintenance and sensible driving habits. Aside from that, this is a tried and proven transmission that should not be causing any significant issues before reaching high mileage.
Third Generation – XX30 (2005-2012)
Third-generation Avalon debuted at a time when crossover SUVs were not yet a thing, nor were the Hybrids or CVTs. This iteration of the Avalon featured the following standard automatic transmissions:
- 5-Speed U151E Automatic
- 6-Speed U660E Automatic
We already mentioned the U660E unit, so we will mainly focus on the other option, the U151E 5-speed transmission.
5-Speed U151E Automatic
A quick look at NHTSA owners’ complaints quickly revealed several complaints about the hesitation to accelerate and delayed transmission engagement. Owners generally report erratic behavior of the transmission, and as it stops hesitating, the transmission tends to surge and buckle.
An owner of a 2006 Avalon reports:
Whenever I attempt to accelerate, such as entering a highway from an on ramp the transmission will hesitate for a few seconds before speeding up. I understand other owners have also complained and Toyota made corrections could not find it in your database.NHTSA ID Number: 10231422
Like the owner from the NHTSA complaints mentioned above, Toyota has resolved these issues with a software update campaign, although we could not find any documents regarding this action.
This can also be confirmed by the fact that there are almost no reports of such transmission behavior in the 2008 and later model years of the Avalon.
Generally speaking, the U151E transmission is also known to start shifting harshly as it reaches higher mileage. Apart from that, this was a popular transmission on various Toyota models, and it does not pose a significant concern in terms of reliability if it was correctly maintained.
Other Problems Related To The Powertrain
Based on our observation, there are no recalls, technical service bulletins, or common complaints about various powertrain components.
If you are in the market for an AWD model Avalon, ensure there are no weird noises, vibrations, or leaks coming off the additional AWD components. Make sure you exercise your right to a test drive and have the car inspected if you are not sure about the state of the vehicle.
We also want to point out the importance of maintenance history. Yes, nearly all the transmissions fitted to the Toyota Avalon in the past three generations of this car were excellent. When you are buying used cars, the main thing you should be mindful of is maintenance history.
If there is no proof or records of transmission maintenance, just leave.
How Long Does A Toyota Avalon Transmission Last?
Let’s start with the transmission offered in the 5th-generation Avalon. The Direct-Shift CVT, eCVT, and the 8-speed direct-shift transmission all have a clean record regarding reliability.
This makes us confident enough to claim that these transmissions will easily last 180,000 – 200,000 miles.
While that’s a respectable lifespan for any transmission, it’s not exceptional by Toyota standards. Especially when compared to the transmissions found in vehicles like the Highlander Hybrid or 200,000+ miles you can expect from the RAV4 transmission.
The first iteration of the eCVT and the established 6-speed U660E standard automatic transmission are both considered reliable. Despite the small number of complete failure reports, we have observed most of these transmissions lasting 150,000 miles and more.
The oldest of the generations we mentioned today, the 3rd generation, features two standard hydraulic automatic transmissions known to last 180,000 miles and more. With regular maintenance and certain repairs at high mileage, these transmissions should run for a long time.
How Much Does A Toyota Avalon Transmission Cost?
- Rebuilt U660E/U151E transmission, 3rd and 4th generation, eBay: 2000$ – 3000$
- Used U660E/U151E transmission, 3rd and 4th generation, eBay: 1000$ – 1800$
- Refurbished U660E/U151E valve body, 3rd and 4th generation, eBay: 400$ – 800$
- We have not found any offers for rebuilt eCVT or the UA80E 8-speed Direct-Shift automatic transmissions.
As we wrap things up, remember that the discontinuation of the Avalon doesn’t take away from the car’s remarkable qualities.
By delving into the details of Avalon’s transmissions and paying close attention to owner reports, potential recalls, and technical bulletins, we’ve painted a well-rounded picture of what this fantastic car offers.
Whether you’re an Avalon owner or considering becoming one, this in-depth knowledge can help ensure your ride is as smooth and satisfying as possible. You need to know the most common issues facing any vehicle, whether that’s the transmission coolant leaks all problems matter to the prepared driver.
After all, understanding is the key to a great driving experience. Buckle up and enjoy the ride with your Avalon!
He is the founder and owner of LifeOnFour.co, where he focuses on transmission-related articles. Furthermore, he finished a 4-year program to be an auto mechanic at the Technical Education Centre of Ljubljana, Slovenia, and worked for six years as a floor manager of a transmission specialist repair shop in Nova Gorica, Slovenia.