Not many people realize that the Toyota Corolla is the world’s best-selling car of all time. Its practicality, affordability and Toyota reliability are the perfect recipe that has been drawing in buyers since 1973. In this blog, we are looking at the transmission reliability of the past three generations of the Corolla. Here is a short summary of our findings.
We would recommend caution when buying the 11th-generation Corolla with the CVT-i transmission and the 10th-generation Corolla with either the 4 or the 5-speed automatic transmission. Out of all, these transmissions suffered from the most problems. Generally speaking, the transmissions in the Corolla are reliable.
If you are in the market for a Corolla, we are certain you ain’t satisfied with the short summary. As we continue, we dig deep and review all the NHTSA owners’ complaints, Toyota’s technical service bulletins (TSBs), and potential recalls. Keep reading!
Common Toyota Corolla Transmission Problems
Corolla’s are available in just about any country on this planet, however, due to the high number of transmissions and country-specific offerings, we will focus the contents of this article on the US-Specification Corolla only.
To make things easier, we will divide this section into different generations of the Corolla, list all the different transmissions used in each generation, and then proceed to list all the problems of each transmission. Let’s get into it!
Twelfth Generation – E210 (2019-Present)
Few cars make it to their 12th generation, but Corolla is not just any car. With this generation, Toyota has offered the following transmissions:
- 6-Speed Intelligent Manual Transmission (iMT)
- 6-Speed Manual Transmission (base models only)
- K120 Direct Shift CVT
- K313 CVT (only with the 2ZR-FAE I4 engine)
- Hybrid Synergy Drive eCVT (Hybrids only)
With the exceptions of the K313 CVT and the standard 6-speed manual transmission, all of the above transmissions are full of Toyota’s latest and greatest transmission technology. They are known to be reliable, but as always, no transmission is perfect.
While you have to be careful when comparing transmission between vehicles, since it doesn’t always take factors like gearing ratios and vehicle weights but we see the eCVT transmission in the Camry Hybrid, Sienna, and Avalon Hybrid with very few transmission problems in any vehicle.
6-Speed Manual Transmission & 6-Speed Intelligent Manual Transmission
We have joined these two transmissions under the same title mostly because they are both considered problem-free and highly reliable. We have however noticed one report of complete failure of the 6-speed manual transmission and two complaints mentioning that certain gears tend to be hard to shift to or they come with too much play.
All of the complaints seem to be isolated issues for the 2019 model year, and they could be initial release bugs.
However, we want to explain what “Intelligent” means in Toyota’s new name for their 6-speed manual transmission. What the iMT essentially does is, match the RPMs of the engine with those of the transmission to ensure a smooth downshifting experience.
Many manual transmission drivers know how to do this “rev-matching” manually. The iMT also helps prevent stalling, and it assists the driver when taking off on an incline. The intelligent function could be engaged or disengaged with a press of a button.
K120 Direct Shift CVT
We were surprised to see a higher-than-normal amount of transmission failure and widespread problem reports for the 2019 Corolla. The majority of these NHTSA owners’ complaints were addressed at the K120 CVT transmission.
Most of these complaints connected to the Safety Recall J07, which recalled 3424 units of the 2019 model year Corolla. Due to a manufacturing error, the blades of the pump impeller inside the torque converter are prone to detaching under high loads or rapid acceleration.
This could lead to a complete loss of power that could cause a major accident. There are no complaints beyond the 2019 model year of such problems.
K313 CVT Transmission
The K313 CVT unit is, surprisingly enough, known as a very reliable unit. The reliability of the K313 in this generation of the Corolla is also assured by the fact that the same K313 unit has already been present in the previous two Corolla generations.
This allowed Toyota to take the time and improve on all the initial release bugs and common problems. They did however release the TSB reference T-SB-0150-16 which addressed the 2014-2019 mode year Corollas.
The TSB provides the steps to diagnose and repair the problems with the Torque Converter Clutch Pressure Control Solenoid. This problem caused erratic shifting and triggered a warning light and a diagnostic trouble code P2757. According to the TSB, owners of the affected vehicles received a new valve body.
Eleventh Generation – E170 (2014-2019)
Corolla’s highly popular eleventh generation hit the US market with a redesigned front and rear styling. Toyota offered the following transmissions:
- 4-Speed Automatic Transmission
- CVT-i Continuously Variable Transmission
- 6-Speed Manual Transmission
4-Speed Automatic Transmission
There are no major problems or many NHTSA owners complaints about the 4-speed standard automatic transmission. To be fair, the 4-speed transmission is sourced from older generation Toyota which means it is tried and tested.
With regular maintenance, this transmission should last a long time.
6-Speed Manual Transmission
Apart from a single NHTSA owner’s complaints that report unusually fast wear of the clutch, we have not detected any common problems with the 6-speed manual transmission. There are no TSBs, recalls or numerous owner’s forum threads that would indicate major and repeat problems.
CVT-i Continuously Variable Transmission
Right from the start, we noticed an abnormal amount of reports that paint the grim picture containing many complete CVT failures, harsh shifting, and erratic engine RPM fluctuations between shifts.
The problem only affected certain units, making the problem not as widespread as it could be. To address these problems, Toyota launched a quality campaign that involved a software update to the CVT control software.
Toyota later realized (after many people already suffered complete CVT failures) that the ECU in the affected cars had improper programming that could lead the valve body in the CVT to unnecessarily cycle and experience abnormal wear.
If this component becomes damaged, the Malfunction Indicator Lamp (MIL) may illuminate in the instrument cluster, and the vehicle could experience a reduction in speed.
Toyota then offered free updates to the CVT control software, and inspection of the CVT solenoid valve, a replacement valve body, or even a complete CVT replacement if there are already signs of major damage.
If you are in the market for a 2014-2017 model year Corolla, make sure that you inspect its maintenance history, run its VIN number to see if it’s eligible for any recalls, and make sure it drives as smoothly as it should.
Tenth Generation – E140 (2009-2013)
As we go back in time with our investigation, the transmission palette of the Corolla becomes more and more simple. The 10th generation Corolla offered US buyers the following transmissions:
- C59 5-Speed Manual
- U250E 5-Speed Automatic
- U341E 4-Speed Automatic
C59 5-Speed Manual
Our usual way of describing Toyota manual transmissions would be “no problems here” or “practically bulletproof”. However, we can’t do that here.
Several 2009 Corolla owners with this transmission report issues with shifting in and out of 3rd gear. The symptoms might also include grinding and vibration.
Due to a low lock ball spring strength for the 3rd/4th gear shift fork shaft, the pressure on the 3rd gear synchronizer lead to transmission damage. Toyota resolved the issue by improving the strength of the said lock ball spring.
U250E 5-Speed Automatic
This transmission mainly suffers from problems with shift solenoids (partial or complete failure) that cause harsh downshifting, shift flares, and transmission slipping. Both issues are thoroughly explained in Gears Magazine and Transmission Digest.
These issues are known to happen at high mileage, and all can be significantly delayed by following the regular maintenance schedule.
U341E 4-Speed Automatic
The U341E transmission is generally regarded as a staple amongst the reliable standard Toyota automatic transmissions. However, the U341E in the 2009 Corolla was known to cause issues such as slipping, harsh shifting, and delayed engagement.
This transmission is also known to have problems with metal shavings coming from tightly fitted planetary gear sets. These metal shavings can then lead to damage to the rear cover and the drum’s direct and reverse gears. The loss of reverse gear has also been reported on NHTSA.
Other Problems Related To The Powertrain
There were no major powertrain problems with the Corolla that we detected. However, that does not mean you should be completely worry-free. Always make sure that you thoroughly inspect the car.
If you are not confident in your car inspection skills, have the car inspected by a nearby mechanic. When you take the car for a test drive, ensure the transmission shows no signs of hesitation, erratic shifting, or harsh feeling operation.
How Long Does A Toyota Corolla Transmission Last?
It does not happen very often that we encounter a list of transmissions that are almost “perfect” across a period of 13 years. However, we are not surprised this happened at Toyota which has several vehicles with limited transmission problems. All the problems that occurred on particular transmissions were quickly addressed and resolved by Toyota with recalls or more commonly, TSBs.
We have full confidence in saying that any of the transmissions listed in this article can easily last 150,000 – 200,000 miles.
That’s certainly impressive but it’s not exceptional when compared to the transmissions in other Toyota vehicles like the Highlander or long-lasting RAV4.
When you buy a Corolla, ensure that the transmission received regular maintenance and that all potential TSBs and recalls have been addressed.
How Much Does A Toyota Corolla Transmission Cost?
- New U341E, U250E transmission, 10th generation: 3000$ (Toyota)
- Pre-owned U341E, U250E transmission, 10th generation: 1000$ – 1700$
- K313, K120 CVT Refurbished valve body, 12th generation: 300$ – 600$ (Toyota)
- K313 CVT Belt Chain: 140$ (eBay)
- Pre-owned manual transmissions, all generations: 500$ – 900$ (eBay)
- New CVT units, all generations: 4000$ – 6500$ (Toyota)
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.