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Whenever a warning light comes on the RAV4, it causes great panic in most drivers. The same can be said about the Toyota “Charging System Malfunction” warning that some people see occasionally.
This error message is one to pay attention to but doesn’t usually cost a lot to fix.
As an ASE Certified Master Tech, I can attest that this warning is important and should be taken seriously. In this guide, we do our best to explain what causes it and show you what to do next. While there’s not a lot of information about the subject online, we’ve dealt with this warning personally, so we can add more to the conversation.
We’ve covered many different types of warning messages on this site so far, such as the “maintenance required” message, “traction battery needs to be protected”, and “Toyota navigation app not installed”.
Today, we’re adding another to our list to help Toyota owners understand what these unclear messages actually mean.
What Does This Error Message Mean?
This error message indicates a problem with the charging system. If the battery can’t charge, it could leave you stranded.
For this reason, it’s important to stop driving immediately. Park the vehicle in a safe location and contact your mechanic right away.
There are many reasons why this Toyota warning can come on. That’s why it’s important to run through some diagnostic steps or have a mechanic look at the system. However, here are a few possibilities you may be dealing with.
- Check to see if the key is in the ON position, but the engine is off. If you leave the key in the ACC position so you can listen to the radio or run other accessories, it will drain the battery over time.
- Battery power is often hindered by corroded or loose wiring. If the bad connection keeps the battery from charging, the warning comes on.
- The vehicle may have a blown fuse. If the alternator can’t charge the battery, the power will drain.
- A dying or old battery can cause the same problem if it can no longer hold a charge.
- A failing alternator won’t charge the battery, leading to a lack of power.
- A bad sensor can resemble a malfunction, even if everything is working as it should. The message may come on without an actual problem occurring.
- If the alternator belt is slipping, the alternator may be unable to charge the battery.
- The fan belt could also be broken, leading to charging issues.
How to Fix
It’s vital that you resolve whatever problem is causing the charging system to malfunction immediately. If you don’t, the car may fail to run and leave you stranded while waiting for a tow truck.
For this reason alone, I recommend the following steps.
- Find a safe place to pull the vehicle over.
- Call your local mechanic or Toyota dealership for more support.
If you are familiar with the charging system, you could take a look at it yourself. However, inexperience with car batteries can put you at risk of contact with flammable gases and battery acid or increase the danger of electrical shock.
If you don’t want to deal with these charging system issues, there are ways to prevent them. Here are a few of our best suggestions.
- Maintain your RAV4 according to manufacturer recommendations. Regular maintenance is an inexpensive way to keep your SUV running at its best.
- Visually inspect the belts and alternator occasionally. If you notice any damage, get your vehicle to the mechanic.
- Keep track of the battery’s age. The majority of car batteries only work for three to five years. Once it gets older, replace it at the first sign of trouble.
- Check the battery for signs of damage. If you see the case bulging or any inconsistencies, it’s best to replace it.
If you are familiar with the charging system, you could also check it with a voltmeter. When the engine is off, the battery should read 12.6 volts. Once you start the engine, you want to see this number jump between 13.5 and 14.5 volts, indicating that the alternator is functioning correctly.
Once the message pops up, you can also do some things to prevent the problem from getting worse. Here are some suggestions.
- Reduce the electrical load immediately. Turn off anything using power, such as the air conditioning, phone charger, DVD player, etc.
- Avoid turning off the car engine, if possible. Once you shut down the RAV4, it may not restart again.
- Get your vehicle to the mechanic right away. Pull over and try to call the local service station or dealership for more support.
Is It Safe to Drive With This Warning?
The warning is going to cause alarm, which is what it’s intended to do. However, you don’t need to panic.
While driving usually won’t lead to further damage, there are some things to keep in mind.
- If the battery isn’t charging, you have limited time before the vehicle shuts off. By the time this warning comes on, you don’t have long.
- You may be able to drive it home or to the local mechanic, but it’s not always going to be possible.
- If the car shuts off while driving, you must do your best to get it off the road. You should be thinking about this if you continue to drive.
If you don’t feel comfortable driving, that’s okay too. You can pull over in a safe location and call a tow truck to get your RAV4. That’s the safest option.
Take the Warning Lights Seriously
Whenever a message comes on your RAV4, it’s important to pay attention and act accordingly. With the Charging System Malfunction warning, you may not be looking at a major problem, but it could still leave you stranded, so you don’t want to continue driving normally.
If you aren’t sure what to do, it’s always best to pull over and talk to your mechanic. Don’t attempt to fix the charging system on your own unless you know what you are doing. It’s a dangerous system when in the wrong hands.