Toyota RAV4 Trail Mode

If you own a RAV4 Hybrid or Prime, you may have spotted a “TRAIL” button near the gear shifter. But how should you be using this drive mode?

In this article, we’ll explain how to use trail mode to enhance your off-road adventures.

We’ll cover what trail mode is, when to use it, how to use it, and more so you can become an expert within a few minutes!

rav4 trail mode

What Is Trail Mode?

Trail mode is a system that performs integrated control for the AWD, brake, and drive force control systems to assist the drive power on bumpy roads such as a dirt trail.

Trail Mode on the Toyota RAV4 helps to enhance the AWD system in low-traction situations, such as snow and mud. It uses the open differential and braking system to send power from the slipping wheel to the wheel with traction.

With Trail Mode, the auto limited slip feature is also activated, allowing an enhanced throttle and shift control to enable better traction.

Check out this helpful demonstration video:

Trail Mode is not available in all models. If this is a feature that you’re interested in, make sure you purchase a model that has it.

When to Use It

New RAV4 drivers often aren’t sure when Trail Mode is most helpful.

Trail Mode should only be used on bumpy, rough roads like a dirt forest with rocks.

Here are some helpful tips for when you’re using Trail Mode.

  • It should only be used on bumpy, rough roads

RAV4 Trail Mode is only intended for off-the-beaten-path drives. Unless there’s a clear use for it, I suggest sticking to Normal Mode. Even in scenarios that you may consider more treacherous than normal — for instance in the rain — it isn’t the right move. While it shouldn’t hurt to use trail mode, the traction and stability control of Normal Mode is going to do a better job than Trail Mode.

The RAV4 also features Eco Mode, EV Mode, and Sport Mode which are worth learning how to use as well.

  • It shouldn’t be turned on for long periods

Trail Mode isn’t intended for long periods. When driving your Toyota RAV4, the default driving mode should be Normal Mode. The other four modes have purposes, and they can be useful when they’re used as intended. If you turn Trail Mode on when driving on a dirt road, don’t forget to turn it back off when you reach asphalt again. Fortunately, you can turn the feature on and off at the touch of a button. This will return your car’s functions to normal and ensure the brake and drive control systems are operating normally.

  • It may cause you to feel increased vibrations in the vehicle

Don’t fret if you feel your car vibrate a bit more than usual with Trail Mode. Your vehicle is increasing traction with additional power, and you’ll likely feel this power in the way it drives. It’s temporary and not cause for concern.

  • It may prompt more engine noise

Similarly, the vehicle may generate more noise from the engine compartment than typical. While this can be alarming for drivers who assume that noise means something is wrong with the vehicle, Trail Mode uses the brake and drive force control systems to generate the power that’s necessary for certain terrains. The noise is a result of Trail Mode being activated, and it should cease once you turn off the feature.

How to Turn It On/Off

It’s easy for drivers to access Trail Mode once behind the wheel.

To turn Trail Mode off/on in your RAV4, press the “TRAIL” button that’s located to the left of the gear selector.

rav4 trail mode button

This will allow you to utilize the feature. The learning curve comes when deducing when you should use it.


If you often drive in low-traction situations, you may require a vehicle to meet these needs. Only newer RAV4 models have Trail Mode.

Trail mode is available on the 2019-2024 Hybrid and Prime trim levels of the Toyota RAV4.

Gasoline-only RAV4 models do not have Trail Mode.

Once you purchase a vehicle with Trail Mode, you may worry about learning how to use it most effectively. The next section details everything you need to know about using Trail Mode in your new RAV4.

Expert Tip

Ready to hit the trails? I’m sure you are excited (and you should be), but let me give you some advice to make sure you’re safe based on my own experiences.

I’ve probably spent more time on the trails with my RAV4 than most RAV4 owners. Not only have I explored lots of dirt forest roads in Pennsylvania, but I took my RAV4 out to the mountains of Colorado and Utah for the summer of 2022.

I love exploring, so I spent a lot of time on dirt and rocky roads in some of the largest mountains in the Western USA.

toyota rav4 with mountains in background

Be sure that you understand the capabilities of your RAV4 (ground clearance, traction, etc.) before heading out on the trails. Also, be informed on how difficult the trail gets and if there’s an opportunity for you to turn around.

Most of the trails I took my RAV4 on were perfect. I knew which rough trails to avoid and generally did not have any trouble by doing some basic research before heading out. There was only one time when I was on a rough trail where I couldn’t turn back. I ended up scrapping my RAV4 pretty hard in some ruts and nearly got stuck (but it all turned out fine in the end).

Using your RAV4’s trail mode feature is great, but it can be stressful, dangerous, and could damage your vehicle if you go past its capabilities. Stay safe and enjoy the exploration!

Final Thoughts

Trail mode on the RAV4 optimizes the AWD system for performance in low-traction situations. It is best used on bumpy, rough roads.

This drive mode should only be used for short periods of time. When using it, you may experience increased vibrations and engine noise which is completely normal.

It can easily be turned on and off using a button located near the gear shifter on 2019-2024 Hybrid and Prime RAV4s. It is not available on any other models.

Have you used trail mode or plan to use it soon? Let us know in the comments!

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  1. jim weiler says:

    “between the left and right sides of the vehicle.” Won’t any wheel that is not slipping get the power? The video doesn’t make clear what wheel actually got power to get out. It looks like the front right and left rear wheels are slipping. So what do left and right sides matter?

    1. RAV4 Resource says:

      It will direct the power to the wheel with traction. I edited our explanation because it was confusing. Thanks!

  2. I feel like I have a dumb question… BUT, can Trail Mode be used when you live in a city with awful roads? Potholes, man hole covers 6in below grade, speed bumps, buckling roads? …sigh.

    1. RAV4 Resource says:

      Haha, I supposed it could be beneficial in some city situations. Just make sure it isn’t turned on for long periods.

  3. Michel Storms says:

    Great article and video, thanks for making this content available!
    I use trail mode on an unpaved road near my house that I use as a shortcut when I need to turn to face the opposite side of my street. It works better than normal mode, especially when it’s been raining for a few days.

  4. Can you use trail mode on snow covered pavement?

    1. RAV4 Resource says:

      I would only use it on snow-covered pavement if the layer of snow was quite thick.

  5. Blocked in at an outdoor event. I had a steep incline at a 45* angle. Knowing 2 wheels would loose traction. I hit the trail button and drove out without spinning a wheel. The owner seen my tracks and was surprised plus happy his yard wasn’t tore up