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CarComplaints.com Notes: The 2003 Ford Explorer one of our worst vehicles on record. "Avoid like the plague" is putting it lightly.

The 2002-2005 Explorer has a very well-established record of expensive transmission failure at under 100k miles. The Explorer has an enclosed transmission which is typically replaced with a rebuilt transmission at a cost of almost $3,000.

Another common problem for the 2002-2003 Explorer is wheel bearing failure at around 90k miles, with a typical repair bill of $500 to $1000 depending on how many wheel bearings failed.

Adding insult to injury, the 2002-2005 Explorer also has a massive problem with the rear panel cracking. While it's a minor annoyance compared to transmission failure, ironically the crack usually goes right through the Ford logo.


fairly significant
Typical Repair Cost:
Average Mileage:
75,582 miles
Total Complaints:
520 complaints

Most Common Solutions:

  1. Ford should recall (221 reports)
  2. repair or replace tailgate (139 reports)
  3. not sure (95 reports)
  4. replace the panel (24 reports)
  5. need a redesigned tailgate (22 reports)
  6. ford needs to pay for being fixed (10 reports)
2003 Ford Explorer body / paint problems

body / paint problem

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2003 Ford Explorer Owner Comments (Page 1 of 26)

problem #520

May 092008

Explorer XLT 4.0L V6

  • Automatic transmission
  • 63,120 miles


It's damned ugly and it is it's own eyesore and a great representation of Ford fit and finish. The Ford Logo is right there on the crappy panel for all to see and judge for themselves......

- , Raleigh, NC, USA

problem #519

Mar 062015

Explorer XLT 4.0L V6

  • Automatic transmission
  • 103,452 miles

click to see larger images

cracked panel below the rear window

We just bought this 2003, used. It had the crack! I have always respected Ford and have enjoyed their customer service and vehicles.

How sad that they had a design that was NOT a problem (prior to 2002), changed design - with a problem and apparently will not stand behind the required repair.

I don't think I want to spend the money to buy a replacement panel only to have this happen again. Think I'll check and see if there are any fabricators out there who can make a replacement out of an alternate material.

The best solution in this woman's opinion: Ford acknowledges the problem, gets it resolved and offers the repair to all owners with this problem at either a "FREE" or very reduced price.

- , Hiawassee, GA, USA

problem #518

Mar 032015

Explorer XLT 4.6L V8

  • Automatic transmission
  • 147,000 miles

Welp, 147,000 miles and 12 years later, I finally joined the elite club of cracked lift gate owners. I'm consistently careful with the lift gate, and only pushed down using the emblem, but here we are. Any advice on fixing?

- , Dallas, Texas, USA

problem #517

Jan 222013

Explorer LXT V8

  • Automatic transmission
  • 75,000 miles


Ford should pay for repairs and more people should go on record at Ford motor.

- , Terre Haute, Indiana, USA

problem #516

May 312012

Explorer XLT V6

  • Automatic transmission
  • 112,000 miles

Every third 2002-2004 Explorer I am following down the road is a victim of this poor structural design. I have talked to auto body repair experts that seem to all agree, if you use your upper hatch with any regularity it will eventually crack from stress. Ford is doing themselves a financial disservice by not volunteering to repair this situation. I for one won't purchase another Ford, and I have owned many, for their lack of taking responsibility for the problem.

- , Bend, Oregon, USA

problem #515

Dec 312014

Explorer Limited 4.6L

  • Automatic transmission
  • 99,500 miles

I think Ford should recall , this is obviously a huge problem and should be corrected.

- , Belle Plaine, Minnesota, USA

problem #514

Jul 162014

Explorer 3.2L V6

  • Automatic transmission
  • 90,000 miles


When I first noticed that my 2003 Ford Explorer had the crack by the "FORD" logo on the rear tailgate, I first thought that someone tried to break into my vehicle. Then I contacted the ford dealership in Phoenix to see what the cost would be to fix it. "B_ _ _ S_ _ _!" They told me that this is a continual problem with this year and that it was a stress fracture. Ford needs to fix the problems on all these vehicles at no cost to the owners. Please add me to the Class Action Law Suit. Another saddened owner of a Ford.

- , Phoenix, AZ, USA

problem #513

Jan 012005

Explorer XLT 4.0

  • Automatic transmission
  • 150,000 miles

This should be an embarrassment to FORD. I see other explorers on the road with the same problem

- , El Dorado Hills, CA, USA

problem #512

Dec 102013

Explorer Eddie Bauer V6

  • Automatic transmission
  • 136,000 miles

This crack is due to freezing weather. My son alerted me to the fact there is a class action suit for this happening to Explorers so I checked into it. It seems that FORD has known about this since 2002 and still sold this product. Since I live in the South, we rarely get freezes. We had a HARD FREEZE a few years ago and once the ice melted I noticed I had a crack in my back panel. I wasn't aware that water could actually leak into the panel and destroy wiring.

Who do I need to send my repair invoice to once I find out all the damage this has caused???

Sign me,

Just another Explorer Driver with a cracked back panel

- , Humble, TX, canada

problem #511

Jan 072015

Explorer XLT 4.0L

  • Automatic transmission
  • 145,000 miles

click to see larger images

cracked panel below the rear window cracked panel below the rear window

We had a bad freeze in Savannah, Georgia January 6 & 7 of 2015. Around the 8th, I noticed the crack in panel above the window wiper. Since than I've seen other Ford Explorers with the crack in the very same location.

- , Savannah, GA, USA

problem #510

Nov 252008

Explorer XLT 4.0L

  • Automatic transmission
  • 100,000 miles


I have a 2003 Ford Explorer, I will never buy a Ford again, they do not stand behind there product. The back panel cracked years ago and because of the cost to have it replace for a plastic replacement is expensive, again Fords are junk stay away because of transmission problems and back panel crack. Junk

- , Selden, NY, USA

problem #509

Oct 152013

Explorer XLT V6

  • Automatic transmission
  • 75,000 miles

This is a vehicle that has been parked. This crack appeared out of no where. Cannot take the garage life LOL. This prompt me to contact Ford which indicated no recall. Driving thru out the city I have notice several Ford Explores with the same crack on the tailgate hood. Therefore, this has to be a problem as no cars can have the same exact crack. These vehicle must have been built the same day.

- , Oak Park, MI, USA

problem #508

Sep 082014


  • Automatic transmission
  • 135,000 miles

Rear tail gate panelings may fall apart while driving and cause crash/injuries to any vehicle/motorists behind.

- , Ruskin, FL, USA

problem #507

May 092014

Explorer XLT V6 Flex Fuel

  • Automatic transmission
  • 136,500 miles

They absolutely should offer to fix these. My guess is that it's a combination of poor material selection on the panel, and improper engineering for it's attachment. Not enough give for shrinkage or expansion in extreme cold or heat. After about a month of trying to

figure out what I did, or how it happened, I learned that they crack without any warning, and I'm now "In the club".

I really like Ford. They never took any bailout money. Not a whole lot of complaints, except that obviously there are probably thousands of their 2003 Explorers out there that have this cracked panel problem, especially if this site alone has over 500 complaints about it.

Biggest additional gripe on this model. Door seals not just poorly designed.... it's almost as if they were purposefully designed to guarantee they will freeze shut in the winter They are not designed just to seal the air break. With no rain channel on the main body,they

are designed to ALWAYS be in contact with the outside elements. Rain, snow... morning mist runoff... anything and everything that will freeze solid when the temperature drops... lays in the void between seal and door opening!

The vehicle should come with and added warning: Purchaser is responsible to keep vehicle parked inside heated garage during winter months.

- , Winona Lake, Indiana, USA

problem #506

Jan 092013

Explorer LS 3.2L V6

  • Automatic transmission
  • 80,000 miles

At the time there was no other body damage, now a hugh crack.

- , Brackenridge, Pennsylvania, USA

problem #505

Nov 142013

Explorer XLT V8

  • Automatic transmission
  • 98,000 miles

Just really fed up with Ford and all the problems they know about but don't give a damned about. Once they sell you a vehicle they don't want to see your face again. Until you need a new car because the old piece of crap won't run anymore. Guess what my next vehicle will be? You are right...NOT FORD!!!

- , Edgewater, Florida, USA

problem #504

Dec 232013

Explorer XLT 4.6L V8

  • Automatic transmission
  • 106,700 miles

Cracked panel looks awful. Truly a slap in the face to Ford for letting this go. The darn thing rattles and when you wax the car you have to be careful not to cut yourself on the sharp edges.

- , Cambridge, Ohio, USA

problem #503

Jul 042014


  • Automatic transmission
  • 110,000 miles

Sounds like a real problem for many. A recall should be made by Ford.

- , Sun Prairie, WI, USA

problem #502

Feb 212007


  • Automatic transmission
  • 85,000 miles

I had contacted Ford when the crack first appeared,back in 2007,I was told it was not under Recall and would do nothing about it. I paid a lot of money for my Explorer, Feeling very disgusted with the problem,What was I to do. In October 2014 I was at the mechanics when he informed me Ford was repairing those cracks,so once again I contacted Ford,This time they told me the vehicle was no longer under Warranty so once again they said they would do nothing about it, As consumers we pay a lot of money for our vehicles,and a lot of us appreciate our cars and want them to look good.This is an eye sore for me every time I get in my car. Why cant Ford just do what needs to be done and repair our rear panels.

- , Bullhead City, AZ, USA

problem #501

Mar 122010

Explorer Eddie Bauer 4.6L

  • Automatic transmission
  • 123,000 miles

click to see larger images

cracked panel below the rear window

It's all been said before. Ford knew about the problem and ignored it. Now almost every Explorer from 02-05 has this crack. It needs to be addressed.

- , Baltimore, MD, USA

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