Huge win for car owners! All TSBs to be made public. The Center for Auto Safety just made the NHTSA (US Government) make public the full text of all TSBs from now on. They are the same organization that has petitioned the NHTSA & filed lawsuits to protect car owners over exploding gas tanks & other major safety issues. Whenever you drive in your car, you are safer thanks in part to a lot of work over the years by this small but very effective consumer advocacy group.

Please take a moment & say thank you by donating $5 or whatever you can to the Center for Auto Safety. 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.


really awful
Crashes / Fires:
1 / 1
Injuries / Deaths:
0 / 0
Average Mileage:
37,242 miles

About These NHTSA Complaints:

This data is from the NHTSA — the US gov't agency tasked with vehicle safety. Complaints are spread across multiple & redundant categories, & are not organized by problem.

So how do you find out what problems are occurring? For this NHTSA complaint data, the only way is to read through the comments below. Any duplicates or errors? It's not us.

2003 Ford Explorer engine problems

engine problem

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2003 Ford Explorer Owner Comments (Page 1 of 2)

problem #24

Jul 012011


  • 70,000 miles


Car started to accelerate in reverse and struck another vehicle while brake was applied to no avail.

- Va, VA, USA

problem #23

Aug 122010

Explorer 4WD 8-cyl

  • 158,000 miles
I own a 2003 Ford Explorer-4.6 liter V8 4 wheel drive, the vehicle has 158,000 miles and have experienced the sparkplug blowout while driving home from work. I was traveling on a busy state road when the engine miss fired and then heard a loud pop and the engine went to missing bad. I immediately pulled to the side and checked to see what was happening. I limped the vehicle into a parking lot and proceeded to reinstall the plug and coil pack. The forcing push of the plug broke the coil pack and tore the plug boot. I just replaced the coil pack and plug boot assembly and reinstalled the plug bck in. I feel that this issue is common on the 4.6 liters, a friend and shadetree mechanic did a motor swap in an Expedition with this same motor for the same reason cause the plug in cylinder #4(passenger rear) tore the threads coming out and let loose metal into the piston journal and caused severe damage.

- Greencastle, IN, USA

problem #22

Jul 142010


  • 92,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. The contact stated that when she started the vehicle there was a knocking noise in the engine compartment. The vehicle was the towed to the dealer who stated that the timing chain failed. The vehicle was not repaired. The failure and current mileages were 92000.

- Grand Priare , TX, USA

problem #21

Jun 042010


  • 40,900 miles


The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. The contact depressed the accelerator pedal and the vehicle was hesitant to pick up speed. All warning lights on the dash board illuminated during the failure. The vehicle was towed to the dealer yet they were unable to duplicate the failure. The contact stated the failure had occurred two additional times in the same day. The vehicle was not repaired and the VIN was not available. The failure and current mileages were 40,900.

- Brea, CA, USA

problem #20

Feb 182010


  • 65,000 miles
I bought my 2003 Explorer new. Appx. 2-3 years ago (don't have exact date yet, still searching for info) it would suddenly stall and shut off. The RPM indicator would also jump really fast. I took it to the dealer and they said it was an idle issue and "fixed" it. A few days ago, I noticed a similar issue and nearly crashed. As I was rounding a corner, the vehicle suddenly stalled, thereby causing my power steering to fail. I quickly put the car in neutral, restarted it and regained steering, very nearly colliding with a vehicle in the opposite direction. The car seemed okay for a few days, but then did the same thing again. Two near head-on collisions are two too many. I stopped using the vehicle and had my dealer look at it. They called me yesterday and told me it was the idle air control valve, which will cost $332 to replace. I checked online and found that this is a known issue (tsb 0335, Feb. Of 2003). I need this vehicle so I will have to get it repaired, but think Ford should take some kind of responsibility for the defect. I hope it doesn't take someone having a serious collision due to the defect for something to be done. Thank you for anything you can do.

- York, PA, USA

problem #19

May 222009


  • 60,720 miles
No noise/warning. The car had billowing black smoke coming from under the hood. On inspection oil was gushing from a valve at the back of the engine and burning, it nearly burst into flames. It was towed to a local mechanic, who found the timing chain had broken, slashing a valve cover and cutting into the back of the engine. It can be fixed for $3,000 plus tax estimate, but the Ford dealership recommends against this and says it needs a new engine /refurbished engine $5,000 plus tax. Ford refuse to accept this is a defect, despite multiple complaints I have seen on the internet. The car was a Ford Explorer 2003 with only 60,720 on the clock. I bought it new and maintained it well. I still have payments on it so am selling it for $2000 to cover the payments. It was a $34,000 car.

- Gainesville, FL, USA

problem #18

Jun 302003


  • 35,998 miles


I put the date of incident as the date I purchased the vehicle. I put this date as such because ever since I purchased this vehicle, we have had nothing but run arounds by the service providers and constant repairs every 3-7 months since I purchased the vehicle. The first major repair occurred when I had owned the vehicle for 18 months, at 35,998. It had an $1800 transmission job. Subsequent repairs have been focused transmission issues (always something slightly different than previous), engine function, and other mechanical issues. An extended warranty was purchased, but due to the parameters of the warranty, all issues were not fixed because they "were not able to be duplicated", (I.e. an intermittent transmission issue that had been occurring for 30,000 miles). Now that we are out of our warranty vehicle, we have an overpriced vehicle that is still owed on that will continue to need significant repairs. The most recent issue is the heating element, including the actuator and blend door function. This faulty piece will fail in the cold position. This causes a safety issue because you are faced with a repair that you may not be able afford (since they can run up to $1200) and having heat in the winter. With the current auto industry having the issues they are, they need to begin to make quality vehicles that aren't made to break just to get more money out of customers. To have continued customers, a company must have a consistent product that people can trust. The current american auto industry does not have that.

- Westminster, CO, USA

problem #17

Jun 122008


  • miles
As my daughter and I were backing out of a parking stall, my vehicle all of a sudden caught off. We were unable to get it restarted. After mechanics checked it out, I was told it was the motor. Difficult to understand, because we have only 38,208 miles on our 2003 Ford Explorer; and a week before that we had a complete oil change. I contacted our local Ford dealer as well as Ford in detroit and explained the problem to them. I told them we had no warning of a problem, the indicator never came on and there was no indication at all that we had a problem, no noise or any signs of trouble. With only a few miles on the car, I told them I felt it was a manufacturer defect. Because they had not received any calls since my complaints, they felt it was not a Ford's problem and that it was a situation I had to take care of. Something needs to be done and I think Ford should handle this problem. No way should I have a problem with my motor with less than 40,000 miles. It's not fair that I have to pay for a job that I believe Ford is responsible for. Tell me, what do I do?

- Inglewood, CA, USA

problem #16

Feb 102008

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 110,120 miles
I have a 2003 Ford Explorer and has a flex fuel system 4.0L 114,000 miles at times not all the time once in awhile I will go to turn and slow down the idle jumps up and down you will be able to see the rps go nuts and the engine shuts itself off I almost hit another car not being prepared for the shut down the brakes the steering all got hard to handle... has anyone been looking into this problem at all" I have changed spark plugs the fuel filter air filter and still does this in warm weather as it does in cold weather.. any clue as to what I can do" vary unsafe. I have never had a car or truck do this more than once.

- Viroqua, WI, USA

problem #15

Dec 302003

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 5,000 miles
Since the vehicle was purchased, my husband and I have noticed the engine makes a whistling noise in cold weather between 25-40 mph. The noise used to go away after driving for approximately 15-20 minutes. It no longer does. So far this winter, I have noticed the engine continuing to make the whistling sound entire 35-45 minute commutes. The speed now ranges from 25-70 mph and comes and goes throughout the drive. The dealership has kept the car for a few days (in previous years) and have not had a fix for this issue.

- Indianola, IA, USA

problem #14

Aug 292006

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 82,000 miles


While driving the 2003 Ford Explorer eddie bauer 4.0L V6 the engine stops running with no warning. This has happened three times randomly. Two times were on a highway coasting to a toll booth. Each of those times I was able to put the vehicle into neutral and restart the engine. The third time was on a residential street. The engine could not be restarted.

- Orland Park, IL, USA

problem #13

Jan 272006

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 38,308 miles
: the contact stated while driving at 70 mph smoke emitted from the rear of the vehicle. The vehicle was pulled off the road and towed to the dealership. The radiator, fuel filter, air filter, and steering gear assembly was replaced, the front end was aligned as well. Two days later while driving at 70 mph smoke was noticed in the rearview mirror. The vehicle was pulled off the road and less than one minute later the entire vehicle was engulfed in flames. The fire department responded and extinguished the fire. The fire marshal determined this fire was caused by a mechanical failure malfunction. There was a police and fire report filed.

- Fort Lauderdale, FL, USA

problem #12

Dec 272005

Explorer 4WD 8-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 45,250 miles
The weather was mild for Michigan, mid 40S. The vehicle had been parked for 1 hour after having been driven for about 40 highway miles. The vehicle was then started and driven less than one quarter mile to a stop light. While waiting for the light to change, the vehicle surged ahead. I was able to control the vehicle by stomping on the brake pedal and thowing the gear shift into park.

- Novi, MI, USA

problem #11

Oct 252005

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 27,000 miles
2003 Ford Explorer XLT stalls without warning. Dealership repaired/replaced transmission main control valve twice; reprogrammed/recalibrated the PCM twice; repaired/replaced transmission solenoid valve; replaced fuse relays; tested fuel pressure and did numerous other diagnostic test. Stalling problem still exists. Vehicle has been to dealership 6 plus times since March 05 for the same problem.

- Walpole, MA, USA

problem #10

May 062005


  • Automatic transmission
  • miles
About 3 months ago, my Explorer began occasionally experienced dramatic, random engine acceleration. While driving, the rpms would shoot up for no apparent reason. 2 months ago, it was taken to the Ford dealership in millington, tn. They found no problems and hinted it was "driver error". a week later, I made an 800 mile drive to visit my newly hospitilized father. The sudden, drastic increase in RPM' started out happening 1 - 2 times in the first 30 minutes. The frequency rapidly increased, and 4 hours into the trip, the sudden acceleration was occurring at least 1 time every 5 minutes or so. After arriving in pittsburgh, the Explorer was again taken to a Ford dealership. They informed me that the CO2 detector had gone bad. This was covered under warranty, but since I was driving with a bad detector, the egr sensor was caused to malfunction. I was informed that this was not covered under the warranty since it was a result of my continuing to drive it with a bad CO2 detector. The egr sensor cost me $300 to get replaced. A week after this "repair" was made, I began the trip back to tn. 2 hours into the trip, the sudden, drastic accleration started again, and soon was occuring several times every 30 minutes. On reaching tn., I once again took the Explorer to the Ford dealership in millington. They were unable to find any problem. So, not only did I pay for a repair that 1) was caused by the dealership's inability to find a problem, it 2) should have been covered under the warranty. Then it became apparent that the "repair" did not even fix the problem. To this day, the random acceleration is a problem.

- Atoka, TN, USA

problem #9

Jan 122005

Explorer 4WD

  • Automatic transmission
  • 17,000 miles
Vehicle loses power while driving. The check engine light comes on. Owner has taken the vehicle to the dealer and was told that they could not duplicate the problem. Owner has also contacted the manufacturer who has been of no help either. Provide further details.

- Saint Clair, MI, USA

problem #8

Dec 152004

Explorer 8-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 20,000 miles
I've had two separate incidents where my 2003 Ford Explorer stalled in the middle of heavy traffic. I'm taking it in for service on Monday the 20th.

- Lake Worth , FL, USA

problem #7

May 012004


  • Automatic transmission
  • 9,127 miles
Consumer states that he is having trouble with his vehicle starting in the morning. While driving, the vehicle stalled. The consumer stated he has taken the vehicle to the dealer several times and each time they replace a chip.

- Gadsden, AL, USA

problem #6

Feb 162004


  • miles
Vehicle failure problems with 2003 Ford Explorer. While driving the vehicle stalled in an intersection. The vehicle was taken to the dealer where it was determined that there was sludge in the engine. The dealer insisted that the consumer's neglect was the caused of the failure and if he refused to purchase a new engine from them they would void manufacturers and extended warranty. The consumer indicated that he took care of his vehicle performing all the regularly scheduled maintenance. The consumer believes this problem is related to a defect in the timing chain tensioner.

- Bruce Township, MI, USA

problem #5

Sep 082003


  • Automatic transmission
  • miles
Engine taps and loud.

- Sumter, SC, USA

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