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:
0 / 0
Injuries / Deaths:
1 / 0
Average Mileage:
74,428 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 body / paint problems

body / paint problem

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2003 Ford Explorer Owner Comments (Page 4 of 7)

« Read the previous 20 complaints

problem #70

Jul 082009


  • 42,000 miles


Dear mayzel, I appreciate your timely response, but I must admit that I am more than a little disappointed (and confused). I am reading Ford Explorer recall #04V442000, "Ford recalls 2002-2003 Ford Explorer vehicles for liftgate glass" (see below), and it seems to cover my model year and my situation exactly. The lift hinge has stripped out the bolt three time, leaving the glass to hang from the other hinge (and struts). Can you explain why this recall would not apply? sincerely, bill dascomb dear william, this is mayzel from Ford's customer service department. I have read your email regarding the back hatch glass concern of your 2003 Ford Explorer. I am truly sorry to hear that you are having this issue with your vehicle. I have personally checked our resources and verified that your vehicle is not involved in any recalls or csp's at this time. Many factors are used to determine these such as warranty status, vehicle history, customer contacts, dealership comments and so forth. I have reviewed if any available coverages may assist in your repair request. There is not active esp to cover the part or the repair and the vehicle is outside of any applicable warranty. We recommend that your vehicle be inspected by a Ford/Lincoln/Mercury dealership to determine the cause of any symptoms your vehicle may be experiencing. Once you have the repairs completed, I strongly suggest that you keep the original receipt for the repairs, so that in case a recall will be issued in the future, these receipts may be reviewed by your dealership's service manager for a possible refund. Thank you for contacting Ford. Sincerely, mayzel customer relationship center Ford Motor Company

- Redding, CA, USA

problem #69

Oct 162010


  • miles
The back panel on my Explorer cracked by just closing the glass. The temperature was only 65 so considering the more extreme temperatures we have seen in North Carolina was did it crack on that day?

- Cary, NC, USA

problem #68

Jun 132011


  • 133,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. The contact was closing the rear liftgate when the rear glass detached from the vehicle. The contact was able to grab hold of the glass to prevent it from shattering. The vehicle was not taken to a dealer for diagnostics or repairs. There was a recall under NHTSA campaign id number: 04V442000 (structure:body:hatchback/liftgate: Hinge and attachments) that could have been be related to the failure but the manufacturer stated that the contact's VIN was not included. The approximate failure mileage was 133,000.

- Cary, IL, USA

problem #67

Apr 012011

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • 99,000 miles


Crack in rear panel of my 2003 Ford Explorer.

- Chesapeake, VA, USA

problem #66

Jan 262011

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • miles
Almost every older model Ford Explorer that I see on the road has the same issue with the cracked panel below the rear glass on the liftgate. For a while I was having a problem closing my back lift gate. There seemed to be a problem with the latch. I later realized that there was a recall (#04S20) on (what I thought had nothing to do with the cracked panel) liftgate glass hinge and ball stud bracket. Right after the repairs were done by the dealer on my vehicle in January 2011, I realized that the liftgate worked perfect. It was then determined that the misalignment caused problems with the liftgate closing correctly.....which caused damage to the panel.....which resulted in the crack.......Ford has done a recall on what has resulted in the crack but they have not stepped forward to take responsibility for the damage that has occurred due to the is unfair for us to have to pay out of pocket for damages due to a manufacturing defect.......please investigate and resolve as appropriate.

- Baltimore, MD, USA

problem #65

Nov 012010

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • 70,000 miles
Ford Explorer rear liftgate panel has crack and it expands during cold weather and it affects rear liftgate latching security as rear liftgate flies open whenever it feels like it when driving.

- Erie, PA, USA

problem #64

Jul 152008

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • 90,000 miles


I was just driving along and I heard a pop noise and the panel under the back window was cracked.

- Budd Lake, NJ, USA

problem #63

Jan 112011

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 75,000 miles
Rear hatch cracked near the Ford logo.

- Plantation, FL, USA

problem #62

Dec 302010


  • 60,000 miles
I have 2003 Ford Explorer and after 7years a crack has formed from the rear window down to the Ford logo on the rear panel or trunk door.

- Lawrenceville, NJ, USA

problem #61

Nov 172010

Explorer 4WD 8-cyl

  • 89,421 miles
Metal cracked into from liftgate window to bottom of liftgate. Just went to work one day and came home to find this huge crack in the liftgate door. I had not opened the liftgate that day. After doing research and personally witnessing other Explorer with this problem, I found there are hundreds of Ford Explorer owners with same problem.

- Whitwell, TN, USA

problem #60

Dec 282009


  • 120,000 miles


The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. The contact stated that the rear hatchback window hinge was fractured. The vehicle was repaired under NHTSA campaign id number: 04V442000 (structure:body:hatchback/liftgate:hinge and attachments) yet the failure recurred. Both the dealer and manufacturer was informed of the failure who advised the contact that any further repairs would be at the contacts expense. The vehicle was not repaired. The current mileage was 139,634 and the failure mileage was approximately 120,000.

- Milwaukee, WI, USA

problem #59

Oct 012010

Explorer 4WD 8-cyl

  • 75,000 miles
Crack in panel below rear glass of 2003 Ford Explorer. Panel just cracked from one day to the next. Went to trade in for new Explorer and dealer even complained about damage.

- Dekalb, IL, USA

problem #58

Dec 082010

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 105,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. While the vehicle was parked the contact noticed that there was a cracked panel below the rear window. The vehicle was taken to an independent mechanic where the technician stated that the panel needed to be replaced. The vehicle was not repaired. The approximate failure mileage was 105,000. Updated 02/23/11 the consumer stated the panel has since been replaced. Updated 04/28/11 updated 06/13/11 updated 01/04/12

- York Town Heights , NY, USA

problem #57

Nov 152010


  • 151,628 miles
Crack developed in the panel below the rear hatch window.

- Westminster, CO, USA

problem #56

Aug 152004

Explorer 6-cyl

  • miles
Please be advised that the hatch back of the 2003 Ford Explorer developed a crack directly in the middle. This defect can be seen around many other 2003 Ford. Please be advised that the hatchback piece is rattling and seems like it will come off.

- Park Ridge, IL, USA

problem #55

Jan 042009

Explorer 8-cyl

  • 60,000 miles
The Ford Explorer's most frequent problem - is it cracks in the plastic panel below the rear window. This occurs on Explorer from model years 2002, 2003 & 2004. With most affected Explorer now past the standard warranty period, most owners will end up having to pay for the repair out of pocket. Because the cracked panel is not a safety defect, there is very little chance of a recall. For a short time in late 2006, Ford started a "special assistance program" for out-of-warranty Explorer, where Ford paid for all but $100 of the ~$450 repair cost. However since January 2007, people calling Ford's customer service line began to report back that apparently Ford has ended the brief assistance program.

- Woodland Hills, CA, USA

problem #54

Jun 132010


  • 54,000 miles
My 2003 Explorer cracked from the back window to the Ford emblem. Ford told me its not their problem and there is no recall initiated. I have 3 other friends who also have this problem. This needs to be recalled as it is by no fault of the owner and apparently is a factory defect.

- Arvada, CO, USA

problem #53

Mar 012008


  • 75,000 miles
2003 Ford Explorer limited edition crack in liftgate below the glass. Ford Motor Company told me there is no recall on it and to repair it myself.

- Orlando, FL, USA

problem #52

Jan 032010


  • 120,000 miles
The upper panel on the back lift gate, cracked for no apparent reason. It has 2 cracks starting from one single one. It happened during the winter, so water must be able to get in under the seal and freeze and crack the panel. I have seen other Explorer with this same condition. There has to be some kind of defect in the panel itself to allow this to happen.

- Pacific, MO, USA

problem #51

Apr 022010


  • 102,300 miles
Rear applique "rear liftgate panel" below the rear window cracked in half. No impact involved.

- Moorsville, NC, USA

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