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:
3 / 0
Average Mileage:
54,945 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 3 of 5)

« Read the previous 20 complaints

problem #50

Feb 252008

Explorer 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 42,500 miles


Rear tailgate molding below window cracked. Appears to be a prevalent flaw based on internet research. Called Ford and they advised it was a known problem however were not planning to recall. I believe this is related to the prior recall of rear liftgate glass as this part was new post recall.

- Lewisville, TX, USA

problem #49

Jul 042007

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • miles
Panel below glass on lift gate develop a crack.

- Munster, IN, USA

problem #48

Jul 122007

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 47,000 miles
I own a 2003 Ford Explorer XLT 4WD. Approximately 12 months ago, the rear trim panel beneath the rear window crack down the middle. I contacted my nearest dealer who informed me that while Ford had recognized that it was a problem, they did not plan to issue a technical service bulletin or recall. The dealer service reps even agreed that there is a significant problem with Explorer and Mountaineer. I have seen many other Explorer and Mountaineer with the same problem as well as many complaints on-line. Today the rear hatch left latch broke off causing the entire rear lift gate window to nearly fall off. The problem could possibly be related due to the earlier crack causing the weight of the rear glass to shift, place too much strain on the left latch. The dealer is repairing the broken latch, window molding and rear hatch struts, under an extended service plan but still will not repair the previous cracked trim panel. This is indicative of Ford's failure to back up their product and they have lost a long term customer.

- Hollomanafb, NM, USA

problem #47

Feb 022008

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 54,634 miles


2003 Ford Explorer cracked rear hatch without impact. Weather conditions were colder than normal. There are two vertical 1/4" cracks that appeared suddenly below the rear hatch lift gate window. We had not used the back lift door or the lift gate window in several days.

- Sherwood, OR, USA

problem #46

Jan 282008

Explorer 4WD 8-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 100,300 miles
Cracked hatch on 2003 Ford Explorer. Worried that panel will fall off. Ford does not want to take care of this problem that is obviously a defect. Have read that many other people around country have same problem no matter what climate is. Feel that it is a safety hazard with the possibility of panel falling off while driving and creating an adverse incident which could cause injury.

- Mohrsville, PA, USA

problem #45

Jan 182008

Explorer 4WD 8-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 54,000 miles
Rear glass applique under rear hatch has cracked twice, first time under warranty, second time it is not covered.

- Holts Summit, MO, USA

problem #44

Jan 252008

Explorer 4WD 8-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 68,000 miles


Crack in liftgate of 2003 Ford Explorer; note: 2nd time it has cracked, after replacement about 25,000 miles later, same problem with new liftgate. Crack just "appears".

- Truckee, CA, USA

problem #43

Jan 252008


  • Automatic transmission
  • 51,000 miles
When I got to my car this morning, the middle of the back rear panel of my '03 Ford Explorer eddie bauer series had cracked from between the window to the latch - right under the Ford emblem. There was no accident - nothing that could have caused this damage. Luckily there are only 51K miles on the truck, and the dealer is willing to fix with a $75 deductible.

- Charlotte, NC, USA

problem #42

Jan 212008

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 39,000 miles the link above is basically what I experience - a crack in my back body panel - no wreck - nothing to cause it - just sitting there! Ford will not replace - they claim it is out of warranty - as if a body panel should crack by itself!

- North Little Rock, AR, USA

problem #41

Dec 092007

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 68,400 miles
Back hatch split on 2003 Ford Explorer.

- Morgantownw, WV, USA

problem #40

Jul 202006

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 40,000 miles


In July 2006, my husband and I noticed a hairline crack above the Ford emblem on the back window/liftgate panel. Within 1 week, the crack had gone all the way through the liftgate. In hot weather, the crack is barely visible (because the plastic seems to swell); in cold weather, the crack is at least 1/8-1/4" wide. I'm concerned of wear on remaining components since I have no idea if water/snow just go through the crack or get inside the panel itself. Is there a fix offered by Ford for this since it is apparently a design/component flaw?

- Indianola, IA, USA

problem #39

Dec 202007

Explorer 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 68,300 miles
2003 Ford Explorer- the trim piece below the rear window cracked vertically for no reason. The vehicle was not hit, bumped, or slammed. The crack simply appeared. The dealership stated that the car was not under warranty and that the extended warranty does not cover the damage. It is my understanding that this is not an isolated incident.

- Loganville, GA, USA

problem #38

Dec 182007

Explorer 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 59,000 miles
Went out to load some things in the back of my Explorer and noticed a crack in the rear liftgate under the glass. It goes from the glass to just above the license plate.

- San Antonio, TX, USA

problem #37

Feb 152007

Explorer 8-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 48,000 miles
We purchased a certified used 2003 Ford Explorer eddie bauer 4X4 in June 2006. One morning in mid-Feb 2007, we discovered a crack in the lifegate glass applique that started from the top down, approximately 8" left from the center of the gate. There was no evidence of impact to the plastic, but rather a stress crack. Since that time, the crack has grown wider and all the way through the plastic applique. Now, another crack has started on the right hand side approximate 6" from the center of the liftgate. We contacted the local dealership in mid-Feb 2007 and they stated we would have to pay for the cracked liftgate and it would cost approximately $800. We continue to observe other Ford Explorer's in the local area with similar cracks in their liftgate plastic applique.

- Minden, NV, USA

problem #36

Oct 022007

Explorer 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 82,000 miles
The rear window on the liftgate of my 2003 Ford Explorer imploded as I was waiting at a traffic light. The window did not just shattered into pieces. My car was not hit by another car or by an object. An initial problem arose before this event. A crack formed on the molding just below the window where the Ford symbol is located. This is an issue I have read about from other people with Explorer. I have read other cases of the liftgate window shattering but more often during opening or closing of the window. In this case, I was completely stopped at a traffic light when this happened.

- Foothill Ranch, CA, USA

problem #35

Sep 252007

Explorer 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 49,000 miles
2003 Ford Explorer "eddie bauer" ~49,000 miles. Vehicle was parked and shows no evidence of impact. Weather conditions were near standard. Plastic panel below rear window split in two and has ~1/16" gap. Split is vertical and very near center of panel. It passes under center of "Ford" oval symbol. Not sure if there is danger of rear window or broken panel pieces falling off vehicle. No repair has been undertaken, still attempting to get manufacturer to repair apparent defect.

- Round Rock, TX, USA

problem #34

Sep 252007

Explorer 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 97,000 miles
Panel below rear window cracked while vehicle was parked. I'm concerned of a safety hazard after reading on internet that the panel can fall off after this crack. It has not been fixed yet because Ford claims it is not covered under its extended premium warranty.

- Oxnard, CA, USA

problem #33

Apr 062007


  • Automatic transmission
  • miles
I own a 2003 Ford Explorer. Six months ago I notice a split on the back of my vehicle near the rear window. The split was on the body of the vehicle. At first I thought someone damaged my vehicle. Then I noticed when it gets really hot the split closes up and disappears. I called Ford to see if there was a recall they said no. I tried to explain to them that there ought to be. I took a survey. There were at least 1 out of every 5 Ford Explorer had the same issue. I contacted the dealership and they said that it was caused by stress on the vehicle(what ever that means) I think Ford needs to repair this problem because it can become "unsightly"

- Laurens, SC, USA

problem #32

Mar 012007

Explorer 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 80,000 miles
The plastic trim panel on the rear hatch of my Ford Explorer XLS cracked from top to bottom, with no provocation. I understand this is a common problem. My local dealer service rep said they had repaired "dozens of them", after he told me Ford would not stand behind this obvious defect. The crack expands and contracts noticeably with temperature changes, and I believe the composite is not properly formulated resulting in instability of the material during temperature changes. Clearly, this is a manufacturing defect for which Ford should provide a remedy. My Explorer still looks great, and this is the only blemish. At the quoted cost of over $700 to replace the entire hatch assembly (the only option offered), I will live with the annoying crack and tell everyone I see about Ford's unwillingness to help.

- Knoxville, TN, USA

problem #31

May 102007

Explorer 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 60,000 miles
2003 Ford Explorer. Liftgate panel cracked from right under glass all the way to bottom of panel right thru the middle of Ford emblem. Appears to be common problem with this model. From all I read Ford will not fix problem even though it is their fault.

- West Point, MS, USA

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