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 4 of 5)

« Read the previous 20 complaints

problem #30

Apr 012007


  • Automatic transmission
  • miles


I have a 2003 Ford Explorer. I have, or it looks to be several stress cracks below the back glass of the hatch. They range anywhere from an inch to seven or eight inches. I took this to the Ford house in haltom city, they said there was nothing that could be done but to check with other owners to see if this is happening to their Explorer. I have since noticed literally at least 75 Explorer with the same thing. The ones I have spoke with have the same problem. Ford does not want to replace this cost. I think after 2003, Ford changed the way they made the back hatch and it doesn't have the same seven or eight inch molding under the glass. I am afraid that if I open the glass section on mine or close it, it will break the glass or the glass will come out. What can we do about this?

- Fort Worth, TX, USA

problem #29

May 012007

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 34,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. The contact noticed a seven-inch crack in the plastic molding of the hatchback door hinge. Recall # 04V442000 (structure:body:hatchback/liftgate:hinge and attachments) was found. The dealer stated that his VIN was excluded from the recall, however the contact feels that it should be included. The current mileage is 46,000 and failure mileage was 34,000.

- Las Vegas, NV, USA

problem #28

Mar 152007

Explorer 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 31,000 miles
I have 2003 Ford Explorer XLT. One morning in mid-March of this year, I observed a crack in the platic panel under the window on the tailgate. My wife and I knew we had not had any type of impact in that area that would have caused the panel to crack. I took the vehicle into the Ford dealership and spoke with a service technician about it. Since the vehicle was just over 3 years old and have just over 30K miles on it, the cracked panel was not covered under warranty. However, the technician told me that he had seen a number of these problems and it was caused by the way the panel was attached. I had the crack repaired - cost over $400. I sent a letter to the Ford customer response center in detroit with pictures and copies of the repair invoice asking them to reimburse me for the repair cost. After 30 days, I had not heard from them. So I sent copies of the letter by certified mail to the Ford dealership, the customer response center and to the CEO of Ford. The dealership called me and said this was a Ford problem, not a dealership problem, so the dealership was not going to take any action. I finally received a call from the Ford customer response center, and they wanted to know if I would accept a 50% reimbursement for the repair. I agreed only to find out the next day from the Ford dealership that information about this problem could be found all over the internet. I am very upset that the Ford Motor Company could be so unethical to negotiate a settlement that is clearly evident a design flaw. I believe they should should be required to reimburse any owner of a 2003 Ford Explorer who has this cracked panel repaired. I also think a class action suit should be brought against Ford seeking compensatory and punitive damages for failing to reimburse for the repair and acting unethically by trying to place some of the blame on the owners by trying to negotiate the reimbursement amount for a flaw that is clearly their own fault.

- Round Rock, TX, USA

problem #27

May 172007


  • miles


Without impact, '03 Ford Explorer liftgate panel cracked from glass, around Ford emblem, to bottom of panel. Very common problem. No cooperation from Ford.

- Orange Park, FL, USA

problem #26

May 122007


  • Automatic transmission
  • miles
Cracking in the liftgate panel. The panel below the glass on my Explorer has cracked down the middle.

- Durham, NC, USA

problem #25

Jan 072007

Explorer 8-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 315,000 miles
Rear liftgate had a crack just below the glass on the 2003 Explorer. I am concerned that the glass will become loose and fall out and hurt someone. This same problem happened on my 2002, Ford Explorer. I have seen several Explorer with this same crack. Ford should replace the liftgate with a better designed one.

- Georgetown, TX, USA

problem #24

Dec 012006

Explorer 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • miles


Plastic under (attached to) rear liftgate window cracked. Crack runs top to bottom, around the Ford emblem. Entire liftgate needs replacing. Ford says I have to pay for it. I have seen several Explorer on the highway with the same defect. Don't really know if this would be a safety issue, but I'm sure the integrity of the structure would be compromised in a rollover.

- Slidell, LA, USA

problem #23

Jan 302007

Explorer 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 43,000 miles
- the contact stated that while driving the 2003 Ford Explorer with 43000 failure mileage) a crack on the rear of the vehicle made the hatchback fly up while driving. There was recall 04V442000, but this vehicle was not included. The vehicle had not been taken to a dealer about the crack, or the hatch flying up. The current mileage was 44264.

- Coachello, CA, USA

problem #22

Feb 152007

Explorer 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 120,000 miles
- the contact stated that there was a crack on the panel on the rear gate underneath the window on the 2003 Ford Explorer. When opeing S the liftgate it felt shaky and unstable. The contact stated this causes the door ajar warning light to remain illuminated. The contact took the vehicle to the dealership, and they informed her the back panel on the rear liftgate needed to be replaced. The vehicle currently has 120,000 miles.

- Rome, GA, USA

problem #21

Feb 232007


  • Automatic transmission
  • miles
Crack in back hatch by Ford emblem.

- Jacksonville, FL, USA

problem #20

Oct 012006

Explorer 8-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 53,000 miles


Cracked panel below glass on 2003 Ford Explorer, both on mine and my wife's Explorer, both bought brand new within a month of each other.

- Largo, FL, USA

problem #19

Jan 082006

Explorer 4WD 8-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 78,100 miles
I own a 2003 Ford Explorer. The plastic panel just below the tail gate window has cracked from top to bottom. Upon doing some research on this problem it appears that there are 100's of similar incidents.

- Wilmington, MA, USA

problem #18

Jan 292007

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 56,107 miles
2003 Ford Explorer XLT vertical crack in fiberglass tailgate panel just below rear window glass no impact to tailgate occurred-crack just appeared while driving. Transmission had to be rebuilt at 50000 miles.

- Lee's Summit, MO, USA

problem #17

Dec 032006

Explorer 8-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 62,000 miles
Upon going out to my truck this morning to put my sons stuff in the back, I noticed that I have a crack in the panel just below my liftgate glass. This struck me as unusual as I don't even use the liftgate window. I decided that I would do a search for a recall that I may not have been privy to...and I have found hundreds of complaints, but no recall. The dealers are refusing to replace this item even when it is under warranty, they say it isn't covered. If there is obviously a defect and this many people are having the same issue... why isn't something being done about it. If it keeps cracking the glass is going to fall out!! the dealerships are saying that if you still have warranty that they will replace it no charge, but at the same time even if you do have warranty... it isn't covered. There should be a recall on it does pose a hazard if the window falls out due to the crack in the structure. Does anyone know if anything can be done about this or who we need to contact"?"

- Middleburg, FL, USA

problem #16

Dec 182006

Explorer 8-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 38,000 miles
Just noticed a large crack in panel underneath rear window of 2003 Ford Explorer XLT. The crack just appeared without any reason. Dealer refuses to pay for replacement. We have not repaired yet because we are seeking dealer reimbursement. There are a huge number of cases of this same problem in 2002 and 2003 Explorer. One website that lists many others with same problem is Dealer estimate was $648. Please acknowledge receipt of this complaint and inform us on how to proceed.

- Ivoryton, CT, USA

problem #15

Dec 052006

Explorer 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 42,196 miles
Rear liftgate body panel below glass window developed a crack from top to bottom today after closing the liftgate. The dealer says it is not covered and they have seen this before. This is clearly a design defect since this panel is broken but not the glass in the liftgate.

- Laguna Niguel, CA, USA

problem #14

Jun 012006

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 60,000 miles
The panel directly below the rear window in my 2003 Ford Explorer has developed large cracks in it. After talking to the dealer, it was very evident that this is a common defect as they said they see a minimum of 10 per year and that Ford will not fix it unless it is under warranty. My vehicle has 68,000, miles on it. I also have seen this defect listed multiple times in automobile defect websites such as

- Carlisle, PA, USA

problem #13

Jun 282006

Explorer 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 12,000 miles
Hello. I have several complaints regarding my 2003 Ford Explorer including several safety issues. The first complaint is regarding the driver's seat which shifts routinely on acceleration and de-acceleration. This concerns me if I get into an accident and the seat malfunctions. The second complaint is regarding the gear shifter not going into park easily. I have to jiggle it to into park. I am concerned that this might not properly engage park and my vehicle might roll. Thirdly, my rear lift gate trim has had to be repaired at least 3 times. I am concerned that although the dealership says there is no safety issue, there possibly could be due to the rear lift gate hinges being recalled and representative informing me that the reason that I continue to have a crack appearing is due to design flaw. This concerns me B/C I frequently utilize the lift gate to retrieve groceries and other items and do not want the window to fail and fall on my head. The remainder concerns are regarding the function of my vehicle. I have had to have 3 of the window motors replaced under warranty. The transmission has had to be fixed twice (shifting module malfunction). Finally, the fuel gauge had to be repaired due to improper fuel readings. I guess all these items could be very problematic as well B/C I could run out of gas and be stranded with my child, my vehicle might not shift properly leaving me stranded. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have questions. Ps. I would also like to add that as I was completing this process I remembered that my vehicle had a high pitched whine that had to be repaired. I do not remember exactly what had to be repaired but it was covered under warranty.

- Conroe, TX, USA

problem #12

May 052006


  • miles
Rear hatchback was taken to Ford for a recall regarding the hatchback. Prior to that, there were problems with the hatchback, I.e. accidentally opening. Now just below the rear window of the hatchback, it is cracking. Similar to many owners listed on this site.

- Hollywood, FL, USA

problem #11

Feb 252006

Explorer 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • miles
Plastic under (attached to) rear liftgate window cracked. Crack is 10 to 12 inches long. Entire liftgate needs replacing. Ford says I have to pay for it. I have seen several Explorer on the highway with the same defect.

- Riverview, FL, USA

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