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:
76,043 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 1 of 7)

problem #133

May 102017


  • 118,018 miles


Awoke the morning of May 10, 2017 to find the entire back liftgate and window exploded outwards and inwards of our Ford Explorer. The vehicle was parked in front of our home, we are rural, so no evidence of someone purposely breaking it. Our sheriff in cascade county, Montana, stated it appears to be something internal probably the lift struts exploding. This seems to be a problem as stated on many online sites, and many Ford Explorer have this problem. This particlar model VIN number did not show up as recalled, although we sit here looking at the damage caused by this problem. We would appreciate someone looking into this, as it could happen to anyone and prove to be very dangerous if this vehicle were being driven when this explosion occured. Please check into this asap.

- Sand Coulee, MT, USA

problem #132

Dec 272012


  • 70,000 miles
The back lift gate has a crack. I have noticed this on practically every other exploer of this year. I contacted Ford several years ago and they said since it was a defect that was not a danger they would not recall or repair it.

- Murrieta, CA, USA

problem #131

Feb 182003


  • 250,000 miles
Chat conversation start 5:57pm greetings, I saw you commentary about the Ford Explorer exhaust fumes inside the cabin, well I have a 2004 Ford Explorer with the same problem, I am a mechanic I figured may be the filter was clogged well it was no filter, what I found the vent door fell off from the place where it suppose to open and close laying down on the fan, so I reinstalled back and the problem was fixed, it is a poor design from the Ford company. I was loosing heat during winter and not be cool at the summer loosing the thru vent out place. Ford needs to fix all this problems along with seat belts, rear window quarter panel cracked no one is getting Ford to do recalls on this items very poor construction.

- San Antonio, TX, USA

problem #130

Jan 082017


  • 109,000 miles


The rear panel of my 2003 Explorer cracked today for no reason. Not sure if this is a safety concern. When I "googled" the problem, it seems this is a common problem that Ford once addressed.

- Houston, TX, USA

problem #129

Jun 222016


  • 106,000 miles
The rear lift-gate has a cracked panel.

- Saint Charles, MO, USA

problem #128

Apr 132016


  • 133,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. The contact stated that the rear lift gate hinge fractured which caused the lift gate to remain unlocked. The vehicle was not diagnosed or repaired. The vehicle was not included in NHTSA campaign number: 04V442000 (structure). The manufacturer was not notified of the failure. The approximate failure mileage was 133,000.

- Belveder, IL, USA

problem #127

Apr 012006


  • 30,000 miles


I have owned this 2003 Ford Explorer since it was brand new in 2003. It currently has 70,009 miles and has been kept in a garage and not driven often over 13 years. Within two years of purchasing this vehicle I noticed a crack in the middle of the lift gate under the glass. I talked to two Ford dealerships that advised it was not a defect but my fault for gliding the glass to harshly. I had not used the glass often and had never slammed it.M since that time I've seen hundreds of Ford Explorer from the early to mid 2000S with the same crack in the same location. Today I was behind four different Explorer from the same time period and all had the same crack. I checked online and realized there are thousands of complaints about this defect with some drivers stating the back glass bursts while they were driving. It is unbelievable that with so many of these vehicles having the exact same issue that Ford has not owned up to the defect and repaired it. All one needs to do is search through online images to see it us a huge problem and a definite manufacturer defect and with the back glass blowing out it is a major safety concern.

- Brunswick, GA, USA

problem #126

Nov 012013


  • miles
1. transmission does not let you accelarate. Pressure builds up while you are pressing on the gas pedal and it doesn't increase your speed until 10 seconds or so of pressing the gas pedal, and than it explodes and you are thrust back with the acceleration. Very dangerous when you are trying to change lanes or are entering the highway. Lack of acceleration has almost got us into a few accidents. 2. sensors are not functioning, constantly telling me that the doors are open. I don't know when a door is actually open or not. 3. the rear hatch is cracked and I'm afraid it doesn't provide enough stable prorectection for the rear glass to be held in place properply.

- Bradenton, FL, USA

problem #125

Aug 232015


  • 120,000 miles
The brackets connected to the liftgate released while the car was parked and locked and blew the back liftgate panel out along with shattering the glass.

- Fairhope, AL, USA

problem #124

Feb 202013


  • 134,986 miles
I used my key remote and popped open the back hatch and while the hatch was up the hinge snapped dropping the hatch on my head nearly knocking me out cold.

- Broadway, VA, USA

problem #123

May 282015


  • 165,000 miles


TL-the contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. The contact stated while closing that the liftgate both hinges fractured. The vehicle was taken to the dealer where both hinges and struts were replaced. In 2005, the vehicle was repaired under NHTSA campaign number: 04V442000 (structure) however, the remedy was insufficient. The manufacturer was notified of the failure. The approximate failure mileage was 165,000.

- Sussex, WI, USA

problem #122

Nov 182014

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • 120,000 miles
I noticed that the paint was peeling off in several places on the vehicle. Six months later more paint has disappeared.

- Tiburon, CA, USA

problem #121

Apr 152014

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • 83,000 miles
Noticed upper part of rear tailgate under glass next to Ford emblem is cracked from top to bottom.

- Hyde Park, NY, USA

problem #120

Sep 152014

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 133,000 miles
A recall was issued for 2003 Ford Explorer for the hinges on the back window tailgate. The right side hinge on my 2003 Ford Explorer broke, I was fortunate to be strong enough to catch the glass before it snapped the other hinge. When I contacted Ford after seeing the recall notice online, I was told my Ford was not part of the recall. I have also checked on the NHTSA site and it was not listed there either. My complaint is that if Explorer of the same year are recalled and my hinge broke, I believe there may be an issue with a larger range of Explorer than listed.

- Mckinney, TX, USA

problem #119

Dec 132012


  • 86,000 miles
2 complaints - back rear hatch panel under rear window has multiple cracks live in augusta ga and visit Florida and this seems to be a common problem every make body like mine have this crack and some panel has even fallen off. This has to be a manufacturing problem for this large amount of SUV's to have the same problem see more with problems than without. Also recently had problems with window intermittently not going down and back up after ice storm in augusta this year all four windows stopped going up and down. This also seems to be a common problem with this model and body style of Ford Explorer. Owned a 1993 Ford Explorer eddie bauer had approx. 300,000 miles on it before I got rid of it and the most happened to this car was the transmission and rear brake leak which was the most expensive problem I had. Wish I still had the 1993 Explorer because my 2003 makes me hesitant about purchasing another Ford Explorer no matter how much I like them this one will make turn to another make of car. Once a loyal Ford owner not so sure now. You would think that Ford will be as loyal to us as we are of them, it is the little things that make you frustrated and not wanting to purchase another. If you can't depend on the smaller things how can we depend on them with the larger things. Once a loyal Ford owner.

- Augusta, GA, USA

problem #118

Jun 072014


  • 1,002 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. The contact stated that the lift gate window became detached intermittently. The liftgate door failed to close properly and it developed a crack at the bottom. The vehicle was taken to an independent mechanic who diagnosed that the lift gate needed to be repaired and the window needed to be replaced. The contact was not included in recall NHTSA campaign id number: 04V442000 (structure). The vehicle was to be inspected, diagnosed and repaired by an authorized dealer. The manufacturer was notified of the failure. The approximate failure mileage was 1,002.

- Northvale, NJ, USA

problem #117

Jan 012006

Explorer 6-cyl

  • miles
Paint "bubbled up" on the front edge of the hood a few years after purchase and has continued to flake and peel off. Apple valley Ford service refused to fix the paint problem when reported in approximately 2006.

- Burnsville, MN, USA

problem #116

Jan 012010


  • 110,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. The contact stated that the power steering and transmission lines failed due to corrosion. The contact also stated that the brakes lines, fuel tank cover, door locks and the running boards were also corroded. The brake lines were replaced. The manufacturer was made aware of the failure. The vehicle was not repaired. The approximate failure mileage was 110,000 and the current mileage was 157,372.

- Zephyrhills, FL, USA

problem #115

Feb 082014

Explorer 8-cyl

  • 83,000 miles
While driving at approximately 35 mph, the top portion of the liftgate on the vehicle opened independently and then the driver side hinge fractured causing the liftgate to fall and hang by only one side. In addition, the compression rod was bent when this occurred. In order to continue driving the vehicle the compression rod had to be removed and the liftgate had to be temporarily fastened with harnesses. The vehicle was then taken to a body shop to be repaired. The manufacturer was notified of the failure. The approximate mileage was 83,000.

- Centreville, VA, USA

problem #114

Mar 012003


  • 5 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. The contact stated that the rear lift door was misaligned and became cracked. The vehicle was previously repaired for the rear lift door hinge however, the contact stated that the repair caused the misalignment. The contact purchased a new rear lift door and the door was replaced. The VIN was not available. The manufacturer was made aware of the failure. The failure mileage was 5 and the current mileage was 28,273.

- Paramount , CA, USA

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