Print this page 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:
2 / 0
Injuries / Deaths:
2 / 0
Average Mileage:
54,142 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 3)

problem #43

Nov 202013

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 94,000 miles


The back panel on the hatch is cracked.

- San Clemente, CA, USA

problem #42

Nov 152013

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 155,000 miles
I want to bring to your attention a defect in the tailgate panel on the 2003 Ford Explorer. It is cracked and as a result water gets into the inside of the panel and leaks into the vehicle. As a result of the bitter cold days here in the northeast over the last month or so, ice forms on the inside of the windows causing major issues with visibility which is dangerous. It also shorted out the rear wiper motor as well. There should be a safety recall on this since it effects so many people.

- Mendon, MA, USA

problem #41

Jul 092013

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 121,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. The contact stated the rear lift gate glass hinge corroded and fractured from the vehicle. The vehicle was previously included and repaired under NHTSA campaign number: 04V442000 (structure). The manufacturer was made aware of the failure. The vehicle was taken to the dealer where the contact was informed that both of the hinges were corroded and would have to be replaced. The vehicle was being repaired. The approximate failure mileage was 121,000.

- Akron, OH, USA

problem #40

Mar 032013

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 120,000 miles


The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. The contact stated that he noticed that the lift gate was fractured near the manufacturing emblem. The failure caused the interior lights and the anti-theft alarm to activate. The vehicle was not inspected by a dealer or an independent mechanic. The vehicle was not repaired. The manufacturer was contacted and they advised him that the vehicle was not included in NHTSA campaign id number 04V442000 (structure). The failure mileage was approximately 120,000. The current mileage was approximately 140,000.

- Ellerslie, GA, USA

problem #39

May 022012


  • 96,000 miles
All 4 of the wheel bearings had to be replaces in a matter of 5 months the rear window has a crack in the fiberglass covering right down the middle said not covered not a health risk but the molding is still cracked from the bottom of window to the bottom of the molding piece brake lights stay on until U get back in and tap the brakes then the light shuts off.

- Plainville, MA, USA

problem #38

Jun 272012

Explorer 6-cyl

  • miles
Rcall work was done ( Ford # 04S045 ) since that time the plastic trim piece attached to the tailgate window cracked which has allowed water to rust out the mounting bracket that holds the latch and wiper assembly. The result is that the widow no longer closes securely and the window latch in-operable. Has this been addressed in and other recalls? I have observed that 9 of 10 Explorer/Mountaineer also have cracked trim pieces. As a result of the rusting bracket I feel that the window could suddenly open and/or shatter. Repairs seem impossible also due to the possibility of shattering the window causing injury.

- Lodi, NY, USA

problem #37

Jun 152012


  • 100,000 miles


My son went to leave in Explorer. Noticed hatch had popped open (has been doing this) and when he closed the two inch opening the glass exploded on him and all over driveway. Glass piece in eye which is ok and scrapes on arms and foot. This could have been so much worse and want answers to why this happened.

- Scottsboro, AL, USA

problem #36

Jul 312003

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 500 miles
Multiple issues with my 2003 Ford Explorer which include the electronic mother board having been replaced twice (under warranty), cracked liftgage (not under warranty cost $300), transmission rebuild approx 90,000 ($3000), dome lights do not turn off, door ajar lights, electric rear windows do not open, O/D light flashes and now the final problem after having replaced my transmission in July 2011 is a drive train or drive line issue. At approximately 45 mph after dropping from a higher speed, a thumping happens. Diagnosis for this issue has been 3 days still with no final determination.

- Albuquerque, NM, USA

problem #35

Aug 272011


  • 68,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. The contact stated while the rear lift gate was open the hinge failed causing the gate to fall on the contacts head. The dealer was stated the vehicle was not included in NHTSA campaign recall number: 04V442000: Structure: Body: Hatchback/liftgate: Hinge and attachments. The vehicle was not repaired. The contact stated the approximate failure and current mileage was 68,000.

- Rockford , IL, USA

problem #34

Jul 092011

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • 99,688 miles
I bought 2003 Ford Explorer in 2008, used, and in 2011 I opened my back glass and the hinge snapped on the left side and the glass started falling, and the only thing that saved the glass from breaking was the right side hinge held. I called the Ford company and they said that I could take it to a dealer and have it inspected, but there was no saftey recall on my vehicle. I looked online and in 2004 the 2003 Ford Explorer was recalled for this very problem.

- Culpeper, VA, USA

problem #33

May 092011

Explorer 4WD 8-cyl

  • 107,000 miles


My 2003 Ford Explorer limited blew a spark plug right out of the engine. Very scary & very loud while going to the grocery store. I thought for sure the engine blew.

- Kensington, NH, USA

problem #32

Sep 012010


  • miles
Paint on hood bubbling with corrosion under hood.

- Pittsburgh, PA, USA

problem #31

Aug 022010


  • 56,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. The contact stated that a crack had developed on the liftgate of the vehicle. The vehicle was not taken to the dealer. The manufacturer was contacted but offered no assistance. The vehicle was not repaired. The failure and current mileage was 56,000.

- Stamford, CT, USA

problem #30

Feb 122010

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 140,000 miles
Problems with the rear panel cracking up, being replaced twice, still cracked again, also the transmission not able to check it during a trip unless you go under the truck, last thing the brake light switch sticking causing to drain battery and not able to order part because the manual are wrong.

- Greensboro, NC, USA

problem #29

Jul 122010


  • 97,000 miles
The back hatch cracked on my 2003 Ford Explorer. I hear this is a common problem with this SUV.

- Springfield, OH, USA

problem #28

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 #27

May 182007


  • 70,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. The contact stated that there was a crack in the tailgate hatch in the rear of the vehicle. Additionally, the contact stated that when attempting to rent a trailer from U-haul, the company would not rent to anyone with a Ford Explorer which she believed to be a safety concern. The vehicle was taken to an authorized dealership where the contact was informed that she would be responsible for repairs. The contact had not spoken with the manufacturer at the time of the complaint. The current mileage was approximately 120,000. The failure mileage was approximately 70,000-

- Moyock, NC, USA

problem #26

Jun 112006


  • 82,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. The contact stated that the paint on the hood of the vehicle was buckling and chipping in large areas. The failure began at spread to both the driver and passenger sides of the vehicle. The manufacturer would not provide any assistance. The vehicle was not repaired. The current and failure mileages were approximately 82,000. Updated 11/16/10.

- Melrose , MA, USA

problem #25

Feb 062010


  • 82,000 miles
I own a 2003 Ford Explorer. The back hatch below the window is cracked. I've seen many with the same defect in parking lots. One woman I spoke with said hers flew off into the windshield of a minivan & caused an accident. I E-mailed Ford Motor Co. They will not issue a recall. This is a safety hazard and with so many vehicles so easily found in parking lots with the same defect is concerning me. I can't afford to have this fixed right now what do you suggest?

- Plains, MT, USA

problem #24

Jan 072010


  • 82,000 miles
The plastic applique below the rear window of 2003 Ford Explorer cracked in cold weather. The vehicle was not in motion. It cracked when the rear defroster circuit was activated. Internet research indicates this is a widespread problem, possibly affecting 10-20% of vehicles manufactured. It is clearly a design problem. Ford, in it's infinite wisdom, glued the largish plastic trim piece directly to the rear glass. In cold weather, when the driver activates the rear defroster, the glass expands and the plastic trim piece, still exposed to the cold does not. This unequal thermal expansion results in the plastic applique piece cracking. This is a problem that should have been easily foreseen by design engineers. In talking with local Ford body repair shops, the staff admitted that the issue is widespread. The repair costs about $500.

- Baton Rouge, LA, USA

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