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:
2 / 0
Average Mileage:
69,612 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 brakes problems

brakes problem

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2003 Ford Explorer Owner Comments

problem #4

May 042009


  • 72,450 miles


I keep reading about 2 complaints that people need to know about and Ford should take action on; the first being the back tail gate... Ford do the right thing. The second has to do with the transmission, overdrive light, the parking brake and the cruise control. I use the cruise control when driving long distances and while on a few trips the overdrive light would come on for no reason, at least I thought, I then found out that I had an ABS problem and wheel bearings problems. All happening at the same time? as if that wasn't enough my transmission was dripping fluid on my new driveway! this was while I only had only 70,000 miles, it wasn't right, I checked out the brakes, they had been replaced before however when I pull off the rear drum / disk to check the parking brake that's when I found the problem. I never use my parking brake, it rotted and delaminated and was dragging hence the od light, the overheating of the transmission which blew out the seal, the excessive brake dust which was partially the cause of ABS sensor malfunctioning. The last part impacts the bearings, when the ABS sensor malfunctions it can apply the brakes as in skidding or in tire slippage adding to early unnecessary wear on bearings and again overheating of the transmission. Ford needs to install a few "smart" sensors, one which could track parking brake malfunctions, also one for fail safe temperature readings for the transmission. (that is before it is compromised.) do the right thing Ford, your sales depend on it.

- Chanhassen, MS, USA

problem #3

Jun 282010

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • 95,000 miles
I have a 2003 Ford Explorer. I have had several incidents of it not easily changing from park to reverse, and reverse to park. Last night, I was unloading some items from the Explorer. The car was in park, and the emergency brake was engaged. I was standing in the right side passenger doorway. I reached over to turn off the ignition. Upon turning it off, the Explorer immediately began to roll into reverse. My mother was sitting in the backseat at this time as well as my two babies, who were strapped in their car seats. My driveway is an incline, so the Explorer rolled backwards. I tried to run with it as I was trapped in the doorway. The Explorer gained speed going down the driveway, causing me to be knocked down, unsure of whether or not I was about to be run over, or whether my mom and children were going to be injured. I was thrown down, landed on my buttocks which has caused severe bruising, hit my head on the concrete, and was left with painful, open cuts on my left arm. My mother was tossed about causing pain to her back. My kids were thankfully restrained in their car seats. They rolled backward into a neighbor's yard, then proceeded to roll forward back across the street into my yard. When the car finally stopped, the emergency brake was still engaged, and the gear shift was stuck between park and reverse. It would not come out of this position. It took quite a lot of work to get the car to go into reverse or drive so that the Explorer could be properly moved. I am very upset at the incident which could have left myself, my kids, or my mom critically or fatally injured. I am very afraid to drive this vehicle now, and I am very afraid to park it. If I had another vehicle to drive right now, I certainly would be driving it instead of the Ford Explorer.

- Dallas, GA, USA

problem #2

Jan 102008


  • 70,000 miles
Brake pads completely disintegrated when inspecting pads, front edge of rotors have completely rusted. Pads were in good shape thickness wise in some areas and rotted in other areas. Pads and rotors were replaced now 5 months later it's starting again. Parking brake pads delaminated again. ABS light came on during trip for no reason?

- Chanhassen, MN, USA

problem #1

Jul 272005

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 41,000 miles
Emergency brake would not engage in November, 2003. Dealer "oiled" the pedal. On July 28, 2005, loud squealing sound coming from rear, and emergency brake would not engage at all. Dealer had to replace rear drums, rear shoes, and pads at a cost of $390. Emergency brake is considered a "maintenance item" and was not covered under warranty. If brakes were to fail, emergency brake would not have worked either.

- Cranberry Township, PA, USA

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