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.


definitely annoying
Crashes / Fires:
0 / 0
Injuries / Deaths:
0 / 0
Average Mileage:
40,667 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 clutch problems

clutch problem

Find something helpful? Spread the word.
Get notified about new defects, investigations, recalls & lawsuits for the 2003 Ford Explorer:

Unsubscribe any time. We don't sell/share your email.

2003 Ford Explorer Owner Comments

problem #3

Jan 312007


  • Automatic transmission
  • 39,000 miles


- the contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer XLT. The contact stated that the vehicle was making noises, wining, and grinding. The contact stated that the differential system failed and needed to be replaced. Also, the following components needed to be replaced: Clutches, ring, pinion, carrier bearing, pinion bearing, and pinion seal. The contact had to update the axle seals. At the time of the original failure the vehicle had an odometer reading of 37,000 miles and the warranty had just lapsed. The contact did not believe that the weather was a factor, and the sounds were always when she was in the process of accelerating. The contact stated that it started very slowly and became an every day occurrence.

- Apex, NC, USA

problem #2

Jun 052005

Explorer 4WD 8-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 35,000 miles
Dear NHTSA: In October 2003 I purchased the nbx - V8 version of the Ford Explorer with an upgraded tow package for my wife. She never uses the tow package and I, very occasionally pull a 300lb utility trailer. I get the oil changed religiously and recently had the 30,000 mile 4WD lubrication package from Goodyear for approx. $500. At 34,000mi my wife began to notice a non-descript noise in the rear end, a rumble at slow speeds while turning. She carries things in the back and thought they were rolling around. I drove the car at 36,600 mi and also noticed the noise but we had a low rear tire and I thought it was the tire pressure. The tire actually picked up a nail and went flat and I brought the tire to Goodyear for repair. After the repair the rear end noise persisted only at low speeds and we finally got the car in to Goodyear for evaluation at 38,000 miles. They replaced the rear differential fluid again and the noise persisted. They then went on line and pulled a technical service bulletin tsb 04-17-5 which was for limited slip axle chatter, shudder, binding sensation or vibration during low speed turning maneuvers in 2002-2004 Ford Explorer, 2003-2004 Expedition and 2004 F-150S. This was exactly what I was experiencing. Since this vehicle is not used off road, is not used to tow anything heavy, is pampered but does get a fair amount of highway miles 38,000mi in 19 months, I felt that having a transmission problem at this stage was unusual. Well, after talking to my manager at work, half the Ford Explorer fleet in boston was having this problem, with one vehicle in the shop 3 months and one never seeing the light of day yet. The tsb noted problems with the entire transmission. What about next time"? my vehicle. Vehicle # [xxx] Ford Explorer silver V8 nbx version? they also know they have a real problem with their transmissions and the consumer will end up eating it. Is Ford quality job 1?" information redacted pursuant to the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. 552(B)(6)

- Mansfield, MA, USA

problem #1

Nov 022004

Explorer 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 48,000 miles
I am the owner of a 2003 Ford Explorer. I had problems with my transmission engaging properly and the transmission making a loud noise when shifting from park to reverse whether the vehicle was hot or cold. The transmission did this intermitently for a week or so until I took it into a dealership for repair. They said nothing was wrong. I drove it for another week with the same problems. The vehicle would lurch in mid-acceleration at any speed and would lunge when coming to a stop leaving me never knowing when I might stop on the freeway or run into the back of somebody. The next time I took it in they said it was the clutch pack that failed and the repair cost me $1,131. The repair consisted of removing the transmission, opening it up and replacing the parts and then re-installing the transmission. I have read a service bulletin recently from Ford Motor Company saying that these problems have been reported in 2004 Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer. They are saying that they will be fixed for free. I have a 2003 Ford Explorer and I am not aware of the two model years being mechanically dissimilar. I want it known that the 2003 Explorer are suffering the same problems, which is why I am registering the complaint.

- Houston, TX, USA

Not what you are looking for?