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:
4 / 0
Injuries / Deaths:
3 / 0
Average Mileage:
103,807 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 drivetrain problems

drivetrain problem

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2003 Ford Explorer Owner Comments (Page 2 of 6)

« Read the previous 20 complaints

problem #87

Jul 082014


  • 150,000 miles


The transmission light, 4ΓΏ4 and the od light came on. It does shift gear from 1 to 2 until 3000 RPM.

- Sicklerville, NJ, USA

problem #86

Jul 062014


  • 156,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. The contact stated that while driving approximately 70 mph, the vehicle suddenly decelerated down to approximately 45 mph and the over drive warning sensor light illuminated. Also, the contact indicated that during the incident the vehicle failed to shift into gear. The failure recurred on multiple occasions. The vehicle was not diagnosed or repaired. The manufacturer was not notified. The failure mileage was 156,000.

- Bellevue, MI, USA

problem #85

Jun 292014


  • 147,000 miles
Transmission od light flashing, slamming into gear while shifting. We had the pan dropped and found pieces of the gears inside... need a total rebuild or new transmission. After reading all of the problems with this year and model I believe Ford needs to make some kind of recall....

- Warwick, RI, USA

problem #84

Jun 142014

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 146,000 miles


My son purchased this Explorer brand new and I bought it from him four years ago and I love this as it is the best design in the SUV's, and I can not afford a new vehicle as I am no young gal any more. We have maintained it faithfully and have had no serious problems with it and is at 145000. I was driving to work going 55 mph and the O/D light comes on and I push the button and it would not go off. I pulled over and tried the button a few times-nothing. I shut it off, turned it back on-no light was on-proceeded down the highway and the light turns back on and it will not shift and is straining shift. I took it in to jiffy lube to go ahead and get another oil change and let them check the transmission fluid and they said that they could not access it to check the fluid-they suggested a transmission flush at $200-why can't they access it" wouldn't a dip stick save a lot of trouble" as I look at all the complaints about the transmission troubles in the Explorer, I am very shocked. Please can you help me out here as I cannot afford high maintenance bills that would be charged through a dealer. Just tell me if there is a simple solution to fixing it so that my brother may repair it and get it back on the road. One response is as such: After talking to 2 Ford reps today, and turned down flat for help, I have decide its now a quest.... Ford stated they didn't have enough complaints for the NHTSA to open up an investigation to possibly order a recall...... soooo, for all those that have issues, call Ford and also make a complaint on the NHTSA site or call them at 1-800-424-9393. My family is a Ford family and we currently have 5 Ford in our household, a mustang, Ford F150, Ford Focus, Expedition, and the Explorer that is having issues. This isn't including extended family. Ford is about to lose future business....

- Chesterton, IN, USA

problem #83

May 272014

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 200,000 miles
I attempted to put the vehicle in reverse and when I shifted to reverse the vehicle slammed into reverse so hard that it hit the vehicle that was parked behind me.

- Chicago, IL, USA

problem #82

Jun 082014

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 150,000 miles
Transmission failure.

- Shawnee, KS, USA

problem #81

Jun 012014

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 137,000 miles


Truck jerks when trying to pick up speed picks up speed very slow sometimes doesn't want to go in drive.

- Hampton, VA, USA

problem #80

May 312014

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 165,000 miles
O/D off dash light began to flash. Service engine soon light came on. Transmission needs to be rebuilt. Advised to report this known common problem with 2003 Ford Explorer models.

- Burnsville, MN, USA

problem #79

Jan 012014


  • 115,000 miles
I have had to had the transmission replaced 3 times so far on this vehicle. After looking online and talking to the transmission shops in the area, this seems to be a problem (at least for the Ford owner) with this year of the Ford transmission. One estimate is they see this year at least 4-5 times in a two week span. The entire 2003 Ford transmission seems faulty and costing customers thousands of dollars to fix. Ford has been asked to investigate their transmission for this year with no resolve (at least not to the public). If a transmission fails on an uphill and the owner does not catch on fast they may cause an accident.

- Oak Grove, KY, USA

problem #78

May 012014

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • 34,656 miles
Ford Explorer 2003 34.656 miles garage kept O/D light starts blinking at 25miles hr. Transmission servo ports need to be bored & sleeved. Hydraulic pressure low at servo ports. Updated 11/24/2014

- Chicago, IL, USA

problem #77

May 152014

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 45,000 miles


Transmission failure at 45000 miles. Needs to be replaced. Cost $3200. Out of warranty. Although the car is 11 years old it has not much mileage. A transmission should not fail at 45000 miles.

- Forty Fort, PA, USA

problem #76

Mar 212014

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 85,000 miles
The O/D light came on. I had to let off on my accelerator pedal to get my car to shift into 2nd gear. Sometimes I would push on the accelerator and at 4000 RPM, my car would shift. After taking the car into the transmission shop, the technician told me that the band for second gear snapped and a rod starting grinding which dispersed metal into the transmission. The rod as well as the gears, solenoid, and the torque converter had to be replaced. The cost of this repair was 1700 dollars. Should my transmission be going out this soon" why wasn't there a recall for this transmission"

- Reseda, CA, USA

problem #75

Mar 242014

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • 143,000 miles
O/D light started blinking and my transmission started slipping in the early gears.

- Hudsonville, MI, USA

problem #74

Apr 072014

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 134,000 miles
The vehicle is a closed transmission..consumer has no way of checking or maintaining level..or checking the color or if clutch shards are present...consumer has to pay $115 to even have transmission level checked...consumer cannot perform preventative maintenance on their vehicle...this has been an ongoing problem with Ford owners that Ford is not willing to address.

- Arverne, NY, USA

problem #73

Apr 022014

Explorer 8-cyl

  • 102,000 miles
I have kept up with Ford's suggested servicing interval for the transmission. I was halfway through an extended drive on the highway when suddenly the transmission fluid temperature reading on my scangauge II was in excess of 235 degrees Fahrenheit and the O/D off light comes on and the dashboard contained error message overheating transmission. I pulled over to a gas station and saw that there was no transmission fluid leakage that was readily apparent. After this incident, I had the transmission fluid serviced and the overheating issues seem to have reduced, but several techs at various transmission shops now see error codes P0732 and P0755. I now notice gears 1 and 2 are severely slipping, and I was informed that my transmission was damaged, which would require a total replacement costing over $3,000. I do not have this kind of money just lying around, and transmission failure at 100,000 miles seems to be a very common issue among 2002-2004 Ford Explorer/Mercury Mountaineer/Lincoln aviators. Why in over 10 years there has been no recall or warranty I do not know, but it speaks of great irresponsibility and distress in Ford's service department. If Ford does not issue any type of recall or warranty for failures of this nature, I will cease to buy their products.

- St. Louis, MO, USA

problem #72

Mar 182014


  • 185,697 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. The contact stated that the over drive light illuminated and the vehicle lost acceleration power while traveling various speeds. The contact also mentioned that a grinding noise was heard. The local mechanic performed a diagnostic but was unable to locate a failure code. The vehicle was not repaired. The manufacturer was made aware of the failure. The failure and current mileage was 185,697.

- Houston , TX, USA

problem #71

Mar 022009

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 119,000 miles
Locked up and failed causing accident.

- Atlanta, GA, USA

problem #70

Jun 012010

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 77,000 miles
Transmission failure at 77,000 miles, June 2010. Replaced with Ford part at Ford dealer. Replacement transmission lasted 3 yrs/8 mos, and lasted 45,000 miles (8 months beyond warranty). Ford will not acknowledge the problem, or provide any relief whatsoever in resolving the problem. Transmission failure at any point, at any time, could be very very dangerous.

- Huntington, NY, USA

problem #69

Nov 262013

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 207,404 miles
Flashing O/D off, check transmission, and check engine lights went on. Took to transmission service co for inspection. There response was this model Ford transmission was no good. They flushed system, added new fluid and asked that I pray for extra miles. That was Nov.'13. Now Feb '14, transmission lighting same check lights. Total re-build likely at $2500 +/_. complaints on 2003 Explorer at are extremely out of control signaling something wrong. Please inquire about this defect and the 2003 Explorer in general.

- Essex, CT, USA

problem #68

Jan 082014


  • 72,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. The contact stated that the overdrive warning light illuminated. The vehicle was taken to the dealer where it was found that the transmission needed to be rebuilt. The vehicle was repaired. The manufacturer was not contacted about the failure. The failure mileage was approximately 72,000.

- Wall, NJ, USA

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