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

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 (Page 3 of 6)

« Read the previous 20 complaints

problem #67

Jun 032004

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 15,885 miles


Transmission failure took to dealer, they rebuilt it.took it back 04/28/05 they rebuilt it again with 27998 miles on it. Took it back 08/23/05 with 31714 miles they rebuild it again. Took it back 02/11/08 before extended warranty ended on 02/19/08 they said couldn't find problem.I think because of the lemon law. Now 12 /17/2013 it needs another transmission.

- La Habra, CA, USA

problem #66

Oct 282013


  • 120,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. The contact stated while driving approximately 25 mph, the transmission failed to shift gears. The over-drive and transmission warning indicators were also illuminated continuously. The vehicle was maneuvered to the side of the road where the engine was turned off. Upon restarting, the failure persisted. The vehicle was not diagnosed or repaired. The manufacturer was not notified of the defect. The approximate failure mileage was 120,000.

- Sturbridge , MA, USA

problem #65

Aug 032013


  • 94,100 miles
Driving on interstate at high speed. O/D and tramission lights came on tramission died!

- Baltimore, MD, USA

problem #64

Jul 022013

Explorer 8-cyl

  • 111,846 miles


O/D light suddenly starts flashing while driving at normal surface street speeds of 40 - 45 mph. Within 10 miles, the transmission started slipping and it felt like the vehicle was laboring; my wife thought the emergency brake was engaged. She never made it home - within minutes, the vehicle slowed, would not accelerate and subsequently broke down. The vehicle was towed to the nearest Ford dealer who determined the transmission was a total loss. We purchased the extended warranty when we obtained this vehicle from said dealer. Although we had well over 10,000 miles left on the warranty, it had expired less than 4 months ago solely based on calendar days!! this is a secondary vehicle for us and does not get a lot of use; less than 10,000 miles a year. Both the dealer performing the repairs and Ford Motor Company customer care were surprisingly unsympathetic to the circumstances and were unable (or unwilling) to make any concessions. So, $4,200 and a week later, I had a 'new' re-manufactured transmission. I was somewhat suspicious of the sealed transmission - one that does not have provisions to monitor the transmission fluid - which was manufactured and installed on the 2003 models. After looking into this issue, it has become quite apparent that there has been an inordinate number of these transmission failures on similar vehicles. I expect to get at least 150,000 miles from my automobiles - and I have with a few other vehicles from another us manufacturer. Consumers who use their hard earned money to purchase us manufacturer's products should expect a reasonable amount of quality, reliability and customer service. It is very unlikely that I would consider Ford for my next automobile purchase. Mileage at failure: 111,846.

- Warren, MI, USA

problem #63

Jul 022013

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 160,000 miles
I was driving down I-10 at 3:30 in the afternoon on my way home and my 2003 Ford Explorer out of no where went in reverse I was about an inch away from hitting the car behind me. My children were crying scared and I too was shaking tried to make it home but my car wouldn't go past 20mph and we got stuck at the gas station had to get towed to my house. I have been told that I need a new transmission and cannot afford one I just bought the car a year ago. Thank you Ford for almost killing me and my children!

- Houston, TX, USA

problem #62

Jul 162013

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 117,000 miles
While driving the O/D light began flashing on my dashboard, the vehicle slowed down to about 15 miles as if the transmission was pulling/slipping, the car made a hard jerk and began to pick-up speed. This cycle repeated until I reached my destination. The light came on again the next day and the same events occurred.

- St. Louis, MO, USA

problem #61

Apr 152013


  • 201,003 miles


Transmission is not shifting into second gear and overdrive. Overdrive light flashes. Previous owner had a new transmission put in through Ford Motor Company and it started occurring again within a week of the replacement. I purchased the vehicle in April and have had it to numerous repair shops for transmission filter changes and tune ups, nothing helps. Now im told it needs a new transmission. The transmission in it now is only 8 months old. It revs really high after first gear then kicks into second only after letting off the gas and manually shifting with the shifter. It will not shift into overdrive at all. The overdrive off light is constantly flashing. I highly doubt my next vehicle will be a Ford!!

- Logan , WV, USA

problem #60

Jun 072013


  • 154,615 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. The contact stated that the overdrive and check engine transmission warning lights both illuminated upon starting the vehicle. The vehicle was taken to a dealer for diagnosis but no cause for failure was found. The vehicle would also jerk and lunge forward when the contact was driving at various speeds. The vehicle was taken to an independent mechanic for diagnosis and the contact was informed that the transmission would need to be replaced. The manufacturer was not notified of the failure. The vehicle was not repaired. The failure and current mileage was 154,615.

- Falkner, MS, USA

problem #59

May 262012


  • 58,610 miles
The vehicle was driving down the highway when suddenly the O.D off light started flashing. When it approached local streets I noticed the transmission was slipping going into 2ng gear. The vehicle was taken to the dealer who immediately diagnosed it as a defective transmission. A little research on the 03 Explorer transmission indicated it was a 5R55S model which has an astronomical failure rate. Its also a sealed unit which doesn't have a dipstick to check the fluid level or condition ( burnt smell). The Ford Explorer also leads the list by having 4 out of the top ten vehicle complaints for worst model years cars. All the top complaints are for transmission failure.

- North Arlington, NJ, USA

problem #58

May 052013


  • 177,848 miles
While driving my vehicle on Sunday, while driving my vehicle stalled in the road. The truck felt as if it was trying to pull a hill. This was very scarey for me and my children because if someone was coming behind us or if I was turning into the flow of traffic this could have been a terrible accident. Afterwards the vehicle couldn't go over 30 mph without shifting out. This is very dangerous and Ford should recall this immediately before someone is killed.

- Lagrange, GA, USA

problem #57

Apr 042013

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 134,000 miles


Unexpected transmission failure. Transmission not shifting gears properly. Vehicle in good condition no fluid leaks. Vehicle driven and maintained properly. This issue has occurred to numerous Explorer owners with low mileage as my vehicle.

- Converse, TX, USA

problem #56

Apr 142013


  • 110,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. The contact stated the over-drive light illuminated while driving 65 mph and the vehicle slowed down to 20 mph. The contact took the vehicle to the dealer and the dealer stated the transmission was defective and needed to be replaced. The contact did not replace the transmission. The failure mileage was 110,000.

- Dixon, IL, USA

problem #55

Apr 092013


  • 123,000 miles
Transmission failure.

- Oak Creek, WI, USA

problem #54

Apr 032013

Explorer 8-cyl

  • 140,000 miles
I was driving my 2003 Ford Explorer and I was going about 40 miles per hr. I was approaching a red light, and as I was braking my vehicle accelerated without me having my foot on the gas paddle. I have had major transmission work (re-built trans, $3000) on my vehicle, in which I had to take it back to the transmission repair shop three times, yet I continue to have unexplained problems. The vehicle seems to be unsafe for me to drive at this time.

- Jacksonville, FL, USA

problem #53

Apr 032012


  • 96,706 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. The contact stated that the over drive light illuminated and the vehicle shifted erratically. The vehicle was taken to the dealer where it was found that the transmission needed to be replaced. The vehicle was not repaired. The manufacturer was not contacted. The failure mileage was 96,706.

- Cleveland Heights, OH, USA

problem #52

Mar 232013


  • 112,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. The contact stated that the transmission slipped and caused the overdrive light to illuminate. The vehicle was taken to the dealer. The failure was located and the contact was advised that the transmission needed to be replaced. The rear hatch frame was also fractured and caused the rear hatch to split in half. The manufacturer was made aware of the failures. The VIN was not available. The vehicle was not repaired. The failure and current mileage was 112,000.

- Columbia , SC, USA

problem #51

Mar 122013

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 155,123 miles
Without any prior indication of an issue, the overdrive light started flashing. After stopping at the next traffic light, it appeared the transmission was having a problem getting into 2nd gear. Needless to say, the tranny problem continued and now needs to be replaced. This issue seems be consistent with that of many, many early 2000S Explorer owners. I feel an investigation into this issue is warranted.

- Macomb, MI, USA

problem #50

Dec 252012

Explorer 8-cyl

  • 135,000 miles
Ok we were driving pulled out and it did not shift to second gear and cars were coming up and honking horn it takes car a long time to switch to 2nd gear at light and this is very dangerous can get hit. The O/D light flashes causing service engine light to come on. Transmission was serviced and I was told it was a Ford issue with these transmission Ford was not successful at helping their needs to be a recall on these transmission they are very dangerous and the customer is constantly paying the price on these vehicles.

- Martinez, GA, USA

problem #49

Mar 192013

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 148,000 miles
Check transmission indicator on in information center and overdrive light on. Grinding noise from under vehicle.

- Veedersburg, IN, USA

problem #48

Feb 232012


  • 196,000 miles
I was driving down tx hwy 190, and my O/D light started flashing on my 2003 Ford Explorer, it was found that the shift solenoid pack was going out, it was an electrical issue with the solenoids, the pack was replaced and now it is doing it again, ran the diagnostics on it and it is the exact same problem, the shift solenoid pack electrical problem on a solenoid pack that is barely a year old and the mileage is now at 201000.

- Dry Prong, LA, USA

Read the next 20 complaints »

Not what you are looking for?