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 4 of 6)

« Read the previous 20 complaints

problem #47

Mar 042013

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 101,000 miles


Transmission failure.

- Lincoln, NE, USA

problem #46

Mar 012013

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 131,000 miles
My 2003 Ford Explorer while going down the road, I started to notice that it was a hard shift from 1st to second gear, the RPM would go to almost 4000rpm, then almost slam into gear. My O/D light started flashing, and my check engine light came on, when I got home I researched it on the internet and found there are numerous problems with the Ford transmissions, after contacting Ford they basically told me I was out of luck they wouldn't help, ,,, I have been a loyal Ford customer for years and so has the rest of my family and my business uses Ford vehicles. Someone needs to research this, Ford is getting away with a big injustice by making a substandard transmission that is costing their customs thousands of dollars. But all Ford will say is if the NHTSA decides to investigate and sees its a problem then they will act on it.

- Yucca Valley , CA, USA

problem #45

Feb 202013


  • 136,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. The contact stated that while driving approximately 60 mph, the transmission shifted gears independently with the illumination of the over drive indicator. The vehicle had not been diagnosed or repaired. The manufacturer was notified of the problem and informed the contact that there was not a recall related to the defect. The approximate failure mileage was 136,000.

- Columbia, SC, USA

problem #44

Jan 232013


  • 94,000 miles


The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. The contact was driving approximately 15 mph when the transmission began to slip gears. The failure occurred whenever the vehicle was in operation. The vehicle was taken to an authorized dealer, who stated that the transmission would need to be replaced. The manufacturer was notified of the problem and informed the contact that there was not a recall related to the defect. The vehicle was not repaired. The approximate failure mileage was 94,000.

- Ogden, UT, USA

problem #43

Jan 212013


  • 126,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. The contact stated that while driving 60 mph, the transmission failed and the vehicle stopped accelerating. The contact attempted to restart the vehicle to reset the problem but the failure recurred. The vehicle was towed to a transmission center for inspection and they advised that the transmission needed to be replaced. The vehicle was not repaired. The manufacturer was notified but provided no assistance. The failure mileage was 126,000.

- Marietta, GA, USA

problem #42

Nov 122012

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 95,000 miles
Vehicle transmission will not shift into upper gears. O/D light blinks on and off. There are many complaints on this issue to Ford. Ford will not repair or compensate owners for this known dangerous and faulty transmission issue on many 2000-2003 Explorer's. this should be a recall.

- Brick, NJ, USA

problem #41

Oct 162012

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 122,000 miles


While I was merging from one road to the next the Explorer transmission felt like it popped out of gear. When I continued the transmission would not change gears without me "feathering" the gas. Took it to a repair shop and had to pay $2000+ to repair/rebuild the transmission.

- Randleman, NC, USA

problem #40

Oct 132012

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 175,000 miles
I was backing up to the garage to unload the stuff in the back and the car made a loud whinning noise and took off fast..I couldn't stop the truck..

- Milton, FL, USA

problem #39

Aug 112012

Explorer 6-cyl

  • miles
It's the transmission. The vehicle is having problems going into gear and jerking. The transmission is sealed so I can not change the fluid myself either. There are many others having the same problem as I am having. How do I go about getting a recall on the transmission?

- Gray Court, SC, USA

problem #38

Apr 102012


  • 100,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford explore. The contact stated that while driving 40 mph the transmission failed. The over drive warning light illuminated on the instrument panel. The contact then depressed the brake pedal and everything seized before stalling. The contact restarted the vehicle and the vehicle functioned properly. The vehicle was taken to a repair shop where they stated that the solenoid was defective in the transmission. The vehicle was not repaired. The manufacturer was notified but provided no assistance because the vehicle was no longer under warranty. The failure mileage was 100,000.

- Marshall, TX, USA

problem #37

Apr 242012

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 105,000 miles


I have a 2003 Ford Explorer XLT with 105,000 miles on it. Yesterday (4/24/12) it would not go into reverse and had difficulty shifting into 2 and 3 gear + the overdrive light just started blinking on and off. I took it back to the Ford dealer where I purchased it and I am told it will cost me $4,0000 to repair! I have contacted Ford motor customer service (fmcs) and they tell me that there are no recalls on this issue nor can they offer me any assistance with the cost. The guy I spoke to at the fmcs was rather shocked at the $4,000 price tag and did agree with me that the trans failed prematurely. However, there was nothing he could do to help me. This conversation was recorded by the Ford customer service center out of Florida. I have been online looking over several blogs and several web sites and it appears that this is a common problem. It also appears that the Ford Explorer has a huge problem with transmission failure, mostly from the early 2000S -- especially the 2002 to 2004 Ford Explorer. Mine is a 2003!

- Plymouth, MI, USA

problem #36

Feb 222011

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 99,000 miles
Transmission slipping while driving.

- Pittsburgh, PA, USA

problem #35

Mar 152012


  • 100,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. The contact stated while driving 35 mph the overdrive warning lamp was illuminated. The vehicle was not taken to the dealer for diagnostic testing. The manufacturer was made aware of the failure and did not offer any assistance. The vehicle was not repaired. The failure and current mileage was 100,000.

- Hunlock Creek, PA, USA

problem #34

Mar 122012


  • 152,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. The contact stated that the vehicle would not accelerate over 15 mph and the overdrive light illuminated while the failure occurred. The vehicle was towed to a local mechanic and a diagnostic test was performed. The failure was located at the third gear, which would not shift, and caused the transmission to fail. The transmission would need to be replaced. The vehicle was not repaired. The manufacturer was made aware of the failure. The failure and current mileages were 152,000.

- Marlborough, MA, USA

problem #33

Feb 122012


  • 77,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. The contact stated that the vehicle has had two rebuilt transmissions. The contact stated that the transmission started slipping again and the torque converter had to be replaced. The failure and the current mileage was 77,000.

- Arlington, MA, USA

problem #32

Feb 282012

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 77,500 miles
Traveling the I-95 corridor in North Carolina at approx. 3am the transmission over drive light began flashing and the check engine light came on shortly after. Vehicle began to have shifting problems. Had to ease into 1st gear and play with accelerator pedal to shift out of 1st gear. Not a good feeling when 500 miles from home and in the middle of nowhere. Researched and found that this is becoming a common problem for these vehicles. Brought vehicle to aamco and was informed again common in the Explorer. Cost estimate for repair $2500. Vehicle had 77000 miles at time of failure. Called Ford for "goodwill" repair. Should have talked to a door knob. Standard reply "vehicle out of warranty". driving over forty years, never experienced transmission failure. This is a design flaw that they are not acknowledging. They may not pay now but in the long run the cost will be great. Drove my last Ford.

- Georgetown, DE, USA

problem #31

Mar 032012


  • miles
O/D light flashing and wont go into overdrive. The transmission is a sealed unit.

- Washington, DC, USA

problem #30

Nov 012011

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 80,000 miles
The transmission slips gears between 1st->2nd and 2nd->3rd gears. The car has never been used for towing and has been maintained by a Ford dealership according to the recommended servicing. At only 80,000 miles, it should not be having transmission issues.

- Roseville, CA, USA

problem #29

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 #28

Sep 152008

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 98,500 miles
Initially happened at 98K miles back in 08. Put in park (vehicle on elevated driveway). Jerked back and heard a clunk- like it was shifting from park into a gear with vehicle pressure- and it started to roll back. Hit brakes- and put it in reverse. Then neutral to start it. Parked it on the curb for an hour, went back out and it didn't do it again until last week. Thinking it might have been the weather this time- parked on my fairly steep driveway again with lots of ice/snow. 189K miles with the orig tranny and regular computer updates/flushes. Been an amazing truck- just thinking it might happen again.

- Rochester, NY, USA

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