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 5 of 6)

« Read the previous 20 complaints

problem #27

Apr 162008


  • 80,000 miles


I payed 18,000 for my 2003 Ford Explorer XLT with the flex fuel in 2006. Its a very nice looking SUV but I only drove it for 2 years before the transmission started to fail. I beleave a transmission should last more than 2 years. My concearn is that its defective all around the transmission and I could still drive it if I wasnt in fear for my life. I have had it to Ford dealership and they could not diagnose the problem, they wanted me to pay them to taket out the tranny and wanted way to much for any parts, so I had it looked at by a transmission place that been around a long time and he had no idea what was wrong.replaced the selenoid for like 900 and my it ran fine for like 2 weeks until I put in 4 w/D than my O/D light started bliking again and the transmission slipped, the O/D light eluminated the first time my transmission ever slipped.and if I went and drove it right now it would cause an accident and some people might still depend on there defective Explorer to get accelerates by its self it sometimes dosnt want to go in gear and if this is electrical someones vehicle could stop in the middle of a highway with no warning but a blinking O/D light.and worst thing is, if Ford would reconize this problem with out selling new transmissions that will eventually have the same problem with I could have it fixed but no one but Ford knows what is wrong and they obviously dont know how to fix it or know if they admit their mistake it was a design flaw I want my money back.I bet you they wouldnt even take my Explorer on a trade in. And if you just google Ford Explorer anything from 1999 to 2007 I think....its going to have like thousands of people with the same problem as mine and probaly like from 40,000 miles up, way to early for transmission replacement.

- La Belle, PA, USA

problem #26

Dec 262011

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 93,787 miles
Transmission failure. Transmission does not want to up shift, it will shift hard. O/D light flashing.

- Fort Smith, AR, USA

problem #25

Nov 092011


  • 74,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. While driving approximately 30 mph, the transmission began to slip gears in a jerking motion. There was also a hesitation and the engine revved continuously. In addition, the over drive and transmission warning indicators illuminated on the instrument panel. The indicators remained illuminated until the engine was turned off. The vehicle was diagnosed by two different independent mechanics and they informed the sensor solenoid would need to be replaced and possibly the transmission. The vehicle was in the process of being taken to an authorized dealer for a third opinion. The manufacturer was not notified of the defect. The approximate failure mileage was 74,000. The VIN was unavailable.

- Stephens, VA, USA

problem #24

Dec 282011


  • 100,003 miles


I called Ford customer relations to report my transmission was failing, and discovering that many people were reporting the same issue on the web: Flashing overdrive light, constant engine service light, and my transmission was sticking and not shifting properly. I told the representative about my issue and immediately they said I did not have the extended warranty. I told them I did have the extended which was up to 100000 miles, but I was barely over by 3000 miles. I explained that a lot of other people were complaining about the same transmission issue with the same make, model, and year. The agent sounded like he was reading from a script, including his supervisor saying I was out of warranty, sorry, and go to the dealer you bought the car from. When it was clear he was not going to do anything, I asked to speak with a supervisor, but it was clear that she was not going to do anything either. All I was asking for was a goodwill repair discount, and they refused. I grew up with Ford; fairlane, falcon, galaxy, maverick, ltd, Taurus, Expedition, T-bird, and Explorer. I am not going to say I will never drive another Ford, but I no longer feel loyal to the brand. Honda's and Toyota's transmissions last longer and they stand by their product. I am very disappointed about thier lack of customer service and indifference with my problem. This is going to cost $2500 for a rebuild or $3500 for a new transmission.

- Covington, KY, USA

problem #23

Nov 282011


  • 148,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. The contact stated that while driving 30 mph, the transmission would not shift into gear and failed. The check engine and the bs warning lights were illuminated. The contact notified a mechanic of the failure and was advised that the transmission would likely need replacing.the manufacturer was not notified of the failure. The VIN was unavailable. The failure mileage was 148,000.

- Somerset, NJ, USA

problem #22

Sep 072011


  • 175,024 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. While driving 50 mph, the overdrive and check engine warning lights illuminated. The vehicle was towed to the dealer who inspected the failure and informed the contact that the transmission was faulty and needed to be replaced. The manufacturer was notified who advised that there were no recalls for the failure and offered no further assistance. The failure mileage was 175,024.

- Sunapee, NH, USA

problem #21

Sep 052011

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 105,000 miles


While entering the highway, my SUV would not shift into gear. The fastest it would go was 35mph, the tachometer was pegged out, the O/D light was flashing on and off and transmission would not shift into the next gear. Almost got hit by vehicles traveling the speed limit which is 65mph, because the transmission would not shift properly for me to merge into traffic.

- Norton, OH, USA

problem #20

Aug 122010

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 125,491 miles
Transmision failure, replaced at dealership. New transmision failed within a week, replaced at dealership also replaced all hub bearings, excessive noise. Rear end also has excessive noise. Rear back up sensor frequently turns off and does not work.

- New Iberia, LA, USA

problem #19

Jul 072011

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 120,300 miles
Suddenly the transfer case started jerking and the SUV was shaking badly that I almost couldn't drive it home. I was lucky to have this happening at 1/2 mile from my house and at about 20-25 miles per hour! it was no code to indicate where the failure occurred within the power train. I took a part the rear end, I found nothing wrong with it. I started to troubleshoot the transfer case and I noticed that the electrical motor with actuator does not spin the shaft from transfer case, reason that the transfer case can't select firmly the position of hi, low or 4WD!!!!. observing that the motor of the transfer case sifter does not spin, I purchased a new motor from Ford, . after replacement, the problem persisted; so, I replaced the transfer case module, behind the glove box; no result. To be able to move the car around I unplugged the transfer case motor shift from the main harness and the SUV stays now in 4WD with blinking lights on my dash for ABS and 4X4 wd!!! I am still wandering what could happened to me if the jumping and grinding was to happend when I was driving the car with 65-70 miles per hour and the power train could snap and the driveshaft could fly out... who shall be responsible for my life or somebody else's that I could hit? I consider that the manufacturer shall recall the Explorer's affected and address the transfer case issues. The old parts that I have replaced are available, they are functional. I still don't know what is wrong because I couldn't find any advise from any Ford sites\, neither from a qualified diagnostic specialist. If I go to Ford dealership they will be charging tons of $$$ until the car runs again; they don't care how many parts will replace and I will have to pay Ford's mistakes from my pocket; this is not right!

- Hudson, NH, USA

problem #18

May 032011


  • 85,000 miles
First I must say I love this truck. Its my second one and both had same problems. While driving home from work all of a sudden truch lurched forward then O/D off lite started flashing then check engine lite flashing.took it to my mechanic and it came up with a PO775 code, he said its very common and not the first one hes seen do this. Pressure control solenoid B needs replacing for about $400 then after removing pan whole transmission needed overhaul now $2200 later. I think Ford knows of this problem and should stand behind it. Also blend door stopped working and all 4 calipers seized up. Dont know if ill ever buy another Ford.also power windows quit working, broken wire in door. Nothing but trouble with this vehicle.I think a class action suit should be started against Ford for repairs on these transmissions.I cant afford to dump hundreds of dollars into this truck after paying thousands of dollars for it.

- Holland, NY, USA

problem #17

Dec 152010


  • 90,000 miles


Explorer od light came on and truck would not shift gears properly. Check engine light appeared and the truck just made it to the mechanic. The truck needed a new transmission at the expense of $3000. It is obvious that the Ford Explorer is known for this type of failure. Sent an email to Ford and they will not assist on the expenses or admit there is a problem with these vehicles.

- Springbrook Township, PA, USA

problem #16

Mar 122011

Explorer 8-cyl

  • 59,000 miles
Accelerator defect ; the car atuomatically sped up without my foot on the gas pedal. Caused damages to 3 other vehicles, 1 of which was totalled.

- Tampa, FL, USA

problem #15

Jan 222011


  • 86,000 miles
Engine revs to nearly 5000 RPM before slamming into 2nd gear. Had several mechanics tell me that these transmissions are junk.

- Chillicothe, OH, USA

problem #14

Oct 132010


  • 110,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. While driving 35 mph, the vehicle suddenly lost power, the check engine light illuminated and the vehicle suddenly stalled. The vehicle was towed to a transmission specialist who stated that the gear solenoid needed to be replaced. The vehicle had not been repaired. The contact called the manufacturer who offered no assistance. The current and failure mileages were approximately 110,000.

- Harrison Township, MI, USA

problem #13

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 #12

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 #11

Jul 062009


  • 40,000 miles
The rear end on the 2003 Ford Explorer starts to whine, then growl' then leak then go bad. The rearend on the Ford Explorer evidently go bad often. The owners would be put in danger when the breakdown occurs on the road. The Explorer is a family vehicle so the rearend going out on a trip away could be disaster. I googled 2003 Ford Explorer rearend problems and found hundreds of complaints.

- Owensboro, KY, USA

problem #10

Jan 152006


  • 62,500 miles
Transmissions in 2003 Ford Explorer. First transmission replaced at 62,500 miles and second needs replacing at 87,000 miles. Was told by mechanic that is the Ford transmission problem for that year of Explorer may complaints online about the same issue.

- Berkley, MI, USA

problem #9

May 122009


  • 70,000 miles
I currently own a 2003 Ford Explorer. ABS light had been showing sometimes and gained a small vibration in the engine. Then one day by a turn of the key there was a loud thumb sound and it never started again. Put a new starter on got it started but it had a major pecking sound coming from transmission. Took transmission out and found that the torque had a bad rattle in it. Replaced torque and restarted engine and still had another small pecking sound it was coming from the engine dropped oil pan and found to have a balance shaft chain guide busted and the timing chain was loose. So by the turn of the key resulted in torque lock up in which caused started drive to bust and all the pressure when the new starter kick in broke torque loose and caused the crank to over spin the timing chain in which broke chain guide. So lucky it happened by the turn of the key instead of driving down the road.

- Salyersville, KY, USA

problem #8

Jul 202007


  • 78,000 miles
This vehicle is a 2003 Ford Explorer limited with a severe roar coming from the rear end. There is a technical bulletin out at repair shops but no recall. It could result in the gears locking down and losing control while driving. It is a defect of the Ford Motor Co and should be under recall. The cost of repair is around $1400. The noise is so loud that it could block the ability to hear oncoming traffic and emergency vehicles. You don't have to worry about using a cell phone while driving in this vehicle because you would not be able to hear the other person. I understand that all Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury SUV's are a part of this tech-bulletin. The years that are affected are 2002-2006. Please consider issuing a recall soon.

- Camden, SC, USA

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