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 6 of 6)

« Read the previous 20 complaints

problem #7

Jul 242005


  • 16,000 miles


Factory rearend was replaced in my 03 Ford Explorer. Since then the problem of gradual rearend deterioration has not been fixed. If the rearend fails catastrophically then a serious accident could occur. Ford motors does not consider this to be a safety concern, but it definitely is. Ford should recall all vehicles with the defective rearends and fix their problem.

- Bremerton, WA, USA

problem #6

Sep 252007

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 55,000 miles
Rear axle loud noise. Front left wheel bearing became extremely noisy. Automatic 4WD control engaged unexpectedly during low speed turns and parking. Several visits to the Ford repair shop, almost $2.5K in repairs, "erroneously" diagnosed. Results: Finally, failures still in place. What a shame!!!

- Santiago, 00, USA

problem #5

Jul 142004

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 12,000 miles
Consistent rear axle whine from 45-65 miles per hour highway driving, dealer, ramp Ford in port jefferson, NY replaced rear end three different occasions, and finally stated that all Explorer make the same noise. They could not give me any indication whether or not this is a safety issue. I definitely get the feeling that they wish I would just go away. There are numerous tsb's on this issue and I can not understand why there is not a recall on this obvious defect.

- Sayville, NY, USA

problem #4

Jun 012005

Explorer 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • miles


I have a 2003 Ford Explorer XLT 4X4, I have had nothing but problems with it, a few months ago I took it to the dealership because the ABS light was on and the 4X4 was not working properly, they supposedly fixed it and told us they replaced a speed sensor, they also found 2 rear axle seal leaks and supposedly fixed those, then in October of '05 I took it in to the dealership because it was jerking between 30 and 40 mph and upon acceleration on hills not mention that I could hear something happening underneath my vehicle, they put it up on the rack and came back out and said the clutch in the rear end was scorched and needed to have the whole rear end replace, so I did but when I was driving it back home after the repair it started jerking again, and after several weeks of worry and wonder another dealership tells me that the transfer case is bad, my Explorer is trying to engage itself in 4X4, so now I am having the transfer case replaced! my Explorer has 41,000 on it right now and Ford has not been much of a help, I have to pay $1500 for the transfer case, I will never buy another Ford product, I will buy a foreign car. Ford really needs to look into all of the complaints and technical service bulletins on these vehicles and I will do anything I can to promote that.

- Hull, GA, USA

problem #3

Sep 282005

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 47,400 miles
I own a Ford Explorer 2003 V6 truck I have had Ford vehicles for the last 15 years. My issue is with Ford service and the trucks transmission. I was in the service bay on August 17 for routine recall stuff and added some basic services to my visit. Oil change, flush and transmission fluid change/check was in order. $500 later I am out the door. 25 days after the initial visit I am back at Ford with concerns about my transmission. It seems to be whining and revving high while changing into 2nd and or 5th gear. The fluid all over my driveway certainly didn't give me a comfortable feeling. Ford service confirmed a problem but could not diagnose it unless they tore it apart. I was instructed to make an appointment at the end of the month because the trans mechanic would be on vacation through end of month. I made an appointment for my truck to "once again" visit the Ford service for an overnight visit. On September 29th. Dropped it off and never got a call for three days. On October 3 end of business day, I called. They seemed to have forgotten my vehicle and would work on it the next day. Tuesday I get a call in the mid morning stating that I need a new transmission or a rebuilt one. Pricing ranges from $2600 to $3400. They couldn't tell my why or any more specifics on how an engine with 47K needs a new transmission. Especially since it was recently in the shop for routine transmission maintenance less than 30 days prior to the incident. To whom it may concern...I have had many Ford for the past 20 years and I have never seen a transmission go up under 50K miles. Whether the service guys didn't tighten up something right or Ford has an inferior product; I feel that I should not be held responsible for this issue. Please advise.

- Timonium, MD, USA

problem #2

Oct 152003


  • Automatic transmission
  • 0 miles
I have recently bought 2 brand new Ford from champion Ford in shreveport Louisiana. My brand new Ford XLT Explorer 2 door sport has been in the shop for various repairs longer than I have had the vehicle. The vehicle was purchased on 09/27/2003 since then the hood had to be re-painted, both side body molding has been replaced, the front turn signal light came loose, both bottom exterior body door trim had to be replaced, interior trim piece below the rear window broke and had to be re-placed, but the main problem is a vibration in the motor/transmission that vibrates the dash I have spent already over $60 in gas back and forth to dealership, me and my wife have taken off two days at work costing us over $500 in loss of pay, I have already paid the first truck note and insurance payment and now the truck is back at the dealership for repairs for approximately one more week of repairs. On 10/17/2003 the truck was brought back to the dealership and my wife drove another Explorer of the same make/model and had no problems I then was told by the service mgr. That this problem was inherent to this make/model. I then approached the sale mgr. With the hopes of either exchanging or trading up too the 4 door model to help defray the profit loss. It was explained to me that the vehicle had already depreciated some $4000 and that to swap vehicles it would cost me an additional $75 an up a month car note. I have contacted Ford Motor Company who basically told me I was stuck with the vehicle even though the dealership has had the vehicle longer than I have had it. I was sent from employee to employee mgr. Of this to mgr. Of that. I would appreciate any information or ideas you could provide me with this situation. This vehicle is to be my wife's truck and I would like her in a safe truck that is safe for her to travel in. The dealership has already replaced the cosmetic faults but has stated that this problem is of doubtful outcome.

- Pineville, LA, USA

problem #1

Apr 172003


  • 6,000 miles
The vehicle rolled backwards while in the park. The dealership was unable to duplicate the problem.

- Harrodsburg, KY, USA

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