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.


definitely annoying
Crashes / Fires:
0 / 0
Injuries / Deaths:
0 / 0
Average Mileage:
34,074 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

problem #6

Mar 172007

Explorer 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 32,900 miles


Purchased a 2003 Explorer XLT in November 2003. Within a few months noticed a leak that originated from differential area. Took to dealer was told a seal had to be replaced and everything should be ok. Took a family trip recently, the first one in the Explorer on March 17, 2007 and rear axle seal failed on a 1,200 mile round trip. Called Ford customer service and explained what happened, I even explained there were several tsb concerning my issue, I was informed that it was not a recall therefore it wasn't covered. I was told by Ford to go and have it diagnosed by local dealer, same one that fixed the problem originally. I had problem's diagnosed, called Ford and was told that dealer would provide "customer care after warranty". called dealer waiting for reply for next step. My Explorer only has 33,600 miles while 1,200 miles were placed in the last few days, and warranty expired 4 months back.

- Las Cruces, NM, USA

problem #5

Jan 312007


  • Automatic transmission
  • 39,000 miles
- the contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer XLT. The contact stated that the vehicle was making noises, wining, and grinding. The contact stated that the differential system failed and needed to be replaced. Also, the following components needed to be replaced: Clutches, ring, pinion, carrier bearing, pinion bearing, and pinion seal. The contact had to update the axle seals. At the time of the original failure the vehicle had an odometer reading of 37,000 miles and the warranty had just lapsed. The contact did not believe that the weather was a factor, and the sounds were always when she was in the process of accelerating. The contact stated that it started very slowly and became an every day occurrence.

- Apex, NC, USA

problem #4

Jan 012006

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 34,000 miles
Rear axle noise. Started at about 34,000 miles but I did not bring to Ford until just after the 3 year warranty. Ford would do nothing and said repair was about $2,000. At 42,000 now and noise is getting worse.

- New Canaan, CT, USA

problem #3

Jun 052006

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 58,000 miles


At 58,000 miles, both left and right rear axle seals developed substantial leakage necessitating immediate repair. Ford dealership service department made no mention that this was a known problem and required full payment by me for cost of replacement.

- West Windsor, NJ, USA

problem #2

May 042004

Explorer 4WD

  • Automatic transmission
  • 40,000 miles
Aroiund 37,000 miles I started having electrical problems. Half of them go off when they should and half of them stay on which runs my battery down and I have to be jumped. Then around 40,000 mile I started hearing a lound whining noise from my rear end. The dealer said nothing was wrong. It is so loud you have to almost yell to talk to someone. Then at 47,000 miles my service engine light soon started coming on. It has something to do with the coolant area. I am afraid to take my vehicle out of town and I owe too much on it to trade it.

- Willard, OH, USA

problem #1

Oct 062003

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 544 miles
Had to replace rear axle seals on 2003 Explorer with 500 on new vehicle.

- Moundridge, KS, USA

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