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:
32,703 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 2 of 2)

« Read the previous 20 complaints

problem #8

Jun 052005

Explorer 4WD 8-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 35,000 miles


Dear NHTSA: In October 2003 I purchased the nbx - V8 version of the Ford Explorer with an upgraded tow package for my wife. She never uses the tow package and I, very occasionally pull a 300lb utility trailer. I get the oil changed religiously and recently had the 30,000 mile 4WD lubrication package from Goodyear for approx. $500. At 34,000mi my wife began to notice a non-descript noise in the rear end, a rumble at slow speeds while turning. She carries things in the back and thought they were rolling around. I drove the car at 36,600 mi and also noticed the noise but we had a low rear tire and I thought it was the tire pressure. The tire actually picked up a nail and went flat and I brought the tire to Goodyear for repair. After the repair the rear end noise persisted only at low speeds and we finally got the car in to Goodyear for evaluation at 38,000 miles. They replaced the rear differential fluid again and the noise persisted. They then went on line and pulled a technical service bulletin tsb 04-17-5 which was for limited slip axle chatter, shudder, binding sensation or vibration during low speed turning maneuvers in 2002-2004 Ford Explorer, 2003-2004 Expedition and 2004 F-150S. This was exactly what I was experiencing. Since this vehicle is not used off road, is not used to tow anything heavy, is pampered but does get a fair amount of highway miles 38,000mi in 19 months, I felt that having a transmission problem at this stage was unusual. Well, after talking to my manager at work, half the Ford Explorer fleet in boston was having this problem, with one vehicle in the shop 3 months and one never seeing the light of day yet. The tsb noted problems with the entire transmission. What about next time"? my vehicle. Vehicle # [xxx] Ford Explorer silver V8 nbx version? they also know they have a real problem with their transmissions and the consumer will end up eating it. Is Ford quality job 1?" information redacted pursuant to the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. 552(B)(6)

- Mansfield, MA, USA

problem #7

Aug 282004

Explorer 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 9,000 miles
Transmission clunking from reverse to forward or from forward to reverse. Whirling sound, 55-65 mph, rear differential.

- San Antonio, TX, USA

problem #6

Sep 102004

Explorer 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 25,000 miles
1 loud noise coming from rear-end(whining)2.fluid forced from front of differential.3. rear-end replaced 4 times to no avail.

- Oakland, TN, USA

problem #5

Jan 062005

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 35,000 miles


Bought vehicle Nov 2002. No problems till Jan 2005 at approx 35000 mi. Whining noise coming from rear end at 45 - 65 mph. Hoped problem would go away but has not. Vehicle past warranty in Feb 2005 when brought in for tailgate recall at 37,000. Dealer would not look at problem. Currently driving vehicle with whining noise.

- Clark, NJ, USA

problem #4

Feb 132003

Explorer 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 600 miles
At 600 MINIwinding in rear end deler said drive it and see if it gets better it did not so at around 2000 mi damerow Ford replaced all bearings and seals problem worse then before seals went out, and had to be towed in to damerow Ford replaced rear end with tested rearend same problem at 2400 mi same problem at aprox. 3000 mi later damrow replaced with another svt rear edn this was also, tested and again at 19,000 mi and ait was replaced at mackenzie Ford at 25,000 mi it was replaced again and now it has abad vibration noise 40 to 70 mi and above at 28,000 it goes back tommorrow we will see what if nothing they can do.

- Cornelius, OR, USA

problem #3

Aug 242003

Explorer 4WD 8-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 9,500 miles
I purchased a new 2003 Explorer XLT in mid-February 2003. At about 9500 miles the SUV developed a whining noise from the rear differential. Local Ford dealer confirms noise, but is unable to fix as "Ford engineers have not yet found a fix" also at 3800 miles the at failed and was repaired-not replaced. Local dealer is supposed to let me know. As of 3/9/04 no word. This SUV is a poor vehicle.

- San Antonio, NM, USA

problem #2

Oct 142003

Explorer 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • miles
Excessive whining noise coming from the rear differential/drive axles/driveshaft area of the vehicle at speeds between 50 and 60 M.P.H.

- Humble, TX, USA

problem #1

Oct 072003


  • miles
While driving between 35 mph and up consumer heard loud noise coming from under the vehicle. Dealer stated the need to replace the differential.

- Modesto, CA, USA

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