Print this page 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 1 of 2)

problem #28

Mar 312008

Explorer 6-cyl

  • miles


2003 Ford Explorer. Consumer writes in regards to humming/whining noise in the rear end of vehicle and a frequent leak in the differential. The consumer stated several components such as the ring an pinion, bearings, seals and gear and pinion were all replaced. However, the issue remained unresolved. Also, the rear hatch was cracked. When the consumer inquired about a replacement and its cost, the dealer advised against the replacement/repair as the new hatches had the same problem. The vehicle overheated and had to be towed to the dealer. A diagnosis revealed a damaged thermostat housing.

- Austin, TX, USA

problem #27

Mar 152011

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 39,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. The contact stated that she noticed a fracture on the lift gate window. The vehicle was taken to a dealer where they advised her that she would have to have the panel replaced. The manufacturer was contacted and they offered no assistance. The failure mileage was approximately 39,000. Updated 04/26/12 the consumer also stated the rear differential was replaced.

- Puyallup, WA, USA

problem #26

Jun 222007


  • Automatic transmission
  • 60,508 miles
Excessive whine/noise coming from the rear end of the vehicle, at highway speeds.

- Shawnee, KS, USA

problem #25

Oct 022007

Explorer 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 50,000 miles


The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. While driving 25 mph, the rear end of the vehicle suddenly slumped and the rear driver side tire detached from the vehicle. The wheel, brake, rotor, lower control arm, and axle were damaged. Repairs were made. The current and failure mileages were 50,000. Updated 01/09/08. The dealer replaced brake pads and rear end vibrating. Updated 12/12/07

- Oxford, GA, USA

problem #24

Sep 222007

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 83,000 miles
I bought a 2003 Ford Explorer in June of 07 with no problems in Sept of 07 I started to experience a load noise coming from the rear of the vehicle sounding like a tire was flat or something was rubbing. I took it into the shop and they told me that the rear diff was out on this and it was going to cost several thousand dollars to fix. I contacted Ford they acknowledge the problem but refused to fix it and said that it was not under warranty so they weren't going to do anything about it. I now sit hear with something that I owe money on and can not afford to fix. I have a wife and a son and this is our only mode of transportation. I am very upset that Ford does not stand behind their products like they should. There are numerous complaints on the internet about the same problem but with no solution.

- Pontiac, IL, USA

problem #23

Jan 132007

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 96,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. After installing two new tires on the front of the vehicle the contact heard a thumping sound while driving. The dealer stated that the sound was caused by the difference in tread between the new tires and older rear tires, causing the front differential and transfer case to fail. The current and failure mileages were 96,000.

- St.Louis, MO, USA

problem #22

Feb 022007

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 49,000 miles


I was driving my 2003 Ford explore and I started to here and noise from the rear end when I took off from a dead stop. I didn't worry about it right any, then it kept getting worse, so I took it in to the Ford dealership where I bought it and they said the clutch was bad in the differential and it would be between 500 to 700 to fix. This Explorer only has 49,000 miles on it. My wife drives this car and I know it has never been beat on. I still do not have my truck back yet it has been in the shop for about 4 days now. I am about up to 1200 dollars in repairs. I have read several complaints about this same thing on the internet. I juast can't understand why they don't have a recall.

- Fort Wayne, IN, USA

problem #21

Feb 262007

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 92,000 miles
I purchased a 2003 Ford Explorer XLT. I quickly noticed a noise from the rear of the vehicle when speeds of 55-60 mph were achieved. After bringing the vehicle to the auto repair shop I was told that the rear differential needed to be replaced and that it was not only dangerous to drive but extremely expensive. After some research I have discovered that this is a common issue with the Ford Explorer. Should this type of repair that could result in human injury, be addressed by Ford. I am hopeful that your answer will be yes!

- Hamden, CT, USA

problem #20

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 #19

Jun 302004


  • miles
Excessive noise form rear drivetrain.

- Waxahachie , TX, USA

problem #18

Nov 302006

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 30,000 miles


My 2003 Ford Explorer 4X4 has developed a severe binding, shudder sensation in the rear axel during low speed turning maneuvers. It also has a whining sound at highway speeds, typically 55 - 70 mph). This vehicle has only 34,000 miles on it and the dealer wants to rebuild the rear axle/differential - at my expense since the 3 year warranty time limit is up. If let go, the Ford dealer indicates the rear axle could 'blow up' (their words), resulting in a complete loss of drive to the rear wheel. I have discovered at least six (6) technical service bulletins issued by Ford on this problem! this is obviously a bad design and latent defect which can effect the safe operation of the vehicle.

- Annapolis, MD, USA

problem #17

Sep 152003

Explorer 4WD 8-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 6,000 miles
2003 Ford Explorer eddie bauer. 50 to 60 mph rear axle whine started at 6000 miles, at 12,000 miles dealer inspected and said the rear axle assy was unsafe to drive and replaced the assy. Whine returned and dealer replaced the assy again at 24,000 miles. Whine has returned and I am considering going to independent shop to repair since beyond 36,000 mile warranty. Can't understand why Ford can't fix this widespread problem.

- Clio, CA, USA

problem #16

Mar 252006

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • miles
Rear axle noise, replaced at a price of 1200 dollars.

- East Longmeadow, MA, USA

problem #15

Feb 222006

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 37,000 miles
: the contact stated during cornering and emergency maneuvers the rear differential locks up. There is also a shudder in the steering at this time. This has become progressively worse over the last 4,000 miles. The manufacturer stated the rear differential clutch pack required redesign. There is a new clutch pack available at the consumer's cost.

- Pleasanton, CA, USA

problem #14

Jun 162004

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 29,000 miles
Roaring sound coming from the back end of the truck.

- Glasgow, KY, USA

problem #13

Feb 032006

Explorer 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 9,000 miles
Purchased new 2003 Ford Explorer. At around 9000 miles had rear end replaced due to infamous loud whining noise. Problem improved...but was not completely fixed. After complaining that there was still some noise, sale Ford in kingston, nc said it was "uneven tire wear." Replaced 2 tires. When taken back and told there was still a problem, we were told that they had "done all they could do except offer us a good deal on a trade." (like we will ever buy from them again). At 59,000 miles, we are now having rear end "chatter" when starting or stopping. Ford is crap and so is their customer service.

- Lagrange, NC, USA

problem #12

Dec 042004

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 41,000 miles
Whining noise coming from rear became louder 41,000 mile on odo dealer advised rear wheel bearings seals and strut inserts, we had the repairs made $1000 one year later we noticed more noise and chatter when turning, dealer advised rear differential needs rebuild, and new clutch packs. We are having the repairs made at this time. These are expensive problems Ford should be held responsible.

- Buffalo Grove, IL, USA

problem #11

May 012005

Explorer 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 30,000 miles
Loud whine coming from rear differential.

- Pleasant Grove, AL, USA

problem #10

Jan 052005

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 73,971 miles
2nd rear differential needing replacement (replaced rear end and both axle bearings). This replacement at 73,971 miles. Previous rear differential replacement about 12K miles earlier. Neither replacement covered under warranty, however 2 failures and the second at only 12,000 miles.

- Decatur, GA, USA

problem #9

Jun 172005

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 37,100 miles
After a shudder was felt in the steering at 14,580 mi., it was discovered that the problem was in the rear-end. Ford recommended a rear-end additive. (which was performed). At 37,000 mi. The shudder returned and a new clutch pack was installed in the rear-end. After receiving car from dealer, a whine started to occur between 50 to 70 mph. Took back to dealer and was told this was normal. I called Ford motor and they recommend that a "ring and pinion repair kit" be installed to prevent failure. Dealer does not think this should be installed and that vehicle is O.K. to drive even though the tech can hear the noise.

- Anderson, CA, USA

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