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.


hardly worth mentioning
Crashes / Fires:
0 / 0
Injuries / Deaths:
0 / 0
Average Mileage:
64,928 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 #7

Oct 152007

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 120,000 miles


The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. While driving 30 mph, the contact heard a whining noise coming from the vehicle. The noise becomes louder as the vehicle travels faster. The whining appears to be coming from the rear suspension. The failure mileage was 120,000 and current mileage was 144,800. Updated 04/14/08. The consumer stated the transmission was replaced at no charge by Ford at 55,000 miles due to a defect. The 4-wheel drive makes excessive noise when in gear. Updated

- Saddle Brook , NJ, USA

problem #6

Jan 302008

Explorer 4WD 8-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 40,000 miles
The transfer case failed on our 2003 Ford Explorer. This is a known problem at Ford and due to a design flaw with the Explorer. It cost $2,000 to fix. Our mechanic referred us to a transmission/transfer case specialist who had seen multiple Explorer with this problem. Ford should issue a recall for this known defect. The consequences of a failure in the transfer case can be a complete shredding of the gears and sudden loss of power, which could be extremely dangerous.

- Evanston, IL, USA

problem #5

May 112007

Explorer 4WD 8-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 70,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. The contact stated that she heard a clicking sound during deceleration. A mechanic diagnosed the cause of failure as a worn out range hub in the transfer case. The contact stated that she could never get out of 4 wheel drive, which burns more gas and activates components that are unnecessary during normal driving. The current mileage is 73,000 and failure mileage was 70,000. Updated 02-01-08

- Stroudsburg, PA, USA

problem #4

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 #3

Oct 272006

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 89,583 miles
I bought a 2003 Ford Explorer the end of April 2006 at time of purchase ABS light was on- dealer fixed problem within first 1 1/2 weeks of purchase after ordering a part. Now 6 months after purchase the check engine and O/D light come on unexpectantly. Within 1 week of lights coming on car stops on me unexpectantly. When taken to a repair shop for I am told I need a new alternator and a rebuilt transmission as the SUV slips out of 2nd and 5th gears. I didn't purchase an extended warranty due to thinking it was still under original warranty and just purchased. I felt the dealership should have overhauled the vehicle and made sure everything was working up to par. I now have a repair bill of almost $2000 and don't feel responsible for it.

- Rochester, NY, USA

problem #2

Feb 192005

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 38,914 miles
Clutch in transfer case defective. Causes vehicle to shift into 4 wheel drive unexpectedly.

- Denver, CO, USA

problem #1

Jul 012004

Explorer 4WD 8-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • miles
Various complaints involving the 2003 Ford Explorer XLT. Consumer believed that noise on vehicle was coming from rear. Repairs and/or replacements were made on: Front and rear suspensions, transfer case, and seals in the rear axle due to leak. Now, consumer is waiting for a new axle assembly to be replaced on the vehicle. Also, a cooling system noise on vehicle but dealer coudn't find the source of the problem.

- Statesville, NC, USA

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