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.


fairly significant
Typical Repair Cost:
Average Mileage:
70,100 miles
Total Complaints:
39 complaints

Most Common Solutions:

  1. not sure (21 reports)
  2. replace rear axle bearings (7 reports)
  3. ford replaced rear end (3 reports)
  4. relaced seal (2 reports)
  5. replace ring and pinion (2 reports)
  6. Ford agreed to pick up the tab except for $200 (1 reports)
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 #19

Apr 012008

Explorer XLS V6

  • Automatic transmission
  • 49,000 miles


well i would complain and believe me i would because i own 3 Fords all fairly new .

but i wouldn't know how to contact you assholes since you moved to freaking Mexico. thanks. you people @ ford need to take care of the problems you dumped on us.

- bean, Riverside, RI, US

problem #18

Feb 262008


  • Automatic transmission
  • 56,000 miles

i have the same problem, unfortunately i purchased the vehicle at 56,000 miles and my warranty was for 2000 miles or 2 months. I immediately heard the noise when I drove the car home and complained to the dealer. The dealer suggested to drive for 1000 miles and then if noise persist bring it in to service, end result they will replace the ring and pinion for free no deductible at 57,000 miles and ring & pinion has a warranty for 1yr 12,000 miles. Now i wish I bought a different vehicle.

- carltone, Duluth, GA, US

problem #17

Mar 032008

Explorer XLT 3.2L V6

  • Automatic transmission
  • 90,000 miles

For approx. 1 year now the rear end of my car has been making a grinding noise. Most noticeable when I go from a stopped position. Also, the noise happens when I turn left or right after being in stopped. The grinding noise was occasionally happening but now it seems to be every time I go. Now I have heard a whining noise when I accelerate to about 60mph. When I let off the gas and coast I do not hear the whining anymore. This vehicle has been a problem ever since I bought it. I would like to trade it in but probably won't get much for it. Looking back I wish I never bought it. Trying to help out local plant and buy a ford since my husband also works for ford. Next time I will think twice before purchasing a ford. Maybe if ford would step up and take care of their mistakes they wouldn't have such a bad rep.

- Erika M., Louisville, KY, US

problem #16

Nov 142007

Explorer XLS 4.0L V6

  • Automatic transmission
  • 60,000 miles


i think there is definitely a prob that ford should address with all of the owners of these

explorers! you think u can rely on fords name and quality and in return u get burned

by their mistakes! i recently started having the common rear end noise! and now it has

started to sound like the pinion and ring gear are fighting to go together!(grinding)!!! out

of the factory warranty of course! gonna cost $1300 just to replace rear end plus labor!!

we should do something about this asap!

- sxychocolate30, chesnee, sc, US

problem #15

Feb 142008

Explorer 4.6L V8

  • Automatic transmission
  • 100,000 miles

I think that all of these rear differentials are prone to leaking not failing. the neglect of the owners letting them run dry or low on fluid until its to late. they overheat. and one guy saying he had to gun the motor to make a turn.... come on. or a whine in the rear end kept getting worse and worse....just turn the music up louder! if a differential can't hold much fluid change it more often! just running the rig until you can't stand the noise anymore is where the real cost is. maintain your truck and it will return the investment.

- Matt M., Ch'town, PE, Canada

problem #14

Jan 022008

Explorer Eddie 4.6L V8

  • Automatic transmission
  • 43,000 miles

Just paid off my Explorer in December of 07. I start hearing a wining noise that is getting louder. Took it to my mechanic and he tells me the bad news," Rear Differential". Then he shook his head and said, that's a shame! With 43,000 miles that's a shame. He felt so bad he didn't charge me to look at it. He said, your gonna need a few thousand to fix it. I couldn't do anything but shake my head. My first new car that cost me 30,000 over five years. I'll fix it then trade it after hearing it can happen again.

- Tommy J., Pittsburgh, PA, US

problem #13

Feb 052007

Explorer EB 4.6L

  • Automatic transmission
  • 45,000 miles


As a life long Ford customer, the list of problems with this vehicle has been a real dissappointment. See ya Ford, may be time to but an import.

- condo808, Amherstburg, ON, Canada

problem #12

Jan 272008

(reported on)

Explorer Eddie Baurer 4.6L V8

  • Automatic transmission
  • 85,000 miles

I had the rearend replaced twice under warranty. The noise came back about 15,000 miles after the warranty was over. I drove it another 20,000 miles listening to the noise. Then it started leaking fluid. Had it repaired. Doesn't leak but now has problems again. I went to Ford to order a whole new rearend but was told that the $1300 readend was on backorder because they have so many bad ones. Ford really needs to recall the 2003 rearends. I will never buy another "Fart Exploder" again.

- Clifford A., Shawnee, KS, US

problem #11

Nov 222007

Explorer Eddie Bauer V6

  • Automatic transmission
  • 68,000 miles

Going to Ford Dealer tomorrow will update the comment after I get wacked with the bill to fix the problem. However, I may just trade the explorer for different make....

- Steve R., Cumberland Center, ME, US

problem #10

Oct 082004

Explorer XLS 4.0L

  • Automatic transmission
  • 20,000 miles

for starters the entire front trans axle went out at 20000 miles that was covered under warranty. there was always the annoying whine in the rear end that the dealer told me was normal and not to worry about. I now have 85,000 miles on her and I just spent $500 on replacing the front and rear differential fluid, the transfer case fluid, coolant, fuel filter, and I had the injectors cleaned. The whine has decreased for now but it is still there. I have a seal leak in the front and rear passenger side axles that will get fixed on the next trip. I am also on my original rear brakes I am planning on fixing those in the near future also. At 74,000 miles I had to have a solenoid replaced in the transmission it caused my antilock brake light to come on. I think total money out of pocket in repairs over the past 4 years is around $3,000 The front trans axle covered under warranty was $3,000 so $6,000 in repairs for a vehicle that I paid $31,000 for. I hope Ford is getting their stuff together!

- Chris G., Ftw, TX, US

problem #9

Oct 282007

(reported on)

Explorer XLT 4.0L V6

  • Automatic transmission
  • 55,000 miles


I've had the rear differential on my 2003 Explorer XLT replaced 3 times. Luckily the first two times were under warranty, but the last time I wasn't so lucky. I had no extended warranty so when it started whining the third time I knew it was going to be costly for me. I was told by my FORD service advisor that it was just a gear noise that posed no safety risk, so I dealt with it and drove with the whine for about 20,000 miles. It was then that I noticed fluid leaking from the rear end and I knew I had to take it in again. It was then that I was told it was good I brought it in because it could have seized up (great thing to think about huh with two kids and my wife being the primary users of the vehicle). I had a track record of prior issues so FORD agreed to pay all but $150 to replace it for the third time. I have about 30,000 miles on this last differential and have not heard any noise, but now I drive without a gas gauge because the "fuel sending unit" is bad and they want almost $1,000 to replace it (engineers put FSU inside fuel pump so whole thing has to be replaced). I don't have the money to fix the gas gauge so I really fear the cost of another differential issue if they decide to snub me because of mileage). I'm all for a lawsuit especially seeing how I was told the differential issue posed no safety threat and something awful could have happened to me and my family. We depend on FORD to build affordable and safe cars because otherwise we're forced to buy foreign models. My other car is foreign just because I need one to commute to and from work in and I can't afford TWO cars that are money pits (or the horrible Explorer gas mileage). I may own two foreign cars here soon.

- Chad C., Little Elm, TX, US

problem #8

Aug 272007

(reported on)

Explorer XLT 4.0L

  • Automatic transmission
  • 44,000 miles

Here's another 2003 Explorer rear axle noise problem. Soon after the warranty expired, noise started coming from the rear that sounds like snow tires. Ford mechanic said this is a common problem and it needs new rear axle ring and pinion (R&P) gears. Despite numerous problems that Explorer owners had, Ford just recommended heavier oil and upgraded to new R&P materials, instead of acting responsibly with a recall.

- exploder, Raleigh, NC, US

problem #7

Jun 272007

(reported on)

Explorer XLT 4.6L V8

  • Automatic transmission
  • 4,000 miles

Notice loud whine at about 55 mph from new, at 3,000 miles dealer replaced fluid in rear end and added additive, did not help, waited a month while dealer ordered new rear end, at 4,000 miles it was replaced, noise went away.

- Dennis A., Denver, CO, US

problem #6

Jul 192007

(reported on)

Explorer Limited 4.0L

  • Automatic transmission
  • 84,000 miles

In 84,000 miles, 4 trips to the dealer for rear differential related problems. First, chattering. Fixed with new grease/additive. Second, leaking seals. Replaced with improved seals. When this was done, I mentioned the whining from the rear and was told that "it was normal". I'm not stupid, I know it's not normal but I didn't have time to press the issue. Third, rear ABS sensor failure (in the differential). Replaced. Now, a part throttle vibration in the rear that started at 75mph and progressively got worse until it was any speed over 60mph. Dealer says it's a "definite problem in the ring and pinion" and offered a 10% discount on repairs but didn't give a price. I sensed he was feeling sorry for me as I thought I heard the sound of cash registers ringing in the background. Ford customer service says "Sorry." Internet search reveals this is not an isolated problem.

- Mike C., Huntington, WV, US

problem #5

Jul 032007

(reported on)

Explorer XLT V8

  • Automatic transmission
  • 64,000 miles

I have 64,000 miles on my Explorer. Both right and left rear axle bearings replaced twice in 6 months, first time at 59,000 and again at 64,000 miles. I still have the rear axle noise as you do at about 60 - 70 MPH, under slight acceleration. Very bothersome to the back seat passenger. My local Ford dealer never admitted to the whine being there or there is a TSB.

- astroman, Livonia, MI, US

problem #4

Mar 202007

(reported on)

Explorer XLT 4.0L V6

  • Automatic transmission
  • 55,000 miles

What's going on with the pinion seals. This is the second time for the rear pinion seal on the rear differential and the first time for the front pinion seal. If it was not for the extended warranty I would be be plenty pi----!!

- Jeff H., Dauphin, MB, Canada

problem #3

Mar 202007

(reported on)

Explorer XLT 4.0L V6

  • Automatic transmission
  • 35,000 miles

Leaking rear pinion seal on rear differential. Pinion seal failure on rear differential after only 35k miles!

- Jeff H., Dauphin, MB, Canada

problem #2

Jan 042007

(reported on)

Explorer XLT 4.6L V8

  • Automatic transmission
  • 75,000 miles

Ford Motor knows about this issue with the rear axles on the Explorers! Make them repair it for free or threaten to sue!

- John S., Baltimore, MD, US

problem #1

Sep 302006

(reported on)

Explorer V6

  • Automatic transmission
  • 102,000 miles

Do a search on google: "explorer rear axle noise" and you will see many folks have this problem. So many that ford put out a TSB on it. I am a mechanic and I can tell a rear pinion bearing noise from tire noise. My wife did not even notice it. The noise is a whine or woooo sound while accelerating/crusing around 50-60mph in the rear end and goes away when coasting. If you hear this, you have problem. Its the pinion and axle bearings in the rear end.

- Lee R., Mobile, AL, US

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