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 1 of 2)

problem #39

Oct 052012

Explorer XLT 4.0L V6

  • Automatic transmission
  • 53,300 miles


This is the second installment report on our 2003 Ford Explorer failure experience.

While returning from a local trip in October 2012, I noticed a sudden loud humming sound coming from the rear of the vehicle. Suffice it say I immediately knew that something was going bad with the drive train and likely the rear differential member.

As the noise increased I knew an inspection was due so I contacted a locally trusted auto repair shop for advice. The Explorer was inspected and a determination made that the rear differential was going bad and that it either needed a complete rebuild or possibly the entire rear member replaced. Advice was given that possibly an aftermarket rear member might be best if available as replacing or rebuilding with Ford parts may just lead to the same problem in the future. Suggested repair costs were between $1500 and up depending on what work is finally done and what parts are replaced. Noted is that this repair shop had done this work before on other Ford Explorers and didn't seem too interested in fixing my problem. My conclusion is that the fix would come back on them in the future and they never contacted me with possible alternatives, updates or business interest as to if I wanted to go ahead and schedule a repair.

Again I have come to realize, after the fact, that Ford knew of this problem at the very time we picked up our new 2003 Explorer. They knew these differentials were going to fail as they knew our engine would fail as well and they were betting on the failure to beat the warranty period so they could deny fixing these systemic Ford failure defects. The uninformed buyer is as always the loser in so many ways due to these practices by major car manufacturers. Only when a problem is considered a safety hazard by the government do manufacturers have to pony up large sums of cash for their factory defects due to part failure or poor workmanship or both!

And, as we all know, we have had to pour enormous tax funds to bail out the automotive industry for bad products, practices and corporate decisions that have hurt the country, the economy and every single tax paying citizen! When does the question of how many times are we going to accept this come in to play?!

Defects such as the ones we have experienced are swept aside by the government and the auto industry and the consumer is the victim with major financial decisions and losses that cause grief, suspicion and a vehement resolve to never trust Ford or any car manufacturer, foreign or domestic, that condones such practices of known vehicle defects that put consumers money and lives at risk without accepting responsibility for these seriously defective vehicle issues.

I decided that to fix the rear noise was like throwing good money away after bad money was already invested and to live with the noise until it totally failed at which time a repair would have to made. I drained and refilled the rear with top quality synthetic oil as well as the differential additive called for and did this twice within that year. The rear continued to hum along for the next two and half years (2 1/2) and 9,575 miles driven since the beginning of the rear noise until the engine blew (reported on on April 15, 2015 at 62,875 miles and a total loss and worthless to repair!

So many consumers have been victimized by automobile manufacturers that refuse to accept responsibility for their grievous actions of intentional denial of factory defects it only confirms my beliefs that nothing is more imperative than an informed, vigilant and intelligent buyer who has done all that they could to be forewarned against deceptive manufacturing defects and to take every precaution to protect their investment as far out as they can or as for as long as they intend on keeping said investment.

At this point in our lives we have decided that we have little regard or confidence in major automobile manufacturers, after all, plunking down $30,000 and up is a liability and very risky based on past performances of Ford and other major car makers who continue to deny responsibility for defects that they knew of and continued to sell to victims such as we are.

We will lease from now on for no longer than the bumper to bumper warranty. We will have car payments for the rest of our lives due to this fact. We will have a new vehicle every three years and we will drive it and take care of it as if it was ours as this is our responsibility that we accept fully without question.

This is our obligation to the dealership and the leasing agent and we take our responsibilities and obligations extremely serious and would only hope the automobile industry would do as well and not leave so many disillusioned and distraught customers hanging in the wind from bad manufacturing and corporate decisions that ripple down throughout the country and cause so much distrust and anger!

- tomasedy, Warrenton, VA, US

problem #38

Aug 012014

Explorer XLT 4.0L

  • Automatic transmission
  • 137,000 miles

At 40 mph I get a noise from the rear end that goes away at 45 mph.

- robbea, Savannah, GA, US

problem #37

Jun 012014

Explorer XLT 4.0L

  • Automatic transmission
  • 140,000 miles

Noise occurs at 40 mph and goes away around 45 mph. If stay at 40, the noise will stay.

- robbea, Savannah, GA, US

problem #36

Aug 012011

Explorer XS 4.0L V6

  • Automatic transmission
  • 42,000 miles


it started from the noise when speed up to 60 mph. and then a smell came out. Mechanic said the rear axle was melted. I have to pay because the car was out of 5 years warranty.

- psakul, Norwalk, CA, US

problem #35

Mar 102003

Explorer Limited 4.6L

  • Automatic transmission
  • 83,523 miles

Howling rear ends in the 21st century? I hope the manufacturers read these sites to see how they are thought of by the consumers.

- layrubbernow, Miami, FL, US

problem #34

Jan 032011

Explorer Eddie Bauer 4.6L V8

  • Automatic transmission
  • 98,000 miles

Sounds like im driving a Sherman Tank! Road noise is horrible even with the windows up. If I put the windows down, It really sounds like im driving in the middle of a tornado.

- aclael, Harlingen, TX, US

problem #33

Jan 012005

Explorer V6

  • Automatic transmission
  • 60,000 miles


Ring and Pinion needed replacing as the rear end whine has been getting progressively worse over last 40K miles. Turns out wheel bearings also needed replacement as well as ring and pinion. Total cost was $1700 and considering other reports of same problem with return of problem, I am hopeful this will not become recurring, otherwise, good-bye Ford next car purchase!

- dezeez, Inyokern, CA, US

problem #32

Aug 132010

Explorer XLT 4.0L V6

  • Automatic transmission
  • 132,000 miles

I have only owned FORDS my whole life, as well as my family. I have 5 sitting in my driveway. NEVER had a problem with any of them except my 2003 Ford Explorer. It has horrible binding and grinding noise when turning left or right. Have fixed a few things and still hasn't fixed the problem. I always thought FORD stood behind their vehicles and thought they would make it right. Thinking about selling(if I can) and going to Imports. Disappointed with Ford.

- Brian M., New Castle, PA, US

problem #31

Dec 202010

Explorer Limited V8

  • Automatic transmission
  • 95,543 miles

I bought this vehicle for my daughter on 09/29/2010 from Discount Auto Inc. of Greenville, NC. I test drove the vehicle & there were several things wrong. The dealer SUPPOSEDLY fixed the problems. I then took it to my own mechanic to be checked out ... it checked out okay. In less than a month, the entire "cluster" went out. I had to pay almost $1000 to purchase a new one and have it installed & we were never able to retrieve the actual mileage from the computer b/c this information was lost. Then, I took it to a Ford dealership to have the light assembly over the licensed plate fixed (b/c it was broken when I bought it and DAI would not pay to have it fixed .. my BAD) and just as we were driving it in the parking lot to leave it, this horrible noise came from underneath, sounded as though something serious was about to fall off. According to the Ford place, it was b/c the tread was not w/in 1/4" on all 4 tires and as a safety feature, the truck was trying to lock up!!! Unbelievable. So I went out & purchased 4 brand new tires to the tune of $600 plus dollars and had them put on. While putting on the tires, the mechanic informed me that the right rear wheel bearing needed replaced ASAP. The cost, he said, would be around $400 @ the Ford place. I called my mechanic and took the vehicle by his place of business. The truck is still there & he is telling me that the right rear wheel was barely holding on and that chances are the rear differential will need to be replaced as well!!! R U kidding me???? i haven't had this vehicle even 90 days and I already have put well over $1000 in repairs and am facing yet another $1500 or so dollars in repairs w/no guarantee that this will do the trick !!! I WILL NEVER BUY ANOTHER FORD PRODUCT NOR WILL I EVER SHOP W/DISCOUNT AUTO INC. OF GREENVILLE, NC again !!!

- Rhonda D., Stokes, NC, US

problem #30

Jul 012009

Explorer XLT V6

  • Automatic transmission
  • 135,000 miles

seems replacing the seals didnt help just got worse so now i have to replace the rear axle thanks alot ford you didnt take a bailout you just made stuff cheaper and not worth a crap.

- Joseph S., Ruckersville, VA, US

problem #29

Oct 202010

Explorer Sport 4.0

  • Automatic transmission
  • 124,000 miles


I purchased this THING 10/2008 and IT had 89.000 miles on it, and 11/2008 I had a growling noise from the drivers front and I had to replace the hub assembly $475.00 parts and labor with life time warranty on the hub. In 4/2010 116000 miles the o/d light was flashing, I had to replace the transmission,I purchased a JASPER TRANSMISSION with 5years/100000 miles warranty,parts and labor $2750.00. On 10/2010 124000 miles the GROWLING started again but.from the rear and $1500.00 later pinion bearings and axle bearings in the rear with a life time warranty. With all of the problems with the bearings on many years of the FORD EXPLORER should FFFOOORRRDDD be responsible for some or all charges.REIMBURSED and a SAFETY RECALL. This could cause a major accident if the front wheel[s] did lock up because of a BEARING.

- eds-sales, La Porte, IN, US

problem #28

Oct 152006

Explorer XLT 4.0L

  • Automatic transmission
  • 40,000 miles

I don't drive my wife's car that much so when I drove it the other day I seen the ABS light was on and heard a whining noise coming from the rear end. I asked my wife how long has the whining in the rear end. She said for a while, so I took it to the shop to see what code came up on the computer. Would you guess the rear end ABS code came up.The mechanic and I took a ride in the Explorer. He informed me, "hear it all the time in these vehicles". I just drained fluid out of my wife's 2003 Explorer rear end, because can't afford a rebuilt rear end, and noticed the fill plug not the drain plug was magnetized. It had a lot of sludge on it also. I come from old school and all I have seen is the drain plug magnetized, so the sludge stayed in the bottom. Can somebody tell me why the fill plug would be magnetized? Hopefully draining and replacing the oil in the rear end does the trick for a while until things get better.

- tfl, Miami, FL, US

problem #27

Jan 012004

Explorer XLT 4.0L V6

  • Automatic transmission
  • 9,000 miles

Right in line with the other folks having this issue. Sounds like worn tires and gets louder with increasing speed. Nice that's it's my wife's vehicle and I've got a 2 year old and a 6 year old in it with her. I first noticed it around 9-10k miles and the Ford dealer mentioned something about bearings but let it break in more. Now as it is pretty loud, the local repair shop tells me it's the ring and pinion and a few $k to fix! It only has 47k miles and even if I had the extended warranty, it would have expired by now. Come on Ford, where is the recall? Or a suitable replacement that will last for the life of the vehicle.

- chrisanh, Londonderry, NH, US

problem #26

Jun 042008

Explorer XL 4.0L

  • Automatic transmission
  • 80,000 miles

Already gone through the replacement of both the front and rear wheel bearing packs. Then starts the loud growl from the rear end? anytime I coast at higher speeds. Sounds like a loud tire noise but instantly disappears when I apply the throttle. Coasting down a hill at 65MPH there is a constant loud growl, that I assume is from the rear end. I checked with some local repair shops and they said run it until it falls apart - it may last for another 3,000 or 30,000 miles. Arrrrrgh!

- oshp367, Rootstown, OH, US

problem #25

Mar 012007

Explorer Sport 4.0L V6

  • Automatic transmission
  • 51,400 miles

At 51,000 miles had to replace the rear bearings and seals.

Now at 70,000 I must replace the ring and pinion.

Garage kept, babied vehicle, looks new, what's the deal?

- Steve C., Toms Brook, VA, US

problem #24

Sep 012008

Explorer XLT V6

  • Automatic transmission
  • 62,000 miles

We have had problem after problem with this car. The current problem is the grinding noise in the rear axle which they have told us is the ring & pinion. Estimated cost is $1600. We still have not had it fixed - it's sitting in the driveway until we figure out whether to invest the money in a car that just keeps breaking. By the way, we just paid it off and the warranty just ran out.

- Lois S., Austin, TX, US

problem #23

Sep 252008

Explorer XLS 4.0L V6

  • Automatic transmission
  • 72,000 miles

Piece of crap vehicle, don't buy one there not worth it.

- Clinton T., Elkhart, IN, US

problem #22

Mar 012008


  • Automatic transmission
  • 87,000 miles

Loud rear noise and I understand that this is a common problem with 2003 Explorers. Shouldn't Ford pay for all of the repair or at least part of the repair.

- Donna G., Green Cove Springs, FL, US

problem #21

May 312007

(reported on)

Explorer V6

  • Automatic transmission
  • 72,000 miles

rear axle noise when driving

- Christine B., Muskegon, MI, US

problem #20

Jul 032007

(reported on)

Explorer XLT 4.0L V6

  • Automatic transmission
  • 24,855 miles

ABS sensor light comes on occasionally, never knowing when ABS will kick in when stopping, take it to dealer and have ABS sensor and axle seal leaking in rear differential replaced under extended warranty(past the 3 YEAR) BUT THEY DIDN'T CHANGE THE DIFFERENTIAL LUBE!! pulled the top check plug on the diff and all kinds of metal fragments (assuming from broken ABS sensor)stuck to magnet on check plug, drained and refilled on my own. Might want to check magnet on your fill plug if you have had the same repairs.

- Allan G., Keswick, Ontario, Canada

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