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:
86,250 miles
Total Complaints:
8 complaints

Most Common Solutions:

  1. not sure (6 reports)
  2. replace module, change transfer case fluid, buy 4 new tires (2 reports)
2003 Ford Explorer drivetrain problems

drivetrain problem

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2003 Ford Explorer Owner Comments

problem #8

Jul 162014

Explorer Limited V8

  • Automatic transmission
  • 79,700 miles


Transfer case and wheel hubs were making a massive clunking sound and a whine from the gears or something. Felt like AWD was engaging and disengaging on its own and made a big clunk and the car lurched whenever this happened. Required that I purchase 4 new tires and had an expensive service done on the transfer case, which also involved changing the fluid and adding an additive to it.

- Howard H., Brookline, MA, US

problem #7

Dec 032009

Explorer XLT 4.0L

  • Automatic transmission
  • 78,000 miles

I took my vehicle in to the Ford dealership service department to have them troubleshoot what felt to me to be a grinding feeling in the front end of the vehicle. They said there were scuff marks on the coast side of the front main transfer gear, but the vehicle was fine. I paid $500+ for the service of disassembling and reinstalling the cover, replacement oil, shop fees etc. Drove off thinking maybe I was over reacting. Two days later I was driving, and the same sensation but this time it was accompanied by a strong pull to the right. I took the vehicle back to the dealer and this time they took the drive shaft off, ask me to drive it a couple days and see if the problem persisted. I drove it a couple days but the problem persisted so when I took it back this time they looked over the electrical system and said it was a switch, another 5-600.00 dollars. I drove it to Ohio that weekend, and it again began to pull to the right suddenly at 70 mph. I had a maintenance facility in Ohio remove the drive shaft again so I could return home. The four wheel light indicator still blink every few minutes if the vehicle is sitting still or moving. I still feel the grinding sensation, but no they say its road noise and vibration from the new tires. I will never buy a four wheel drive vehicle again....

- Nathaniel A., Fayetteville, NC, US

problem #6

Jul 072011

Explorer XLT 4.0L V6

  • Automatic transmission
  • 120,300 miles

I hope that all the owners of this SUV will complain and determine FORD to recall this vehicle and pay for damage.

Thank you. I have replaced module and transfer case shifter, with no result yet:(((.


I drove the SUV with temporary plate, after this incident I have no motivation to register it anymore because is not drivable anymore:(((

- octavnour, Hudson, NH, US

problem #5

Jan 312010


  • Automatic transmission
  • 140,000 miles


I see that I am not alone on this issue. I have had the A/C go out on me, cost around $1,000. The transfer case, front/rear differentials problems started in January 2010. I took it in, they told me it would be around $3,500! I still have not got it fixed. I still owe on my car loan, I am so upside down in it. I can not get out of this SUV. I will not ever by a ford again.

- Vannessa C., Oklahoma City, OK, US

problem #4

Oct 012008

Explorer Sport 4.0L

  • Automatic transmission
  • 82,000 miles

We plan to continue driving this Ford since it's paid for and looks great, figuring extensive repair costs will still be less than opting for something newer. That said, we're probably done buying any of the big three autos in the future.

- powrus, Solsberry, IN, US

problem #3

Nov 142008

Explorer XLT 4.0L V6

  • Automatic transmission
  • 73,000 miles

Mechanics have drove my Explorer but were never really sure what the "jerking" or "clunking" was that i have been experiencing for about 2 months. They have come to the conclusion that it is the transfer case. The problem only occurs when you drive over 50-60 mph and when you let off the gas, not touching the brakes, makes a slight jerking when slowing down. I've been wondering how many other people have had this problem. I was told it could cost $1,000!!! I don't know about anyone else but I don't have that much money lieing around. I hope Ford comes out with a recall on this. I have trusted and depended on Ford all my life...the best automaker in the world.

- Daniel C., Neligh, NE, US

problem #2

May 162006

(reported on)

Explorer XLT

  • 47,000 miles

I had started realizing my Exploder had an issue one week after I bought it... BRAND NEW!!! Of course I could never make it do it when I brought it in to the dealer, but my complaints were recorded. Now I'm told the 4x4 switching module has gone haywire, due to tire tread differences. I've had the transfer case fluid changed before because it was nasty... shouldn't that have raised a few eyebrows? It only had 25K miles on it!!! I've NEVER used 4x4 option! I'm going with a foreign, 100K backed car next time because I've lost faith in North American crap. Apparently Ford does not have faith in their vehicles either, as they only offer a 36K mile warranty... even on the POWERTRAIN!!

- wooker76, Lighthouse Cove, ON, Canada

problem #1

Oct 152007

(reported on)

Explorer V8

  • Automatic transmission
  • 70,000 miles

Well, I just purchased this vehicle in Jan. 2007 and I haven't had it a year. Already I'm looking at over $1000 of work to be done with it. It's pretty frustrating when you contact Ford and they don't want to tell the truth about the recalls on their vehicles. Every Ford Dealer I go to has something different to say about the problem. Pitiful they don't even know the cars that they work on EVERYDAY! My problem is the Transfer Case/4 wheel drive, at least that's what I'm being told. I hope it's a recall on it and they pay for the damage.

- Takesha B., Louisville, KY, US

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