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.


really awful
Crashes / Fires:
1 / 0
Injuries / Deaths:
0 / 0
Average Mileage:
126,314 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 engine problems

engine problem

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2003 Ford Explorer Owner Comments

problem #18

Dec 062016


  • 180,000 miles


While driving this vehicle, the spark plugs have blown out of the engine six times requiring six different tows home. The vehicle is unreliable for me (disabled, single mom) who has to take my daughter and I to doctors appointments. I feel unsafe and it is not safe for my daughter, but I can't afford to trade or get another vehicle. I think Ford should come good for this defect.

- Lincoln, ME, USA

problem #17

May 122016


  • 202,000 miles
2003 Ford Explorer, while driving through town I started to slow down for a group of kids waiting to use a cross walk when the Explorer shut down & lost all power to control brakes and steering almost hitting the kids.. I have taken to a shop & was told they could not duplicate the issues I have been having for 5 years. The reason I am now reporting this is because the close call I just had with the cross walk. This problem starts after about 5 or 10 minutes of run time then clears up not returning until next run or some time later...

- Readstown, WI, USA

problem #16

Jan 192013


  • 80,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. While driving on an incline at an unknown speed, the vehicle failed to accelerate and the overdrive warning light illuminated. The vehicle was taken to an independent mechanic where it was diagnosed that the transmission needed to be replaced. The vehicle was repaired, but the failure recurred. The vehicle was taken to another independent mechanic where it was diagnosed that the solenoid pack and the oxygen sensors needed to be replaced. The vehicle was repaired, but the failure recurred. The contact also mentioned that the check transmission and check engine warning lights illuminated. The manufacturer was not notified of the failure. The failure mileage was 80,000. The VIN was not available.

- Brooklyn, NY, USA

problem #15

Mar 122015

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • 153,000 miles


As I have been driving like I normally do the O/D light came on blinking. Then I pressed the button for it nothing happened. I continued with my daily routine and the light came on and off. And continued to blink. Then all of the sudden I would step on the gas but it would not give me anymore than 15mph. When I came to a traffic light my car did not want to go anymore so I had to pull over on the side of the road. It didn't want to continue going. Then after the third try it gave me more gas to drive normal not even a minute after it did it again. I was afraid yo get hit by traffic and since I had my three toddlers I was scared. I pulled into a shopping center and called my dad. And also a mechanic. It needs a new transmission when that vehicle has had all its needs. I cannot afford it and its upsetting seeing all the complaints on about it knowing I am not the only one with this problem. This is a defect and it should be recalled.

- Carlsbad, CA, USA

problem #14

Feb 132015


  • 168,000 miles
Second owner of this vehicle and had for almost a year. Driving son to school and suddenly heard a loud rattling noise under hood. Took directly to mechanic and found out timing chain was going. Mechanic said he had seen this problem a lot in this model and around the same mileage.

- Appomattox, VA, USA

problem #13

Jan 012015

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • 131,000 miles
Vehicle died upon turning once again. This is becoming more frequent, as it has happened twice now in the last week. Seems to occur after highway speed, then slowing for a turn (tipically a right hand turn). I consider myself quite mechanically inclined and I am baffled. I also own an obdii scanner and no codes come up!! this is the second time I have filed a complaint, and would like some answers. Very dangerous issue in my opinion!! I will also be posting this on other websites to raise awareness, and hopefully get some results!! this is unacceptable.

- Winneconne, WI, USA

problem #12

Aug 062010

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • 97,000 miles


Engine stalls out when braking or turning. This is an issue that occurs at random with no warning. This has continued to occur multiple times over the last four years, and leaves myself and family in a, powerless, defenseless, potentially fatal, situation.

- Winneconne, WI, USA

problem #11

Nov 012010


  • 105,000 miles
My truck just went out of warranty by 5,000 miles and I was driving and hit a bump and my #3 spark plug blew out of the engine. Scared me to death because it sounded like a gun. I had just turned off a red light so I had no speed at all. $500 to put a helio coil in it. Then I hit 170,000 and another one blew out while my family and I were in the mountains and we had to limp home. Told by the mechanic the truck could have started fire. I had every single service by Ford until the first one blew. Never ever heard of this happening until I searched it on the internet. What if I had my hood open changing the air filter and or other part and one of them had blown? could kill anyone. How is that safe. And the fact that your in the middle of no where with no cell coverage and you have to drive a ticking time bomb. Please hold Ford accountable for design flaw. I take care of my Ford Explorer, after all it cost 36K new and I want to get my money out of it. They are supposed to be built to last with regular maintenance. It has been a great SUV with the exception of the spark plug issue. The only reason I still have it is because I love it. (last number on VIN is 5 but it wouldn't let me enter it.)

- Highlands Ranch , CO, USA

problem #10

Aug 072014

Explorer 8-cyl

  • 112,000 miles
My vehicle suddenly without warning will stall and I lose all power. No power steering. I am able to put the vehicle in neutral and can turn the vehicle back on. The mechanic can not find any codes etc on why this is happening. Apparently this is a common thing.

- Glen Burnie, MD, USA

problem #9

Mar 032014

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 145,000 miles
The car was idling rough and the "service engine" light kept coming on, even after I had the auto repair shop (pep boys) check and fix things. They advised me to go to the Ford dealer, and said it may be the timing chain. Future Ford ran diagnostic, said it may be timing chain but have to open engine to verify. Estimate for repairs $1500 to open engine and $2500 to fix). Did not have work done yet. The engine has a loud rattling sound that started suddenly and has gotten worse, and increases upon acceleration. There is an oily smell. At stop light when idling, the idle is slow and a loud knocking sound - idle sounds like car is about to shut off. The normal idle sound for the car is smooth and like a soft hum. Called Ford to see if there is a recall for this problem, as there are many complaints similar to mine that are listed on the Ford website about several years of the Ford Explorer. Mileage now is 150,000 miles. Ford said there is no recall, but keep receipts for work done in case of one in the future.

- Fresno, CA, USA

problem #8

Jul 082014


  • 150,000 miles


The transmission light, 4ΓΏ4 and the od light came on. It does shift gear from 1 to 2 until 3000 RPM.

- Sicklerville, NJ, USA

problem #7

Jun 142014

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 146,000 miles
My son purchased this Explorer brand new and I bought it from him four years ago and I love this as it is the best design in the SUV's, and I can not afford a new vehicle as I am no young gal any more. We have maintained it faithfully and have had no serious problems with it and is at 145000. I was driving to work going 55 mph and the O/D light comes on and I push the button and it would not go off. I pulled over and tried the button a few times-nothing. I shut it off, turned it back on-no light was on-proceeded down the highway and the light turns back on and it will not shift and is straining shift. I took it in to jiffy lube to go ahead and get another oil change and let them check the transmission fluid and they said that they could not access it to check the fluid-they suggested a transmission flush at $200-why can't they access it" wouldn't a dip stick save a lot of trouble" as I look at all the complaints about the transmission troubles in the Explorer, I am very shocked. Please can you help me out here as I cannot afford high maintenance bills that would be charged through a dealer. Just tell me if there is a simple solution to fixing it so that my brother may repair it and get it back on the road. One response is as such: After talking to 2 Ford reps today, and turned down flat for help, I have decide its now a quest.... Ford stated they didn't have enough complaints for the NHTSA to open up an investigation to possibly order a recall...... soooo, for all those that have issues, call Ford and also make a complaint on the NHTSA site or call them at 1-800-424-9393. My family is a Ford family and we currently have 5 Ford in our household, a mustang, Ford F150, Ford Focus, Expedition, and the Explorer that is having issues. This isn't including extended family. Ford is about to lose future business....

- Chesterton, IN, USA

problem #6

Feb 032014

Explorer 6-cyl

  • miles
Submission from constituent re a filed complaint with Ford Motor Company and would like to be reimburse for all the cost by Ford. The consumer stated when he attempted to start the vehicle, it would not crank. He replaced the battery, but the vehicle still would not start. The vehicle was towed to a local garage. The next day, the consumer was informed, the engine had seized. There was no warning from the dash indicators, no engine sounds, and the oil was at the proper level. It cost $3,669.98 to replace the engine.

- Baltimore, MD, USA

problem #5

Sep 062013

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 116,800 miles
I have been having issues with the cruise control on my Explorer. It works fine for several months and then occasionally it will not engage. Most times if it will not engage, the dashboard light does not show up, but since last week the light has come on, but the cruise control has not engaged. Since this has been an ongoing issue and seems to resolve on its own, I continue to try it occasionally. I tried to set it last Friday while I was going approximately 40 mph. It did engage, but then began to slowly accelerate. I tried pushing the button that should reduce the speed, but it continued accelerating, so I kicked the brake pedal to disengage. I have tried it 3 additional times and each time it accelerates. The last time I tried it, yesterday afternoon, the speed was picking up incredibly quickly. It felt like I had just floored the accelerator. I was able to kick the cruise control off with the brake pedal though but am now concerned that this may happen when the cruise is not engaged.

- Swansboro, NC, USA

problem #4

May 232013


  • 60,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. The contact stated that the oil warning light illuminated. The vehicle was taken to a private mechanic who stated that the engine oil pump and the timing belt had failed. The vehicle was not repaired. The failure was reported to the manufacturer. The failure mileage was 60,000. The current mileage was 61,000.

- Royersford , PA, USA

problem #3

May 052013


  • 177,848 miles
While driving my vehicle on Sunday, while driving my vehicle stalled in the road. The truck felt as if it was trying to pull a hill. This was very scarey for me and my children because if someone was coming behind us or if I was turning into the flow of traffic this could have been a terrible accident. Afterwards the vehicle couldn't go over 30 mph without shifting out. This is very dangerous and Ford should recall this immediately before someone is killed.

- Lagrange, GA, USA

problem #2

Oct 132012

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 175,000 miles
I was backing up to the garage to unload the stuff in the back and the car made a loud whinning noise and took off fast..I couldn't stop the truck..

- Milton, FL, USA

problem #1

Apr 042007


  • 75,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. The contact stated that while driving 55 mph the check engine warning lamp illuminated. The vehicle was taken to an independent mechanic who diagnosed that the brackets that hold the timing chain fractured. As a result, the brackets and valve cover needed to be replaced. Also, the contact stated that while driving at various speeds she could hear a grinding noise. The vehicle was taken to an independent mechanic who stated that the front driver side hub assembly needed to be replaced. The manufacturer was made aware of the failure who did not offer any assistance since the vehicle was not included on any recalls. The vehicle was not repaired. The failure mileage was 75,000 and the current mileage was 120,000.

- Carthage, IN, USA

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