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:
4 / 0
Injuries / Deaths:
1 / 0
Average Mileage:
58,427 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 (Page 1 of 2)

problem #27

Jun 182013

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 98,000 miles


Bought SUV in December of 2012 and everything seemed to work fine. Within the next few months there were several times that the cruise would not engage without pushing it on & off several times. After June of 2013 it rarely engaged at all at any speed. Now, September 2014 it will not engage at all. Afraid it might cause short &/or a fire under the hood. Noticed recall identified this problem on 2002 models. This vehicle was actually built in 2002, so am wondering if this might be one that got missed in the recall? own a 1994 F-250 that has both 1993 and 1994 parts on it.

- Oklahoma City, OK, USA

problem #26

Jan 152014

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 83,547 miles
This event has happened twice now my 2003 Ford Explorer has excelerated without warning ! and while trying to stop the vehicle. The second time ending in an accident. I have only had this vehicle just under 2 months ! the floor mats are not the problem here. Once I was in reverse and a power surge came over the vehicle the brakes would not work didn't result in an accident but was somewhat afraid of it. I was coming home last nite turned into my drive and the vehicle excelerated without warning brakes did not work at all ended up smashing into my Ford escape that could have bin my little girl or someone's child! will not drive this vehicle again. Have had Ford most all of my life never seen this before! there's a lot of exceleration problems listed on this site I think it's time for a recall before someone is killed thanks for your concern!

- Fredericksburg, OH, USA

problem #25

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 #24

Jul 162013

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 117,000 miles


While driving the O/D light began flashing on my dashboard, the vehicle slowed down to about 15 miles as if the transmission was pulling/slipping, the car made a hard jerk and began to pick-up speed. This cycle repeated until I reached my destination. The light came on again the next day and the same events occurred.

- St. Louis, MO, USA

problem #23

Jul 142012


  • 106,000 miles
Driving on I-26 at 65 mph. Took foot off gas, car continued at 65, did not have the cruise control on. I pressed brake, car didn't slow, pressed harder, still didn't slow, moved gearshifter to 1st gear, could hear engine revving, realized gas peddle/accelerator was stuck, tapped foot on gas pedal and car finally slowed. Took car to four seasons Ford in hendersonville, was told they couldn't recreate the problem but maybe the cruise control cable seemed "possibly not quite snapped in place". they snapped it back. Have not had another problem but am paranoid about driving the car now.

- Hendersonville, NC, USA

problem #22

Jul 252011


  • 121,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. The contact stated that while driving 30 mph, the vehicle experienced sudden acceleration without warning. The contact shifted into neutral and depressed the accelerator pedal until the vehicle decelerated. Neither the dealer nor the manufacturer was notified of the failure. The failure mileage was 121,000.

- Beaumont, TX, USA

problem #21

Jul 312003

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 500 miles


Multiple issues with my 2003 Ford Explorer which include the electronic mother board having been replaced twice (under warranty), cracked liftgage (not under warranty cost $300), transmission rebuild approx 90,000 ($3000), dome lights do not turn off, door ajar lights, electric rear windows do not open, O/D light flashes and now the final problem after having replaced my transmission in July 2011 is a drive train or drive line issue. At approximately 45 mph after dropping from a higher speed, a thumping happens. Diagnosis for this issue has been 3 days still with no final determination.

- Albuquerque, NM, USA

problem #20

Sep 112011


  • 35 miles
I was driving at 60 mph and approaching a red light 1/4 mile ahead I released pressure on the accelerator but the car maintained 60 mph and would not slow down, I applied the foot brakes but realized this was not the answer, it felt like the cruise control was not releasing however the cruise control not being used, I placed the car in neutral and braked to a stop the engine was racing. I tapped the accelerator with my foot and the accelerator pedal retracted, the engine slowed, I continue my trip and after driving a few miles found that the accelerator was stuck again, I selected neutral and tapped the accelerator, the engine went back to idle.I pulled over and looked at the accelerator cable where it connects to the accelerator to make sure the accelerator was not caught on the carpet, I opened the hood to check the accelerator cable which was hidden under a large plastic shroud (cover), I removed the shroud in and immediately discovered the problem. A small cheap snap and lock fastener in the end of the cruise control cable had broken allowing the stiff cruise control cable connector to slip from its connector and restrict or lock the retarding movement of the accelerator cable, the throttle cable does not retract and the engine is stuck at a high RPM and a novice driver would not know what to do and would probably panic and eventually the brakes would fade and the driver crash. When the remedy is to 1) shift to neutral and 2) tap and release the accelerator quickly which because the cruise cable is not attached or anchored at its end quickly frees the accelerator cable in my opinion this cruise control connector and weak metal spring type push in fastener is too weak and suffers from metal fatigue over time. I am just glad my wife was not driving alone when this happened.

- The Villages, FL, USA

problem #19

Mar 072011

Explorer 4WD 8-cyl

  • 138,000 miles
While accelerating to merge into highway, vehicle experienced sudden unintended acceleration. My son had to manually pull up on the gas pedal on the floor to correct this. We were able to recreate it again by pressing down heavily on the gas pedal - and this time we were ready to manually pull up on the gas pedal. We verified that the floor mats were not obstructing the gas pedal in any way.

- Arvada, CO, USA

problem #18

Nov 122010


  • 111,500 miles
Cruise control often times "takes off" and does not hold the speed as set. I have looked down at the speedometer several times to find myself going well beyond 85mph - after setting the cruise control at 60. I have to disengage the cruise control for my vehicle to stop continuously speeding up. Then, there are times where the cruise control does not engage at all. The green light will come on, but the speed will not hold. In these instances, my speed actually decreases.

- High Ridge, MO, USA

problem #17

Jun 192010

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • 46,100 miles


I was approaching a red traffic light at a very low rate of speed. I had my foot on the brake and was preparing to come to a complete stop when the engine suddenly sped up. I increased the pressure on the brake pedal but could not stop the car. I was afraid that I would hit a car in front of me waiting at the traffic light. I then shifted the car into neutral and then was able to stop the car. My tachometer was reading above 5000 RPM. I tapped the accelerator pedal and the RPM returned to normal. This all happened within a few seconds. I was able to drive the car home without further problems. I have an appointment to have the car checked by a Ford dealer tomorrow.

- Bergenfield, NJ, USA

problem #16

Jan 222010

Explorer 4WD

  • 39,000 miles
We own a 2003 Ford Explorer eddie bauer - 4WD at times the cruise control will either work, not work at all, work after being warmed up, work after shutting the motor off and restarting, work with the speed accelerating continuously at dangerous levels, or indicate it is working but is not. After viewing several sites where many other owners are having the same problem, we went to our dealer. Our dealer replaced a defective deactivation pressure switch that caused the cruise control to react erratically. They used ids hook up to locate problem at a cost to us of $325.89. After talking to someone at the dealership, it became apparent this is not an uncommon problem, and it is a defective part that is causing a very dangerous situation to occur. The driver that does not detect the increasing speed or panics when it occurs could have a serious or deadly accident. Ford should be required to replace these parts at no cost to the owners at no cost, especially since our vehicle has just 39,000 miles on it.

- Harrisburg,, PA, USA

problem #15

Dec 012009


  • 50,000 miles
My 2003 Ford Explorer exhibits most of the symptoms described in consumer advisory dated 13 October 2009. It has an intermittently functioning cruise control, a permanently on ABS indicator light, and it occasionally gets stuck in park. I was wondering why 2003 wasn't included in the safety recall.

- Laceys Spring, AL, USA

problem #14

Jul 112009


  • 115,000 miles
I have a 2003 Ford Explorer manufactured in 01/03. It is not included in the current 'voluntary' recall of Ford vehicles due to a defective speed control deactivation switch. However, the vehicle exhibits the symptoms of the vehicles with a defective speed control switch (see faq below from Q. are there any early warning signs or symptoms I would notice that would indicate a problem? a. if the system malfunctions, a customer may notice vehicle symptoms such as; the speed control may become inoperable, the vehicle may not shift out of park, the rear brake lamps may not work, brake fluid may leak at the switch, the battery may drain or go dead, the ABS warning light may flash or a fuse in the system may open. My vehicle has an inoperable speed control. It started as an intermittent problem, but is now inoperable. The vehicle frequently does not shift out of park, and the ABS lamp frequently illuminates. I have contacted Ford, and the dealer to request the vehicle be included in the recall and have the problem corrected at no cost. Both have refused.

- Windham, NH, USA

problem #13

Feb 202003


  • 35 miles
2003 Ford Explorer started acceleration from 40 km up to 90 km in just seconds, brakes wouldn't stop or slow it down, used emergency brake, and it eventually stopped. Took it to Ford, and their reason for the acceleration was floor mat in the way. What a joke, that's was the first thing I checked for and they weren't in the way. Thanks for your time.

- Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, 00, USA

problem #12

Dec 132008

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 93,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. While driving approximately 70 mph with the cruise control activated, the contact depressed the brake pedal and the cruise control failed to deactivate after several attempts. In addition, the cruise control activation mechanism failed to respond and the vehicle would not slow down. Immediately, the vehicle was pulled to the side of the road and the ignition key was turned off with the gear shifter placed in the park position. The vehicle completely stopped. The contact was unaware if the warning indicators were illuminated on the instrument panel. The engine revved and the RPM's raced when the ignition was restarted. The contact turned off the ignition and, after several attempts, the engine idled normally. Whenever the cruise control system was not in use, the vehicle operated properly. The manufacturer was notified of the failure. The vehicle has not been repaired. The failure and current mileages were 93,000. Updated 3/12/10 updated 06/01/10.

- Jenison, MI, USA

problem #11

Sep 042008


  • 123,480 miles
On 9/4/08, driving in town, I was at a red light, proceeded to accelerate, then prepared to brake, I noticed that when I took my foot off the accelerator, the vehicle's speed kept accelerating. I had to ride my brakes to keep my car from going any faster. When I let off the brake, the accelerator took off again on its own at a fast rate! I pulled over to turn off my car, waited for at least 30 minutes and proceeded again. After driving 5 miles it started up again, I rode on my brakes the rest of the way home and then had my husband follow me to the dealership to have it looked at, where it is right now.

- Winter Haven, FL, USA

problem #10

May 142008

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 11,330 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. While driving 55 mph with the cruise control activated, the cruise control failed without warning. The vehicle was taken to a dealer and they stated that the cruise control wiring failed. There is a recall for the vehicle speed control, but his VIN was not included. The recall number was unknown. The current mileage was 11,550 and failure mileage was 11,330. Updated 06/25/08. The consumer stated after the dealer fixed the recalled rear hatch probelm, the cargo hatch flew open while driving down the highway. A

- Bremen, IN, USA

problem #9

Apr 182008

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 60,000 miles
Cruise control failures: Fails to engage, un-commanded acceleration, un-commanded deceleration, speed surging, indicates engaged and is not engaged.

- New Castle, DE, USA

problem #8

Jan 272006

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 55,000 miles
: the contact stated the vehicle experienced a problem with hesitation when the speed was kept constant. The dealership replaced the mass air flow sensor. The hesitation problem continued, the vehicle was returned to the dealership which was unable to duplicate the problem. While backing into the driveway the vehicle suddenly accelerated. Although the brakes were applied the vehicle did not stop. The vehicle hit the contact's home resulting in a neck sprain injury. The acceleration continued until the shifter was moved into drive. The dealership was unable to determine the cause of the acceleration. Also, contact complained that ABS light was on and pedal felt stiff. Vehicle ran rough. In addition, removed and installed automatic transmission main control valve body.

- Newport, MI, USA

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