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
Crashes / Fires:
0 / 0
Injuries / Deaths:
0 / 0
Average Mileage:
18,625 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 steering problems

steering problem

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2003 Ford Explorer Owner Comments

problem #4

Feb 172008

Explorer 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 40,000 miles


The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. While driving 60 mph, on February 17, 2008, the engine shut off immediately without warning. Several vehicles were rapidly approaching the contact, which nearly caused a fatal crash. There were no warning lights present prior to the failure; however, after the engine shut off, all of the lights illuminated on the instrument panel. The vehicle was towed to an independent mechanic and diagnosed. The mechanic was unable to restart the vehicle. The dealer diagnosed the vehicle and stated that the catalytic converter needed to be replaced. The part was ordered and may be available by next week. The vehicle has been at the dealer for two weeks. The manufacturer's president was notified on two occasions and the secretary forwarded the messages to a liaison. The contact wanted the vehicle replaced, but the liaison stated that she could not assist. The contact saw on the news that there was a manufacturer's recall and filed case number 0490000518. The manufacturer stated that there were no existing recalls related to the failure. The following failures occurred with the previous owner: On March 1, 2004, the ring and pinions failed, on March 31, 2004, the pinion valve leaked, was damaged, tested and repaired. On April 14, 2004, while driving approximately 55 mph, the front pinion seal was leaking and replaced. The upper bearing was also repaired. The VIN appears to be invalid. The failure and current mileages were 40,000.

- Roswell, GA, USA

problem #3

May 042007

Explorer 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • miles
For about a week strange noises were observed upon shifting from park into reverse. During a 5 mile trip into town, power steering pump noise was observed when turning. Upon reaching destination I experienced difficulty maneuvering into a parking space and observed a lot of steering pump noise. Upon return home I checked the reservoir to find it extremely low and a check under the vehicle revealed fluid had been leaking and distributed all the way to the back of the vehicle. Upon filling and starting the vehicle, no apparent location was observed except the connection to the rack & pinion looked to be leaking but the only evidence was apparent lack of dust build up which was evident around the attachment plate which indicates there has been enough flow to remove buildup from leaking condition.

- Bainbridge, GA, USA

problem #2

Sep 222006

Explorer 4-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 100 miles
I purchased a 2003 Ford Explorer new, ever since owning the vehicle, I believe the first 6 months it was in the shop for repairs. Issues with windows, paint bubbling after having the protective coat put on it. There have been far to many issues with this vehicle to even recall. I tried once to get it replaced under the lemon law and was told it did not qualify. The vehicle has only 39,000 miles on it and already has had 2 rack and pinions replaced. When I asked Ford if there was a recall they said they knew nothing about it, when I said how can a 36,000 mile vehicle already need 3 rack in pinions there response was well its actually only two, I said no it originally had a rack in pinion when I purchased it so it is on its 3rd. I have had to have the electrical repaired in the rear window as well and now it has stopped working again. When I called to set up an appt. Was told I had to take it to the service dept. That fixed it the first time, they told me know because they did not honor my warranty because it was not a Ford warranty. I call the shop back complaining why was I sent there, they said because it was the original shop and they should have serviced it. This is the problem, you take the vehicle in with problems no one can seem to find what is wrong with it and when they do they fix it and it breaks again. So at this point my rear window does not open, I am on my 3rd rack in pinion, have had issues with the gauges not working and so on and so on. This is the worst vehicle I have ever owned. Here I purchased a new one so I wouldn't have to worry about car problems and that is all I have had since day one. I would not recommend a Ford to anyone nor would I purchase another one. Sorry thing for me, was if I did not pay cash for it, I would have defaulted on the loan and they could have kept the vehicle.

- Rohnert Park, CA, USA

problem #1

Aug 052003

Explorer 8-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 34,400 miles
Rack-pinion steering gear leaks fluid.

- Leander, TX, USA

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