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.


pretty bad
Typical Repair Cost:
Average Mileage:
104,791 miles
Total Complaints:
242 complaints

Most Common Solutions:

  1. not sure (95 reports)
  2. replace with rebuilt transmission (52 reports)
  3. replace the transmission (39 reports)
  4. complete overhaul recommended (18 reports)
  5. rebuild transmission (16 reports)
  6. rebuilt transmission installed (8 reports)
2003 Ford Explorer transmission problems

transmission problem

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2003 Ford Explorer Owner Comments (Page 12 of 13)

« Read the previous 20 complaints

problem #22

Sep 262008

Explorer 3.2L V6

  • Automatic transmission
  • 143,000 miles


I currently own a 2003 Ford Explorer. Although the vehicle has a lot of miles, it's a good vehicle except the o/d light started to blink on and off out of the blue. I have read several complaints it could be a list of things..transmission, fluid, twert converter (or whatever it's called). What bothers me is the fact that most people stated even after repairing it didn't stop. What am I to do? I am buried in the loan, the payments are astronomical, and with the problems I probably couldn't trade if I tried. What am I to do? It is really sad to see the number of people with the same complaints. FORD, please get a new staff of engineers. Stop selling LEMONS.

- , Alpharetta, GA, USA

problem #21

Mar 272008

Explorer XLT V6

  • Automatic transmission
  • 86,000 miles

I have owned a 2003 ford explorer since March of 2004. In march of 2008 the transmission light began flashing all the time, and it shifts hard shifting from 2nd to third gear. Ford says it may be a problem with it and I may have to have transmission replaced. After reading numerous complaints about ford and these transmissions, why haven't they covered the transmission? I will never buy a ford again.

- , Murphysboro, IL, USA

problem #20

Jun 012008

Explorer V8

  • Automatic transmission
  • 115,000 miles

Well it all started about 3 months ago when I was casually driving and noticed the truck didn't want to go into reverse easily (clunk), then slipped. Took it to a garage and they had me see a transmission shop for analysis. I was told the solenoid was bad and it was replaced and not more then a week went by and it started slipping in first and second now, the tac racing around 4-5 grand before the truck started to move. I returned to the shop. The solenoid was replaced again and I was told that these problems can sometimes happen and that new parts have about a 17% yield to fail. Well let me tell ya the next time (3rd) time, about another week later, the O/D light comes on and wont stop and the truck is really clunking hard into gear. Then I find out this is due to the fact the failure code boosts the pressure in the tranny to act as a safety feature, but it drops hard into gear. This repeated itself about two more times with the mechanic always scratching his head hoping he had it solved this time. I was now getting the "check engine light" as well with the O/D light blinking. I've been in and out of this shop seven times and finally opted to purchase a rebuilt Ford tranny. I figure I will get the 3 year warranty and this should solve my problems. I bring the truck back to the tranny shop (7th) visit and have the Ford tranny put it. The mechanic like all the times before after replacing solenoids tells me he road tested it and its fine. I drive the truck home with no problems. The very next day with my warranty Ford rebuilt tranny I decide to go for a road test and don't get a mile from the house when the O/D light comes on again and I feel the truck slipping and clunking. This is total bullshit now, and I'm fed-up with this piece of crap. $3,100.00 for a tranny that fails the next day !!!! 17% percent failure my ass! lets try about 100% since I've been trying to get this thing fixed. If this is the best Ford can do they better come up with some better ideas. No wonder there market share in the auto industry is failing big time, they don't stand behind what they design and build. The real kicker is I called the warranty hotline today for Ford and was speaking to a tech representative who told me the problem might be in my wiring harness, maybe its dirty and the electrical signal spikes, setting off my O/D light, possibly no tranny problem at all. For the lost time from work (in and out of the garage) and money spent on gas and aggravation this problem has caused me, other vehicles without the FORD sticker are looking a lot more dependable. TIP** Stay away from Dodge as well, the transmission repair owner told me if it weren't for Ford and Dodge he would be out of business. I'm wondering if this problem will ever be fixed, its not looking to promising. What do you have to say for yourselves Ford? (Fix Or Repair Daily) this saying is ringing true in this and so many other cases I've read online here. Dammit step up and be accountable to your transmission problems.

- , Middletown, CT, US

problem #19

Jun 012008

Explorer XLS

  • Automatic transmission
  • 71,000 miles


The O/D off light starting flashing on Sunday without any warning. On Monday on my way home from work, it started flashing again. Then on Tuesday on my way to work, it flashed and it jerked when switching gears. I immediately contacted Ford to see if my truck was covered under warranty, and of course not. I then called a Ford dealership to see if they give me a possible heads-up on what the problem could be and was told no......just bring it in and they would run a diagnosis for a fee and get back with me. This car is only 5 years old with 71,000 miles, so I refuse to let Ford touch it. They are the ones who build it, so why would I trust them to diagnosis a problem if they cannot build a reliable car. I ended up taking the car to a locale transmission mechanic and he diagnosis the problem as a possible solenoid problem because 2nd and 5th gear were missing and to exactly identify the problem I will have to pay more (around $185.00). I am hoping that is the problem and nothing more because I rather pay for that then to replace a whole transmission.

I think this is a problem that Ford is aware of and does not want to take responsibility for. I can only imagine why the company is doing so horrible. This is the 2nd Ford I have owned and traded the 1st one in for a Nissan and was a fool to let the Nissan go for another Ford.

If anyone has had the same problem, can you please tell me the outcome?

- , Portsmouth, VA, USA

problem #18

Jun 012008

Explorer XLT

  • Automatic transmission
  • 66,500 miles

The transmission and shifting have been kind of rough in this vehicle since purchase (new). Based on the number of complaints here this must be common with the Ford Explorer. Looks like this is going to cost a few thousand and Ford doesn't look like they will stand behind it. What a POS. 66K miles and the major component of the vehicle that makes it work fails. FU Ford.

- , Carlsbad, CA, USA

problem #17

May 152008

Explorer XLT V6

  • Automatic transmission
  • 90,000 miles

I have a 2003 Ford Explorer XLT V6. 90,000 miles. Today the O/D Off light is blinking and I notice gears slipping while I drive.

The Service Engine Soon light IS NOT ON.

What are the chances that it's just a bad sensor or the tranny fluid is low? I have no way of checking these things myself.

If my dealership tells me that I need a whole new tranny, is there a way I can ask them to show me "the codes" that the computer spits out to verify what they are saying is truthful?

Thanks for any help provided.

- , Scranton, PA, USA

problem #16

Apr 102008


  • Automatic transmission
  • 94,000 miles


Well...after purchasing a Ford Focus and having more problems than one person deserves...I resolved - NO MORE FORDS for this girl!

I inherited a 2003 Ford Explorer from my late father and in the back of my mind I'm hearing my mantra - NO MORE FORDS but he kept the vehicle in pristine condition and Ford builds better trucks than cars - right? Wrong!!!

Two weeks after driving the Explorer from PA to Florida - waaa laaa!! The transmission dies. Now I have two crappy Fords. I called the dealership to explain to them my problem - O/D Off light blinking and Service Engine Soon light on...hard shifts when it shifts or not shifting at all in 2nd or 3rd gear. Basically, it would appear I'm going to need an new transmission. I can't afford the repair so it's been parked until I can take it in. I called Ford to see if my late father would happen to have some kind of extended warranty or what they could do for me. No extended warranty and the Ford Customer Relationship person (what a crock is that) kept me on the phone asking a bunch of questions and seemed sympathetic and then said - sorry - nothing we can do and all repairs must be out of pocket. When I mentioned I found a ton of information on the internet regarding this very same problem for the very same vehicle and that I was surprised Ford wouldn't stand behind their product, she replied they can't do anything about information found online. Nice.

So let me address you here Ford (as well as sending in a very well versed letter)...your new commercials touting "Quality # 1" makes you a bunch of big fat liars. Your cars suck...your "customer relationship people" suck...your lack of responsibility sucks and I promise you...I will never own another one of your vehicles as long as I shall live. Further...I think Henry is probably rolling over in his grave at what you've done with his company and I fully expect you to completely go under before this decade is out. You had better step back and take a very good look at today's economy and with stronger competition, you will never survive and I will celebrate the day your perish.

- , Zephyrhills, FL, USA

problem #15

Apr 092008

Explorer XLT 4.0L

  • Automatic transmission
  • 100,000 miles

This is just one of many issues I've had with my very first Explorer I purchased new. I'll only address the tranny issue I had this week. First off, I�m religious about maintenance, and change fluids regularly. In this instance, the OD light started flashing and I could feel the transmission slipping. Thank goodness I was close to a dealership and could drive it right in. After leaving it for a day, they determined it was a solenoid/servo piston failure. They repaired it and flushed the system - total cost of $660. The technician claimed this was a common problem and he had done several repairs. Like many other people on this site - I will NEVER buy another Ford. I can tell you I've had rear end issues, power window issues, leaky seals, and other annoyances that have just put me over the top. This is it. Lesson learned about Ford quality. I�m in the market now looking at more reliable SUV's.

- , Hampton, NH, USA

problem #14

Dec 012007

Explorer Eddie Bauer V6

  • Automatic transmission
  • 76,000 miles

I didn't know this was such a common problem until i went on this website! To make things short, my "check transmission" light would go on and my "O/D off" light would flash. It would pop up after 5 minutes of me driving and if I press reset, the lights would pop up again after 10 minutes. It was really annoying.

I went to four different places, the first was the dealership. They quoted me $2400 to replace my torque converter, solenoid, and body valve assembly. Not to mention the $109 charge for them to tell me this. I didn't know at the time that there were plenty of places that would do the diagnostic for FREE!

Then off to the famous AAMCO...had my car for a day to tell me it could be a computer problem that they would have to take to a specialist. I took off with my car and never went back.

Went to a local place next. They wanted to replace my whole transmission for $2700, 3 yr warranty...blah, blah, blah.

Last place was another local tranny spot. They were the most honest with me. Told me to replace the solenoid pack because your car doesn't know whether it's an electrical or a mechanical problem when the lights go off. Then if that wasn't the solution, they would replace the torque converter. I was quoted $540 for the solenoid and an additional $1800 for the torque converter if it needed to be done.

Talking to a bunch of mechanical savvy coworkers, i had no symptoms of a torque converter issue. so i went ahead and replaced my solenoid back. After it was fixed, they told me that was NOT the solution and that I would have to come in again to get the torque converter fixed. To my amazement, after 2 days, the light went off!! I haven't done anything else with my car and it's been driving like it's always been. I spent the $540 and called it good....

- , Suisun City, CA, USA

problem #13

Feb 232008

Explorer XLS

  • Automatic transmission
  • 78,000 miles

Friday it runs like a champ and Saturday it runs like a chump. Started out by noticing that it was not shifting from 1st to 2nd very well and then the O/D light started flashing. Took it to a dealer to have it looked at - $90 later they say the answer is to replace it will a reman unit for $3829 with a 3 yr 75K warranty. WOW. Considering I just paid it off at the end of December that stung quite a bit so I decided to start researching. After calls to several trans shops I decided to take it somewhere else. They did some more looking and gave me specifics of what was wrong (dealer just hooked it to the computer which I could have done at Autozone for free) and they are now rebuilding it for $2043. Comes with a 1 yr 24K warranty which can be upgraded for a little bit more if you want to. I've also had a window regulator defect which shattered my drivers side window, a wheel bearing go out around 50K and the back panel on my hatch crack. Luckily, all that was under warranty though.

- , Kansas City, MO, USA

problem #12

Jan 242008


  • Automatic transmission
  • 66,800 miles


I complained about the transmission the very first visit to the dealership for regular service, but they could not duplicate the problem. I knew something just was not right. After 66k miles, the O/D light started blinking and the check engine light came on. Took it to the dealership, replace the solenoid, but was still slipping. They suggested a rebuilt or a brand new for $2800 or $3800. I have not had any problems out of my truck, bought it brand new, so I would not have to deal with these kinds of issues. I am pissed!!

- , Cordova, TN, US

problem #11

May 102007

(reported on)

Explorer XLS V6

  • Automatic transmission
  • 72,500 miles

Up until this happened about a week ago, i didn't have any real complaints about the truck. No more than a month ago, i shelled out over $900 to get some overdue maintenance done and a full tune-up. I'm wondering now if they did or failed to do something that is part of the reason for what i'm going through now... NOT a happy camper... Spit

- , Roanoke, VA, USA

problem #10

Jun 182007

(reported on)

Explorer Eddie Bauer 3.2L V6

  • Automatic transmission
  • 74,565 miles

O/D light started flashing. Shifting became irregular - jumped from first to third, no over drive. Service engine soon light then came on - dealership says it could be running too rich and an O2 sensor may be broken.

- , Toronto, ON, Canada

problem #9

Nov 062007

(reported on)

Explorer 4.0L

  • Automatic transmission
  • 75,000 miles

First of all I don't stand behind American cars for this same reason..I drive my girlfriend's 2003 ford explorer daily, and it's performance has progressively declined upon purchase..The issue started as a heavy idle, clicking when starting and a pulling during gear shifts..The problem compounded once the o/d light came on and the check engine message. I get stuck in lane changes in a high pitched rev barely reaching 20 mph..My rpms sit at 1000 before I step on the gas..I have had the trans flushed, filters changed, and the next step will be to have it rebuilt or replaced, but I don't think it is worth it at this point..If anyone reads this and has suggestions, Im all for them..This is a nuisance and the fact that Ford KNOWS this is an issue, and does nothing to satisfy its customers is appalling...Only in America...

- , Newark, NJ, USA

problem #8

Oct 282007

(reported on)

Explorer XLT 4.0L V6

  • Automatic transmission
  • 59,500 miles

I'm never buying another Ford. I used to be a staunch "Buy American" consumer. As American car companies market share continued to plummet, I continued to feel that it is my patriotic duty to buy American.

Well, I finally woke up and realized that everyone else is right, and that I was naive.

Last week the O/D light came on in my Ford Explorer. I drove it right home and got the manual out to see what the problem was. "Transmission problem" was what the manual indicated, as well as several websites I reviewed.

I didn't worry at first, since I figured this would be covered under warranty. My Explorer is just under 5 years old and just under 60K miles. Surely there would at least be a 60K power train warranty. No one would buy a vehicle if they knew the transmission would only last 59K miles.

Well, the dealer told me a new transmission was needed (5th and 2nd gears were worn down), that it would cost $3500, and that it is not covered by warranty. And to add insult to injury he charged me $90 to tell me the transmission was bad (something I obviously knew) - isn't this similar to stealing?

I then asked him what trade in value I could get (not that I really would buy another poor quality Ford, but I wanted to explore all options). $5500 is the most they could give. I laughed - since I had taken very good care of the vehicle. It told me that they didn't want the vehicle either - so much for them really standing behind their product. They know the quality is poor.

Obviously I was quite irritated. I asked what caused this. None of the possibilities applied since I took good care of the vehicle and had it serviced according to the maintenance manual. In fact, the dealer (Cover Ford in Austin) did the 30K checkup. I spent $1K on that (and probably got ripped off).

I took it to a transmission specialist and had it fixed for under $2500. He informed me that he sees a lot of issues like this with Explorers - probably a poor design and poor quality. Also, judging by various websites there are indeed lots of complains like this.

I wouldn't be surprised if Ford knew of the poor design - since the warranty that came with the vehicle was only 3 yr/36K even for powertrain. If Ford had good quality, why couldn't they step up to the plate and offer 60K or even 100K power train warranty. They must have known the poor quality. In my mind, this is deceptive practice - and I kick myself for not recognizing this as a red flag.

Well, for the 2008 Explorer I see Ford is offering 60K powertrain warranty. So they must have made some improvements (which further underscores their recognition of the poor quality in earlier years). But it's still a far cry from 100K that some vehicles come with. You also have to wonder what other quality issues are lurking.

I think the choice is now clear to me. In the future I will be considering something like a Honda Pilot. Ford deserves the trend of lower market share. Consumers are very wise, and the quality the provide is reflected in their declining sales and marketshare.

Please don't make the same mistake I made. The foreign competition provides much better quality and customer service.

- , Austin, TX, USA

problem #7

Oct 102007

(reported on)

Explorer V6

  • Automatic transmission
  • 88,000 miles

My first indication of a problem was the flashing O/D off light. My driver's ed teacher used to call this a "DUMMY" light because there's nothing that you can do to prevent the damage that's already been done once the light comes in. Not knowing the 2003's history of transmission problems, I thought that this was going to be an easy and inexpensive fix. Man, I was wrong.

The 2003 Explorer transmission has problems with the 2nd piston in the transmission breaking from normal use. The part costs about $25 and labor is about $400. My local dealership opened up the piston and noticed that it was not broken as in other 2003's but that there was some play in the piston case. To repair the problem would cost in the $2000 range.

I decided to replace the whole transmission with the rebuilt transmission that Ford offers for about $2500 all out of pocket because the warranty has expired. It comes with a 3 year, 75,000 warranty. This solution may seem extreme to some, but it's logical to pay about the same and get a new transmission with a good warranty.

- , Scotia, NY, USA

problem #6

Aug 202007

(reported on)

Explorer V8

  • Automatic transmission
  • 48,000 miles

really hard to drive off smoothly... drags out to about 40mph before changing with a jerk. really hard to save gas this way.

- , Rosedale, NY, USA

problem #5

Jun 122007

(reported on)


  • Automatic transmission
  • 48,900 miles

This truck is only 3 1/2 years old and is a family car with just under 50,000 miles. We purchased a new vehicle so we wouldn't have to deal with a transmission problem (so soon). And of course the warranty just expired in November. I have a 1996 Honda accord with well over 100,000 miles and have never had a problem with this car. I will never buy another Ford..

- , Waxhaw, NC, US

problem #4

Aug 132007

(reported on)

Explorer XLT V8

  • Automatic transmission
  • 81,000 miles

O/D Light flashes, car not shifting from 1st to 2nd. Really hesitating and making bumping sound and feeling when pushed. Soooooooooo angry since we had extended warranty up to 75,000 miles. Just over, and mechanic/Ford dealer first changed Solenoid?? and now tells us $1800 later that problem not fixed. Needs to take transmission and engine apart for another $3000. Never will I get a Ford again.

- , Windham, NH, USA

problem #3

Aug 102007

(reported on)

Explorer XLT V6

  • Automatic transmission
  • 50,000 miles

4 years old, and only 50k miles and the O/D light starts flashing. I also had been having problems of when I stepped hard on the gas, it felt like nothing would happen for a few seconds - very scary in busy traffic situations. And occasionally I would hear/feel a big clunk when slowing down and stopping. Called my local dealership, and they wanted $125 just to diagnose! Since it wouldn't be covered under warranty, I took it to a reputable transmission shop, got a free diagnosis. They were hoping it was just a solenoid problem. Wound up having to pull the transmission, and found that the clutches were basically falling apart in there! They also told me that they work on a lot of Ford Explorers, usually around 70K. I thought this transmission wasn't supposed to need service until 125K!?!?! And get this - you put in the transmission fluid in the same hole you take it out from - you have to pump it in - what a pain! I love my Explorer, but this is my first ever experience with having to dump this kind of money into a car. This had better be the last of my troubles. BTW - seems to be working great now. Runs better than ever! I think this car had transmission problems from the get go! I've owned it 4 years now, but got it used. This is the best it ever ran - I'm wondering if this is the reason why the previous owner got rid of it soo quickly.

- , Eugene, OR, USA

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