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:
3 / 1
Injuries / Deaths:
1 / 0
Average Mileage:
65,336 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 transmission problems

transmission problem

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2003 Ford Explorer Owner Comments (Page 2 of 8)

« Read the previous 20 complaints

problem #121

Nov 152008


  • miles


The transmission went out several months after the warranty expired and the company did nothing to address this...the car was only 5 years old when this happened and we had to get a new transmission.

- Thornton, CO, USA

problem #120

Feb 152011

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • 120,000 miles
I was driving my 2003 Ford Explorer XLT V6 4.0L on I40W, when all of a sudden the vehicle began to decelerate while the rpms were constantly going up. This put me in the interstate with no power as the gears weren't shifting. I took it to my local Ford dealership and they put it on the diagnostic machine and told me they really didn't know what was wrong with it and that they would have to break the transmission down in order to know for sure. I searched online for any common transmission problems and came across a site where people with vehicles just like mine having the same exact problem. As of now I'm still waiting on Ford to let me know what's going on with my truck, but with hundreds of other people having the same problem I see no reason for them not know what the problem is as well as have a recall on the vehicle to fix the problem.

- Proctor, AR, USA

problem #119

Mar 222010

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • 60,356 miles
No second gear.

- Norristown, PA, USA

problem #118

Feb 012011

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 102,000 miles


Like every other day, I started the SUV a few minutes before I had to leave to let it warm up because NY is cold, and then left to run some errands. I realized right away that the truck sounded a little funny when accelerating, so the radio went off so I could listen. I found that when shifting from first to second, in this automatic vehicle, the overdrive was kicking on prematurely. Then the O/D light started flashing. I came home and started researching it and found hundreds of complaints, so here I am, in the same boat as everyone else, about to look up numbers to transmission specialists because the dealer is definitely not going to make any money off of my with this one.

- Hilton, NY, USA

problem #117

Jan 202011

Explorer 4WD 8-cyl

  • 130,200 miles
I own a 2003 Ford Explorer and have never had any problem with my vehicle. I do not drive it hard and make sure that it gets the proper upkeep. As I was driving down the road one day my check engine light came on. The next day on my way to work I noticed that the transmission was having trouble shifting and the time I got home that evening the transmission was shifting very hard if it would even shift at all. My O/D off light also started flashing. I thought that it was just a fluke with my transmission until I checked online to find that there is alot of other people having the same problem and that Ford is doing nothing to fix the problem. My car is currently in the shop and they have said that it will cost atleast 3200 or more to fix the transmission. I have contacted my Ford dealership and they were well aware of the problems with this transmission but stated there was nothing they could do and Ford hasn't accepted responsibility for the problem. They also stated that there was an obvious defect with the transmission. I would like to know if there is or was a defect investigation seeing that there are so many people with the same problem and if anyone can tell me if there is a class action lawsuit for this matter.

- Grayson, KY, USA

problem #116

Jan 182010

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • 160,000 miles
I was driving my 2003 Ford Explorer, and all of a sudden when merging onto the highway, my overdrive light started flashing, and the transmission won't shift out of 1st gear. Absolutely unacceptable! an 03?! please!

- Brook Park, OH, USA

problem #115

Apr 012008


  • 54,655 miles


The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. The vehicle experienced difficulty changing gears while driving at any speed. The vehicle was taken to an authorized dealer where the contact was told that the transmission needed to be replaced. The vehicle was taken to an independent repair shop where the transmission was rebuilt. Approximately 3 years later the failure recurred. The vehicle was taken to an independent repair shop where the transmission was rebuilt. The failure mileage was 54,655 and the current mileage was 111,260.

- New Haven, CT, USA

problem #114

Jan 092011

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • miles
Some sort of transmission failure dealing with the shifting solenoid. This leads to sporadic shifting between the lower gears. This lead to very hard driving in slow and icy conditions. The car would be at such high rpms at slow speeds such as 20-30 mph that the car would loose traction, so far I have had no accidents with this problem but the potential is very apparent.

- Pueblo West, CO, USA

problem #113

Jan 082011

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • 124,999 miles
Service engine light appeared, then the od (overdrive) light began flashing. Then the Explorer had difficulty accelerating. The engine was running higher rpms than usual, especially when accelerating from 0 to 30mph. I took the Explorer to the Ford dealer where the Explorer was purchased and exclusively serviced since when I bought it new in July 2003. They would not acknowledge that this is a persistent problem with 2003 Explorer. They told me that I have no 2nd or 5th gears, int. Servo failed and case bore damaged. They want over $3,600 to repair (and that, they say is a discount!). I then took it to a transmission shop, who was well aware of this problem and there were 2 other Explorer currently there being repaired for the same thing. An investigation needs to be done for a recall. This is a safety issue and a consumer rip-off!

- Hackettstown, NJ, USA

problem #112

Jan 012011

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • 70,000 miles
My 2003 Ford Explorer XLT only has 70000K and the transmission is completely in need of rebuild. It doesn't drive in reverse and doesn't go faster than 25mph without sounding as if the engine is going to fall off. It kicks back while attempting to change gears and the RPM is working hard with the truck going nowhere fast. I cant afford to repair the problem as im still making monthly payments on it. This should not be happening with an eight year old vehicle. This little bit of information on how there is no dipstick to check the transmission fluid should have been revealed at time of purchase I think.

- Fresh Meadows, NY, USA

problem #111

Dec 312010

Explorer 4WD 8-cyl

  • 62,000 miles


"od (overdrive)" light blinking in dash. Then "service engine soon" light on 12-31-10. Higher RPM's in engine then usual, to shift gears in automatic transmission. Trans having thumping sounding when placed into park, drive or reverse. Broken servo sidearm inside transmission.. vehicle only has 62,000 miles on it. Taken to local transmission shop. Estimate of $1,475 to fix.

- Philadelphia, PA, USA

problem #110

Feb 122010

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 140,000 miles
Problems with the rear panel cracking up, being replaced twice, still cracked again, also the transmission not able to check it during a trip unless you go under the truck, last thing the brake light switch sticking causing to drain battery and not able to order part because the manual are wrong.

- Greensboro, NC, USA

problem #109

Dec 062010

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • 104,000 miles
O/D off light blinks on dashboard and vehicle shifts hard. Was advised that transmission rebuild was necessary.

- Virginia Beach, VA, USA

problem #108

Nov 222010

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 84,090 miles
2003 Ford Explorer 5R55-w transmission failure wherein the internal linkages, servo valve and bearings failed at startup, rendering the vehicle unmovable under it's own power and stranding the driver.

- St Paul, MN, USA

problem #107

Oct 062010

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • 85,245 miles
I sent a letter of complaint to Ford regarding my situation with my transmission failing on me and the local Ford dealer charging me $4,300 since my car is no longer under warranty. I truly hope that Ford gets their act together and addresses this issues as I'm seeing more and more complaints pop-up everywhere regarding this. Poor excuse!!! dear valued customer, thank you for contacting the Ford Motor Company customer relationship center inquiring for any recalls on your 2003 Ford Explorer. I sincerely understand the frustration that this transmission concern on your vehicle has brought you. Please be informed that Ford Motor Company is working with the national highway traffic and safety administration (NHTSA) to proactively identify areas of concern through investigation of consumer and dealership feedback. If a concern is noted, a recall is conducted to remedy a safety or emissions concern in the interest of customer satisfaction and environmental responsibility. Thus, I have reviewed if any available coverages or programs may provide assistance towards your vehicle repair. After extensively reviewing your situation, I regret to inform you that there are no recalls, warranties or other coverages available that may cover the repair on your vehicle. While this is so, I would like to thank you for taking the time to bring your concern into our attention as this is definitely something we can build on. If a program is announced on a specific component and/or for the transmission concern on your vehicle, Ford will notify you by mail. I appreciate the fact that you are a loyal Ford customer and hope that we might have the opportunity in the future to assist you with a more favorable resolution to keep your confidence in our products and services. If you have any other inquiries and/or concerns that need to be addressed, please feel free to contact us and we will be happy to assist a valued customer like yourself. Sincerely, customer relationship center

- Bloomingdale, NJ, USA

problem #106

Oct 282010


  • 62,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. The contact stated that while driving 30 mph when the rpms increased up to 405 and the over drive light illuminated as well. The contact drove onto the emergency lane and was able to restart the vehicle it recurred. The dealer was informed about the failure and they stated that the bands in the transmission are shot and will have to be replaced. The vehicle was not repaired. The failure mileage was 62000 and the current mileage was 62010.

- Milwaukee, WI, USA

problem #105

Sep 202010


  • 153,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer XLT (N/a). While driving the over drive light illuminated on the instrument panel. The vehicle was taken to a repair shop where the mechanic located the failure at the transmission solenoid. The contact called the manufacturer and was informed that there were no related recalls. The contact planned to have the vehicle repaired. The failure mileage was approximately 153,000 the current mileage was approximately 153,300.

- Ararat, NC, USA

problem #104

Mar 252010


  • 135,000 miles
There have been multiple problems with my 2003 Ford Explorer since I bought it brand new in August of 2003. But ironically they have all appeared after the warranty had expired. In September 2007 the air conditioning unit no longer worked. It cost me $2000 and a week without a car, to get it fixed. In August 2009 the passenger door window would no longer work. In September 2009 my SUV started making a clicking sound when turning on the heater. Since we lived in a warm climate this did not concern us much, as the heat had worked even with the clicking sound. But we moved to a colder climate and the heater went out in March 2010. In April 2010 the service engine light came on. After speaking with the mechanic, he said it was a transmission problem that occurred when the car shifted from 1st to 2nd gear and from 4th to 5th gear. He could not give me any more information and was not willing to fix my transmission problem (he suggested I go elsewhere because he was not an expert in transmissions). In May 2010 the O/D light started flashing off. After speaking to mechanic again, he said it was related to the transmission problem. In August 2010 the door ajar light started coming on randomly, even when the door is not open. And in September 2010, I noticed my ABS light will come on randomly. It does not appear to be triggered by any specific reason, and does not always come on.

- Apo, AE, USA

problem #103

Jan 102010


  • 98,000 miles
O/D light began flashing and transmission started to slip from 2nd T 3rd gear. Had the trans solenoid pack replaced which helped for awhile but problem came back after a month or so. Took it to repair shop again and this time they said it's the 4th and 5th gear servos.

- South Park, PA, USA

problem #102

Sep 042010

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • 74,000 miles
2003 Ford Explorer with 74,000 miles on it - O/D light began flashing. Around the same time I noticed that when going from a stop to a start it would take a long time to shift into gear. Took it into the mechanic - suggested a new transmission for $4100!!! for a car that has less than 100,000 miles this is ridiculous.

- Springfield, VA, USA

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