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 3 of 8)

« Read the previous 20 complaints

problem #101

Aug 242010


  • 115,304 miles


With no warning, while driving my 2003 Explorer yesterday, the O/D off light comes on then the check transmission light also comes on. After that I notice the shifting of gears feels really weird. It shifts slower and harder when it shifts. I cannot drive the car because it is unsafe for me and my 2 young children. The repair shop says I need a new transmission which will cost me $2000 that I don't have, to put into a vehicle I am still paying on. If I continue to drive it with the transmission the way it is now, it could lock up and make me stop in the middle of the road, and possible get myself and others seriously injured or killed. This seems to be a problem with this make, model and year vehicle that I have, but I didn't not know that until I began doing research when it messed up yesterday.

- Staffordsville, KY, USA

problem #100

Mar 092009

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • 86,000 miles
The transmissions is failing in 2nd and 5th gear. It occurs everyday and you can not accelerate without it sticking in a higher gear, making it difficult to stop safely.

- Tomah, WI, USA

problem #99

Aug 122010

Explorer 4WD 8-cyl

  • 158,000 miles
I own a 2003 Ford Explorer-4.6 liter V8 4 wheel drive, the vehicle has 158,000 miles and have experienced the sparkplug blowout while driving home from work. I was traveling on a busy state road when the engine miss fired and then heard a loud pop and the engine went to missing bad. I immediately pulled to the side and checked to see what was happening. I limped the vehicle into a parking lot and proceeded to reinstall the plug and coil pack. The forcing push of the plug broke the coil pack and tore the plug boot. I just replaced the coil pack and plug boot assembly and reinstalled the plug bck in. I feel that this issue is common on the 4.6 liters, a friend and shadetree mechanic did a motor swap in an Expedition with this same motor for the same reason cause the plug in cylinder #4(passenger rear) tore the threads coming out and let loose metal into the piston journal and caused severe damage.

- Greencastle, IN, USA

problem #98

Jan 162010

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 90,000 miles


Overdrive light is blinking and transmission is shifting hard and sometimes not at all. The car has 90,000 miles on it. Nothing has ever been toed. It is a daily commute car I have owned since brand new. There is no way I should already need a new transmission. Also the wheel bearings have gone on both sides of the front of my car. This has happened to countless other people with this year (2003) Explorer. I have researched both and this is a common occurrence with this car. And both are extremely hazardous for safety reasons. I believe this is a huge defect from Ford and needs to be investigated.

- Waterford, MI, USA

problem #97

Jul 152010


  • 70,000 miles
I have a 2003 Ford Explorer with approx. 70,000 miles on it. On July 15, 2010, I noticed that the overdrive light was flashing on and off and then the check engine light turned on. This problem happened on and off for about a week. On July 26, 2010, I took the vehicle in for repair and was told that I needed a new transmission and a new solenoid pack. The cost of these items was $2,500! I proceeded to do some internet research and found that this seems to be a common problem with the 2002 and 2003 Ford Explorer. The transmissions of these vehicles have major problems as no one should have to replace a transmission with only 70,000 miles on it. I feel Ford needs to issue a recall of this item as it has caused many people a lot of money to repair.

- West Allis, WI, USA

problem #96

Jul 022010


  • 72,000 miles
While I am driving the truck slows down then speeds back up. Vehicle is only 7 years old and has 71,000 miles, a few days ago the O/D light started flashing and then a day later the check engine soon light came on as well. I took the truck to a transmission shop they hooked the truck up to the machine and 5 malfunctions came up in the transmission he said that the 1st and 5th gear is slipping. He would have to rebuilt the transmission, which would cost at least $2000. He also stated that my truck was too young and didn't have enough miles in it to already have transmission problems. I see by the other complaints on that I am not the only one have this problem. Who do we have to contact in order to have Ford notice that they truck should get recalled B/C of the transmission problems?

- Edison, NJ, USA

problem #95

May 092010

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • 74,681 miles


Overdrive light flashes on my 2003 Ford Explorer.

- Parma, OH, USA

problem #94

Apr 092010

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • 135,500 miles
I have a 2003 Ford Explorer that I bought brand new, it now has 135,553 miles on it. Have never had problems and it actually drives very well, but the O/D off light started flashing. Took it to the Ford dealer 3 days later, was told the torque converter needed to be replaced at a cost of $1,225. The dealer has told me that the torque converter has been replaced twice, the O/D off light still flashing and after further diagnostics they have now determined the computer needs to be replaced at a cost of an additional $1,325. According to the internet this is a persistent problem that Ford has yet to do anything about. It should be a recall issue.

- Castaic, CA, USA

problem #93

May 202007

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • 83,000 miles
Steering column.. hard to shift into park.

- Camden, TN, USA

problem #92

Oct 012007

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • 67,000 miles
Transmission started slipping and taking a long time going into gear and jerking into gear since around 67000 miles. It now has over 91000 miles and keeps getting worse. The transmission shop told me that this is common with this model Explorer.

- Dallas, TX, USA

problem #91

Mar 102010


  • 104,900 miles


Ford 2003 Explorer overdrive light flashing and service engine soon light on. Brought in for service to be told Ford has this problem but they've done nothing about it. Could break down on street and strand motorist. Now I have to replace transmission. I feel my families safety was jeopardized by Ford neglect.

- Tinley Park, IL, USA

problem #90

Mar 082010

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • 80,100 miles
The O/D light is flashing on the dashboard, service engine light comes on and when I accelerate the transmission shifts rough, Ford says it is not a common problem, but I have visited several sites today with complaints from other consumers, all makes, all models of Ford trucks and SUVS. I have 2003 Ford Explorer.the vehicle just went over 80,000 mile.

- Jackson, NJ, USA

problem #89

Feb 172010


  • 79,000 miles
Over drive light is blinking; transmission is revving high.. only has 79,000 on it!

- Philadelphia, PA, USA

problem #88

Jan 232010


  • 113,059 miles
2003 O/D light blinking, service engine light soon light turned on. Transmission problems detected. Lots of Ford transmissions seem to have flaws need to force a recall.

- New York, NY, USA

problem #87

Jan 222010


  • 82,000 miles
2003 Ford Explorer XLT - overdrive light starting flashing and now the transmission slips when shifting from 1st to second gear. Engine revs to 3200 rpms and makes a loud noise before feathering the gas to get the transmission to shift into 2nd gear. Vertical crack in fiberglass tailgate panel just below rear window glass. No impact to tailgate occurred-crack just appeared.

- Berlin, CT, USA

problem #86

Jan 182003


  • 90,000 miles
2003 Ford Explorer "O/D off" light blinking.

- Panama City Beach, FL, USA

problem #85

Dec 202009


  • 70,596 miles
I own a 2003 Ford Explorer XLT and the O/D light constantly blinks. The transmission is sluggish shifting from 1st to 2nd and my car failed an emissions inspection due to this problem. I have read how many other people have had this very same problem even after a transmission has been repaired or replaced. Hoping this problem could be recalled because this is too wide spread for it to be a consumer issue.

- Reisterstown, MD, USA

problem #84

Dec 052009


  • 110,000 miles
Driving my 2003 Ford Explorer on highway when gear slipped..O/D light started flashing! it needs a new transmission they say but I haven't done the repair yet.

- Douglas, MA, USA

problem #83

Jul 132009


  • 82,549 miles
I started noticing that my Explorer was not shifting correctly and the overdrive light was staying on, along with the check engine light. I had the computer tested and it resulted in code P0775. I called Ford (in bethlehem pa) and they could not get me in until the w/O 7/20. Since I was leaving for vacation and needed it, I took it to bethlehem transmissions. After they fixed it rebuilt the transmission and $3309.70 later, the owner stated to me that this is a known problem with the 2003 Explorer. So I called Ford, who told me to take my receipt to the local dealership, that was a waste of my time B/C the service manager was rude, and didn't care about the problem. My truck only had 82,000 miles on. I upgraded to this vehicle to not have problems. Well, I received no satisfaction with Ford, so I am now coming to you. There are no recalls, but this needs to be taken care of, I should not have had to spend that amount of money to fix a known problem with this model. The tsi for this issue is 5R55W. Can someone help me? this is alot of money and I think Ford should be standing by their product and fix this problem. I have the complete receipt for the repair, but I do not have the old transmission.

- Center Valley, PA, USA

problem #82

Nov 282009


  • 96,000 miles
I have noticed over the past 2 weeks the gear shift lever getting harder to move from park to reverse and vise-versa. Now, the steering column mounted gear selector (prnd321) at times won't come out of park. I have to play with the gear select lever/brake pedal in order to get the interface to release. I haven't as yet taken the vehicle to my mechanic for repairs.

- Wadsworth, OH, USA

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