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 4 of 8)

« Read the previous 20 complaints

problem #81

Nov 162009


  • 118,000 miles


2003 Ford Explorer XLS AWD - driving on highway, vehicle begins vibrating excessively. O/D off light flashes, service engine soon light comes on. Transmission bad. $3000 to replace.

- Brighton, MI, USA

problem #80

Sep 162009


  • 78,000 miles
Overdrive light came on as well as the check engine light the vehicle had been running fine, then the gears would not shift, we were on interstate 70 eastbound between wheeling wv and Washington pa traveling at 65 mph in heavy traffic. The vehicle began to slow without warning we were nearly hit by a tractor trailer that had been following us! we searched the internet to see if this had happened to anyone else and lo and behold hundreds of complaints were listed on numerous sites, the vehicle is now at the transmission shop and before its all done it will cost at least $2300 to repair as the transmission went all at once with no warning at all! there is no way for the diy mechanic to check the transmission fluid as the transmission is completely sealed (no dipstick) so I guess I am grateful that the truck driver was able to swerve enough to not hit us or Ford would be directly responsible for our deaths!

- Brownsville, PA, USA

problem #79

Jul 172009


  • 58,000 miles
Add to the pile. We have a Ford Explorer limited, 2003 built 2004 model. I have had the rear differential repaired at my cost but the car still kicks when put into reverse. We live in australia. I have been told to have two additives put into the transmission fluid and replace the solenoid. The additives are not even available from Ford in australia. They sell it but no parts. Amazing. I even had to source the parts for the rear diff myself from the U.S. Ford australia could not give a price, date etc. They took the money but did not warn anyone about the fact that you are driving a time bomb. We bought this car used from a Ford dealer. I only wish there was a way to prove they knew and did not disclose. It would be an interesting class action against the dealers if Ford will not take responsibility. I just want to get rid of it but can't in clear conscience dump it on some other poor bugger. This car has suffered from every problem from flashing ABS to diff to transmission. The last time the transmission slipped the car rolled. Luckily no one was in front of the car considering it was put into reverse.

- Bermagui, 00, USA

problem #78

Jul 122009


  • 83,000 miles


The transmission started not shifting properly and the O/D light started flashing. Check engine came on. Took 2003 Ford Explorer to get checked by Ford dealership. Result: Transmission failed and required replacing. Ford Explorer only had 83,000 miles. $3,000 dollars to replace. Told that it was a common problem among Ford Explorer.

- Cincinnati, OH, USA

problem #77

May 242008


  • 48,000 miles
I bought my 2003 Explorer in 2002 at 110 miles. Within the 3 year warranty the air conditioning had a urine smell and knocking noise in the rear but they didn't want to fix it. As a result I have a slow leak which means it has to be charged every year. In Feb 2007 a crack formed in the rear panel they didn't want to fix. October 2007 at 45000 miles I needed wheel bearings for inspection. At 48000 miles when I paid my truck off May 2008, within a few days the 0/D light & service engine soon light came on resulting in my gears slipping. I found out through several shops that my 2nd and fifth gears were burned out. The dealership said the solenoid body, then has to go in to check for more. I filed a complaint with the attorney general because I had no extended warranty which was a waste of time because Ford wasn't cooperating. So now it's June 2009 and I'm still driving it a whole year later because I can't afford to get it fixed. I learned how to drive the truck but I'm reminded everyday about the problems. Park to reverse is a struggle, it doesn't start easily sometimes, it has no power while driving, ABS and door ajar lights stay on, and reverse alarm when to close doesn't work, and instead of being happy I paid it off it's nothing but a feeling of frustration, anger, and regret for buying from Ford.

- West Mifflin, PA, USA

problem #76

Jun 102009


  • 45,000 miles
My 2003 Ford Explorer sometimes will lock the shifter at reverse as I move it to park. It feels like it went all the way to park, but it really stops (and won't move) at reverse. Letting off the brake, assuming it is in park, causes the vehicle to roll backwards.

- Mogadore, OH, USA

problem #75

Jun 112009


  • 87,993 miles


Today I got in my Ford Explorer and noticed that my overdrive light was flashing. So, pulled over to see what the owners manual says and soon right after the engine light comes on..I then look through the manual and it indicates that if these lights were to come on please take it to service asap. I did the following and took the SUV to pep boys. I described my problem to the service manager and he said please don't tell me it's a Ford Explorer....I hesitated and looked at him with a puzzled look on my face and said yes. Why " I said. Well Ford Explorer are known for this problem and that I should check to see if there are any recalls. I then went to Ford website and followed the directions on how to check for any recalls on your vehicle and entered my VIN# and got back no recalls on this vehicle. With all these complaints and consumers crying about this problem how can we allow a car giant like Ford to get away with this manufacturing problem" at least they should have the decency to inform you that there cars have been known for having transmission problems dating back to 1995. The list of people with the same problem that I have was rude awakening and very disturbing to see. We need a resolution to this problem regardless of what it takes. Please contact me directly if you need to.

- Fair Lawn, NJ, USA

problem #74

Sep 202006


  • 50,000 miles
The passenger side airbag warning light comes on intermittently for no reason (has since I bought it used in 2006). The door ajar warning light comes on and won't allow me to lock/set my alarm on my vehicle plus it leaves the interior lights on for a while (started about 6 months ago). I am now experiencing a banging sound under the hood when I change the temperature (heat or air conditioning)(started in last 4 months). I have to turn the fan on high to get it to stop. It will do it even if the temp is off sometimes. It also will not lock into gear when put into park on an incline (my driveway)...without rocking backwards into gear(started in the last 6 months).

- Canal Winchester, OH, USA

problem #73

May 112003


  • miles
I have a 2003 Ford Explorer. I recently was pulling out of my garage when I realized I needed to check and see if I had my glove and shoes in the back for my softball game. I put my car in park and popped the trunk, when I got out of my car the car kicked back into reverse and started to roll. Luckily the door caught on the garage door and bent it, but no one was hurt. Clearly, the transmission kicked back into reverse without me doing it. This is not the first item I have noticed something 'screwy' like this with my car, it has been acting up a time or two before.

- Atlanta, GA, USA

problem #72

Apr 262009


  • 26,577 miles
II purchased a 2003 Explorer, 2-11-03. Kept having problems shifting out of reverse, and finally, 3-8-04, and again, 9-13-04, and was told by dealer the problem was not valid, and would eventually go away, with no damage to vehicle. I continued to have problems, on and off, and now have over 89,000 miles on vehicle, and it is happening more and more. Sometimes, I have to continue cutting the engine off, restart, and keep trying to get the transmission to shift out of reverse. I have never received any recall notice regarding the transmission, either from Ford, or dempewolf, the dealer. This does not happen all the time, but, enough to make me nervous that one day it might not back up at all. When it does shift, the force almost throw me out of the seat. It is a scary situation. I always took my vehicle to dempwolf for servicing, and to try and get the transmission problem rectified. I have my maintenance receipts, all of them!

- Rex, GA, USA

problem #71

Apr 012007


  • 52,000 miles


I own a 2003 Ford Explorer. I just read the article in the paper regarding transmission hazards. I can honestly say I do believe these SUV's do have a problem with transmission slipping in and out of gear on there own. I have several incidents where mine has done it. One time I had put my car in reverse and it jumped forward and I actually ran over the curb in front of me but the gear shift was in reverse. There is problems regarding this SUV. I took the car back to carmax where I purchased it from but it still does it. The car is out of warranty now. It will do it randomly. I don't know the reason but I do think it is a safety issue that needs to be investigated.

- Stockbridge, GA, USA

problem #70

Dec 312008


  • miles
Was driving to work and trans started slipping. O/D light started blinking and then next day check engine light came on. Took it to a dealer who told me I need to either rebuild my trans for $3200 or put in a rebuilt from Ford for over $4000 which would give me a 100K mile warranty, 64K more than the brand new one that was in the car when I bought it. Car had 74,500 miles on it but was less than 3 weeks over the 5 year/ 75K extended warranty I purchased from Ford. I called the customer relationship number and the warranty people numerous times and no one offered any help. I even offered to by a new Ford if they would give me a fair trade on my old one, it seemed as if after driving Ford's for the past 8 years they did not want me as customer any longer. I took it to an independent shop and fixed it for $2000 and I just traded it for a new Nissan pathfinder which cost me less, has more power and gets better gas mileage. I am happy to say I have owned my last Ford.

- Forest Hills, NY, USA

problem #69

Apr 122009


  • 98,000 miles
We were driving the vehicle from wi to mn and the overdrive light was flashing and the Ford Explorer was not shifting correctly and a few times was stuck at 50+ mph even though the cruise control was not on. We returned to our home and took the 2003 Ford Explorer in to a repair shop who said the report indicated that the transmission needs to be replaced. The design of the transmission on these vehicles doesn't allow the owner to check fluid levels. It felt like a very dangerous situation with children in the car and the vehicle not shifting correctly and actually "revving" and staying at 50+ mph while the cruise was not on.

- Mankato, MN, USA

problem #68

Apr 032008


  • 72,000 miles
I was driving my 2003 Ford Explorer on the highway and suddenly the overdrive light came on and began flashing. I brought it in to get checked and was told it is a transmission problem. Supposedly need to change the torque converter. I am not the first and afraid that I won;T be the last with this problem. This needs to be addressed!

- Berlin , CT, USA

problem #67

Mar 152009


  • 69,349 miles
Three days ago I get into my truck and start to drive down the road and my truck doesn't shift into gears. Then when it finally did it jerked really hard and I bout went into a ditch. Then the O/D light starts flashing. Later that day the check engine light comes on. I try to check the transmission fluid level but you can't in this transmission. When I google this problem I find all these people with the same problem I have. The transmission is going out on my truck and it only has 69,000 on it. I owned an older model Explorer and had to replace the transmission two times in it. This is an on going problem Ford has with these vehicles and they aren't doing anything to help their customers fix it or fix it themselves. I think this being such a common occurrence with Ford Explorer that Ford should do something about it. This is a major safety issue considering you never know when your transmission is going to go out driving down the road. I hope that you can find some solution to this problem.

- Hazard, KY, USA

problem #66

Dec 292008


  • 89,000 miles
Had to replace wire harness to transmission after 85,000 miles now the overdrive service engine light always flashing.

- Northville, MI, USA

problem #65

Jan 112008


  • 124,000 miles
Just had transmission serviced last week. Now O/D light is flashing and check transmission light is coming on. See by internet this is a well known problems with the Ford.

- Sayre, PA, USA

problem #64

Jun 302003


  • 35,998 miles
I put the date of incident as the date I purchased the vehicle. I put this date as such because ever since I purchased this vehicle, we have had nothing but run arounds by the service providers and constant repairs every 3-7 months since I purchased the vehicle. The first major repair occurred when I had owned the vehicle for 18 months, at 35,998. It had an $1800 transmission job. Subsequent repairs have been focused transmission issues (always something slightly different than previous), engine function, and other mechanical issues. An extended warranty was purchased, but due to the parameters of the warranty, all issues were not fixed because they "were not able to be duplicated", (I.e. an intermittent transmission issue that had been occurring for 30,000 miles). Now that we are out of our warranty vehicle, we have an overpriced vehicle that is still owed on that will continue to need significant repairs. The most recent issue is the heating element, including the actuator and blend door function. This faulty piece will fail in the cold position. This causes a safety issue because you are faced with a repair that you may not be able afford (since they can run up to $1200) and having heat in the winter. With the current auto industry having the issues they are, they need to begin to make quality vehicles that aren't made to break just to get more money out of customers. To have continued customers, a company must have a consistent product that people can trust. The current american auto industry does not have that.

- Westminster, CO, USA

problem #63

Dec 072008


  • 58,000 miles
The transmission in our 2003 Ford Explorer failed and needed to be replaced after only 58,000 miles. From what I've been reading, it seems as though others have had similar problems with 2003 Explorer and I wanted to document the problem we had. I contacted Ford and was told they were unaware of any problem with the transmission and they refused any help.

- Havertown, PA, USA

problem #62

Oct 302008


  • 83,998 miles
I noticed my transmission slipping around 27 Oct 29th 2008, took it to a Ford dealership for what I presumed was perhaps a needed transmission flush, the service manger told me that I had a transmission problem and that the transmission can go at any time, two days, two months or two years, took the vehicle home that night, the transmission failed to engage, had the vehicle towed to aamco for a free diagnostic, was told that the transmission is gone and would have to be rebuilt at a cost ranging from 2500 to 3500, I then called Ford national number told them that I am a (4) time Explorer owner and ask if there is any help or assistance that I can receive form Ford, I was told that Ford will honor any price assistance given to me by any local Ford dealership to repair my transmission, I called my local dealership and told them what national had told me, they said that they would repair the transmission for $2200 out of the door, later that day that number was reduced to $1900, I told aamco to please move my vehicle to the designated Ford dealership, after about 5 days I received a call from the dealership telling me that the vehicle is finished and was test driven and everything was ok, , then it was test driven again later that day and a problem was discovered and now the valve body would have to be replaced at a cost of an additional $400. I got my vehicle back then after about 10 days I noticed that the transmission was slipping again and there was leak spots on my driveway, I took it back to the dealer and was told that some seal in the transmission is leaking, however it is under warranty, but I should replace some sort of pump within the transmission for and additional $300.....this is the classic bait and switch, they are the professional and should be competent and experienced enough to diagnose and fix a transmission. The $1900 is now $ 2600; I am done with Ford after over 15 years of loyalty.

- Woodbridge, VA, USA

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