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 5 of 8)

« Read the previous 20 complaints

problem #61

Oct 012008


  • 155,000 miles


O/D light began blinking, later ABS light on. Aamco said tranny was going out...probably torque converter but could be seal. Recommended junk yard tranny. He said that Ford had all kind of trouble with this transmission.

- Stringer, MS, USA

problem #60

Sep 222008

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 84,000 miles
I have a 2003 4WD 4.0 6 cyl. Ford Explorer with 84,000 miles on it. My over drive light starts flashing and the transmission is slipping. I have just seen online hundreds of people with the exact same problem and Ford is not recalling or doing anything to help with repairs.

- Scotch Plains, NJ, USA

problem #59

Oct 022008


  • 124,000 miles
2003 Ford Explorer purchased new. Out of the blue check transmission and O/D off light starts flashing. At dealership now for repair estimate. While researching on the internet I was amazed to see the number of identical complaints for the exact problem on the exact same car. I spoke with Ford today & they told me sorry and to "have a good day". I am mortified at the problem and the lack of assistance Ford is willing to provide with this obviously large spread problem.

- Bellbrook, OH, USA

problem #58

Oct 202006


  • 50,000 miles


I purchased a 2003 Explorer in August 2006; mileage was approximately 45,000. By October the car would not start and the alternator was replaced. A few weeks later, I was back because my car was jerking. Nothing showed up on the diagnostic tool at that time. However, I was told the starter would have to be replaced as would the recently installed alternator. I returned less than a month later with the same jerking issue, only this time I notified the repair shop that the O/D light had been coming on. Furthermore, my car had actually stalled in the middle of traffic. Again, nothing was found. By early December, I was back. My car had stalled on a few more occasions and would not "pick up". that is, even though the RPM's would reach anywhere from 2500 - 4000, my car could not accelerate above 25 - 30 mph. Several days later I was told that the transmission needed work. I got my car back a few days before christmas and decided last minute to head to the mountains. As soon as I reach a slight elevation, the car ceased to accelerate and what's more, a thick heavy cloud of black smoke came out of the rear and persisted for at least two miles. I headed back down the mountain for home. I took the car back and they kept it for at least a week and a half to repair the torque converter and other transmission related issue. In early fall 2007, I took the car to my local Ford dealer for some strange noise coming from the engine. It ended up costing $2500 to repair. I returned in November for more work, this time for the same torque converter and solenoid issue as a year ago. During this two year period, my vehicle was under extended warranty. The total repair cost for the first year of ownership is anywhere from $5000 - $9000, of which I paid at least $2500 out of pocket. My warranty has since expired and I am worried that these same issues will recur, as I have read they have. This is not an isolated incident and should be investigated and a recall issued.

- Las Vegas, NV, USA

problem #57

Mar 272008


  • 86,000 miles
I own a 2003 Ford Explorer. I have owned it since buying it from vogler Ford in carbondale, Illinois. A few months ago the overdrive light began to flash all the time and it shifts hard going from 2nd to 3rd gear. I searched this problem on the internet to see if I could replace a part on it. I have read numerous complaints about these transmissions. Have they recalled any faulty transmissions from Ford vehicles.

- Murphysboro, IL, USA

problem #56

Nov 202004


  • 20,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. The contact stated that the transmission frequently malfunctioned. When he would shift into reverse or drive, the vehicle would not respond. He would have to wait ten minutes for the transmission to engage or even shut off the vehicle and try again. Everytime the vehicle was taken to the dealer, they could never duplicate the failure. After a diagnostic was performed, the dealer could not find any failures. The contact took the vehicle to the dealer at least 5-6 times for the failure, but was not given any explanation. The current mileage was approximately 62,000 and failure mileage was approximately 20,000.

- Traverse City, MI, USA

problem #55

Apr 142008


  • 80,000 miles


April 2008, O/D light started blinking & vehicle started shifting hard; took to Ford dealership the next week; after computer diagnostic said I needed to replace transmission on 2003 Explorer with 80,000 miles; within 2 months the vehicle was parked because the transmission was not wanting to shift into reverse regardless of weather conditions.

- Gardners, PA, USA

problem #54

Mar 042008


  • 44,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. While driving 25 mph, the transmission caused the RPM's to increase from 1,000 to 4,000, followed by a loud thumping noise. The overdrive light would also remain illuminated after the malfunction. The vehicle has been diagnosed by the dealer, but still continues to fail. The failure mileage was 44,000.

- Oxen Hill, MD, USA

problem #53

Apr 072008

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 110,000 miles
O/D light flashes transmission has trouble shifting out of 1st gear.

- El Dorado Hills, CA, USA

problem #52

Apr 022008

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 90,205 miles
Driving to work from home, O/D off light began flashing and going from 1st to 2nd gear lagged. Returning home that night, O/D off light began flashing and service engine soon light came on along with lagging in shifting. Took to mechanic who performed transmission maintenance and replaced solenoid. This corrected service engine light, but O/D light still flashed. Found filings in transmission fluid which led to replacing transmission. Found forums that related similar problems with transmission. At least I got 90,000 miles before this happened.

- New City, NY, USA

problem #51

Feb 262008

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 53,300 miles


When shifted into reverse the vehicle will intermittently slam into the gear after some time has lapsed, or other times it won't move into any gear and freezes in a neutral state, even when the shift lever is moved into drive or any other gear, for that matter. These events have occurred at least several times in the 1 month period we have owned it. Purchased it from a dealer on 2/24/08 with 53,000K miles on it. It is currently in a Ford dealer (1 week so far) for service, but they say they can not replicate the problem with the transmission. If I pick up the vehicle now the used vehicle warranty that came with the vehicle will expire and will not cover the problem when it does completely fail. After reading all the problems these transmissions have, it is inevitable it won't be long before that happens. Hopefully, it won't be in the middle of traffic or worse yet, when driving with my grandkids somewhere. This is definitely a safety issue, as the total failure often happen with no warning. The vehicle otherwise drives great.

- Santa Clara, CA, USA

problem #50

Oct 152007

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 120,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. While driving 30 mph, the contact heard a whining noise coming from the vehicle. The noise becomes louder as the vehicle travels faster. The whining appears to be coming from the rear suspension. The failure mileage was 120,000 and current mileage was 144,800. Updated 04/14/08. The consumer stated the transmission was replaced at no charge by Ford at 55,000 miles due to a defect. The 4-wheel drive makes excessive noise when in gear. Updated

- Saddle Brook , NJ, USA

problem #49

Feb 232008

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 78,000 miles
Transmission was fine and then it started having trouble switching from 1st to 2nd gear. Next thing the od light started flashing so I decided to take it to the dealer. By the time I got there the service engine soon light came on. They did a computer check ($90 cost) on it and recommended to install a remanufactured unit for $3829. After some more research, I decided to take it to aamco. They went beyond the computer check and discovered that the 2nd servo piston was broken and the od servo piston also recommended to be replaced along with the torque converter because there have been so many problems with them. In the end, the cost will be $2043.

- Kansas City, MO, USA

problem #48

May 202006

Explorer 4WD 8-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 40,000 miles
At 40,000 miles 4000 out of warranty, the transmission on my 2003 Ford Explorer catastrophically failed. No warning at all. Driving down the highway, the O/D light started to flash and the car started to shift in and out of gear. My wife nursed the car home. The car had no first gear and would slam from second to third. Ford confirmed this, and said the only fix was a complete transmission. 6,000 miles later, the same thing. Since this was under warranty, Ford said that they could replace some solenoids and that would fix it....not!! three more trips and finally a transmission that doesn't act up all the time. It still shifts funny and sometimes fails to go into gear. My wife has come close to being rear-ended numerous times, I.e. backing into the street. This is a safety issue that Ford has been ignoring, read the forums. I have many other numerous complaints about this vehicle. Read differential clutches going bad, keyless entry failing, door locks failing, and a window that works part-time....kinda like Ford engineers.

- Robinson, KS, USA

problem #47

Jan 182008

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 130,000 miles
Brand new 2003 Ford Explorer. Replaced engine at 115 K miles and now the trans is going; specifically, the O/D light keeps flashing and it shifts badly. I've seen numerous complaints about the same thing online, while Ford ignores this faulty trans.

- Lansdale, PA, USA

problem #46

Dec 012007

Explorer 4WD 8-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 62,000 miles
2003 Ford Explorer transmission failure at 62,000 miles.

- Monroe, NY, USA

problem #45

Oct 202007

Explorer 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 59,500 miles
Well maintained vehicle - and transmission only lasted 59,500miles (less than 5 years). Covert Ford dealer in austin, tx only money hungry. Wouldn't help at all.

- Austin, TX, USA

problem #44

Nov 122007

Explorer 8-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 57,000 miles
2003 Explorer eddie bauer 4.6L V-8 AWD, transmission failed during morning commute. I hear noise, the car lost speed, and "O/D off" was flashing. I could barely merge the car to the far right lane and manage to get the car to the office.

- Reston, VA, USA

problem #43

Oct 202007


  • miles
I'm never buying another Ford. 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 Explorer - probably a poor design and poor quality. Also, judging by various websites there are indeed lots of complains like this.

- Austin, TX, USA

problem #42

Jul 302003


  • miles
The transmission on my 2003 Ford Explorer failed. I'm told this is a consistent problem but Ford won't stand by their product.

- Dedham, MA, USA

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