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 6 of 8)

« Read the previous 20 complaints

problem #41

Mar 242007

Explorer 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 58,742 miles


The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. The contact stated that the transmission was slipping and was difficult to shift into park. When attempting to shift the vehicle in gear it hesitated and jerked before engaging. The transmission has been repaired twice previously at 18,000 miles and 27,000 miles. The contact stated that the vehicle needed the same repair at 58,000. The failure mileage was 58,742.

- Conroe, TX, USA

problem #40

Mar 042007

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 49,000 miles
2003 Ford Explorer faulty transmission.

- Philadelphia, PA, USA

problem #39

Jan 202007

Explorer 8-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 54,000 miles
My 2003 Ford Explorer had transmission problems. The vehicle has only 54,000 miles. The transmission had to be complete replaced. Additionally, I was surprised to find out how wide spread the issue is. In reading other complaints, the common theme is an issue with the transmission @ roughly 50,00 miles or lower. More specifically, my od light kept flashing, not able to shift to reverse, and not being able to shift to higher gears.

- Niles, IL, USA

problem #38

Jan 292007

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 56,107 miles


2003 Ford Explorer XLT vertical crack in fiberglass tailgate panel just below rear window glass no impact to tailgate occurred-crack just appeared while driving. Transmission had to be rebuilt at 50000 miles.

- Lee's Summit, MO, USA

problem #37

Dec 222006

Explorer 4WD 8-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 49,550 miles
While cruising uphill on an interstate highway at approximately 70 mph the transmission downshifted to maintain speed. After cresting the hill, the transmission would not shift back into overdrive and the overdrive light began to flash. I pulled off the highway and the truck would not shift 1-2 until approximately 4500 RPM and then would do so very harshly. When accelerating the transmission slips and does not provide full acceleration. According to my local transmission shop the repair will cost approximately $3000 and require an all new transmission.

- Fletcher, NC, USA

problem #36

Oct 012006

Explorer 4WD 8-cyl

  • 45,734 miles
While driving the 2003 Ford Explorer it started to shake causing lose of steering and brakes. The left rear wheel the came off because the lugs had unscrewed. The vehicle was taken to a dealer who determined that the front differential had blown apart from the inside out. It appeared that the damage was caused by uneven tires and the 4X4 engaging and disengaging on its own.

- Preston Hollow, NY, USA

problem #35

Nov 202006

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 60,234 miles


I have a 2003 Ford Explorer with 60,000 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. I think there is a defect in the design. I also got into a car accident in may of 2006 with my 2002 Explorer and it was totaled. I flipped in the vehicle twice and not one airbag deployed.

- Aldie, VA, USA

problem #34

Oct 312006

Explorer 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 31,735 miles
Have a 2003 Ford Explorer 2wd that was purchased new from local Ford dealership. Started having transmission concerns in early 2005, vehicles just over a year old. After taking it in to the dealership 4 times in a year, was told they couldn't verify the problem. Finally, in March 2005 was told they had to tear transmission down and replace the clutch pack, on testing transmission, line pressure was low. After work performed, took back again, was having same concern, again told couldn't verify problem. Had transmission serviced, after telling them I was experiencing same problem, they serviced transmission and said all was fine. In October of 2006, was heading out of town on a two lane road, when I went to pass a big rig on highway 113, just outside of woodland, as I got around big rig, and accelerated, the car wouldn't go into 3rd gear, the rpms kept racing and falling, racing and falling. I had plenty of room to pass this truck, or so I thought, until the car did what it did. I was nearly hit head on by an oncoming car because I couldn't get around the truck, due to the transmission not shifting into a higher gear. We got to woodland and immediately went to Ford dealership where we were told the transmission was not serviceable, and that we would need a new transmission installed. Upon returning home, and doing some research, have discovered there are hundreds of people out there that have had exact same failure of their transmissions. Contacted Ford Motor Co., and have had no result. Local dealership says sorry, car is out of warranty now, it will cost around $3600. Asked what has to happen before Ford recognizes they have a problem with this transmission, and was told they didn't know. Very dangerous in my opinion, to be out on a highway and have the car lose the 3rd gear, preventing you from going over about 25 miles per hour.

- Yuba City, CA, USA

problem #33

Nov 082006

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 43,000 miles
: the contact stated while shifting to any gear at various speeds, a noise was heard. The vehicle was driven to the dealer who determined the oil needed to be changed every month.

- Madison Heights, VA, USA

problem #32

Oct 212006

Explorer 8-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 13,000 miles
Have a 2003 Ford Explorer eddie bauer edition. At 13,000 miles my transmission stopped working. Had to tow my car to a Ford dealership. Their initial assessment was that my transmission was completely broken due to a "factory default". they said they would have to replace my entire transmission. After 3 weeks, the dealership stated they could not find the problem, made no repairs and did not replace my transmission. They said the problem mysteriously fixed itself. Now at 28,000 miles, my transmission is slipping everytime into 3rd gear, sometimes just revving instead of going and then jerking very hard into gear. Ford dealership states they can't find a problem. I have heard the same complaint about Ford Explorer after 2002 and transmissions going out too early. Ford needs to own up to the problem and recall those parts. It feels as if they are blowing me off until my warranty expires so they won't have to fix my car. I am scared driving down the highway that I will get rear ended every time my transmission slips and goes into neutral. I have had a few close calls. I am going back on Monday, still trying to get them to fix my car...

- Austin, TX, USA

problem #31

Aug 212006

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 62,468 miles


2003 Ford Explorer 63,000 miles od light started flashing 2 days ago. Took it to Ford dealership they ran a check on it and the code came up: PO741-torque converter clutch solenoid inter/mechanical failure. I was told they would replace the solenoid pack and that it would be $218 plus labor. Went to pick it up 3 hours later and was told the transmission needs to be replaced. This vehicle was bought new and should not need a transmission replaced!

- Sunapee, NH, USA

problem #30

Apr 052006

Explorer 4WD 8-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 50,611 miles
Less than 2 yrs after purchase of a new 2003 Ford Explorer eddie bower 4X4 V8 from a dealer, the transmission started grinding and slipping. Dealer service records documented my concerns and their inability/unwillingness to diagnose the problem due to the lack of a "service warning" light. Subsequent visits with the same issue brought similar results from the dealer. Warranty expired less than one year before I finally got a warning light and the news from my dealer was that it meant I needed a new transmission for just under $6500. With absolutely no help from any level of Ford customer service, I had the transmission replaced for just over $3000 - obviously not by Ford.

- Vacaville, CA, USA

problem #29

Aug 012006

Explorer 4WD 8-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 56,300 miles
* the contact stated that the automatic transmission shuttered without warning while driving 35mph. The vehicle was inspected by the dealer who determined the fuel filter needed to be changed. A new fuel filter was installed by the problem continued to occur. The manufacturer was not contacted.

- Cass City, MI, USA

problem #28

Jun 292006

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • miles
My SUV has 86791 miles its a 2003 and the transmission went.. I was driving down the highway and it stop shifting and the overdrive light kept flashing. I had to take it to the dealer and $1400 later its fixed.. with the Ford Explorer you can't change or check the transmission fluid it's in a sealed canister.. its mostly highway driving and the transmission should not have failed this soon in a vehicle....this is a poor design and Ford won't even face up to it.. I also found out it is a problem not only in my car but in others..

- Oxford, PA, USA

problem #27

Jun 282006

Explorer 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 12,000 miles
Hello. I have several complaints regarding my 2003 Ford Explorer including several safety issues. The first complaint is regarding the driver's seat which shifts routinely on acceleration and de-acceleration. This concerns me if I get into an accident and the seat malfunctions. The second complaint is regarding the gear shifter not going into park easily. I have to jiggle it to into park. I am concerned that this might not properly engage park and my vehicle might roll. Thirdly, my rear lift gate trim has had to be repaired at least 3 times. I am concerned that although the dealership says there is no safety issue, there possibly could be due to the rear lift gate hinges being recalled and representative informing me that the reason that I continue to have a crack appearing is due to design flaw. This concerns me B/C I frequently utilize the lift gate to retrieve groceries and other items and do not want the window to fail and fall on my head. The remainder concerns are regarding the function of my vehicle. I have had to have 3 of the window motors replaced under warranty. The transmission has had to be fixed twice (shifting module malfunction). Finally, the fuel gauge had to be repaired due to improper fuel readings. I guess all these items could be very problematic as well B/C I could run out of gas and be stranded with my child, my vehicle might not shift properly leaving me stranded. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have questions. Ps. I would also like to add that as I was completing this process I remembered that my vehicle had a high pitched whine that had to be repaired. I do not remember exactly what had to be repaired but it was covered under warranty.

- Conroe, TX, USA

problem #26

Jun 012005

Explorer 8-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 25,000 miles
I have had several problems with my 2003 Ford Explorer transmission. It clunks out of gear when letting off the gas going from second to first gear. It also seems to disengage the transmission at times as it acts like it is in neutral going from first to second on occasion. I have had it in for repair several times. The "said" the replaced the transmission with one that was rebuilt, but it acted the same way. I have taken it back and was now told that until it actually breaks, they will not work on the transmission any longer.

- Fort Wayne, IN, USA

problem #25

Feb 072006

Explorer 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 17,564 miles
2003 Explorer - transmission goes into *neutral* when accelerating between 2nd and 3rd and/or 3rd and 4th. A solenoid body has been replaced 4 times at decreasing mileage intervals. Now failing for 5th time with 2,000 miles since last*. failure has occurred while attempting to merge with freeway traffic. Pursuing BBB arbitration for repurchase as Ford is unable to repair.

- Granite Bay, CA, USA

problem #24

Feb 112006

Explorer 8-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 25,700 miles
Ford Explorer does not shift from 1st into 2nd gear, allowing vehicle to move into intersection then stall until transmission eventually slips into gear. Ford tech line wants us to drive until the problem occurs continuously so the problem will be easy to find. Dealer has reset cpu, replaced valve body, and now placed an "additive" in transmission. Obviously having no idea as to the real problem.

- Senatobia, MS, USA

problem #23

Feb 032006

Explorer 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 45,760 miles
Rear axle is leaking and there is a humming noise on my 2003 Ford Explorer and thew transmission is slipping. I have 75000 mile warranty and vehicle has only 45,500 miles on it.

- New Smyrna Beach, FL, USA

problem #22

Mar 152005

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 18,000 miles
The contact stated vehicle was making a clanking noise and it jumped out of gear. The dealer had the vehicle several times and upgraded the transmission. They replaced parts in the rear end of the transmission. The replacement of these parts did not solve the problem.

- Oak Harbor, OH, USA

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