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 7 of 8)

« Read the previous 20 complaints

problem #21

Sep 292005

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 41,550 miles


Engine cut off while running, when I turned on high beams. Engine rpms and engine accelerated, when I turned on high beams loss control of acceleration, when fog lights were turned on. Message center flashed "check transmission", O/D off (overdrive off) flashed, when fog light were turned on.

- Purcellville, VA, USA

problem #20

Jun 052005

Explorer 4WD 8-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 35,000 miles
Dear NHTSA: In October 2003 I purchased the nbx - V8 version of the Ford Explorer with an upgraded tow package for my wife. She never uses the tow package and I, very occasionally pull a 300lb utility trailer. I get the oil changed religiously and recently had the 30,000 mile 4WD lubrication package from Goodyear for approx. $500. At 34,000mi my wife began to notice a non-descript noise in the rear end, a rumble at slow speeds while turning. She carries things in the back and thought they were rolling around. I drove the car at 36,600 mi and also noticed the noise but we had a low rear tire and I thought it was the tire pressure. The tire actually picked up a nail and went flat and I brought the tire to Goodyear for repair. After the repair the rear end noise persisted only at low speeds and we finally got the car in to Goodyear for evaluation at 38,000 miles. They replaced the rear differential fluid again and the noise persisted. They then went on line and pulled a technical service bulletin tsb 04-17-5 which was for limited slip axle chatter, shudder, binding sensation or vibration during low speed turning maneuvers in 2002-2004 Ford Explorer, 2003-2004 Expedition and 2004 F-150S. This was exactly what I was experiencing. Since this vehicle is not used off road, is not used to tow anything heavy, is pampered but does get a fair amount of highway miles 38,000mi in 19 months, I felt that having a transmission problem at this stage was unusual. Well, after talking to my manager at work, half the Ford Explorer fleet in boston was having this problem, with one vehicle in the shop 3 months and one never seeing the light of day yet. The tsb noted problems with the entire transmission. What about next time"? my vehicle. Vehicle # [xxx] Ford Explorer silver V8 nbx version? they also know they have a real problem with their transmissions and the consumer will end up eating it. Is Ford quality job 1?" information redacted pursuant to the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. 552(B)(6)

- Mansfield, MA, USA

problem #19

Aug 282004

Explorer 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 9,000 miles
Transmission clunking from reverse to forward or from forward to reverse. Whirling sound, 55-65 mph, rear differential.

- San Antonio, TX, USA

problem #18

Nov 022004

Explorer 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 48,000 miles


I am the owner of a 2003 Ford Explorer. I had problems with my transmission engaging properly and the transmission making a loud noise when shifting from park to reverse whether the vehicle was hot or cold. The transmission did this intermitently for a week or so until I took it into a dealership for repair. They said nothing was wrong. I drove it for another week with the same problems. The vehicle would lurch in mid-acceleration at any speed and would lunge when coming to a stop leaving me never knowing when I might stop on the freeway or run into the back of somebody. The next time I took it in they said it was the clutch pack that failed and the repair cost me $1,131. The repair consisted of removing the transmission, opening it up and replacing the parts and then re-installing the transmission. I have read a service bulletin recently from Ford Motor Company saying that these problems have been reported in 2004 Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer. They are saying that they will be fixed for free. I have a 2003 Ford Explorer and I am not aware of the two model years being mechanically dissimilar. I want it known that the 2003 Explorer are suffering the same problems, which is why I am registering the complaint.

- Houston, TX, USA

problem #17

Nov 302004

Explorer 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • miles
We have a 2003 Ford Explorer-when you shift from reverse to drive-like backing out of a driveway and then putting into drive vehicle doesnt move for a while-if you try to give it gas engine revs up and then slams into drive--in the meantime you are wondering if the car coming around the corner is going to rear end you and cause injury to your family and damage to your vehicle--been in the shop several times-put several parts in trans still the same.

- Woodville, OH, USA

problem #16

Apr 212003

Explorer 8-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 9,000 miles
2003 Ford Explorer----5 second lag, delayed engagement, harsh jerking movement from reverse to drive to reverse, and a bang can also be heard. Shuddering is also prevalent. Power train module was reflashed to correct problem. Lag condition still is present sometimes. First incident was on April 21, 2003, latest incident was in May 2004.

- Emerson, NJ, USA

problem #15

Oct 012004

Explorer 8-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • miles


2003 Explorer's transmission made a loud "pop" or "whump" sound while driving about 20-24 mph. It was infrequent but alarming. The noise seems to be occurring when the vehicle shifts gears.

- Clinton, OK, USA

problem #14

Aug 112004

Explorer 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 10,000 miles
Purchased a 2003 Ford Explorer 4X4 January 2004, around 10K miles noticed a shudder/slipping in transmission under hard excelleration. I brought vehicle to pulliam Ford in cola. SC to have transmission and whining rear end repaired. When I called the service writer, he informed me that the technician said that they could not duplicate the transmission vibration, and that the whine was no louder than other Explorer, even though they did acknowlege that the Explorer did have a rear end problem. I am not satisfied and would like to get my 32K worth out of this vehicle, not a excuse for a poor product and poor service.

- Columbia, SC, USA

problem #13

Oct 082003

(reported on)


  • miles
Problems with brakes, transmission and seat recliner handle. Dealer was notified.

- Jersey City, NJ, USA

problem #12

May 052004

Explorer 4WD 8-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 5,000 miles
2003 Ford Explorer- 5 speed automatic transmission randomly disengages. Reproduced by first accelerating from 1st or 2nd gear and back off gas just before the transmission shifts. Transmission disengages and engine revs up. Must either rev engine up over 4K or backoff gas altogether to recover. Ford is non-responsive to inquires. Problem websites are full of similar experiences.

- Roseville, CA, USA

problem #11

Sep 292003

Explorer 4WD 8-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 3,000 miles


While on any type of incline our Ford Explorer XLT rolls back while in drive. After telephoning Ford Motor Company, I was told by ann to take the issue up with the dealership where the car was purchased. She said there were no recalls related to the issue of the rollback while vehicle is in drive on an incline. When we took the vehicle back to the dealer where we purchased it, they said they would work with us and Ford Motor Company. In early December after speaking with the dealership manager and service department manager, I was told that the 8 cylinder vehicle that I purchased has a different transmission than the 6 cylinder. While the 6 cylinder explorere does not roll back on an incline while in drive, the 8 cylinder model does. I was told that it is simply the way the transmission is designed and that changing the transmission will not eliminate the roll back issue. When I picked up my vehicle on Dec. 7, 2003, tony (service dept. Manager) told me that claudia would be calling me within the next week to make some type of arrangements with me along the lines of an extended warranty due to the fact that perhaps the transmission would experience problems down the road. My main concern with the roll back issue is that my daughter is going to be driving this summer, and we cannot allow her to drive this vehicle. For an inexperienced, new driver to operate this vehicle could have the potential of turning into an accident due to the vehicle roll back while on an incline in drive. This is the first new vehicle my wife & I have ever purchased and we are extremely disappointed, not only about the rollback issue but by Ford's lack of interest in the rollback issue. Repeated emails to Ford motor have gone unanswered, and as of the date of this complain neither claudia or anyone from Ford Motor Co. Has contacted me.

- Hillsborough, NJ, USA

problem #10

Dec 272003

Explorer 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 5,000 miles
Brake pedal goes down to the floor intermittently.this is a major safetty issue.the dealership has not fixed the problem yet.took in the shop for more than 3 times.also the oil leak from the rear main seal, harshe shift in transmission, power steering pump failure, oil pan gasket leak, master cylinder leak, coil (spark plug) failure.

- Hayward, CA, USA

problem #9

Mar 162004

Explorer 4WD 8-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 22,000 miles
Transmission began locking up when vehicle was placed in reverse to back-up.

- Clemmons, NC, USA

problem #8

Jun 012003

Explorer 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 0 miles
2003 Explorer XLT, 2wd: Loud noise coming from driveline from 30 through 70 mph. Dealer changed differential gear set--no fix. Then changed the driveshaft--no fix. I now have 26,000 miles on it and the noise is so loud it is distracting. Ford says they have no fix (transmission" axles? another bad ring and pinion set"). dealer says one of their staff has a 2003 with the same problem....still no fix.

- San Diego, CA, USA

problem #7

Oct 232003


  • Automatic transmission
  • 7,500 miles
My 2003 Ford Explorer 2wd XLT started making whinning noises when placed into gear. The car has been to the dealer nine times with over $1200 worth of work. Really don't have any faith in the technicians or service manager. Going through arbitration now to have the lemon repurchased by Ford.

- Jonesbor, GA, USA

problem #6

Feb 012004

Explorer 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 12,000 miles
On 3 separate occasions the engine was started then with foot on the brake shifted into reverse. The auto won't shift into reverse. Absolutely nothing happens. Upon increasing the RPM by 50-100 the car slams into reverse and lunges 2-3 feet.

- La Quinta, CA, USA

problem #5

Dec 142003

Explorer 8-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 9,590 miles
When dirving vehicle at slow speed and applying the brakes it feels like someone has rear ended you, as the vehicle lunges forward. It has happened to me three or four times and is more frequent with my wife as it is her vehicle. Today my wife was backing up and it felt like someone ran into the front of her as the vehicle lurched backward. She said it really bounced her head. Today is the first time it has happened in reverse. This is a 2003 Ford Explorer, V-8 XLT 2wd. I have some time off later this month and will be taking vehicle to the dealer.

- Orange, CA, USA

problem #4

Sep 012003

Explorer 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 700 miles
New 2003 Ford Explorer 2wd 4.0 6cyl prob began at 500-700 miles. Excessive vibration and whining noise at speeds from 40-70 mph. Vehicle appears to struggle when accelerating, and cruising speeds. Dealer unresponsive after learning that Ford engineers acknowledge problem and have no current fix. Dealer unwilling to explore a replacement vehicle, or refund. Ford feild services engineer admitted to me that approximately 50% of new Explorer have this faulty "ring & pinion gear" and that vendors are working to certify replacement parts.

- Mckinney, TX, USA

problem #3

Sep 162003


  • 1,300 miles
While driving the transmission would shift into neutral on its own without warning. This caused the vehicle to slow down as if the brakes were being pressed. The consumer managed to move the vehicle to side of the road and restart it. The vehicle was driven to the dealership to have a mechanic check the transmission. The technician found nothing wrong and the problem has not been resolved.

- Scarsdale, NY, USA

problem #2

Jun 132003

Explorer 4WD 8-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 10,000 miles
Transmission indicator light on. Transmission slips during shifting. Dealer initially said there was nothing they could do until Ford engineering gives them the fix. Second visit to dealership they rebuilt transmission two days later transmission is slipping again.

- Brighton, MI, USA

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