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 1 of 8)

problem #141

Nov 242011

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • miles


I went to leave for work one morning & I noticed the rear panel was cracked. It wasn't like that the night before, so it literally happened overnight. My mechanic said it was cosmetic & common problem with these trucks. I was told the window would be fine, but there is a chance of the panel piece falling off. I haven't had it fixed yet due to the expense, but I am afraid a piece may fall off while driving which could injure someone. To add insult to injury, a week later, my transmission started slipping & the O/D light was flashing. I had it towed & sure enough, it had to be rebuilt. It also needed a new hub bearing and both front ball joints had to be replaced.

- Kings Park, NY, USA

problem #140

Aug 242011

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 34,029 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer eddie bauer edition. The contact was driving 30 mph when the overdrive warning light illuminated and the vehicle became hard to shift. The vehicle was taken to the dealer for diagnostic testing where it was diagnosed that the overdrive band was fractured and possibly had caused damage to the torque converter. The manufacturer was contacted but the vehicle was not repaired. The failure mileage was 34,029 and the current mileage was 64,846. Updated 11/22/11 the consumer stated the shifting was erratic at steady speeds, there was a hard bang when shifting. The PCM was reprogrammed. There was a clunk noise when coming to a stop. The dealer replaced the transmission fluid. The overdrive light illuminated and 95% of the time, the vehicle would not shift out of 1st gear. Updated 03/12/12

- Naperville, IL, USA

problem #139

Jul 242011

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 105,000 miles
Transmission failure....O/D light flashes and service engine light stays on.

- Greensboro, NC, USA

problem #138

Aug 102011


  • 146,000 miles


The transmission on my 2003 Ford Explorer is gone.

- New Bedford, MA, USA

problem #137

Jun 252011

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 55 miles
O/D light spontaneously came on. Can not be turned off. Transmission takes off slow. First gear slams into second, with slow takeoff causes cars behind me to stop short because my takeoff is very slow.

- Rhinebeck, NY, USA

problem #136

Jun 302011

Explorer 4WD 8-cyl

  • 135,000 miles
My 2003 Ford Explorer had a "thunk" noise from day one. Ford dealership "could not duplicate" the complaint even though I took it back multiple times. Had to replace the torque converter at 70K miles and now at 135K miles the whole transmission and another torque converter for rattling again. Od/off blinking light and check transmission notice came on with erratic shifting and loss of 2nd and 5th gears. Replacement of trans eliminated "thunk" and my $4600. Similar complaints without any acknowledgement of faulty materials or engineering by Ford has plagued hundreds if not thousands of Explorer owners. Where is the expected investigation of these problems" why do we have to wait until accidents or injury to have faulty autos recalled? why are spark plugs ejected more of a safety concern than transmissions that leave drivers without proper moving capability on the highway? where is the recall for these units"

- Middletown, NJ, USA

problem #135

Mar 302011

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • 71,000 miles


The transmission on our 2003 Ford Explorer had to be replaced. It could have left us stranded on the road. Ford knew of this problem with the transmissions on the 2003-2004 Explorer. I think they should make an adjustment on the cost of the repairs. Transmission are supposed to last longer than 71,000 miles. We did not mistreat this vehicle in any way.

- Perryville , MO, USA

problem #134

May 152011


  • 110,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. The contact stated while driving approximately 35 mph the over drive light began illuminating on the instrument panel and the vehicle began to shift into a higher gear. The contact turned the vehicle off and upon restarting it, the vehicle began to function normally. After driving for a few miles, the failure recurred. The vehicle was not taken to a dealer to have the failure diagnosed or repaired. The manufacturer was not made aware of the failure. The failure mileage was 110,000 and the current mileage was 111,000.

- Lansing, NC, USA

problem #133

Apr 182007


  • 48,065 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. The contact stated that the door ajar light illuminated frequently and the dome light stayed illuminated even when the doors were closed. The vehicle was taken to an authorized dealer for a manufacturers recall and the dealer stated that the repair had previously been performed. The vehicle was not repaired. The contact stated that the vehicle hesitated intermittently. The vehicle had not been inspected or repaired. The manufacturer was not notified of the failure. The current mileage was approximately 72,000. The failure mileage was approximately 49,000.

- Waterloo, IA, USA

problem #132

May 032011

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • 117,500 miles
My 2003 Ford Explorer was parked in my driveway and it somehow rolled down approx 150 feet and smashed into a tree. There was no one in the vehicle it was parked and the keys were in the house. I immediately called my insurance (state farm) and they had me call a collision garage to come out and they came within the hour. They have stated that the vehicle is a total loss. The next morning I called Ford and they disregarded anything I said and said my insurance should take care of it. I am still paying on a loan for this car and I do have full coverage but I am now without a vehicle and I am scared to think of what might of happened if my daughters would of been playing in the backyard.

- Hookstown, PA, USA

problem #131

Apr 022011

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 91,000 miles


Vehicle transmission slips out of gear and sometimes wont engage. Frequently occurs at stop/start movements. Ocurrs in forward and reverse. "O/D off" light is frequently displayed. Unsafe to drive anywhere!!!

- San Diego, CA, USA

problem #130

Nov 152010

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • 100,000 miles
Transmission problems started around 100K miles; high RPM shifting between 1st and 2nd gear with subsequent flashing O/D light. Many times transmission will "clunk" into gear either from going into reverse, stopping completely, then shifting into drive and/or when putting in reverse or drive. Appears this is a common problem for my model year Explorer (03) and same code many others receive (P0775) which really does not describe the problem or lead a not so mechanical inclined person to try and troubleshoot/buy parts to fix. I'm career military man w/family and my truck is paid off next month--owned 5 years and really sucks to have to possibly dump $3K into a truck that Ford has known contained issues with the 5R55W transmission.

- Norfolk, VA, USA

problem #129

Apr 022011

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • 131,500 miles
I have a 2003 Ford Explorer and my O/D light keeps flashing I took it to the dealer to get it checked and they said I need a new transmission because I have no 2nd or 5th gear they also said this is a common problem with that year. They said the shift sealnoid went out so now I cant drive my truck tell I can afford 3400 dollars to get it fixed so that has made it harder for me to get to work and to get my family where they need to be.

- Jacksonville, NC, USA

problem #128

Mar 152011

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 100,000 miles
Transmission went out.

- Athens, AL, USA

problem #127

Jul 252009


  • 67,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. The contact stated that while driving approximately 40 mph, the vehicle began to decelerate independently with the illumination of several warning lights. The failure would recur intermittently and the either the vehicle would restart immediately or the vehicle would be towed. The vehicle was inspected by an independent mechanic and they advised her that the transmission would need to be replaced. The vehicle was not repaired. The manufacturer was contacted and offered no assistance. The failure mileage was approximately 67,000. The VIN was unavailable.

- Dorchester, MA, USA

problem #126

Mar 152008


  • 85,000 miles
I own a 2003 Ford Explorer, I have owned it for almost 5 years and took care of it. I also paid alot of money for it and after about three years out of nowhere my O/D light started blinking and my car started shifting wrong. I had the solenoid on tranny replaced soon as I put it in 4wheel drive my O/D light started blinking again and shifting wrong. This is making the car accelerate to much at times and almost not wanting to shift while waiting thinking I need a new transmission my engine light comes on followed by a light ticking noise, that got louder and louder over about a the car was taken to the dealership an put on a computer they said I should junk it, yes its 5 years old but I bought my car from their and I paid alot for no one knows exactly what's wrong with it I myself believe but Ford.I been told I need a new transmission and my timing chain is bad on the engine.the car still runs although I wont drive it completely unsafe. Its a nice looking car but I seen alot of people with this same problem with the same year make and model how is that and its dangerous? me and my daughter wrecked after sudden acceleration thankfully the airbags deployed and burnt her but we were both fine otherwise. I just now this is dangerous, Ford knows about it and why it happened and how to fix it.

- La Belle, PA, USA

problem #125

Mar 122011

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 200,000 miles
Well this will be the 2nd transmission for my 2003 Ford Explorer, the first was at 88700 miles about 4 years ago. It took the dealership almost 2 weeks to figure out what was wrong. Then 2 weeks after that heard a loud ping while driving home, at 9:00 at night, took in to dealer and the drive shaft had water in it. Now I am the original owner, truck has never been off road, never towed anything, highway miles. So, I fix all that( about $3,000 in one month) now this past weekend coming home on the interstate truck gives a large shudder 3 times, I almost get run over by a tour bus because truck is getting ready to die. Limp home can't drive over 60 miles an hour, went back roads home, did not like going up small hills. When 1 mile from home O/D off light came on and transmission started acting bad. Pulled into driveway, barely. Now I'm pissed because here I go again pouring out money to fix and almost got hit on interstate.

- Manchester, TN, USA

problem #124

Jan 242011

Explorer 4WD 6-cyl

  • 73,859 miles
I recently encountered problems with my vehicle's acceleration. The vehicle then began to buck, make loud noises, the check engine light came on and then the O/D light began to flash. I took my vehicle to the dealer to have a diagnostics test performed which determined that my transmission needed to be replaced. The vehicle that I am referencing is a 2003 Ford Explorer with 73,859 miles (at the time of the diagnosis). I did research which revealed that this has been a common issue with 2003 Ford Explorer with approximately the same number of miles. I did get the transmission replaced in my vehicle, however the complaint is that these vehicles are requiring transmission replacements at such low miles. With all of the complaints involving this issue, it seems to warrant an investigation into the matter........please investigate.

- Baltimore, MD, USA

problem #123

Feb 132011


  • 100,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. The contact was traveling 45 mph when the over drive warning light illuminated and the transmission failed. The contact took the vehicle to the dealer and was told that the torque converter, servo pack and clutch would need replacing. The vehicle was not repaired. The failure and current mileage was 100,000.

- Orlando, FL, USA

problem #122

Feb 162011

Explorer 6-cyl

  • Manual transmission
  • 94,583 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. While driving approximately 35 mph, the over-drive and engine service warning indicators illuminated. The warning indicators remained illuminated until the engine was turned off. The vehicle was taken to an authorized dealer where a diagnostic test was performed which detected that the gear ratio and pressure control solenoid were defective within the transmission. The contact was awaiting the parts for the vehicle to be repaired. The failure mileage was 94,583. Updated 03/31/11 updated 04/05/11

- New Britain, CT, USA

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