Print this page 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.


pretty bad
Typical Repair Cost:
Average Mileage:
101,050 miles
Total Complaints:
17 complaints

Most Common Solutions:

  1. not sure (8 reports)
  2. replaced transmission (4 reports)
  3. rebuilt trassmission (3 reports)
  4. replaced transfer case (1 reports)
  5. transmission flushed and filter changed (1 reports)
2003 Ford Explorer transmission problems

transmission problem

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2003 Ford Explorer Owner Comments

problem #17

May 012016

Explorer 6

  • Automatic transmission
  • 136,000 miles


Bought it used.

Replaced bearing first, then tranny..

Now the rocker arms are rotted and the truck wont pass inspection.

Piece of rusted crap.

Love the truck but I have to say, FORD isn't worth the money.

- Tray B., Lake Ariel, US

problem #16

Jun 102011

Explorer 6.0L

  • Automatic transmission
  • 109,000 miles

Here we are again, remember me with the cracked rear window panel. That was just the start of my problems with this Ford SUV..........

Let me mention here that I am a single lady aged 68 with a serve back disability living on a very low fixed income. These FORD PROBLEMS are something that I CANNOT AFFORD - FORD!!!

The transmission started slipping at 96000 miles. Had it checked at my mechanics and they discovered that the whole chassis was loose. I suppose those overpaid guys in the assembly line were called for coffee break as they didn't finish tightening the bolts. Or if you have this problem file it to.

I deviate from the transmission problem. Thinking this was causing all the noise and slipping my mechanics tightened them all without going for their breaks. I tried to give Ford the benefit of doubt, should have known better.

Once again contacting FORD customer service (that's a laugh) they said (as before when I called them to report a problem) we haven't had any complaints about this being a problem. You must have not maintained the service on it. Well I have owned many vehicles in my long life and I have never had a transmission go before. I still own my first Explorer a 1997; when they used to build them right then and not get their parts from N Korea or wherever they get them made to save Ford money and download those costs onto us.

That was not helpful at all, after being tightened the transmission still slipped. I then took it to a reputable transmission company in our town. Why you say? I cannot afford FORDS' over inflated costs. It took a week and $3600.00 to rebuild the transmission.

My neighbor and nice young man purchased his first pick up truck. A lovely Ford, he was so proud of it being 26 and a FIRST vehicle he should be happy. In talking with his mom I told her about the Ford transmission problems and the mileage at what to expect it to happen. She looked at me like I was nuts........well it turned out I wasn't nuts. Within 5 months of owning his great FORD PICK UP. The transmission went it it also.

Now I can't even afford to get rid of this money pit on my limited income, things just keep happening and NOT normal wear and tear either.......

Thought I was angry after the first incident with my Ford SUV?????? Read on my friends as it does not stop here. I have many other issues that FORD has ignored and denied about their product....

- Bette M., Barrie, Ontario, Canada

problem #15

Aug 082014

Explorer XLS 4L V6

  • Automatic transmission
  • 140,000 miles

Transmission slipping between second and third gear, while the O/D light is on. Attempting the "5R55W/S/N/E Servo Bore Transmission Fix" kit. This is a great vehicle (love the 4WD), but the transmission slipping makes it dangerous to drive (can only make it up long hills at 10 mph)! Have read about potential dripping from the A/C onto a sensor on the O/D, however the transmission slipping and O/D light did not resolve itself when it was allowed to dry. I have seen thousands of complaints about this same transmission problem, and I am outraged that FORD would not make a fix. I guess it's true when they say FORD stands for "Found On Road Dead" (The driver or the car...)

- Victoria M., Wattsburg, PA, US

problem #14

Mar 042014

Explorer XLT 4.0L V6

  • Automatic transmission
  • 152,000 miles


(r) engages but slips and stops after a few feet

My 2003 xlt Automatic had 4x4 lights flashing (cancels when 4x4 auto is selected but comes on again) with o/d light off light permanently on (wont cancel). speed drags at about 30mph and suddenly increases with a bang noise and then drags again).

troubleshooting and found 2 broken off metal pieces in oil pan.

mechanic got parts and fixed it. now no 4x4 lights & no o/d off off light. drives okay on (D), selection but also engages (R) but slips/spins/freewheels after a very distance of about 3feet and stops moving. What could be the cause of the slip/spin/free wheel?

- toyi, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria

problem #13

Nov 092013

Explorer LX 4.O

  • Automatic transmission
  • 134,200 miles

Just like everyone else my transmission is slipping and is so bad that I have to have it towed to where ever I am going to have it fixed. I have heard from numerous mechanics that this is a problem with the 2003 Explorers and I have also read a lot about it online. I am hoping that they will make this a recall soon.

- mangen39, Shamong, NJ, US

problem #12

Mar 022006

Explorer Limited 4.6L V8

  • Automatic transmission
  • 135,000 miles


- gearsnapper, Orlando, FL, US

problem #11

Sep 152007

Explorer LX

  • Automatic transmission
  • 28,000 miles


This was way too early for transmission to have problems.....

- Suzanne R., Huntington Beach, CA, US

problem #10

Oct 182011

Explorer XLS 4.0L

  • Automatic transmission
  • 56,000 miles

SUV started to shutter going around corners at slow speed; stop and then go at slow speeds. Took it to Lee Myles Transmission iN Newburgh, NY and he knew exactly what the problem was. Said this was very common with 02-03 Ford Explorer. Replaced the transfer case.

- fross, Poughkeepsie, NY, US

problem #9

Jul 182013

Explorer Limited 4.0L V6

  • Automatic transmission
  • 109,492 miles

Hi- I have a 03 exploder(not a type o) all the ussual things crack in the tailgate, cds will not play or eject, but when may wife was stranded going to the beach, now that is a problem. 230 mile away, trans starts slipping, them trans light goes on. Take it to trans shop, $1039.0 later and 6 later have to go all the way back down and pick it up. Called ford customer service, joke not enough complaints, sorry. Last Explorer I get.


- kenyon03, Hamptonville, NC, US

problem #8

Mar 222012

Explorer LX V6

  • Automatic transmission
  • 80,000 miles

I took the car to a transmission shop, the owner informed me what the issue was immediately, all ford transmissions of that error are built with aluminum cast cases that wear out over years, the description was the same that many have been there for. They came out with a kit to make the repair at a cost of 1,000.00 dollars. The labor is another 1,000.00

- Chris J., Port Jefferson, NY, US

problem #7

Nov 012011

Explorer Eddie Baure

  • Automatic transmission
  • 81,000 miles


We have replaced the transmission twice in this truck. Now at 81000 miles we are experience the same prolems as before. We are very careful divers and use the truck to get back and forward to work. The dealers are very helpful in correcting the former problems before. Now at 81000 mile we have problems again...what is the lemon law on this vehicle

- Joe R., Bridgman, MI, US

problem #6

Jan 282012

Explorer Eddie Bauer 4.3L V8

  • Automatic transmission
  • 124,000 miles

I bought a used 2003 Explorer 2 months ago, in almost perfect condition only thing wrong with it was the motor was messed up in one of the back windows. I seriously love my explorer, it's roomy & comfortable. It has 125,000 miles on it, a few weeks ago I was stopped at a red light and when the light changed and I started to go, it didn't want to go. It shifted hard a few times after that, but seemed fine otherwise. Today I was headed to the store and it didn't want to change gears, and the RPM's were really high, so I came back home pulling into my drive way the O/D off light started flashing, and check transmission light came on. I am having it towed to be looked at in the morning, but after reading several forums it looks like the 03-04 Explorers have to have the transmission rebuilt. So that's the news I am expecting to hear, tomorrow evening. Almost every person that had to have the transmission rebuilt had around the same miles as mine or less and still having issues afterwards. I did a carfax before I bought the car, and it was excellent, always serviced with Ford dealer and very well taken care of. I am so ill that I've had this car 2 months and having this kind of issue already. If it is the transmission, I am contacting Ford....not that it will help much, but may make me feel a little better to raise hell with them.

- bhill, South Pittsburg, TN, US

problem #5

Apr 012011

Explorer XLT 4.0L V6

  • Automatic transmission
  • 108,000 miles

We had driven a 2002 Explorer at a used car lot. The transmission slipped and freewheeled. I put it into 1st and then up to drive. It shifted, I made it back, and I told the lot "NOPE, IT'S GOT TRANSMISSION PROBLEMS"

So later I found and purchased a very nice clean private party party 2003 Explorer that fit exactly what I wanted. The owner said the transmission was just flushed, a new battery, and was up front about what needed fixed. Very minor stuff. It drove just fine. I said "it's sold" I'm a retired mechanic so I knew the problems were minor. I fixed them no sweat the first weekend we had it. Now yesterday, I pulled out of the driveway, went a few hundred feet, then the transmision freewheeled. The engine reved up. I started coasting to a stop. Just like the used rig at the car lot, I shifted into 1st. It went into gear, so I drove onto work. It didn't skip a beat there and back. I've also noticed the shifter doesn't drop into drive quite right. I have to hunt for the spot. Like there is no positive detent at "drive".

Another thing is the rear wheel bearings. Just like everyone else. The whirring noise is agravating. I purchase new bearings but waiting to install them. I have a service contract so may wait the 30 days and 1000 miles then let a shop do it.

- Gerald A., Newma Lake, WA, US

problem #4

Nov 132010

Explorer XLT 4.6

  • Automatic transmission
  • 96,000 miles

Where to Start...How about at the beginning... We purchased a used 2003 Ford Explorer in 2006 and got wonderful service out of it until mid year 2009. The car started shifting funny So I contacted my extended warranty policy holder SC Warranty and verified that the shop I had chosen to look at the car would fall with in the policy limits. Once I got the OK. I took the car to the shop. Surprise... Trans slipping in 3rd and 5th gear and needs an overhaul. Warranty Guy tried his best to weasel out of paying anything on the fix and after 3 months I finally got the car back with a used 60,000 mi. transmission "To Fix The Problem". Yes, Used not Rebuilt. To get a rebuilt trans I was going to have to somehow change pocket lint into cash to cover anything over what Warranty Guy got this Used Trans. for on a Great Deal. Need less to say I Got Screwed. Yes my policy did state that they could use New, Used, or Remanufactured parts to fix covered items under the policy.

SC Warranty Inc. was a reputable company until Warranty Guy purchased it and then tried to get by with out paying a dime out to the policy holders. I would love to use his name but some folks still have a little class.

- willr, Rock Hill, SC, US

problem #3

Aug 152010

Explorer XLT 4.6

  • Automatic transmission
  • 114,000 miles

Tried to add to a Previous post but couldn't get it to work... To Catch up, I had transmission problems at 96,000 mi on my 2003 Ford Explorer, Extended Warranty Company replaced with Used Transmission with 60,000 mi on it. Big Hassle with Warranty Company.

Now that we are all caught up, the Used transmission is gone now also. The car now has 114,000 mi on it and it is about a year since it was replaced. Yes, we did put some miles on the car in the past year thanks to the folks at Disney. This time it is just 3rd gear. We are past our 90 day warranty on the Used Transmission and Completely Done with SC Warranty Inc. So, this one is on Me...

I had the original transmission rebuilt and after a couple weeks with a properly running car i now have a bad servo on the freshly rebuild trans. This should be an easy fix and we will not have to reopen the transmission. Good news is this should be covered under the rebuilders so many day warranty.

More to come I am sure...

I am really begining to dred owning this car. Hey FORD it is really hard to hold on to market shares when customers start refusing to buy your CRAP. After reading of all the recurring problems with most all the year models, I can tell you now, WE WILL NEVER OWN ANOTHER EXPLODER (Explorer) IN THIS FAMILY. Ever wonder why Ford didn't take any bailout money? Answer: You don't need to when you consistantly put out inferior products at a premium price. It's hard to go bankrupt when people just give you their hard earned money for over priced JUNK.

- willr, Rock Hill, SC, US

problem #2

Aug 202009

Explorer XLT V6

  • Automatic transmission
  • 47,000 miles

Yeah, yeah, yeah.....I am just another sucker who owns one of these explorer's. I am having the same problem with mine that many, many others are having. The transmission is shot, went at 47K miles!!!! But I unlike others do not have the $2500 to get it fixed(just for trans, not including the wheel bearings). The only way to get it to shift, is to let off on the gas, and it clunks into gear also the O/D doesn't work. Check engine light is on and O/D light flashing. It also, like others, has shot wheel bearings. Being a single mom going back to school after not being able to get a job in my field has made it impossible to come up with that kind of money. So I am stuck driving it and praying me and my son get safely to where we have to go and am thankful when we get there. My ford will be Found On Road Dead soon I have a feeling, thanks Ford for selling such a crappy product, knowing it, and not doing a thing about it!!! I will not be giving you another dime of my money either! You are putting my son and I in danger everyday while we are stuck driving this hunk of crap you call a SUV. You should be sued!

- katedew, Northville, MI, US

problem #1

Oct 282009

Explorer XLT 4.0L V6

  • Automatic transmission
  • 68,000 miles

when i bought this explorer from bob dunn ford in greensboro i was told that i was getting a first rate vehicle..3 months after getting it i had to take it back for them to make a 1400.00 warrantied problem with the drive train..i always felt that the transmission didnt feel as smooth as it should be ,and was told by the dealership that it was fine..i am leaving to go to the outer banks fishing tomorrow and 4 days b-4 i leave the trans. starts this slipping crap. i was told by mechanic that he sees this alot in ford explorers..they have a sealed transmission and you cant check the fluid level..he did a trans flush and filter change and its doing soon as i get back this thing ios getting traded for a toyota, nissan, or honda more american made junk for me.

- apple, Greensboro, NC, US

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