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:
2 / 0
Injuries / Deaths:
0 / 0
Average Mileage:
90,516 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 wheels / hubs problems

wheels / hubs problem

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2003 Ford Explorer Owner Comments (Page 1 of 3)

problem #42

May 012015


  • 180,000 miles


We have recurring wheel bearing and hub assembly issue. The timing I put on the form may be off a bit but not much. Its all like a recurring Ford Explorer nightmare at this point! we have replaced bearings, hib assembly, tie rod, then rear end went up ( and shouldn't have)/now again, another bearing and wheel sensor. The truck cuts out when at a slower speed. I lost steering a few months ago while driving and when I try to put it in gear, sometimes it won't move.I have called Ford, nhtsb and no one is willing to make Ford recall these issues and Ford won't do the right thing knowing it's an ongoing problem with a lot of Ford! please someone help! I have multiple sclerosis and a heart issue. I need a safe reliable car and can't afford to get another one. Someone, please do the right thing here! I know its an older model and I question if this is why the recall isn't happening.idk but this isn't right. The truck is sitting out front needing an additional $700 of work. After rear end, tie rod, bearings, brakes in the past several months, we have no way to fix this lemon. Always been Ford but if they or a governing Agency doesn't help.. never a Ford again. Look at all the complaints for the same thing!!!! shameful.

- Reisterstown, MD, USA

problem #41

Jan 052015


  • miles
The mechanic called it a rear complete strut assembly part of the spring back by the back wheel on the driver side is broken off

- Elizabethtown, KY, USA

problem #40

Dec 072014


  • 132,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. The contact stated that while driving approximately 45 mph, the lug nuts sheared off the wheels causing the rear passenger tire to become detached from the vehicle. The tire caused damage to the vehicle as a result of the failure. The dealer was not contacted. The manufacturer was not made aware of the failure. The failure mileage was 132,000.

- Cedar Rapids, IA, USA

problem #39

Jul 012013


  • 100,000 miles


The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. The contact stated that while driving 65 mph, a dragging noise was heard from the rear of the vehicle. The contact inspected the vehicle and found that the rear passenger side lug nuts were loose and caused the wheel to separate. The failure was previously experienced on the rear driver's side. The local mechanic replaced the lug nuts however the failure was not corrected. The lug nuts continued to separate from the rear wheels while driving. The VIN was not available. The failure and current mileage was 100,000.

- Elizabeth , TN, USA

problem #38

Oct 272013


  • 169,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. The contact was completing a right turn at 3 mph when the rear driver's side wheel became detached from the vehicle. The contact noticed that the lug nuts were completely sheared off and the rear passenger's side tire was missing a lug nut. The vehicle was not taken to an independent mechanic or dealer and was not repaired. The manufacturer was not contacted. The approximate failure mileage was 169,000.

- Plymouth, PA, USA

problem #37

May 092013


  • 98,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. The contact stated that while driving 3 mph, the front passenger's side wheel became disconnected from the vehicle, causing the vehicle to forcefully drop to the ground. The vehicle was towed to a dealer for diagnosis and the contact was informed that the lug nuts had sheared off of the wheels, which would need to be replaced. The manufacturer had not been notified of the failure. The contact was awaiting the repair of the vehicle. The failure and current mileage was 98,000.

- Pittsburgh, PA, USA

problem #36

Nov 172011


  • 102,000 miles


The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. The contact stated that while driving 30 mph, the wheel detached from the vehicle. The contact discovered that a lug nut was detahced from the wheel which caused the failure. The vehicle was towed to the dealer where the contact was advised that the lug nut was sheered. The vehicle was repaired but the failure recurred. The manufacturer was notified but provided no assistance. The failure mileage was 120,000.

- Hilliard, OH, USA

problem #35

May 022012


  • 96,000 miles
All 4 of the wheel bearings had to be replaces in a matter of 5 months the rear window has a crack in the fiberglass covering right down the middle said not covered not a health risk but the molding is still cracked from the bottom of window to the bottom of the molding piece brake lights stay on until U get back in and tap the brakes then the light shuts off.

- Plainville, MA, USA

problem #34

Aug 172012

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 131,000 miles
Wheel bearings went out on front right wheel and both the rear wheels. I just replaced my transmission and now I have to pay for wheel bearings which is not cheap. I cannot believe Ford does not acknowledge this problem with alot of Explorer. I would not every buy Ford again.

- Bellevue, KY, USA

problem #33

Mar 122012


  • 55,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Ford Explorer. The contact was driving 55-60 mph when three studs detached from the passenger side rear wheel. The vehicle was towed to a private mechanic and the manufacturer was contacted. The vehicle was repaired and the VIN was unavailable. The failure mileage was 55,000 and the current mileage was 68,000.

- Staten Island, NY, USA

problem #32

Apr 222012

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 110,000 miles


Rear of vehicle emitted a thumping and popping sound. First thought that rear tire had blown or that rear end had malfunctioned. After regaining control of vehicle and pulling off to shoulder on three wheels and a rotor, determined that the driver's side rear wheel and tire had disappeared. All lugs and nuts were gone. Wheel had departed from vehicle and gone in an unknown direction. Rotor and caliper where still attached to vehicle. Policeman was later able to retrieve wheel and tire from some distance down the highway behind the vehicle. Rim was scored all the way around the circumference of the inside of the rim. I assume that the rim had dropped down onto either the lugs or rotor prior to finding its way out of the fender well. Blessed to be able to talk about this. Ford Motor Company, there are recurrent problems here. Had rear bearing replaced on same wheel approximately 16 months prior. Suggested repairs around $400 to start for this incident. There may be greater damage and cost because the vehicle rested and dragged upon the rear suspension strut and torsion bar prior to get it stopped and pulled off of the pavement onto the grassy shoulder.

- Chesapeakea, VA, USA

problem #31

Feb 092010


  • 85,000 miles
Front wheels made loud humming sounds and at time felt like they were rubbing. Mechanics found that both front wheel hub assembly's were failing simultaneously. They also think the rear is starting to go. This appears to be caused by poor design and/or craftmanship by manufacturer.

- Cohasset, MA, USA

problem #30

Aug 242010

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 85,000 miles
At about 85K miles, the studs on the rear tires of my 2003 Ford Explorer began breaking-off. This has happened three times while I was driving and twice while getting my tires rotated. I have probably replaced almost 20 studs in the last 18 months. I have had numerous diagnoses from mechanics and all have been wrong. Finally, a service manager at quirk Ford in quincy, MA admitted that he did not know the problem. Of course, I have already paid thousands of dollars to have the problem fixed - to no avail. The service manager contacted tecnicials at the corporate level and they recommended several things. The service dept at quirk Ford had already done all of these recommendations in the past. The corporate level technicians claim that their is not history of this in other vehicles, but a quick internet search reveals that this is not true. There are countless complaints online from 2002-2004 Explorer owners identifying the same dangerous problem.

- Quincy, MA, USA

problem #29

Apr 272011


  • 97,525 miles
The drivers side rear hub broke without any warning or indication of any problem whatsoever. It destroyed the knuckle and the wheel nearly fell off.

- Lahaska, PA, USA

problem #28

May 062011

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 82,000 miles
A 2003 Ford Explorer rear wheel drive with 82K miles. The wheel hub bearings have failed on both rear wheels.

- San Angelo, TX, USA

problem #27

Mar 102011

Explorer 4WD 8-cyl

  • 130,000 miles
Multiple episodes of lugnuts on 2003 Ford Explorer top-of-the-line original equipment chrome wheels loosening over time. Traveling at highway speeds when serious vibrations have occurred. On each occasion, lugnuts were loose or missing, with one or more lugs completely sheared off on two separate occasions. On this reported occasion, lugnuts were very loose on one wheel. Most logical explanation appears to be that wheel material is not capable of performing as designed, and that delamination/oxidation of wheel surfaces are primary contributing factors.

- Pittsburgh, PA, USA

problem #26

Dec 152010

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 105,000 miles
As I was driving to work the other day, I was sitting in a line of cars waiting for my turn to go through a 4-way stop when my 2003 Ford Explorer suddenly stopped running. I had plenty of fuel and the electrical worked. The engine simply wouldn't turn over. I called a tow truck and had the vehicle towed to my local repair shop. After some inspection, the repairman determined that I had blown a fuse. The cause was my ABS sensor continually sending out an problem signal. The cause of that was my wheel bearings going bad. Further inspection showed that at least three of my wheels have bad bearings. The repairs are incredibly costly (well over $1,000). And the mechanical failure is dangerous, including wheel separation, wheel seizing up and brake failure. I was lucky to have been stopped at an intersection. I drive on the interstate daily and if the car had failed there, it could have been incredibly bad. While wheel bearings to fail, the mechanic said it is incredibly rare to see multiple bearings go out at the same time. Well, except for Ford. He said the Explorer and Focus (especially the '02 & '03 models) have a reputation for wearing out. Sometimes, multiple times for the same wheel. A quick google search proved him right. There are hundreds of complaints for this problem on the '02 & '03 Ford Explorer. I realize we're going on 8 or 9 years since these vehicles were produced, but how could the same issue on hundreds of cars not have been addressed yet? the problem seems to obviously not be due to user error or poor mechanical maintenance. I implore you to investigate this further for the sake of the thousands of people still driving these cars every day.

- Murfreesboro, TN, USA

problem #25

Oct 282008


  • 110,933 miles
At 110000 miles was driving at highway speed and heard "bumping, rumbling sound", car was not handling well, got off at next exit 1 mile down the road and as I was slowing down right rear wheel fell off vehicle. Had it towed to dealership and they noted that the wheel studs were bad and the wheel bearing was bad, replaced both. At 140000 miles was driving at 50 mph and heard same sound, stopped immediately and found that left front wheel was loose. Had it towed to dealership, they stated that they found rust on the rotors/lugs/wheel, cleaned it and retorqued wheels to 130 ft lbs, stated they have had this problem with other vehicles!! at 151000 heard same sound, I was driving on a side road at 30 mph, stopped immediately and the left front wheel was loose again (tires had been rotated, so this is not the same wheel as previously). Dealership again cleaned the rotors/lugs/wheel and retorqued wheels to 125 ft lbs this time and stated that with some of the previous problems they were attributing it to delamination of a coating on the aluminum wheels, but that we don't have that kind of wheel. By luck and careful monitoring we have not been in a serious accident with this issue - yet! a front wheel falling off at highway speeds could likely be deadly. There are repeated reports on this problem, it is not an isolated incidence. The only time the wheel studs were sheared and bearings were bad is when I did not catch it in time and the wheel actually came off, I firmly believe the issue is the same though, the wheel falling off is causing the studs to shear and bearings to go.

- Salem, CT, USA

problem #24

Oct 192010

Explorer 6-cyl

  • 89,000 miles
Both front wheel bearings.

- Loudon, NH, USA

problem #23

Oct 112010


  • 89,000 miles
Wheel bearing failure.

- Loudon, NH, USA

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