Ford Explorer Years To Avoid (6 Common Problems)

There are very minimal chances that you’d stumble on a Ford Explorer first-gen model in 2022, but if it happens to come your way, you should avoid buying!

Yes, the first-gen Ford Explorer models are mainly among the worst Ford Explorers, and that’s because they have a lot of problems you definitely don’t want to deal with.

Remarkably, the 2004 Ford Explorer had over 1,200 NHTSA complaints and five recalls. Even with the recalls, the 2004 Explorer is still linked with loads of problems that cost very high to fix. This article explains the Ford Explorer years to avoid and why you should do so.

Ford Explorer Overview

The Ford Explorer is a 4-door, off-road capable SUV produced by the famous American automaker, Ford. It is a solid SUV, and the series is currently in its sixth generation. The first and second generations of Ford Explorer were strong but had many problems.

Ford Explorer comes standard with a 4.0L V6 engine paired with a 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic transmission.

Notwithstanding, the Ford Explorer has multiple engine options to choose from (if you’re buying it brand new). USNews ranks Ford Explorer 16th in its midsize SUV category.

See Also: List of Ford Edge Years to Avoid

Ford Explorer Years To Avoid and Why?

Basically, the earlier model years of the Ford Explorer SUV had a lot of issues linked to them. People who owned those Explorer models reported these problems on different platforms.

Hereunder is a quick list of the worst Ford Explorer SUVs to avoid:

  • 2002 Ford Explorer
  • 2003 Ford Explorer
  • 2004 Ford Explorer
  • 2005 Ford Explorer
  • 2006 Ford Explorer
  • 2013 Ford Explorer
  • 2016 Ford Explorer

The 2002 model year had the highest NHTSA complaints, but the 2016 model is reportedly the worst year because its problems occur at low mileage and usually attracts high repair cost.

The rest of the model years above have a seemingly high number of NHTSA complaints regarding different components, including the transmissions, engine, interior accessories, wheel hub, drivetrain, body panel, and quite many others.

Common Ford Explorer Problems and Repair Cost

These problems were majorly reported for the models listed above. The average repair cost ranges from $800 – $5,000, depending on the severity.

1. Transmissions Problems

The 2006, 2002, and 2004 model years reportedly had various transmission problems. The worst of it is that the issues occur before 80k miles. In the 2006 model, it was reported that the transmission lunged, hard jolt when shifting, and this cost around $1,800 to fix.

Other transmission issues linked with older Ford Explorer models include hard shifting, slipping out of gear, and fatal failure (the transmission stops working). So, if you’re buying a used Ford Explorer, it is important to scrutinize the transmission before making payments.

2. Cracked Body Panel (Body Paint Issues)

This was the highest-reported issue with the 2004 Ford Explorer – the rear body panel (just below the rear window) starts cracking after about 60k miles. Over 1,000 owners of the 2004 Ford Explorer model had this issue, which occurred more than once.

A lot of people who faced this issue fixed it by replacing the rear panel. A couple of others swore not to buy a Ford Explorer anymore – as they awaited a recall.

However, the estimated average cost for fixing this problem is $450 – not so expensive, but you’d definitely not find it cool to spend $450 on the same issue multiple times.

3. Drivetrain Problems

The drivetrain on Ford Explorers is quite sturdy, but they are not left out in the complaints. Mainly on the 2002 model, the drivetrain reportedly starts failing after some miles.

Some of the most reported drivetrain issues on the 2002 Ford Explorer include whining noise from the rear differential, rear differential leaks, 4×4 won’t engage, and other similar problems.

These drivetrain problems were also reported on a few other Ford Explorer models, and the average repair cost is $1,100. Mainly, fixing these problems involves changing the rear differential entirely.

4. Wheels and Wheel Hub Problems

The wheels and hub of most Ford Explorer models produced in the years above reportedly failed even before 100k miles. Wheel hub problems were reported mainly for the 2003 Explorer XLT 4.0L V6 model. Other models with critical wheel and hub concerns were 2004, 2013, 2002, and 2006.

Depending on whether you’re changing just the wheel(s) or the hub(s), the average repair cost of the wheel and hub problems on Ford Explorers ranges from $400 to $1,500. Most people who faced these issues had no choice but to do an overhaul wheel and hub replacement.

5. Engine Problems

Of course, the first and second-generation models had several engine faults, from timing chain failure to sensor failure and complete engine failure.

Well, the most severe engine problems occurred after 100k miles, and it costs an average of $3,700 to fix the issue(s) in most cases.

6. Interior Accessories Problems

You definitely won’t love to see the dashboard lights all illuminated, at least not when you’re sure that virtually every component of your SUV is well in shape. Well, many complaints were filed against several interior accessories and components of Ford Explorer’s early models.

The common problems include the door ajar light staying on at all times, power lock failure, heated seat malfunctioning, 4×4 light issues, O/D light keeps blinking, inaccurate gas readings on the gauge, and so much more.

The cost of fixing these problems depends on the one you’re dealing with; repair costs can be as low as $50 or as high as $2,000.

What Are The Best Ford Explorer Years To Buy

Excluding the years listed as the “Worst” models, the other Ford Explorer model years are a good buy. This includes the newer models from 2017 and some older years like the 2007 – 2013 models.

These Ford Explorer models also have a higher reliability rating; they can go over 200,000 miles with proper maintenance.


The first and second generations (including a few models from the third-gen) had other issues, but these ones above are the commonest and most-reported problems.

Apparently, this article clearly explains the Ford Explorer models to avoid and why you should do so. Hopefully, the information provided here helped your internet search.

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