Ford Explorer Transmission

  

If you’re considering buying a used Ford Explorer, it’s useful to know what to look for before you drive one off the lot. Here are some of the most common problems encountered by owners, how much they cost to fix, and how to avoid buying a faulty Explorer.

Quick Answer: Avoid 2002-2006 Ford Explorers

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  • With transmission in D position, moderately accelerate from stop to 50 mph (80 km/h). This allows the transmission to shift into 5th gear. Hold speed and throttle open and steady for a minimum of 15 seconds. With the transmission in 5th gear and maintaining a steady speed and throttle opening, lightly apply and release brake to operate brake.
Don’t buy Ford Explorers that were made between 2002 and 2006 because their transmissions are prone to problems. Other year models are safe.

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To learn more about the most common problems encountered by used Ford Explorer owners, read on.

Most Common Problem With Used Ford Explorers: Transmission Failure, 2002-2006 models

Average Cost to Fix: $2,800

The transmission is key to a vehicle’s operation, so unfortunately this isn’t a problem that Ford Explorer owners can put off or work around. While other year models are much more reliable, the 2002-2006 year models of the Ford Explorer were plagued by transmission failure issues that require full transmission replacements – which usually sets owners back about 3 grand. Check out the list below for some of the most commonly-reported signs of Ford Explorer transmission failure:

  • Unable to switch gears
  • Burning smell
  • Leaking fluid
  • Grinding or shaking
  • Check engine light comes on
  • Slipping transmission

Here’s what one Ford Explorer owner on Reddit has to say about the Ford Explorer:

As a general review of an explorer I’d say take the majority of reviews online to heart… I wish I did and I regret ever buying my 02 about a year ago now, since then it’s needed rear diff work, multiple wheel bearings (600 a pop), and as of right now it needs $1k worth of repair in the front end. Also, transmission shudders into overdrive and auto 4x4 does not work…, paid 4k for it exactly a year ago, haven’t gotten any private offers for even 2000 since I’ve listed it 2 weeks ago. Don’t get me wrong, it is a good handling vehicle, attractive, and aesthetically ages well, but this was ford’s experimental generation of truck and the mandatory full time 4x4 is the worst thing I ever ever had to deal with in any vehicle.

While the Explorer is a fine vehicle overall, the 2002-2006 years were plagued with problems. We recommend steering towards a different year model if you’re considering buying a used Ford Explorer, since a transmission failure will likely set you back a significant amount of your original purchase price.

How to avoid buying a Ford Explorer with a faulty transmission:

This one’s fairly simple – avoid buying 2002-2006 models, because their transmissions were more prone to failure than other year models. If you are considering a different year model, we recommend taking the vehicle for a thorough test drive. Try to get the vehicle onto a freeway or other high-speed road and accelerate aggressively through the gears. If you feel any slipping or stuttering while the vehicle is shifting, it might be worth finding a different SUV.

How to fix:

Unfortunately, there’s nothing that a non-mechanic can do to fix the transmission problems common to Ford Explorers. Take it to a reputable local mechanic to get it checked out.

KNOW WHAT TO LOOK FOR

Wondering what to look out for when buying a used car? With such a large purchase, it pays to be a cautious shopper. Check out this list of the biggest red flags to look out for when buying a used car.

Service

Other Common Ford Escape Problems: Bubbling Paint & Cracked Body Panels

The second most commonly-reported issue with used Ford Explorers are much less severe – bubbling & warping body paint. While paint issues aren’t attractive and might lead to rust, they’re much less severe than a busted transmission.

Average cost to fix: Varies between $150-$5,000

Bubbling paint and cracked panels are among the most common body issues reported by Ford Explorer owners. Unfortunately, these issues seem to be fairly prevalent across all year models, with newer models (2017-2020) having high numbers of reports of bubbling paint, particularly on the hood and around the engine area. This is caused by the aluminum hoods of these models corroding under the paint, causing frequent bubbling, peeling, and other cosmetic issues.

A user on fordexplorer.org, ethanallen5877, detailed their issue with their 2017 Ford Explorer.

“I found about six small areas on the front edge of my 2017 Explorer with bubbling paint. Took it to the dealership and I guess it’s a known issue.”

That’s because it is a known issue – a class action lawsuit was filed against Ford for this issue back in 2019, which led to a recall on many Explorer models. Owners with bubbling paint should be able to get their hood fixed or replaced at the dealership at no cost with this recall. If you’re considering buying a used Ford Explorer, you should check with the seller to see if the hood has already been replaced under this recall.


Many users also report body panelling cracking underneath the rear window – replacement panels can be purchased, painted, and installed at most body/repair shops for $2-300.

SEE ALL FACTORY RECALLS ISSUED FOR FORD EXPLORERS

Factory recalls are issued when a vehicle fails to meet safety or quality standards, such as the bubbling paint above. Before buying a Ford Explorer of any year model, see what factory recalls have been issued.

Should you buy a used Ford Explorer?

With the exception of 2002-2006 models, which were plagued with a variety of problems, absolutely. The newer models are much more reliable, and what issues they do have are mostly cosmetic (and covered by a recall).

Looking for a used Ford Explorer? CoPilot makes it easy to search all of the used Ford Explorers in your area – no need to visit dozens of individual dealer sites to see all of the available used SUVs near you.

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The Ford Explorer is unfortunately afflicted by numerous problems in various makes and models. The Ford Explorer has issues in reoccurring years, running from 2002-2006. The Explorer was introduced in 1990 for the 1991 model year, and was created to replace the Bronco II. This was the first four-door SUV produced by Ford. Ford has produced six generations of the Explorer, with the newest version unveiling at the very beginning of 2019.

The 2002 Ford Explorer had the most overall complaints, with an astronomically-high number compared to the surrounding years. The most prevalent problem is plaguing the 2004 Ford Explorer due to a cracked panel below the rear window. However, the 2006 Explorer is the worst-rated model due to the high repair cost and extra problems at lower mileage.

Ford Explorer Problems

Explorer

The Ford Explorer has numerous problems in different categories that are a part of your vehicle. The most common issues are transmission issues, transmission failure, and exterior body problems.

The Ford Explorer has reports of the transmission lunging, jolting, and not engaging. The transmission cam slam into gear, causing a shake and an unstable shift. The transmission shifting too quickly causes your car to “jerk” or accelerate too quickly, sometimes due to a low fluid level.

Number

The transmission failure in your Ford can be noticed by the car jumping gears without warning, slipping in and out of gears while you’re driving, or preventing you from going into any gear. These are all signs that your transmission has failed, or is currently failing.

Exterior body problems in the Ford Explorer mainly involve the cracked panel, which has caused numerous Explorer owners to wait for the manufacturer to recall. Some users have resulted in replacing panels, or going even as far as to form a class action lawsuit.

Other Problems In the Ford Explorer

Despite the transmission issues and the exterior body issues being the highest-reported problems with the Ford Explorer model, there are a few other key issues that can cause faulty mechanics and improperly working parts within your vehicle. These problems should be realized, diagnosed, and noted before assuming that the transmission or the exterior is your main issue.

Heater Stuck On Hottest Setting

You might notice that your car is getting hot – very hot. There are reports of your Ford Explorer’s heater getting stuck on the hottest setting due to the broken heater blend door. A failed heater blend door or actuator can cause the control of temperature to stop working completely. A symptom of the heater blend door failing is an inability to control the temperature, and a clicking sound from the actuator motor. If the heater gets stuck on the hottest setting, the heater blend door could be broken, requiring a replacement of the heater box to repair the issue. A replacement of the heater core costs between $564-$927 for both the parts and labor.

Rough Idle and Stalling

On your Ford Explorer, you can have a rough idle and stalling, along with misfiring and losing power. The intake manifold O-ring gaskets can leak, creating a vacuum leak. The O-ring gaskets are designed to seal off two or more parts, creating a vacuum-proofed seal. The vacuum leak can cause air to enter the engine and the fuel system, causing the system to be unable to compensate for the high-amount of air getting to the engine. You will need to replace the intake manifold gaskets to fix this concern, which usually costs around $709-$949 to replace the intake manifold gasket.

Plastic Intake Manifold Can Crack

Within your Ford Explorer, the plastic intake manifold can crack and cause a detrimental coolant leak. The 1997-2001 Ford Explorer especially has this issue, with a plastic intake manifold notorious for overheating. Even with normal and regular driving use, the coolant can leak from the front of the manifold, triggering the check engine light and low engine coolant warning light.

The coolant may leak due to a factory defect, causing a crack on the front coolant passage. A consistent coolant leak causes the engine to overheat, most notably when the vehicle is idling. With no repair available for the intake manifold, a replacement is required to fix the engine coolant issues. To repair the coolant leak diagnosis, it will cost between $73-$93.

Worn Timing Chain Cassettes

If you hear a rattling noise from your engine, this can be an indication that the timing chain cassette is worn and damaged. A worn timing chain cassette can be fixed by installing an updated timing cassette and tensioner to correct the issue. A general diagnosis of the chain cassette issues costs around $88-$111.

Transmission

Ford Explorer Problems: Through The Years

Explorer

Although there are other issues with the Ford Explorer, the transmission problems are the highest-reported and the most prevalent in all of the following years. From 2002-2006, transmission issues have seriously damaged these specific models, causing expensive repairs and replacements that owners need to deal with. The good news is that even with a faulty transmission, there are still some services that will pay for your junk car.

2002 Ford Explorer Problems

The 2002 Ford Explorer, unfortunately, received an extremely high amount of NHTSA complaints and user reports of issues. The NHTSA had almost 1,000 complaints in the transmission category of this model, 594 complaints about the drivetrain category, and almost 500 complaints about the body/paint category.

Since we are mainly focusing on the transmission issues, we need to focus on the top problems within the transmission problem category. The top issues are transmission failure, the O/D light blinking, the transmission slipping, and the transmission needing overhauling.

Ford Explorer Transmission Fluid

Transmission Failure

The transmission failure is most commonly fixed by replacing with a rebuilt transmission, replacing the transmission completely, or recalling the transmission. The average range of repairs is between $1,800 and $3,400, and typically occurs at an average of 94,800 miles. The severity rating of this problem is a 9.3, which means you will need to fix this issue rather quickly.

O/D Light Blinking

The second issue with the transmission is the O/D light blinking. The solution to this issue is for Ford to recall the faulty transmission, a complete rebuilding, or replacing the faulty part with a new transmission. The cost to repair this issue comes in at around $2,320, and occurs at an average of 109,100 miles.

Transmission Slipping

The third issue with the transmission is the transmission slipping. Oftentimes when the transmission slips, you will hear a clunking and shifting sound within your car. This could occur because your transmission fluid is too low or because the transmission hasn’t undergone proper maintenance. The best solution for this problem is for Ford to recall the enclosed transmissions, with the second-best choice being to replace the transmission completely. The average repair cost is $2,200 and occurs at just below 100,000 miles.

Overhaul The Transmission

Lastly, within the transmission category, the final issue is the transmission needing overhauling. The best solution for this problem is to rebuild the transmission, or to completely overhaul the transmission. The average repair cost is $2,500, and occurs at just below 90,000 miles.

The 2002 Ford Explorer had the highest number of problems and complaints associated with any Ford Explorer model. The main issues deal with the faulty and damaged transmission, causing the Ford Explorer to undergo serious problems that need to be fixed in order for your car to continue running smoothly.

2003 Ford Explorer Problems

Although the 2003 Ford Explorer had the highest number of complaints in the body and paint category, the transmission issues have still plagued this model. The highest categories of issues are the body and paint category, transmission category, and drivetrain category – and the Ford Explorer isn’t the only Ford with both transmission and drivetrain issues.

Since the number of complaints in the body and paint category is so high, they must be addressed in this blog so you can fully appreciate the issues associated with this year’s model. The main problem with the structure of the body is that there can be a cracked panel below the rear window. The main solution for this issue is Ford recalling the model, repairing the tailgate, or replacing the individual panel. The average repair cost is $420, and the problem occurs at around 76,000 miles.

The issues within the transmission category mainly deal with the O/D lights flashing and the transmission failing. The O/D light flashing is usually associated with the check engine light coming on simultaneously. The solution for this issue was to replace with a rebuilt transmission, replace the transmission, or a complete overhaul. The average cost of a rebuilt transmission will run about $1,100 to $2,800, and usually occurs at a little over 100,00 miles.

Ford Explorer Transmission Service

2004 Ford Explorer Problems

Ford Explorer Transmission Fill Adapter

The main category of complaints with the 2004 Ford Explorer once again dealt with the body and paint, along with the transmission system. In addition, the 2004 Ford Explorer is one of the worst vehicles according to some reputable sources. The most prevalent issue with this model is the cracked panel below the rear window. This problem has reportedly occurred without any previous trauma or damage to the car, leaving users confused as to why this can suddenly spring up on your vehicle. The solution for this problem is to either wait for Ford to recall, replace the panel, or never buy Ford ever again. The average repair cost is $460 and occurs at around 75,000 miles.

2005 Ford Explorer Problems

The 2005 Ford Explorer has a record of expensive transmission failure at under 100,000 miles – a point at which transmission failure should not occur. The Explorer has an enclosed transmission, which typically costs about $3,000 to fully replace. This could be due to leaking transmission fluid, a clogged transmission filter, or a lack of maintenance. In addition to this model having issues with the transmission, this year also has the reoccurring issue of the rear panel cracking.

2006 Ford Explorer Problems

This year saw a slight decline in the number of problems associated with the highly-flawed Ford Explorer line. However, even though the amount of complaints declined, the 2006 model year was rated as the worst due to the higher repair cost and the problems at lower mileage. The highest amount of complaints were still in the transmission category, showing that the issues have not been fixed from previous years.

The transmission can lunge and jolt very roughly while shifting, which requires a replacement of the transmission or replacing the transmission module. This repair costs an average of $1,830 and occurs below 50,000 miles – a very low mileage amount for this problem to occur. The Ford Explorer isn’t the only Ford to have transmission issues throughout the years either.

2007 Ford Explorer Problems

The models spanning these years had much fewer issues than the previous 5 years of Ford Explorers. The 2007 Ford Explorer still had transmission issues, but only had 19 NHTSA complaints in this category. Owners of the 2007 Ford Explorer should be aware of the engine problems, such as the engine stalling while driving and the spark plug breaking off.

2008 Ford Explorer Problems

The 2008 Ford Explorer had minimal issues with the transmission, showing that the manufacturer had taken into account the problems of the previous years. The main category that had problems was the interior access, with the mirror cover on the sun visor falling off and the seats not being able to adjust.

2009-2012 Ford Explorer Problems

The 2009 Ford Explorer is the first model with almost no notable problems, with the NHTSA data not indicating any issues with the transmission of the 2009 Ford Explorer. The 2010, 2011, and 2012 Ford Explorer all had similar reports, with virtually no issues that are worth reporting in terms of safety.

2013 Ford Explorer Problems

Although the transmission seems to have been fixed in the Ford Explorer, the body and paint problems, coupled with the steering complaints, have unfortunately taken over this year’s model. The body issues dealt with the paint bubbling on the hood, rust forming on the hood, and water leaking into the interior. Steering issues with this model involve a loss of power steering, making this a dangerous solution that needs an immediate fix.

Ford Explorer Transmission Problems

Overall Ford Explorer Problems

Ford Explorer Transmission Leak

The worst problem plaguing the Ford Explorer deals with the constantly-occurring transmission problems. Even though the 2002 Ford Explorer has the highest number of overall complaints, the 2006 can be considered the worst and safest model due to the high repair cost and timing of when these problems occur.

2005 Ford Explorer Transmission

What If I Don’t Feel Safe Driving My Ford Explorer?

If you don’t feel comfortable driving your Ford Explorer, then you can ring your vehicle into a reputable location to earn some extra money. Remove all non-metal components from your car, sell them for some cash, and bring your junk car to CashCarsBuyer for a trustworthy quote. Earn some extra money to set aside for a brand-new and safe vehicle.