Ford introduced the Explorer as a mid-size SUV in 1990 for the 1991 model year as a replacement for the Bronco II. Initially designed as a truck-based, sport-utility vehicle, the Explorer has evolved over the years into a car-like crossover SUV.
Unfortunately, the Ford Explorer has unique problems varying across year models.
Table of Contents
In this article, we will help you avoid a lemon by highlighting the most common problems of the Ford Explorer based on owners’ complaints.
1. Ford Explorer Transmission Problems
The Ford Explorer is notorious for experiencing transmission issues.
Car Complaint ranked it as the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd worst Explorer problem. The 2006 year model took the number one slot for the worst-year model, followed by the 2002 and 2004 Explorer.
It’s also worth noting that the 2002 to 2005 Explorer has a well-documented history of costly transmission failures at below 100,000 miles.
According to Car Complaints, the 2006 year model transmission problem has a typical repair cost of $1,830 and this occurs at an average mileage of 49,450 miles.
For the 2002 model year, the transmission failure has a typical repair cost of $2,840 and the issue occurs at an average mileage of 94,800 miles.
For the 2004 model year, Car Complaints estimates the cost of repairing the transmission problem at $2,040 and this issue occurs at an average mileage of 73,350 miles.
The 2020 and later models are some of the best years for Ford Explorer.
Causes and Solutions
Here are some of the common problems with the Explorer’s transmission:
|Worn-out gears or transmission bands
Low or burned transmission fluid
Difficulty with the torque converter
Failed transmission solenoid
Replace shift solenoid
Replace shift solenoid and bands
|Transmission Lunges, Hesitation, Hard Jerking When Shifting
Low transmission fluid
Poor maintenance culture
|Replace the transmission
TSB from Ford reprogramming the transmission control
Replace transmission module
Reprogram the transmission
|Car Stalls Due to Sudden Loss of Power
|Low transmission fluid
Failed transmission solenoids
Poor fluid maintenance
|Replace with rebuilt transmission
Transmission needs to be recalled
2. Wheel Bearing Failure
For vehicle performance, wheel bearings are essential. They are important to the healthy function of any vehicle in that they help the wheel rotate smoothly.
Apart from the transmission problem in the Ford Explorer, the wheel bearing failure is also a serious issue.
This problem is very common in 2002 and 2003 Explorers, and it occurs at around 90,000 miles.
It costs about $500 to $1,000 to fix an Explorer with wheel bearing failure, depending on how many wheel bearings fail.
Here are some symptoms of bad wheel bearings:
- Noise: Listen for a distinct humming, rumbling, or growling noise.
- This auditory cue intensifies with acceleration or when making turns. Be wary of wailing or grinding noises that persist loudly while driving. Notice clunking sounds when navigating uneven road surfaces.
- Steering Irregularities: Looseness in the steering wheel or vague steering.
- Steering wheel vibration: These prompt changes in vibration as the vehicle speed increases or as the vehicle turns.
- ABS malfunctioning: A wheel and bearing-integrated ABS sensor failure might cause problems with the ABS.
Causes and Solutions
Cause of Poor Quality Wheel Bearings
|Poor Quality or Factory Fault
|Replace the inferior quality or faulty wheel bearings.
Address any factory defects through warranty or manufacturer support.
|Road Conditions (e.g., Off-Road Driving)
|Inspect and replace wheel bearings after driving in challenging off-road conditions.
Perform regular maintenance to detect and address issues early.
|Contaminants (e.g., Mud, Dust, Road Salt)
|Clean and repack wheel bearings regularly to remove contaminants.
Avoid driving in conditions prone to heavy contamination, or clean bearings after such drives.
|Wheels Modification (e.g., Altered Tires)
|Choose appropriate wheel modifications to minimize stress on wheel bearings.
Regularly inspect and adjust wheel modifications to ensure compatibility with bearings.
|Driving with Worn Wheel Bearings
|Replace worn wheel bearings promptly to prevent damage to the drive axle, CV joint, and brakes.
Schedule regular inspections to catch and address wear before it becomes a safety hazard.
3. Ford Explorer Paint Bubbling Issues
Based on our research, the third notorious complaint of Ford Explorer owners is that the paint bubbles.
These issues occur mostly between 30,000 miles and 50,000 miles and are very common in Explorers from 2011 to 2017.
Notable for paint on the aluminum hoods bubbling around the perimeter is the 2013 Ford Explorer.
With a severity rate of 7.2, which is pretty bad, the 2013 model year’s paint problem has a typical repair cost of $1,220 and occurs at an average mileage of 45,600 miles.
There are other complaints about Ford Explorer body/paint problems, such as rust bubbles on the hood, paint flaking off the rear liftgate, paint peeling off, inside door edges on the passenger side rusting, and paint cracking.
Causes and Solutions
Most Explorer owners believe that this is a factory fault and there should be a recall for this problem, but there has been no recall for this issue.
The Explorer owners are correct because moisture causes bubbles, most likely in the painting process. Too much moisture in the airlines while painting a car will cause such a bubbling problem.
Apart from the moisture problem, the issue could also be related to the bodywork, poor paint preparation, or rust.
- To remove the bubble, use a scraper or sandpaper to remove it until you reach the bare surface of the metal.
- Next, prime all bare areas with a high-quality primer.
- Finally, repaint the surface with high-quality paint in the desired finish.
4. Power Transfer Unit Failure
The Power Transfer Unit (PTU), a critical component of the all-wheel drive system in the fifth-generation Ford Explorer (2011-2019), has surfaced as a risk for owners.
Despite Ford’s assurances that the PTU does not require servicing and uses lifetime fluids, several owners have reported unexpected PTU breakdowns at surprisingly low mileage.
The PTU, which is in charge of distributing power between the front and back wheels, encounters difficulties due to its closeness to the engine and catalytic converter.
Excessive heat exposure causes the PTU fluid to deteriorate and lose its lubricating characteristics over time. This deterioration, often known as being “fried,” eventually damages the PTU’s gears and components, resulting in breakdowns and failures.
Causes and Solutions
Below is a table outlining major causes and associated solutions for PTU Failure:
|Causes of PTU Failure
|Proximity to Engine and Catalytic Converter
|Regular PTU fluid checks and changes, especially in areas with high operating temperatures.
|Lifetime Fluid Misconception
|Reevaluate fluid change intervals based on usage and environmental conditions.
|Excessive Heat Exposure
|Install additional cooling mechanisms for the PTU to prevent fluid degradation.
|Lack of Lubrication
|Monitor PTU fluid quality and levels regularly, ensuring timely replacements.
|Consider preemptive PTU replacements, especially if the vehicle operates in challenging conditions.
5. Powertrain Issues
Ford is recalling over 238,000 Explorer SUVs (model years 2020-2022) owing to a powertrain problem in which a defective part may cause the driveshaft to disengage.
If this happens when the parking brake is not applied, the car may roll accidentally – a major safety concern. The recall comes after the NHTSA investigated 396 instances of rear axle bolt failures.
Despite a prior attempt to resolve the issue with a software update, the problem continues.
Ford now reports 19 cases of impacted vehicles rolling away or losing power while in motion. This recall has not been related to any accidents or injuries.
Ford owners should check the NHTSA’s website for open recalls using the VIN, since manufacturers routinely issue recalls, even for older vehicles.
Regular monitoring is recommended.
6. Water Pump Leaks
Ford Explorer vehicles from 2011 to 2016 experienced significant water pump troubles, with the 2016 variations having the most problems. Water pump leaking was a typical complaint from customers across all Ford Explorer models.
The loss of engine coolant due to leakage from the water pump poses a high danger of engine damage. The engine may overheat and seize if not properly cooled, necessitating the purchase of a new engine.
Ford Explorer vehicles saw additional issues in 2011, with engines stalling during moments when the water pump failed. Furthermore, in 2011 models with integrated water pumps, a malfunction resulted in coolant mixing with oil, forcing the engine to shut down.
Despite indications of a class-action lawsuit, no recalls were made, and the combined coolant and oil would demand engine replacement if left unrepaired.
While these concerns have been addressed during service visits, no formal recalls have been issued by Ford Motor Company. As a result, consumers must shoulder the expense of repairs.
7. Loss of Power Steering
Ford has a history of power steering issues in Explorers across several model years.
For example, a recall was issued in 2014 for model years 2011-2013 Ford Explorers. Ford admitted that certain cars may encounter an intermittent connection in the electric power steering gear, resulting in a loss of the motor position sensor signal and the power steering aid being turned off.
This flaw, according to Ford, has the potential to raise the danger of an accident. Ford issued a second recall in 2015. The recall was for electric power steering assist systems that might shut down due to a steering motor sensor failure.
Explorer owners are urged to check for open recalls and fix them as soon as possible through Ford dealerships or authorized repair centers.
8. Visibility Concerns
Ford Explorer owners have reported a considerable number of visibility-related difficulties throughout the years, totaling 912 incidents since 1996.
These issues fall into several categories, with the most prevalent ones listed below:
Number of Problems
|Windshield Wiper/washer problems
|Side/rear Glass problems
|Windshield Wiper/washer Motor problems
These occurrences highlight the vital need to resolve visibility concerns as soon as possible.
These issues, in addition to affecting the safety of the vehicle’s occupants, can contribute to other structural issues if left untreated.
9. Coolant Leaks and Overheating Concerns
Coolant leaks caused by a damaged plastic intake manifold are a recurring problem for Ford Explorer owners, particularly those with cars made between 1997 and 2001.
The plastic material used in these intake manifolds is prone to overheating, resulting in fractures that jeopardize the cooling system’s integrity.
Coolant leaks are a regular occurrence when the plastic intake manifold fails. This problem is worsened in Ford Explorers due to the plastic material’s susceptibility to overheating.
The illumination of the check engine light, even when traveling at speeds as low as 5 mph below the limit, is a warning symptom of this problem.
Unfortunately, there is no permanent fix for a damaged plastic intake manifold. The suggested course of action is to replace the intake manifold entirely.
This repair normally costs between $70 and $100, and it addresses the coolant leak issue while also preventing future engine issues caused by overheating.
10. Timing Chain Challenges
Ford Explorers featured a 4.0-liter V6 SOHC engine with weak timing chain guides from 1997 to 2010. Despite modifications in 2003, later models continue to have timing chain issues, particularly after 100,000 miles.
The common causes for these challenges include:
- Chain too tight
- Wear and tear
- Driving at high speeds
- Missed oil changes
- Engine overheating
- Piston issues
Strange engine noises or illuminated warning lights might be early warning signs of probable timing chain issues.
Address any significant performance concerns as soon as possible. If you notice lower engine efficiency or issues while driving, seeing a professional will help you avoid additional damage and maintain the longevity of the timing chain.
11. Fuel Leaks
There have been a number of recalls over the years on Ford Explorer fuel systems regarding leaks and parts that may come loose or even just faulty parts coming undone.
There have been many complaints between the years of 2011 and 2017 about fuel pump failure leaving you stuck on the side of the road.
In 2022 there was a recall on the fuel system for that same year.
The recall was in February of 2022 and Ford recalled about 18,366 vehicles for a fuel filler tube that might detach causing a fuel leak, creating a risk for the vehicle to catch on fire.
In 2022 there was another recall for a loose fuel pipe – calling in 69 vehicles.
12. Fracturing of Rear Suspension Toe Link
Ford Explorers had many recalls in 2017 to 2019 for a fractured rear suspension toe link.
This affected models from 2011 up to 2017, potentially calling in over a million vehicles related to this issue.
When the rear toe link is broken this will cause a sudden change in the parts of the steering system heightening the chance of an accident.
13. Faulty Rearview Camera Image
During the years 2020 to 2023 Ford issued a few recalls on the rearview camera. This resulted in over 700,000 Explorers being called in because of a faulty rearview camera.
Most issues were around the image not displaying on the screen. This can be dangerous as it reduces the driver’s visibility.
In my opinion, it is always best to stay on the safe side and use your rearview mirrors in conjunction with the rearview camera.
General Pros and Cons
Here are some of the pros and cons of the Ford Explorer:
|Paint Bubbling Issues
|Interior Storage Space
What Do the Reviews Say?
Built for families, or best for a crowd – with a bevy of gear, the Ford Explorer is a three-row SUV with room to grow. It competes against a slew of family dream machines, including the Honda Pilot, Kia Telluride, Subaru Ascent, Toyota Highlander, and Chevy Traverse.
Indeed, the Explorer is one of the better choices in the midsize three-row SUV class for towing. But while the Ford Explorer is a pleasure to drive and has big cargo space, it’s kept in check by its comparably expensive sticker and an interior that doesn’t meet the standards set by its price.
What Is the Resale Value of the Ford Explorer?
Here are some of the resale prices of the Ford Explorer:
GO BACK > problems for all Ford models.
ⓘ The information in this article is based on data from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recall reports, consumer complaints submitted to the NHTSA, reliability ratings from J.D. Power, auto review and rating sites such as Edmunds, specialist forums, etc. We analyzed this data to provide insights into the best and worst years for these vehicle models.