Ford Motor Company was founded by Henry Ford in 1903 and has been a pioneer in car manufacturing for more than a century. Starting from the world-renowned Model-T, the very first production vehicle, to their all-electric pick-up trucks, their range is truly unmatched. With such a long and diverse history, it’s difficult to set a specific attribute for Ford (not at the least ruined by a long trail of Ford Explorer problems).
Ford’s overall theme is reliable vehicles made in their home nation, America. They mainly rose to popularity due to their durable, family-friendly SUVs but have now shifted to mainstream cars. However, they still come out with amazing SUVs such as the Ford Explorer.
The Ford Explorer was brought to the market in 1990 to replace the Ford Bronco II, one of the brand’s compact SUVs that boasted an impressive off-road capability. According to Ford’s plan, the Explorer was supposed to have the design and stability of the Bronco II but become more a family-oriented vehicle that would be suited to everyday commute, not just off-road adventures.
When purchasing a Ford Explorer, you will get bombarded with all sorts of information. The mid-size SUV has existed for over 30 years now and has had its fair share of scandals. The Ford Explorer problems became a major discussion amongst the car enthusiasts of the world, and rightfully so.
For a model that was released under a company like Ford, the vehicle wasn’t satisfactory to many. It lacked in performance and power, breaking down sooner than expected. That being said, not all models displayed worrying signs.
If you’re looking for a family-focused SUV, the Ford Explorer could be a great choice – given you choose a decent model. Some years definitely got the shorter end of the stick and we wouldn’t want that happening to you. All six generations have their pros and cons, and we will break them down for you.
Main Ford Explorer Problems
Despite its amazing build, the Ford Explorer disappointed in many categories. The most common problems included exterior body issues, transmission issues, and transmission failure.
The line of cars was reported to show transmission lunging and jolting, with many claiming that the SUVs wouldn’t engage at all. For starters, the transmission can jump into gear, giving the car a shake as well as an unstable shift. As the transmission shifts too fast, the car “jerks” or accelerates swiftly sometimes due to inadequate transmission fluid.
How to know if your Ford Explorer problems are the ones we are talking about? The car jumps gears without warning, slips in and out of it while you’re driving, and doesn’t let you go into gear. Take these as signs that the transmission has failed or is failing.
The second most common issue reported by owners of Ford Explorers is significantly less severe but still noteworthy. Warping and bubbling body paint became a major concern for those people. Granted, these issues make the car look shabby and could lead to rust, but they’re definitely less intense than a failed transmission.
The cracked panels and bubbling paint issue are fairly prevalent across users of all models. However, with the newer models – ones between the years 2017 to 2020, there has been a rise in complaints. Owners say the bubbling and cracking are out of control around the engine and on the hood. The aluminum hoods featured in these models corrode below the paint, creating bubbles in the paint layer or peeling of it.
Exterior body problems would account for one-third of the Ford Explorer problems reported. This primarily involved cracked panels, causing many owners to wait for the company to issue a recall. While some users chose to replace the panels, some couldn’t bother to take the high road and went to press charges against Ford for the poor build.
Additional Ford Explorer Problems
Apart from the exterior body and transmission issues, the Ford Explorer is plagued by a handful of other problems. These can cause parts to malfunction within your SUV. As with any issue arising with a vehicle, these shortcomings have to be identified, diagnosed, and fixed timely.
Your vehicle is getting hot – it’s fired up and not in a good way. Reports claim that the Ford Explorer has a tendency of overheating as the heater gets stuck on the highest setting. As the heater blend door fails, the heater fails to function properly. This actuator controls the temperature inside the car, so you can imagine what would happen when that fails.
Symptoms of this problem are the incapacity to set the temperature and a clicking sound resonating from the actuator motor. In this case, get the heater blend door checked quickly to detect early signs of error. If it’s completely broken, replace it. A heater cost replacement could cost you anywhere between $570 to $930.
Rough Idle and Stalling
Rough idle and stalling are amongst the Ford Explorer problems that can damage the car severely. The intake manifold O-ring gaskets could start to leak and thus create a vacuum leak. By design, the O-ring gaskets seal off multiple parts, forming the perfect lock.
In the event of a vacuum leak, air can enter the fuel and engine system easily. The engine can’t cope with the higher level of air and starts to break down. You have to spend around $700 to $950 to get intake manifold gaskets.
Cracking Plastic Intake Manifold
When the plastic intake manifold cracks, coolant starts to leak from the car. The 1997 to 2001 models of Ford Explorer are the worst cases of this issue, featuring a plastic intake manifold irritatingly vulnerable to overheating. Even if you’re driving 5 miles under the speed limit, the coolant could leak and trigger the check engine light.
The leak may be due to a factory defect as well, making a crack on the coolant passage’s top. A car that leaks coolant for an extended period will show the engine overheating frequently, especially when it’s idling. Unfortunately, there is no fix available for this issue so you have to replace the intake manifold. To repair this, you have to pay between $70 to $100.
Worn Timing Chain Cassettes
If you’re hearing a rattling noise emit from your car’s engine, this could be indicative of a worn and damaged timing chain cassette. This is one of the cheaper fixes. You simply have to install an updated tensioner and timing cassette. A general diagnosis of this issue would cost about $90 to $120.
Ford Explorer Problems: Through the Years
Had it only been the transmission problem, maybe many owners would have learned to live with it. But it’s only one of the highest-reported issues with any Ford lineup to date. Every single model from 2002 to 2006 has been damaged seriously due to transmission errors, leaving owners to pay hefty amounts for repairs and replacements. The good news, however, is that despite the faulty transmissions, some services will still pay to take your junk car off your hands.
First-Gen Ford Explorer: 1990 to 1994
The five-door SUV Ford Explorer was meant to be a revolutionary in the market. After all, it had some big issues to fill (of the three-door Bronco II). Ford had its eyes set on the SUV family market.
With increased cargo space, better aerodynamics to reduce overall cabin noise, and cross seating for 3, the Ford Explorer seemed to be a promising start for the company’s midsize SUV range. Needless to say, they were pretty disappointed with the issues that popped up with these designs.
The first problem stems from the 90-year partnership between Ford and Firestone tires. Firestone tires were not the best suited for this SUV and would come apart easily. Thanks to this, the Explorer was more prone to roll-over accidents. A shocking 240 deaths and 3000 life-threatening injuries later, the Explorer gained a rather negative reputation in the community.
If we put the roll-over issues to the side, the Explorer perfectly showcased what Ford wanted to do from the start – make a family-oriented SUV that is great on and off-road. The 1994 variant had a Limited trim that gave it a sunroof, towing package, and a CD player.
Surprisingly, these models can rarely be found up for sale now. They are still pretty popular as off-road vehicles. OG car lovers enjoy its close relationship with Ford’s previous model, Bronco. However, many of the Ford Explorer problems continued into the 2nd generation.
Second-Gen Ford Explorer: 1995 to 2001
This was the era where the Explorer started to take shape. But again, there were many problems ingrained in the system. First-generation Ford Explorer didn’t do much for the company, not sales nor reputation-wise.
Featuring similar chassis underpinnings to first-gen, the second-gen Explorer’s chassis also bore resemblance to that of the Ford Ranger. Now, the Explorer had a rounded body and had the typically boxy SUV look.
In addition to the improved exterior, the second-gen Explorer had an optional powerplant, the small-block Ford V8. The V8 was available solely on rear-wheel-drive XLT models in 1996 but it became a regular feature in all models since 1997.
Coming to the reliability of the 2nd gen Explorer, it was filled with red flags. From the broken tensioners, plastic timing chain guides, and cassettes to the transmission failure, these models were riddled with faults. These issues combined would give birth to the “death rattle,” an unsteady situation that if left unfixed, would lead to a seizure of the main engine.
Given its problem frequency but without the rugged power of the first-gen cars, the second-gen Explorer fell flat on its face. After 2002 the “death rattle” was fixed with updated parts and the single overhead cam engines. That being said, the next two generations of the Ford Explorer still came with the 4.0 liter V6.
2nd to 4th gen Explorers featuring the 5R55 series automatic are notorious for premature failures, showing excessive wear and tear to the crucial parts of the car. Soon, the vehicle would be rendered non-drivable. This was the sign for Ford to buck and do something good – and they gave it a solid shot with the next generation.
Third-Gen Ford Explorer: 2002 to 2005
Hoping to hit the nail on the head, Ford did a 180-degree redesign on the Explorer line. It stepped from the signature Ford Ranger parts and chassis and was introduced solely as a five-door wagon. The previous two generations had given the Explorer the wrong light and people were generally disinterested in the mid-size SUVs. For what it was worth, Ford was still being praised for innovation.
The primary purpose of the third-gen Explorers was to compete against the export market vehicles that had saturated the market, like the Lexus RX300. Alongside the front suspension of the 2nd gen (redesigned), Ford brought improvements to the rear suspension. They were now equipped with independent rear suspension rather than leaf springs, boosting the power and comfort of the Explorer.
Perhaps the worst Ford Explorer to date was the 2002 model. Although Ford tried to bring big changes to the 3rd gen, it became the worst one in the lineup. For instance, the 2002 Ford Explorer had more than 1000 complaints about the transmission, 500 complaints about the paint/body cracks, and 600 complaints about the drivetrain section.
It didn’t stop at the transmission failure. There were instances of transmission slipping, O/D light blinking, as well as transmission in need of overhauling.
This had been a recurring event for three generations now so people were starting to lose hope that it would even be fixed. Aside from the occasional recalls, Ford didn’t do much to help customers. On average, owners would have to pay $1800 to $3400 to repair these problems. Complaints said these problems started showing up after the car reached the 94,800 miles mark.
On a scale of 1 to 10 of how severe the issue is, this would get a 9.3. Goes without saying how important it is to fix it immediately.
O/D Light Blinking
O/D light blinking, while not one of the worst For Explorer problems, is still noteworthy. The only solution to this problem was a complete recall for Ford to rebuild the car or replace the faulty part. Although it doesn’t sound that bad, you would have to spend about $2500 to get this fixed. The problem starts once the car averages 109,100 miles.
When the transmission slips, there will be a shifting or clunking sound from the engine. We already mentioned how this could also be a result of low transmission fluid. If your transmission hasn’t been maintained properly, you could get this issue too. Ford’s solution to this problem should have been a recall of the enclosed transmissions. Alternatively, they could offer to replace the transmission.
On average, the repair cost for transmission problems is about $2200. Be prepared for this when your car is barely under 100,000 miles.
The last of the transmission issues is the overhauling needs. The best solution for this situation would be a total rebuild of the transmission. Otherwise, a whole overhaul of the transmission would be needed. With an average repair cost of $2500, this issue occurs just under 90,000 miles.
For the most part, 2002, 2003, and 2004 Ford Explorer models all suffered from the same issues. Third-gen wasn’t turning out to be what people had expected after the decaying quality from Ford. Moreover, the 2005 Explorer recorded expensive transmission failures at below 100,000 miles – where no transmission failure should happen. Owners typically have to pay $3000 to replace a transmission, making it one of the costlier fixes. This year also showed a continuation of the rear panel cracking.
Fourth-Gen Ford Explorer: 2006 to 2010
The fourth-gen Explorers were all about the redesign. Significant alterations included a power-folding 3rd-row seat, rear suspension remodeling, and a better-built frame. Electronic stability control and tire-pressure monitoring became the standard.
However, the controversial V6 was still the standard powerplant. On a better note, Ford solved the 5R55 transmission problems with a revised version, 5R55S that became the standard with V6.
The 2006 Explorer received a nomination under the category “North American Truck of the Year” while the 2007 model brought important improvements to the performance. Now, new features were available like the XLT appearance package, heated leather seat package, as well as basic AUX input on stereos. Ford improved upon these packages in 2008, bringing the optional Ford SYNC. It became the first Ford to offer a capless fuel filler system.
Surprisingly, when it comes to value, 4th gen Explorers are of the same value as the 3rd gen ones, so consider the updated tech and additional features at similar price levels. In 2009 and 2010, small additions became standard equipment, such as Ford’s MyKey and trailer sway control. It was in this generation when Ford was truly able to set the stage for what they wanted to make of the Explorer.
Fifth-Gen Ford Explorer: 2011 to 2019
Though 4th gen Explorers were really amazing towards the end of their production line (generation-wise), 5th gen takes the cake as the best Explorers Ford has come out with. Considering we still haven’t gotten to the 2020 and 2021 models, this says a lot.
These vehicles shifted from the conventional mid-size SUV image featuring a body-on-frame construction. Now, they had unibody construction and wouldn’t roll over, thus not putting people’s lives in jeopardy. Major updates included a wide range of technological changes like adaptive cruise control, updated Ford SYNC, MyFord touch, power-adjustable pedals equipped with memory position, active park assist, a power liftgate, in-dash navigation, and cooled and heated seats,
A significant improvement to the fifth-gen Explorers was the new, updated, and efficient units that replaced the old powerplants. After the depressing 3.5 liter V6, these new Explorers have 2.0 liter turbocharged EcoBoost motors powering them. EcoBoost gave these cars a huge fuel economy boost but it was somewhat nullified by the fact you could only get these in a front-wheel-drive layout.
Post the 2016 facelift, the Explorer appeared with a redesigned front design with a redesigned rear section, new headlights, dual exhaust and LED taillights, and engine upgrades. For the model years 2018 and 2019, there were few improvements to the headlights as well as the introduction of a limited luxury package. With leather interior trim inserts, multi-contour front seats, chrome mirrors caps, and Active Motion, 5th gen Explorers remain unbeatable.
Sadly, with the advent of the new packages, it also meant that the manufacturing of the 2019 models would be coming to an end. The sixth-generation was going to take over the market now.
Sixth-Gen Ford Explorer: 2019 to Present
Since 5th generation Explorers were so popular and successful, Ford knew they had to bring something different to the newer models. 2020 model year gave potential buyers an Explorer ST and Explorer Hybrid. However, our favorite model of this line would be the hybrid range. Those are over 500 miles.
Base model Explorers feature rear-wheel drive now, with the Hybrids and ST being all-wheel models. The design originates from sharing a base with the Lincoln Aviator. However, these models are lighters and distribute weight better compared to the previous generations.
Ford Explorer Problems – Bottom Line
It goes without saying that the Ford Explorer had a rocky start. Filled with transmission problems and showing accelerated aesthetic deprecation, these SUVs had gathered negative remarks from an alarming number of owners. However, with these improvements in the new lineup, it will be interesting to see how Ford innovates its way around the generic Ford Explorer problems.
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