Are Ford Explorers Reliable? (Explained!)

In 1991, the Explorer was first released by the Ford Company to replace the iconic Bronco II model. Since then, the Explorer has grown year after year to become one of America’s most loved family automobiles. It is well known for its second to none safety records, unparalleled utility, and its ability to carry and tow heavy items. Sadly in the motoring industry, all these counts for nothing if any car is not reliable.

The Explorer has been a significant player in the American SUV market for a long time, and it is only natural that it gets its fair share of complaints and some design issues. That is why I embarked on a journey, with other drivers’ help, to find out just how reliable this iconic vehicle is, and below were my findings on this iconic machine.

Are Ford Explorers Reliable?

So, are ford explorers reliable on the road? Based on motoring reports, the Ford Explorer has an overall reliability rating of 3.5 out of a possible rating of 5.0. This is quite impressive for a vehicle that has been in the market for more than 30 years now. Like any other car, it is only as reliable as your last drive. If you take care of it, it will surpass your expectations, offering excellent reliability.

Owners of Ford Explorer models usually incur an annual repair cost of between $700 and $1000, which is more or less the same for a midsized SUV. Repairs on this vehicle typically alternate between occasional scheduled maintenance and general issues with the car.

Owners have also reported the frequency of problems with the vehicle to be relatively low. This makes the unplanned major repairs highly unlikely with the Explorer. However, for the Explorer to have such a good track record, it did have some dark times in its earlier generations that I will talk about below.

During the first years of the Explorer, which ran from 1991 to 1994, some vehicles were occasioned with tire blowouts and followed by rollovers. A fault was found in the Firestone tires that were launched together with the car. Thread separation on the tires caused drivers to overcompensate for losing control of the vehicle, which subsequently caused rollovers.

After extensive research, the relevant authorities found out that the rollovers’ reason was the vehicle’s high center of gravity, which was no higher than other SUVs in the market. The real problem was in the tires, which Ford replaced in all the vehicles. Ford also switched to a more reliable electronic steering control to solve the whole issue.

During the second generation in 1995, the plastic OEM timing chain guides, the cassettes, and the engine’s tensioners were known for breaking very often. This caused the timing chain tick to be heard as early as only 45000 miles.

Some of the devastating effects of this were complete shutdown of the engine, a timing jump, and damage of the valves and the heads of this problem if not noticed early. A transmission problem was also discovered when the 5R55 series was introduced. It was notorious for causing excessive wear on the servo pin bore, transmission case, and valve body.

2002 was arguably one of the worst years in the production of the Explorer. The previous generation’s transmission problem still prevailed and even got more deadly, causing around 16 crashes that were mainly attributed to a transmission fault. The fault could sometimes escalate to fires, which made the Explorer be nicknamed the “Exploder.”

The transmission wasn’t the only problem, with some drivers complaining about the wheel and hub complications mainly caused by the rear differential. The breakage of the OEM plastic part responsible for timing also prevailed in this generation.

During the fourth generation, which ran between 2006 and 2010, engine failure and cooling system leaks piled on transmission and OEM plastic part problems. Ford, however, addressed the issues, and the number of reported problems dramatically decreased. However, the wear on the wheel bearing and issues with the drive-train continued.

The fifth-generation that runs from 2011 to 2019 started on a high note, with the Explorer being rated as one of the safest vehicles on the American roads. But as the years rolled by, problems started to pile up. The transmission issues were solved, but still, the ride wasn’t as smooth as it ought to be.

High carbon monoxide levels in the cabin were also realized due to exhaust leaks. By 2016 the Explorer still had engine stalling issues occasioned by steering issues that caused reliability rating to dwindle.

The current generation that spans from 2020 onwards has been redesigned, and the number of flaws has been kept to a minimum. Ford has continuously strived to solve the issues mentioned above to create a very reliable model. Owners can be assured that visits to the garage are kept to a minimum apart from the scheduled service.

How long do Explorers last?

A typical Explorer can last between 10 to 17 years since the manufacturer’s day provided the owner does regular maintenance on it.

The total life expectancy of this vehicle depends on factors that may include the driver’s driving habits, the terrain that the car is dominantly on, and the vehicle’s maintenance habits, among other factors. If all the above measures are exercised correctly, an Explorer can serve you for up to 16 years if you do 12000 miles on average every year.

How many miles can you expect from the Explorer?

Some users may ask how many miles you can expect from an Explorer. On average, an Explorer can run perfectly between 80000 and 200000 miles. Some drivers have even been able to push over 300000 miles on their machines without significant issues. As earlier explained, earlier explorers were occasioned with substantial problems. However, down the line, they have become reliable, and that is why owners have been able to push so many miles on them.

For you to get so many miles on your Explorer, you need to perform the recommended service at each interval, as stated in the owner’s manual. If you are using the Explorer as a daily driver, you will need to upgrade the transmission, steering, and suspension during its mid-life.

When you get to the 200000-mile mark, you should start expecting issues from the timing chain that Ford paid immense importance on for it to go away.

Are Ford Explorers Reliable?

Dealing with this issue as soon as possible ensures that you get even more miles on your machine. If you are the first owner, reaching the 200000-mile mark should not be an issue; however, if the former owner mistreated the car before you bought it, reaching this milestone will be difficult.

Should I expect rust on my Explorer?

Owners have often complained about rust on some older models of the Explorer. These vehicles indeed start to show rust, especially for models that came after 2000, and rust can be expected about four years after purchasing your Explorer.

Initially, Ford used steel to build Explorers but soon dumped this material to use lighter and more malleable material that could be used for more fuel-efficient designs. They eventually settled for aluminum even though it was less durable. It lacked the required density and durability that could match that of steel.

Consequently, owners experience premature corrosion that they complain about. Initially, owners start to see small pain bubbles, and soon, they spread around the vehicle. Since 2004, Ford has continuously issued service bulletins that educate dealerships on dealing with rust.

If you are thinking of buying an Explorer, check the hood and other parts of the vehicle for bubbles or paint peelings that could a sign that corrosion could be on the onset. This will prevent future expensive repairs. Models built before 2000 have a steel body that doesn’t suffer from corrosion but could be too old for you to start thinking of one.

Will there be a 2022 Explorer?

Yes, and it will come in five trims that will suit every driver’s needs out there. The Base, XLT, and Limited all come in a 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that produces up to 300 horsepower. The more powerful models, including the Platinum and ST, will come in 3.0 Liter V6 engines.

The Platinum engine will produce 365 horsepower, while the ST will make an impressive 400 horsepower. A 10-speed transmission will also be included in all the trims, which will provide even smoother gear changes.


The earlier years of the Explorer might be marred with reported cases of unreliability. However, over the years, Ford has proven why it is one of the industry leaders in the car manufacturing business.

It has solved the most experienced problems and created an even better vehicle in the 2020 and 2021 models.

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