8 Ford Explorer Years To Avoid | 2024 Data

You are looking for a good, quality SUV to purchase and have been drawn toward the Ford Explorer, but what are the Ford Explorer years to avoid?

Ford Explorer Years To Avoid

What are the Ford Explorer years to avoid?

The worst years of the Ford Explorer are 2002 – 2006, 2013, 2014, and 2016. The primary complaints have been transmission issues, wheel bearing failure, timing chain guides, water pump leakage, and faulty power steering. Often, these repairs occurred after the factory warranties had expired. 

Undoubtedly, the Ford Explorer has been one of the best-selling SUVs in American history. 

Since its inception in 1991, this versatile family hauler has captured the hearts and minds of the American public with its rugged look, aggressive styling, and efficient performance. Yet, despite its success, not every year has been kind to the consumer.

Over the years, the Explorer has encountered many of the thorns in the sides and pocketbooks everywhere.

What are the Most Common Problems with the Ford Explorer?

Ford Explorer Years To Avoid

The worst year for the Ford Explorer is generally considered to be the 2002 – 2006 models. The third generation of the SUV benefitted from a redesign as engineers attempted to distance the look from the boxy Ranger aesthetic. 

The idea was to make the Explorer more appealing and prominent, so Ford decided to compete with the likes of Lexus and Volkswagen, who were tearing up the European markets. 

The 2002 Ford Explorer Story—Record Complaints and Neverending Issues

The story of the 2002 Ford Explorer is best told by the people who owned it. 

According to Carcomplaints.com, it has more complaints than any other vehicle ever recorded on the website.

The website Carcomplaints gave it a humorous stamp of avoidance that says, “Avoid like the Plague” and calls it their worst vehicle on record.

It has over 7,000 customer complaints, a large percentage of which are NHTSA certified complaints, that includes a massive amount of categories, such as:

  • Transmission Problems
  • Body/Paint Problems
  • Interior Accessories Problems
  • Wheels/Hubs Problems
  • Drivetrain Problems
  • Windows/Windshield Problems
  • Engine Problems
  • AC/Heater Problems
  • Suspension Problems
  • Exterior Accessories Problems
  • Electrical Problems
  • Seat Belts/ Airbags Problems
  • Brakes Problems
  • Fuel System Problems
  • Lights Problems
  • Miscellaneous Problems
  • Steering Problems
  • Cooling System Problems
  • Exhaust System Problems
  • Clutch Problems

The size of this list alone is intimidating, not even considering the number of complaints themselves.

Avoid like the plague indeed, and Carcomplaints says that this is “putting it lightly.”

It is worth covering just a few of these categories with a microscope to know what you are in for.

What Year Explorer Should I Avoid What Year Explorer Should I Avoid?

Transmission Issues

Most consumers reported that the transmission in their Explorers was slipping, lunging, or failing to go into gear. The 2002 and 2006 models seem to have the most complaints.

The Ford five-speed automatic tended to wear out after a couple of years, leaving customers to do the heavy lifting of the repair bill. Transmission problems have been common in many Ford Explorer models.

The repair cost for replacing a transmission was about $3000 or more.

Wheel Bearings Bad

One of the other areas that affected the 2002 Explorer was terrible wheel bearings. This issue usually occurred around the 85k mile mark and cost between $500 – $1000 to repair. 

Customers reported scraping and humming noises, while some experienced ABS failures. 

Rear Dash Cracking

There have been multiple complaints on the 2002- 2006 Explorer for the panel cracking just below the rear window. (Ironically, the cracks were often near the Ford emblem).  

While a cracked rear panel is not nearly as serious as a bad wheel bearing or transmission issue, it is still enough of an annoyance to foster some class-action lawsuits amid demands that Ford fixes the issue. 

What Year Explorer Should I Avoid 1 8 Ford Explorer Years To Avoid | 2024 Data

Timing Chain Failures

One of the most severe issues of the Ford Explorer was problems with the plastic guide used in conjunction with the timing chains.

 In 1991, Ford made a decision to change to a timing chain from the timing belt. The chain wore better, wouldn’t stretch as much, and wouldn’t need replacing every 60k miles.

Unfortunately, Ford continued to use cheap plastic guides that couldn’t hold up to the hardness of the timing chain. 

Once broken, the timing chain could jump or create other issues. The average cost for replacement was over $1000.  

Exterior Body Issues

Many 2002 Ford Explorer owners reported the infamous cracked panels of the Ford Explorers, which the crack would extend to right over the Ford logo in a symbolic show of Ford’s failure with the vehicle.

The body Issues were the second most commonly reported issue on Carcomplaints. 

The most common panel to be cracked was the rear window, but there was also a problem with the black plastic panels between windows fading and cracking.

The doors wouldn’t stay shut for some owners, as well as the door trim falling off, the door hinge cracking on the door, and the door handles breaking.

The running boards would rust, and bubbles would form under the clear coat paint. That is if you were lucky enough for your Ford Explorer’s paint job to start quickly peeling off.

The wheels couldn’t escape problems either, with a common problem with the vehicle being a wheel bearing failure when the car reached around 90k miles driven. 

This repair bill could also reach thousands of dollars.

The outside of these vehicles became very unattractive over time, to the point that several class-action lawsuits were filed.

Interior Problems

There was no escape for the owners of the 2002 Ford Explorer. 

Those trying to hide from the exterior problems would also find the enjoyment of their ride interior ruined.

There was a significant reporting of the gear shift lever falling off, the door ajar warning alarm going off continuously without stopping, and the CD player not working.

What Year Explorer Should I Avoid 1 1 8 Ford Explorer Years To Avoid | 2024 Data

Needless to say, for some Ford Explorer owners, the atmosphere inside the car was not very relaxing.

There was also complex shifting out of park, four-wheel-drive turning on automatically, the power door lock not working, cruise control malfunctioning, the fuel gauge not working, the key not turning in the ignition, and the radio volume “doing whatever it wants.”

These issues stacked up together to make it the third most complained category on Carcomplaints with 335 total complaints.

What are the Most Common Problems with 2013 through 2016 Ford Explorers?

In 2011, the Ford company introduced its new Eco-Boost engine, designed to provide gasoline-direct injection to the American consumer in a way that had never been offered before. 

Unfortunately, as great of gas sippers as these engines were, they were plagued with issues. 

Faulty Water Pumps

One of the primary issues in these model years was a faulty water pump that required the engine to be pulled to fix it (the water pump was internal and powered by the timing chain). 

This repair created enormous problems for consumers who ended up without their vehicles for weeks at a time and were forced to spend over a couple of thousand dollars just for the repair. 

Many owners had to replace whole engines because the water pump failed to keep the motor from overheating, which meant even more money for repairs.

Learn More: These are the best Explorer Engines

Power Steering Loss

Consumers found themselves at a severe disadvantage when many Explorers from 2011 – 2019 experienced a sudden loss of steering. 

While most owners heard rubbing sounds from the steering before the loss, only a few knew what to do about it or what was causing it.

Most of the time, the entire steering rack had to be replaced, which costs owners a sizable amount (around $2000 on average). 

Water Leakage

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Many owners of the model years 2011 – 2016 complained of water leakage from the back seat belt into the cargo area or the front passenger floorboard.

Unfortunately, the company discovered that a clogged sunroof drain often caused the front issues, while the rear water came in from a faulty sunroof gasket. Some consumers reported that their sunroofs stopped working due to the electric motor shorting out.

Imagine the frustration on the part of owners who found themselves sitting under the constant drip of water every time it rained.

The repair was a complete replacement of the sunroof, which often required multiple trips to the dealership, once for the diagnosis and another for the installation. 

Many customers returned multiple times due to improper installation by dealership technicians, which only further angered Explorer owners. 

Consequences of Ford Explorer Issues

As the public started driving 2002 Ford Explorers, they noticed the deluge of issues with these vehicles.

These issues led to several recalls, with the most famous one affecting 4.5 million vehicles.

This issue made the speed control switch overheat and could cause a spontaneous vehicle fire with or without the engine running. 

It was insane, concerning how many vehicles were affected, much less the severity of the issue.

Other issues recalled involved aftermarket lamps causing vehicle crashes, the glass shattering in a way that hurt the driver during car crashes, the liftgate glass injuring drivers, overheating running boards catching fire, and the tires falling and causing crashes.

Some of the recalls also spawned NHTSA investigations. 

Car complaints listed seven complete investigations on the vehicle where some led to more recalls, and some were resolved to be non-issues.

Surprisingly given all the issues, the 2002 Ford Explorer did quite well on safety tests, earning Good ratings almost entirely across the board.

Several class-action lawsuits were spawned over the myriad of issues mentioned early. 

The majority was dismissed, while a few were settled to the tune of $131 million costs to Ford.

explorer years to avoid 8 Ford Explorer Years To Avoid | 2024 Data

What are the Best Years for the Ford Explorer?

As a general rule, you are much safer purchasing a more recent iteration of the Explorer than an older model. The 2021 and 2022 Explorers scored well in JD Powers surveys, scoring 81 out of 100.

The models are a part of Ford’s sixth generation (2019 to present) and are loaded with excellent safety and driver convenience applications. 

For additional information regarding the most reliable years of Ford Explorers, see the article on fourwheeltrends.com

When Will Ford Make an Electric Explorer?

fords explorer years to avoid 3 8 Ford Explorer Years To Avoid | 2024 Data

Ford has been manufacturing a hybrid Explorer for a few years and has been met with tremendous success.

The Ford-e division has also introduced several all-electric models, including the Mustang Mach-e and Ford Lightning, to name a couple. 

While the production of the EV Explorer hasn’t started yet, it should hit the US market sometime in early 2025. 

Ford has committed to embracing complete electrification of its fleet by expecting 50% of its global inventory to be electric by 2030.  

Ford recently announced a $22 billion commitment to the research and development of electric vehicles to accomplish this lofty goal. 

Key Takeaways

  • The worst years for Ford Explorer are 2002 – 2006, 2013, 2014, and 2016. 
  • The best years for Ford Explorer are 2021 and 2022.
  • Many Explorer problems have to do with transmission issues.
  • Ford expects to release an electric version of the Explorer in 2025.

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