What Year Explorer Should I Avoid?

The Ford Explorer is an iconic vehicle that many people will recognize when driving down the road. 

In modern times, the Ford Explorer is a three-row SUV that is handsome looking and offers high performance.

However, this has not always been the case, as owners and drivers of Ford Explorer’s will tell you. 

If you are looking for a used vehicle to pick up or get into Ford Explorers, it is worth it to know of the cautionary tales of previous owners.

What Year Explorer Should I Avoid?

The 2002 Ford Explorer ranks as one of the most troublesome vehicles ever put out under the Ford label. This year’s model should be avoided at all costs and any models close to it because they suffer from similar issues. It would greatly benefit you to avoid Ford Explorers from the model years 2002-2006.

Just what makes former owners tell these Ford Explorer horror stories? Are they as bad as they are made out to be online?

Keep reading to find out as I share the things to look for in Ford Explorers and explore one of the most problematic vehicles of modern times from my perspective.

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 Problems

Describing the 2002 Ford Explorer as having transmission problems is the start of a humorous joke in the car community. 

This is humorous because saying the Ford Explorer has transmission issues is the understatement of the century.

Over 1,500 of the 7,000 complaints come from the transmission category alone.

The 2002 Ford Explorer was built with an enclosed transmission. 

Should something fail or something starts working improperly, the owner would have to crack the transmission open and essentially replace the entire thing.

Well, as lucky Ford Explorer owners would have it, the transmission failure of vehicles with under 100k miles is one of the most reported cases of transmission failure in history.

Great, so not only are you super likely to get the transmission failure, the design of the vehicle guaranteed it was going to cost you a mountain of cash.

The Ford Explorer’s engine failure cost could reach the tune of $3,000 for a car that had a sticker price of  $24,585.

Nearly 20% of the vehicle’s value had to be replaced after only 100k miles.

However, the transmission problems were just getting started, as every problem under the sun still happened, even after a rebuilt transmission was installed.

2002 Explorer owners complained of so many things, including:

  • Difficulties Shifting
  • Won’t Shift into 3rd Gear
  • Transmission hesitates
  • Shifts Into Gear but Won’t Go
  • Rattling Noise From Transmission
  • Solenoid Failure
  • Transmission Fluid Leaking
  • Defective Valve Body
  • Surges Forward when Brakes Applied

These are just a few of the ones that got the most complaints, but countless more are listed on Carcomplaints.

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.

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.

Consequences of Ford Explorer Issues

As the public started to drive 2002 Ford Explorers, they noticed the absolute 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.

Final Thoughts

Overall, as a used car buyer or someone interested in bad cars, I hope you found the story enjoyable. 

Be sure to avoid the 2002 Ford Explorer, but don’t let that poison your perception of modern Ford Explorers.

They have come a long way since then.

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