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Ford Explorer Transmissions: Overview, Problems, Fluids

Ford Explorer Transmissions: Overview, Problems, Fluids

We’ve written extensively about the Ford Explorer and numerous questions you can have about this car. The Ford Explorer is a reliable SUV and is counted among the best SUVs. It has a lineup of potent turbocharged engines, gets good gas mileage, and delivers a smooth ride.

In this article, we’ll discuss the transmissions used in various generations of the Ford Explorer and discuss them in further detail.

The first three generations of the Ford Explorer were equipped with most 4-speed and 5-speed transmissions such as M5OD-R1 manual, A4LD automatic, M5OD-R1 manual (4.0 L OHV), M5OD-R1HD (2001–2003 Explorer Sport), 4R55E automatic (4.0 L 1995–1996), 4R70W automatic (V8 models), 5R55E automatic (4.0 L 1997–2001), M5OD-R1HD manual, 5R55W automatic, 5R55S automatic. In the later generations, we witnessed 6-speed transmissions such as the 6R automatic, Ford 6F automatic, 6F SelectShift automatic, 6F SelectShift automatic with paddle shifters. Lastly, Ford 10R60 10-speed automatic is equipped in the sixth generation.

Below we have elaborated everything for you to have a proper understanding of transmissions for different models, their classifications, their problems, and the most viable fluids. Transmission prices have also been mentioned in this article to help you get an estimate of how much you will be spending.

What Transmission has the Ford Explorer Used?

You’ll notice that the transmission use is pretty consistent with other gas vehicles so there are no ZF-8HP or 10L80 equivalents here that you’d see if Ford offered a diesel variant.

Here’s the full list:

First Generation

  • 5-speed M5OD-R1 manual
  • 4-speed A4LD automatic

Second Generation

  • 5-speed M5OD-R1 manual (4.0 L OHV)
  • 5-speed M5OD-R1HD (2001–2003 Explorer Sport)
  • 4-speed 4R55E automatic (4.0 L 1995–1996)
  • 4-speed 4R70W automatic (V8 models)
  • 5-speed 5R55E automatic (4.0 L 1997–2001)

Third Generation

  • 5-speed M5OD-R1HD manual
  • 5-speed 5R55W automatic
  • 5-speed 5R55S automatic

Fourth Generation

  • 5-speed 5R55S automatic
  • 6-speed 6R automatic

Fifth Generation

  • 6-speed Ford 6F automatic w/ overdrive (EcoBoost I4 model)
  • 6-speed 6F SelectShift automatic (3.5L)
  • 6-speed 6F SelectShift automatic with paddle shifters (Sport model)

Sixth Generation

  • Ford 10R60 10-speed automatic

How Long Does a Ford Explorer Transmission Last?

The overall lifespan of a Ford Explorer transmission depends on how well it was maintained. Factory design flaws also factor into this equation, along with how carefully you drive. But on average, we’ve seen the Ford Explorer transmission last for between 130,000-200,000 miles. A high-quality replacement transmission, however, can last longer if all of the factory design flaws have been addressed and the vehicle has been maintained.

How Much Does a Ford Explorer Transmission Cost?

Everyone would want to be familiar with the prices when one needs to change the transmission of one’s car. Prices vary according to your vehicle type and model. Most commonly, prices range from $2500- $3000. Here we have mentioned estimated prices for your Ford Explorer transmissions:

  • 5-speed M5OD-R1 manual costs around $2000-$2500.
  • 4-speed A4LD automatic costs around $1500-$2000.
  • 4-speed 4R55E automatic costs around $1500-$2000.
  • 4-speed 4R70W automatic costs around $3000-$3500.
  • 5-speed 5R55E automatic costs around $1500-$2000.
  • 5-speed 5R55W automatic costs around $3000-$3500.
  • 5-speed 5R55S automatic costs around $3000-$3500.
  • 6-speed 6R automatic costs around $2500-$3500.
  • 6-speed Ford 6F automatic w/ overdrive (EcoBoost I4 model) costs around $2500-$3500.
  • 6-speed 6F SelectShift automatic (3.5L) costs around $2500-$3500.
  • 6-speed 6F SelectShift automatic with paddle shifters costs around $2500-$3500.

Are Ford Explorer Transmissions Reliable?

Ford Explorer transmissions had notable issues from 1991-2005, with less frequent problems up until 2010. Improvements started with the 6-speed SelectShift in 2011, and significant advancements came with the 10-speed in 2017. Recent models (2017 onwards) have displayed high reliability, demonstrating Ford’s commitment to addressing earlier transmission problems.

That’s the big picture but let’s look a little closer.

Early Ford Explorers (1991-2001) had a 4-speed automatic transmission or a 5-speed manual. While generally sturdy, the 4-speed automatic was known to experience some issues, especially in the 2002-2005 models. These issues often surfaced as premature failures and required costly repairs or total transmission replacements.

This was due to certain design flaws in the transmission that increased wear and tear, resulting in issues like delayed gear engagement or complete transmission failure. This era’s 5R55W/S transmissions were particularly infamous for this and I’ve seen more than a handful breakdown this way.

In the mid-2000s, Ford introduced the 6-speed automatic transmission to the Explorer (the 6R and 6F series). While this was a significant upgrade, the transmissions from 2006 to 2010 still had occasional problems, such as erratic shifting and overdrive light flashing. Most of these issues were often related to solenoid failures or problems with the transmission control module.

However, since 2011, Ford has made substantial improvements to the Explorer’s transmissions. The introduction of the 6-speed SelectShift automatic transmission offered drivers better control and improved reliability.

Moreover, the introduction of the 10-speed automatic transmission in 2017 and later models has significantly enhanced both performance and reliability, showing a substantial decrease in transmission-related problems.

Ford also introduced the Explorer ST and Explorer Hybrid in 2020, both of which came with the 10-speed automatic transmission. These models so far have shown impressive reliability ratings and the transmission complaints have been noticeably low.

However, bear in mind that the reliability of a vehicle’s transmission doesn’t only hinge on the make and model; it’s also significantly influenced by how the vehicle is driven and maintained. Regular service and upkeep, especially regarding the transmission fluid, can help ensure longevity and reliable performance.

Common Ford Explorer Transmission Problems

5-speed M5OD-R1/R2 manual

The transmission uses a hydraulic clutch setup and has an internal slave cylinder, which is a source of frustration for anyone having a slave cylinder failure, as it requires the entire transmission to be removed.

4-speed A4LD automatic

A lack of overdrive happens because the overdrive sprag locks up and doesn’t provide any give to the forward clutch spring pack. Shifting into overdrive rips the spring pack completely free. The transmission might also keep slipping. This happens most often in the A4LD when the kick-down cable loses its adjustment. In turn, this makes the transmission slip and destroy clutches.

Also, there could be fluid leakage at the front. Over time, the front seal can harden or simply wear out. When this happens, it doesn’t hold its shape and cannot stop fluid from leaking out.

4-speed 4R70W automatic

A lack of power after the 1-2 shift can be caused by an un-commanded torque converter clutch. The #7 check ball inside of the valve body may have worn down to the incorrect size, allowing the torque converter clutch to apply after the 1-2 shift. Replacement of this check ball may solve the problem.

6-speed 6R / 6F / 6R75 / 6R80 automatic

Harsh shifting due to accumulator piston bumper failure

Inside of the Ford 6R80 valve body, is little shock absorber-like devices called accumulators. Every time a gear change takes place, one of these accumulators will move to absorb the excess fluid pressure created by the shift. At the base of the accumulators are little rubber bumpers that help to absorb this shift shock. But as the rubber wears out, the damping effect is lost in harsh upshift/downshifts can begin to happen. In order to solve this very common problem, new 6R80 accumulators will need to be installed.

Transmission function problems caused by worn clutch control valves and bores

Inside of the 6R80 valve body, are little clutch control valves that control the apply and release timing of the D1 and E clutches. Time and mileage can cause the valves and bores that they live in, to wear out, causing a number of transmission problems that include:

  • Bind up on the 1-2 upshift
  • Unusually harsh 3-2 downshifts
  • Coastdown neutral condition
  • Flared shifts
  • Pressure control-related DTC codes
  • Premature clutch wear

The bores inside of the 6R80 valve body will have to be repaired (or the valve body casting replaced), and new clutch control valves installed.

Catastrophic Ford 6R80 transmission failure due to excessive lubrication control valve bore wear

The bore for the lubrication control valve is prone to damage, and that can cause a number of 6R80 transmission problems that include:

  • Lubrication flow restriction
  • Transmission overheating
  • Planetary gear failure
  • Failed bushings
  • Torque converter problems
  • Erratic shifting

In order to correct this rather serious 6R80 valve body problem, the lubrication control valve bore will have to be repaired (otherwise the entire casting will have to be replaced), and an upgraded lubrication control valve installed.

Also read: The Exact Bolt Pattern Of A Ford Explorer

Difference Between Transmissions

5-speed M5OD-R1/R2 manual

M5OD is available in two variants, light-duty R1, and a medium-duty R2. It is fully synchronized on all gears, including reverse. The synchronized reverse gear was one of the key features of the new units, to protect internal components from being damaged by inadvertent operation by the customer. The transmission has an integral bell housing, making the power plant stiffness high enough to avoid harmful resonance.

4-speed A4LD automatic

A4LD four-speed was produced by modification into the C3 by adding an overdrive gear, which the C3 lacked. This transmission was introduced in Europe on the 1985 Ford Scorpio and in North America with the 1985 Bronco II and Ranger, again with four- and six-cylinder engines only. It was replaced by the 4R44E and 4R55E in 1995.

4-speed 4R55E automatic

The A4LD was upgraded to feature full electronic controls, resulting in a new transmission family. The two major versions of this new transmission were the 4R44E and 4R55E. The transmissions are fundamentally similar in design, varying only in the durability of key components based on the type of duty they were to be used for. The 4R44E was used in lighter-duty applications, while the 4R55E was used in heavier-duty applications. The 4R55E was short-lived and was replaced with the newer 5R55E during the 1997 model year.

4-speed 4R70W automatic

4R70W is a revised version of the AOD-E Transmission. Unlike the AOD-E, Reverse, 1st, and 2nd gear ratios in the 4R70-W are numerically higher, giving the transmission a better mechanical advantage and in turn, better take-off acceleration, better passing acceleration, slightly lower fuel consumption, and designed for better gearset strength; The 4th gear ratio in the 4R70-W is up 0.70:1 from 0.67:1. Although this may sound bad, fuel economy is slightly increased and downshifting is slightly decreased for less wear.

5-speed 5R55E / 5R55W / 5R55S automatic

The 5R55E, though mechanically similar to the 4-speed 4R55E, was a new breed of electronically controlled automatic transmission with additional forward gear. Following the original “E” series of the transmission introduced in the 1998 model year, other variants of the 5R55 transmission appeared. All variants are fundamentally similar to each other in design but differ in things such as specialized controls, gear ratios, or other elements based on the needs of the specific application the transmission is intended for.

6-speed 6R / 6F automatic

The 6R is a six-speed automatic transmission for longitudinal engine placement in rear-wheel drive vehicles. It is based on the ZF 6HP26 transmission.

Transmission Fluids and the Ford Explorer

Transmission fluid is the lubricant for all the moving parts that make up your vehicle’s transmission. Due to the heat generated in the transmission, the fluid can break down over time. What type of transmission fluid you need depends on your vehicle? Your car’s manual provides transmission fluid service requirements. Regular transmission service is necessary to keep your car on the road. The Ford Explorer needs to have the transmission fluid and filter changed every 30,000 to 40,000 miles or every two years.

  • The Best fluid for the 5-speed M5OD-R1 manual is Mercon V.
  • The Best fluid for the 4-speed A4LD automatic is Mercon V.
  • The Best fluid for the 4-speed 4R55E automatic is Mercon V.
  • The Best fluid for the 4-speed 4R70W automatic is Mercon V.
  • The Best fluid for the 5-speed 5R55E automatic is Dexron IV.
  • The Best fluid for the 5-speed 5R55W automatic is Mercon V.
  • The Best fluid for the 5-speed 5R55S automatic is Mercon V.
  • The Best fluid for the 6-speed 6R automatic is Mercon VI.
  • The Best fluid for the 6-speed Ford 6F automatic is Mercon VI.
  • The Best fluid for the 6-speed 6F SelectShift automatic (3.5L) is Mercon VI.
  • The Best fluid for the 6-speed 6F SelectShift automatic with paddle shifters is Mercon VI.


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