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Most Common Problems With Ford Explorer (We Asked 489 Owners)

Most Common Problems With Ford Explorer (We Asked 489 Owners)

Want to know the most common problems that come with owning a Ford Explorer?

We asked more than 400 owners and did weeks of research but if you just need a quick answer before heading to the dealership here’s your 30-second summary:

Paint issues, malfunctioning blend doors causing inconsistent temperature control, and faulty door ajar switches that keep the dome light on are common problems across all Ford Explorer generations.

The 3rd generation (2002-2005) is notorious for transmission failure (especially in the 5-speed automatic), timing chain cassette wear causing engine rattles, and plastic intake manifold cracks leading to coolant leaks.

The 5th generation (2011-2019) faces serious issues like carbon monoxide leaks into the cabin, electronic throttle body failures, and rear toe link fractures that can cause loss of vehicle control.

The 6th generation (2020-present) has seen problems with rear axle bolt issues leading to potential loss of control, engine stalling and misfires, and complaints about stiff ride quality with larger wheels. However, more data is needed before we take these issues to the bank.

That’s the gist of it, but stick around as we dive deeper into each problem, covering symptoms, causes, solutions, and repair costs.

By the end, you’ll be well-equipped to make an informed decision about purchasing a used Ford Explorer or maintaining your current one.

We Used Real World Data To Create This List Of Problems

Before we dive into the most common problems, let’s quickly explain how we created this list.

First, we asked 489 owners (via Facebook) about their Ford Explorer to get a feel for what kind of problems they’ve run into. Yes, it’s a small data set but it is real world data that’s hard to beat.

All owners had their Ford Explorer for at least a year and we saw a wide range of mileage from 88,000 to 207,000.

Then, we turned to resources like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and many others, to review the most common complaints issues by owners along with the full history of recalls and active investigations.

Next, I fact-checked everything against my almost two decades of automotive experience working everywhere from dealerships to your local shops. Lastly, our team of automotive experts takes a closer look into each problem and breaks down why it happens, what you can do to prevent it, and how to fix it.

We review the data and interpret the results to make your life easier. Now that you understand how we came up with this list, let’s get into it!

What Ford Explorer Owners Told Us

Here’s what we found to be the most common problems based on our survey of 489 Ford Explorer owners (click to expand image):

32% of owners surveyed had a 5th generation Explorer (2011-2019), known for carbon monoxide leaks into the cabin and rear toe link fractures. 28% of owners had a 3rd generation Explorer (2002-2005), with transmission failure and timing chain cassette wear being the most common issues.

The survey also revealed that paint issues, malfunctioning blend doors, and faulty door ajar switches were prevalent across all generations, with over 20% of owners reporting each of these problems.

Problems Common To All Generations of Ford Explorer

Paint Issues

One of the most widespread problems you’ll encounter with Ford Explorers across all generations is paint issues, particularly on the aluminum hood and liftgate. Symptoms of this problem include:

  • Peeling, flaking, or cracking paint
  • Visible corrosion or discoloration on the hood or liftgate
  • Bubbling or blistering of the paint surface

The primary cause of these paint issues is exposure to heat and moisture, which can lead to corrosion of the underlying aluminum. Over time, this corrosion can cause the paint to deteriorate and eventually peel off. This video shows you exactly what this bubbling looks like:

To address paint issues on your Explorer, I recommend having the affected areas sanded down, primed, and repainted by a professional auto body shop. Yeah, it’s not a cheap fix but you don’t have many other options.

Definitely check paint quality before buying and it’s an easy one to avoid or get a better price when you see it.

Blend Door Issues

Another common problem that spans all generations of the Ford Explorer is issues with the temperature control blend door. This component is responsible for directing air flow between the heating and cooling systems, and when it fails, you may experience:

  • Inconsistent or inaccurate temperature control
  • Inability to switch between heating and cooling modes
  • Unusual noises coming from the dash, such as clicking or knocking

The most likely cause of blend door issues is the plastic door itself cracking, binding, or breaking over time due to age and wear. To fix this problem, the blend door assembly will need to be replaced, which typically involves removing the dash to access the HVAC unit. Labor costs for this repair can be significant, often exceeding $1,000, plus the cost of the replacement parts.

Door Ajar Light Stays On

If you’ve owned a Ford Explorer for any length of time, chances are you’ve experienced the dreaded “door ajar” light staying on, even when all the doors are securely closed. This problem is often accompanied by:

  • Dome light staying on constantly
  • Inability to lock the doors using the key fob
  • Alarm system failing to arm properly

The root cause of this issue is typically a faulty door ajar switch in one of the door latch assemblies. Over time, these switches can fail, causing the vehicle to think a door is open when it’s actually closed.

To diagnose which door is causing the problem, I recommend starting with a visual inspection of the door latch assemblies, looking for any obvious signs of damage or wear.

In some cases, simply cleaning the latch and switch can resolve the issue. If not, the faulty latch assembly will need to be replaced, which can cost anywhere from $100to $300 per door, depending on your Explorer’s specific model and year.

Problems Specific To 2nd Generation Ford Explorer (1995 to 2001)

Rust Issues

While rust isn’t as prevalent on 2nd generation Explorers as some other vehicles of the era, it’s still a problem to watch out for, particularly on the liftgate and around the license plate area. Symptoms of rust issues include:

  • Visible rust or corrosion on the liftgate, especially along the bottom edge
  • Bubbling or flaking paint around the license plate or liftgate hinges
  • Structural weakness or holes in the metal due to advanced rust

The main cause of rust issues on these Explorers is exposure to moisture and road salt, which can accelerate corrosion on any exposed metal surfaces. Once rust takes hold, it can spread quickly if left untreated.

To address minor rust issues, you can sand down the affected areas, apply a rust converter, and repaint the surface. For more severe cases, the rusted panels may need to be cut out and replaced entirely. Costs for rust repair can range from a few hundred dollars for spot treatment to several thousand for extensive panel replacement.

Problems Specific To 3rd Generation Ford Explorer (2002 to 2005)

Timing Chain Cassette Wear

One of the most common engine issues on 3rd generation Explorers is timing chain cassette wear, which can cause a rattling noise from the front of the engine. Other symptoms may include:

  • Rough idle or misfires
  • Difficulty starting the engine
  • Check Engine light with codes related to cam or crank position sensors

The cassettes, which are essentially plastic guides for the timing chain, can wear down over time and cause the chain to become loose or jump time. This is often due to the cassettes being made from inferior materials that can’t withstand the heat and friction of the engine over the long term. This video does a great job showing you what to look for:

To fix this problem, the timing chain cassettes, chain, and associated components will need to be replaced, which is a fairly involved repair that requires removing the front of the engine. I typically recommend replacing the water pump, oil pump, and other accessible components at the same time, since they’re already exposed.

All-in, this repair can easily exceed $1,500 at a shop, so it’s not one to take lightly.

Plastic Intake Manifold Cracks

Another weak point on 3rd gen Explorers is the plastic intake manifold, which is prone to cracking and causing coolant leaks. Symptoms of a cracked intake manifold may include:

  • Visible coolant leaks around the manifold gasket or thermostat housing
  • Overheating due to loss of coolant
  • Sweet smell of coolant from the engine bay
  • Check Engine light with codes related to cylinder head temp or coolant temp

The root cause of this problem is the manifold material itself, which is a relatively brittle plastic that can’t always handle the heat and pressure of the engine over time. Cracks often form near the thermostat housing or rear coolant passage, allowing coolant to leak out.

The only real fix for a cracked intake manifold is to replace it entirely, along with the associated gaskets and seals. This is a fairly labor-intensive job that requires removing the top half of the engine, so expect to pay anywhere from $800 to $1,500 at a shop, depending on your Explorer’s specific engine and configuration.

Transmission Failure

Perhaps the most notorious issue with 3rd generation Explorers is their tendency to experience transmission failure, particularly with the 5-speed automatic. Symptoms of a failing transmission can include:

  • Slipping or hesitation when accelerating
  • Rough or delayed shifts between gears
  • Fluid leaks from the transmission case or lines
  • Burning smell or unusual noises from the transmission

There are a few different factors that can contribute to transmission failure on these Explorers, including:

  • Inadequate cooling of the transmission fluid, especially when towing or hauling heavy loads
  • Worn or damaged internal components, such as clutch packs, bearings, or solenoids
  • Contaminated or degraded transmission fluid due to lack of maintenance

In many cases, the only viable fix for a failed transmission is a complete rebuild or replacement, which can easily cost $3,000 or more at a shop.

To help prevent premature failure, I always recommend changing the transmission fluid and filter every 30,000 miles, using only high-quality fluid that meets Ford’s specifications. Installing an aftermarket transmission cooler can also help keep fluid temperatures in check during heavy use. But even with proper maintenance, these transmissions have a reputation for being somewhat fragile, so it’s important to be prepared for the possibility of failure as these vehicles age.

Problems Specific To 4th Generation Ford Explorer (2006 to 2010)

Thermostat Housing Leaks

One of the most common engine issues on 4th gen Explorers is a leaking thermostat housing, which can cause coolant to seep out and potentially lead to overheating. Symptoms of this problem may include:

  • Visible coolant leaks around the thermostat housing, typically at the seam between the upper and lower housing halves
  • Low coolant levels in the reservoir, often accompanied by the “Low Coolant” warning light on the dash
  • Overheating of the engine, particularly during heavy use or hot weather
  • Coolant smell from the engine bay, especially when the vehicle is at operating temperature

The root cause of these leaks is usually a failure of the plastic thermostat housing itself, which can crack or warp over time due to the constant heat cycling of the engine. In some cases, the gasket between the upper and lower housing halves can also fail, allowing coolant to seep out.

To fix a leaking thermostat housing, the entire assembly will need to be replaced, along with the thermostat itself and any associated gaskets or seals. I always recommend using a high-quality OEM or aftermarket housing made from reinforced plastic or aluminum to help prevent future leaks. Expect to pay around $300 to $500 for parts and labor, depending on your Explorer’s specific engine and configuration.

Exhaust Manifold Cracks

Another issue that 4th gen Explorer owners may encounter is cracking of the exhaust manifolds, which can cause leaks and impact engine performance. Common symptoms of cracked manifolds include:

  • Ticking or tapping noises from the engine bay, especially when cold
  • Decreased engine power or acceleration, particularly at higher RPMs
  • Illumination of the Check Engine light, often with codes related to air/fuel ratio or catalytic converter efficiency
  • Visible cracks or damage to the manifold itself, which may be difficult to spot without removing the manifold from the engine

Exhaust manifold cracks are typically caused by the repeated heating and cooling cycles of the engine, which can cause the cast iron to expand and contract over time. This constant movement can eventually lead to cracks forming, particularly around the mounting points or heat shield studs.

If you suspect a cracked exhaust manifold on your 4th gen Explorer, the only real fix is to replace the affected manifold with a new unit. In some cases, both manifolds may need to be replaced if they’re both showing signs of cracking or wear. Expect to pay anywhere from $500 to $1,000 for parts and labor, as the manifolds can be quite labor-intensive to remove and replace on these engines.

Problems Specific To 5th Generation Ford Explorer (2011 to 2019)

Carbon Monoxide Leaks

One of the most concerning issues with 5th generation Explorers is the potential for carbon monoxide to leak into the passenger cabin, posing a serious safety risk to occupants. This has led to deaths in some cases which is truly tragic.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide exposure may include:

  • Headache, dizziness, or nausea while driving, especially on long trips
  • Fatigue or confusion that seems to improve when outside the vehicle
  • Occupants in the rear seats being more affected than those in the front
  • Smell of exhaust fumes inside the vehicle, particularly when accelerating or under heavy load

The root cause of these leaks is typically gaps or cracks in the vehicle’s body seams, particularly around the rear lift gate and third-row seat area. These gaps can allow exhaust fumes to enter the cabin, especially when the vehicle is moving at high speeds or under heavy acceleration.

Ford has issued several technical service bulletins (TSBs) related to this issue, outlining specific repair procedures for sealing any potential leak points. These repairs typically involve applying additional sealant or weather stripping around the lift gate, rear vents, and other key areas. However, in some cases, more extensive work may be required to fully resolve the issue.

If you suspect carbon monoxide leaks in your 5th gen Explorer, I strongly recommend taking it to a qualified mechanic or Ford dealer for a thorough inspection and repair. This is not an issue to take lightly, as carbon monoxide exposure can be deadly in high concentrations.

Repair costs can vary widely depending on the extent of the leaks and the specific repairs required, but expect to pay at least a few hundred dollars for diagnosis and sealing work.

Throttle Body Failures

Another common issue with 5th generation Explorers is failure of the electronic throttle body, which can cause a range of drivability problems. Symptoms of a failing throttle body may include:

  • Rough idle or stalling, particularly when coming to a stop
  • Hesitation or stumbling when accelerating from a stop
  • Reduced power or limp mode operation, often accompanied by the Check Engine light
  • Diagnostic trouble codes (DTCs) related to the throttle body, such as P2111 or P2112

The root cause of these failures is typically a problem with the internal motor or position sensors within the throttle body itself. Over time, these components can wear out or become contaminated, causing the throttle body to stick or fail to respond properly to input from the gas pedal.

In some cases, cleaning the throttle body and resetting the learned idle position can temporarily resolve the issue. However, if the internal components are truly failing, the only real fix is to replace the entire throttle body assembly.

Ford has extended the warranty coverage on these throttle bodies to 10 years or 150,000 miles due to the widespread nature of the problem, so be sure to check your vehicle’s eligibility before paying for the repair out of pocket. If you do need to replace the throttle body yourself, expect to pay around $400 to $700 for parts and labor.

Rear Toe Link Fractures

A potentially serious issue that affects some 5th generation Explorers is fracturing of the rear toe links, which are critical components of the rear suspension. Symptoms of a fractured toe link may include:

  • Clunking or popping noises from the rear of the vehicle, especially when going over bumps or rough roads
  • Uneven or rapid tire wear, particularly on the rear tires
  • Misalignment of the rear wheels, which may cause the vehicle to pull to one side or the other
  • In extreme cases, complete failure of the rear suspension, which can cause a loss of vehicle control

The root cause of these fractures is a design flaw in the original toe link bushings, which can allow the links to move in ways they weren’t intended to. Over time, this can cause the links themselves to fatigue and eventually break, especially if the vehicle is frequently driven on rough or unpaved roads.

Ford has issued a recall for affected vehicles, which involves replacing both rear toe links with updated designs that are more robust. If your vehicle is covered by the recall, I strongly recommend having the work done as soon as possible to avoid any potential safety issues. If you’re unsure whether your vehicle is affected, you can check your VIN on Ford’s recall website or contact your local dealer for more information.

If your vehicle is not covered by the recall and you’re experiencing symptoms of a fractured toe link, you’ll need to have the links replaced by a qualified mechanic. This is typically a fairly straightforward repair, but it does require some specialized tools and equipment to properly align the rear suspension afterward. Expect to pay around $500 to $1,000 for parts and labor, depending on your location and the specific components used.

Problems Specific To 6th Generation Ford Explorer (2020 to 2024)

Rear Axle Bolt Issue

A potentially serious issue that has emerged with some early 6th generation Explorers is a problem with the rear axle bolts, which can come loose and cause a range of drivability and safety issues. Symptoms of this problem may include:

  • Clunking or rattling noises from the rear of the vehicle, particularly when accelerating or decelerating
  • Vibration or shuddering felt through the floor or seat, especially at higher speeds
  • In extreme cases, complete separation of the rear axle from the vehicle, which can cause a loss of control and potential crash

The root cause of this issue is believed to be improper torque of the rear axle bolts during assembly, which can allow them to work loose over time. Ford has issued a recall for affected vehicles, which involves inspecting the rear axle bolts and replacing them if necessary.

If your 6th gen Explorer is covered by the recall, I strongly recommend having the work done as soon as possible to avoid any potential safety issues. The repair should be covered under warranty, so there should be no cost to you as the owner.

If your vehicle is not covered by the recall and you’re experiencing symptoms of loose rear axle bolts, it’s important to have the issue addressed by a qualified mechanic as soon as possible. They will need to remove the rear axle and properly torque the bolts to spec, which can be a labor-intensive process. Expect to pay around $500 to $1,000 for the repair, depending on your location and the specific components involved.

Engine Stalling and Misfires

Some owners of 6th generation Explorers have reported issues with engine stalling and misfires, particularly when the vehicle is cold or has been sitting for an extended period. Symptoms of this problem may include:

  • Rough idle or stalling when coming to a stop, especially when the engine is cold
  • Hesitation or stumbling when accelerating from a stop, particularly when the engine is at low RPMs
  • Illumination of the Check Engine light, often with codes related to misfire or fuel delivery issues
  • In some cases, a strong fuel odor from the exhaust or around the vehicle, which may indicate a problem with the fuel injection system

The exact cause of these issues is still being investigated, but some potential culprits include:

  • Faulty fuel injectors or fuel pump, which can cause uneven fuel delivery to the cylinders
  • Issues with the ignition system, such as worn spark plugs or coils, which can cause misfires or rough running
  • Problems with the engine’s variable cam timing (VCT) system, which can affect valve timing and cause stalling or misfires

If you’re experiencing stalling or misfire issues with your 6th gen Explorer, I recommend starting with a thorough diagnostic scan to check for any relevant trouble codes. From there, a qualified mechanic can begin narrowing down the potential causes and identifying any faulty components that need to be replaced.

In some cases, simply replacing the spark plugs and coils can resolve the issue, especially if the vehicle has higher mileage. However, if the problem is related to the fuel injection system or VCT components, more extensive repairs may be necessary. As always, it’s best to catch these issues early before they can cause more serious damage to the engine over time.

Stiff Ride Quality

While not necessarily a mechanical issue per se, some owners of 6th generation Explorers have complained about the vehicle’s stiff and uncomfortable ride quality, particularly when equipped with larger wheels and low-profile tires. Symptoms of this issue may include:

  • Harsh or jarring sensations felt through the seat and steering wheel, especially when going over rough or uneven roads
  • Increased road noise and vibration at highway speeds, which can make long trips more fatiguing
  • A general sense of discomfort or unease while driving, particularly for passengers in the rear seats

The root cause of this issue is likely a combination of factors, including:

  • The Explorer’s stiffer suspension tuning, which is designed to improve handling and reduce body roll
  • The use of larger 20-inch or 21-inch wheels on some higher-trim models, which can exacerbate any underlying suspension issues
  • The use of low-profile tires with stiffer sidewalls, which can transmit more road imperfections into the cabin

If you’re finding the ride quality of your 6th gen Explorer to be too stiff or uncomfortable, there are a few potential solutions to consider:

  • Switching to a smaller wheel and tire package, which can help improve ride quality without sacrificing too much in terms of handling or appearance
  • Installing aftermarket suspension components, such as softer springs or dampers, which can help smooth out rough roads and improve overall comfort
  • Checking the tire pressure and adjusting it as needed, as overinflated tires can contribute to a harsher ride

Ultimately, the best solution will depend on your specific vehicle and driving needs. If you’re unsure where to start, I recommend consulting with a qualified suspension specialist or Ford dealer technician who can help assess your Explorer’s current setup and recommend any necessary changes or upgrades. While some of these modifications may require a significant investment, they can go a long way toward improving your overall driving experience and making those long trips more enjoyable for everyone on board.

Closing Thoughts

Well, there you have it – a comprehensive look at some of the most common issues plaguing the Ford Explorer over the past few decades. While it’s certainly not an exhaustive list, it should give you a good idea of what to watch out for if you’re currently driving an Explorer or considering purchasing one in the future.

In my experience, the 4th generation models (2006-2010) seem to offer the best balance of reliability and value, with relatively few major issues compared to some of the earlier and later generations. That being said, even the most problematic Explorers can be solid vehicles if they’re properly maintained and promptly repaired when issues arise. The key is to stay informed, stay proactive, and never hesitate to seek out professional help when needed.

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