Ford Explorer Years To Avoid and The Best Years

Ford Explorer Years To Avoid – Are you in the market for a used Ford Explorer? With its reputation for reliability and versatility, the Explorer has been a popular choice for SUV enthusiasts for decades. However, not all model years are created equal, and there are certain years you might want to avoid due to potential issues and shortcomings.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll delve into the Ford Explorer’s history and highlight the specific years you should be cautious about.

Whether you’re a first-time buyer or a seasoned car enthusiast, knowing which Ford Explorer years to avoid can save you from potential headaches down the road.

Let’s dive into the details and explore the worst years for the Ford Explorer, ensuring you make an informed decision and find a trustworthy vehicle that suits your needs and lifestyle.

Ford Explorer Years To Avoid

While the Ford Explorer has a long-standing reputation for being a reliable and versatile SUV, not all years are created equal.

Ford Explorer Years To Avoid

According to the data compiled from customer complaints, the following Ford Explorer model years have experienced a significant number of reported issues: 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006.

Owners of these models have complained about problems related to various vital components of the vehicle, including transmission, body/paint, interior accessories, wheels and hubs, drivetrain, windows and windshields, engine, brakes, and the AC/heater system.

These issues have contributed to a less-than-desirable ownership experience for some Ford Explorer owners.

The Troubled 2002 Ford Explorer

Among the Ford Explorer model years to avoid, the 2002 edition stands out as one of the most problematic. Numerous complaints have been filed since its launch in 1991.

The primary issues that have plagued this model include problems with the transmission, suspension, and drivetrain.

Some of the most concerning complaints from 2002 Ford Explorer owners include a blinking O/D (Overdrive) light occurring at around 109,000 miles and a crack appearing below the rear window at approximately 79,000 miles.

These issues not only cause inconvenience but also lead to costly repairs.

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Avoiding the 2003, 2004, and 2005 Model Years

The 2003, 2004, and 2005 Ford Explorer models have also faced their fair share of problems, with body/paint issues being the most commonly reported among owners.

Additionally, drivetrain and transmission problems have contributed to a less-than-satisfactory ownership experience for some users.

While these issues might not be as severe as the transmission problems in the 2002 model year, they can still lead to considerable repair costs and inconvenience for owners.

Steering Clear of the 2006 Ford Explorer

The 2006 Ford Explorer, unfortunately, continued the trend of its predecessors with engine and transmission problems being the most prevalent complaints among owners.

In comparison to the 2002 model, the 2006 edition has even more problems appearing at lower mileage and resulting in higher repair costs.

Among the most frequently reported issues with the 2006 Ford Explorer was a transmission that would lunge and jolt when shifting.

This repair, on average, costs owners approximately $1,800 and typically occurred at around 49,000 miles.

Radiator leaks were also a common problem, surfacing at approximately 63,000 miles.

Not All Ford Explorers Are Problematic

It’s essential to note that while certain model years of the Ford Explorer have experienced more problems than others, not all of them are inherently flawed.

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Many Ford Explorers have provided their owners with reliable service and have managed to avoid the issues faced by the problematic model for years.

Before making a purchase decision, it’s advisable to thoroughly research the specific year and model of the Ford Explorer you’re interested in.

Consider factors such as consumer reviews, reliability ratings, and service history to make an informed choice that aligns with your needs and budget.

Ford Explorer Best Years

Over its illustrious 30-year history, the Ford Explorer has captured the hearts of countless buyers, earning a reputation as a reliable and beloved vehicle.

While many model years have demonstrated their durability, some stand out as the best choices for those seeking a used Ford Explorer.

Ford Explorer Best Years

We’ll explore the Ford Explorer’s best years, highlighting their reliability and impressive performance, making them safe bets for your next purchase.

Ideal Models to Choose From

Among the Ford Explorer’s extensive production history, several model years have showcased outstanding reliability and garnered fewer complaints from owners.

These models are the ideal options for used Ford Explorer seekers looking for a dependable and hassle-free driving experience.

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The models that shine in terms of reliability include:

  • 1991 Ford Explorer
  • 1992 Ford Explorer
  • 1993 Ford Explorer
  • 1994 Ford Explorer
  • 1995 Ford Explorer
  • 1996 Ford Explorer
  • 1997 Ford Explorer
  • 1998 Ford Explorer
  • 1999 Ford Explorer
  • 2000 Ford Explorer
  • 2001 Ford Explorer
  • 2007 Ford Explorer
  • 2008 Ford Explorer
  • 2009 Ford Explorer
  • 2010 Ford Explorer
  • 2011 Ford Explorer
  • 2012 Ford Explorer
  • 2013 Ford Explorer
  • 2014 Ford Explorer
  • 2015 Ford Explorer
  • 2016 Ford Explorer
  • 2017 Ford Explorer
  • 2018 Ford Explorer
  • 2019 Ford Explorer
  • 2020 Ford Explorer
  • 2021 Ford Explorer

Most of the first-generation (1991-1994), second-generation (1995-2001), fourth-generation (2006-2010), fifth-generation (2011-2019), and sixth-generation (2020-present) Ford Explorers have proven to be remarkably reliable with minimal reported problems.

First-Generation Models: 1991-1994

During the early years of the Ford Explorer’s production, the first-generation models faced some challenges, including issues with transmission and engine problems. However, they were quick to address these concerns, leading to improved reliability in subsequent years.

Second-Generation Models: 1995-2001

The second-generation Ford Explorers experienced similar issues, with some complaints revolving around the windows and windshield. Interior accessories also posed a slightly higher number of complaints during the early 2000s.

Despite these concerns, Ford made significant improvements, making later second-generation models more reliable.

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Fourth-Generation Models: 2006-2010

With the exception of the 2006 model year, all fourth-generation Ford Explorers received low numbers of complaints.

The 2007 to 2010 models faced slightly more transmission and interior accessory problems compared to other issues.

Fifth and Sixth-Generation Models: 2011-Present

As the Ford Explorer entered its fifth and sixth generations, it saw a decline in complaints. Major issues, such as transmission problems, were significantly reduced, signifying improved reliability.

Best-Performing Modern-Day Versions

The 2021 and 2022 Ford Explorer models take the spotlight as the best-performing modern-day versions of this iconic SUV line.

Boasting various variants, cutting-edge safety and entertainment technologies, and excellent driving mechanics, both these models have garnered widespread acclaim.

The 2021 Explorer is a slightly more affordable option, while the 2022 variant offers all the bells and whistles an Explorer can offer.

Both models have earned impressive scores on JD Power, Kelley Blue Book, and Edmunds, further solidifying their status as top choices for prospective buyers.

2019 Ford Explorer: Great Value in Pricing and Performance

Though not the latest model year, the 2019 Ford Explorer remains a great value in terms of pricing and vehicle age. With a powerful engine, multiple variants and colors to choose from, and excellent handling, it still holds its own among newer models.

Given its age, there are plenty of well-maintained used models available in the market.

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2018 Ford Explorer: A Worthy Contender

Ford Explorer Best Years

The 2018 Ford Explorer is an excellent pick if you’re willing to forgo a few infotainment options but desire great steering, handling, and comfortable seating.

It strikes a balance between affordability and updated electronic and engine technology. For budget-conscious buyers seeking reliability, the 2018 Explorer remains a mighty option in the used car market.

Quadruple Combo: 2007-2010 Ford Explorers

This quadruple combo from 2007 to 2010 offers everything the Explorer is best known for – power, reliability, and an intimidating exterior design. Savvy used car shoppers can find well-maintained models from this era at reasonable rates.

Each year in this range boasts impressive reviews from Kelley Blue Book and JD Power, solidifying their reliability.

Retro Style: 2001 Ford Explorer

The 2001 Ford Explorer may have some years under its belt, but it still turns heads with its retro style. While we advise inexperienced buyers to proceed with caution when looking for this model year, well-maintained options can offer a satisfactory driving experience.

Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds have awarded this model year-high review ratings, indicating its continued appeal.

From the early years to modern-day versions, each highlighted model offers a unique set of features and benefits, catering to diverse preferences and budgets.

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Ford Explorer Problems

The Ford Explorer has remained a popular SUV choice for many buyers over the years.

However, like any vehicle, it is not without its share of issues.

In this section, we’ll explore some of the common problems reported by Ford Explorer owners and possible solutions to address these concerns.

Ford Explorer Problems

Understanding these problems can help you make informed decisions and ensure a smoother ownership experience.

1. Issues with the Vehicle Structure

A few years ago, some Ford Explorers experienced malfunctioning door latches, leading to false “door ajar” alarms.

Although this caused unnecessary stress, it was later found to be a technical glitch and not a serious safety concern.

Additionally, some owners reported issues with the liftgate to the cargo area unexpectedly opening when they were at the back of the car, despite the key being with the driver and the keyless entry system disengaged.

2. Heater Stuck

Some Ford Explorer models allegedly suffer from heater malfunctions, getting stuck at the maximum setting. This can lead to overheating, and if the heater’s mix door continues to malfunction, the heating system may eventually stop working.

Repairing or replacing a faulty blend door can cost between $570 and $930.

3. Rough Idle and Stalling

Certain Ford Explorer models may experience rough idling and stall due to a vacuum leak caused by deteriorated O-ring gaskets on the intake manifold.

Investing in new gaskets for the intake manifold can cost between $750 and $950, depending on the repair shop.

4. Cracking Plastic Intake Manifold

Ford Explorers manufactured between 1997 and 2001 are particularly prone to coolant leaks caused by a cracked plastic intake manifold. If the coolant route on top of the manifold develops a fracture, the engine may overheat, leading to potential engine damage.

Replacing the intake manifold can cost between $70 and $100.

5. Worn Timing Chain Cassette

A rattling sound from the engine could indicate an old or broken timing chain cassette. The repair cost for this issue is relatively affordable, ranging from $90 to $120, as it requires installing a new timing cassette and tensioner.

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6. Timing Chain Failures

Certain Ford Explorer models equipped with a 4.0-liter V6 SOHC engine, specifically from 1997 to 2010, are known for brittle timing chain guides.

While Ford addressed the issue in later models, guides made of plastic in newer models may still cause timing chain failures after around 100,000 miles.

7. Water Pump Leaks

Internal water pumps in the normally aspirated Duratec and turbocharged EcoBoost 3.5-liter V6 engines, particularly in fifth-generation Ford Explorers, can cause severe engine breakdowns if they leak.

8. Loss of Power Steering

Loss of power steering can make the vehicle extremely difficult to navigate, especially at low speeds. This issue might be indicated by grinding or rubbing sounds from the steering rack. Water leaking into the cabin can be a common source of power steering problems in fifth-generation Ford Explorers (2011-2019).

9. All-Wheel Drive PTU Failure

The Power Transfer Unit (PTU) responsible for the all-wheel drive system in fifth-generation Ford Explorers is prone to failure.

Despite Ford’s claims that it doesn’t require service and uses lifetime fluids, PTU breakdowns have been reported at low mileage due to deteriorated fluids.

10. Hood Paint Issues

Many fifth-generation Ford Explorers have experienced bubbling and flaking of the hood paint, even in new vehicles. The lightweight aluminum hood is susceptible to damage from the elements, leading to paint issues.

11. Door Panel Bubble

Several reports have emerged regarding bubble formation on the door panels of fifth-generation Explorers due to upholstery peeling away from the adhesive.

This can lead to cracking and splitting of the upholstery.

Alternatives to the Ford Explorer

Ford Explorer Years to Avoid

If you are looking for a reliable and safe SUV and don’t want to take any chances with the Ford Explorer, there are several alternatives that you can consider. Here are some of the options:

Honda CR-V

The Honda CR-V is a compact SUV that has been around since 1997. It is known for its reliability, good fuel economy, and spacious interior.

The current generation of the Honda CR-V comes with advanced safety features, a hybrid engine option, and an all-wheel drive.

Related: Honda CR-V Years to Avoid 

Toyota RAV4

The Toyota RAV4 is a compact SUV that has been around since 1994. It is known for its reliability, good fuel economy, and off-road capabilities.

The current generation of the Toyota RAV4 comes with advanced safety features, a hybrid engine option, and an all-wheel drive.

Related: Toyota RAV4 Years to Avoid 

Mazda CX-5

The Mazda CX-5 is a compact SUV that has been around since 2012. It is known for its stylish design, good handling, and fuel efficiency.

The current generation of the Mazda CX-5 comes with advanced safety features, a turbocharged engine option, and an all-wheel drive.

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Is the Ford Explorer a reliable vehicle?

Overall, the Ford Explorer’s reliability is rated at 38.95, which indicates that it is not considered very reliable. In comparison to some other cars, this ranking falls below the average overall rating of 57.

Are Ford Explorers high maintenance?

Maintaining a Ford Explorer does tend to cost more compared to other SUVs in its segment. On average, owners can expect to spend around $732 per year for oil changes and repairs, as reported by Repair Pal.

Regular oil and filter changes every 7,500 miles are essential to ensure the vehicle’s longevity, potentially reaching up to 300,000 miles.

How long does a Ford Explorer last?

Under normal conditions, a Ford Explorer should last for at least 200,000 kilometers. Assuming the average American drives 15,000 miles per year, this means that the typical car will be owned for at least 13 years.

However, recent years have seen the Explorer’s lifespan affected by various problems.

In some of the most problematic model years and generations, the Explorer may only endure up to about 100,000 miles.

This is relatively low compared to the average lifespan of a car, so it’s crucial to be cautious when purchasing an Explorer to ensure you acquire a more dependable one.

Where is the Ford Explorer made?

The production of the Ford Explorer takes place at various plants worldwide, owing to its widespread appeal. Formerly, the Ford Louisville Assembly Plant in Kentucky and the Ford St. Louis Assembly Plant in Missouri were responsible for producing Explorers for the North American market, but they have since closed.

Currently, the Ford Chicago Assembly Plant manufactures the eighth-generation Explorer.

Additionally, the Changan Ford assembly factory in Chongqing, China, is another location where the Explorer is built.

In the past, Ford also assembled the Explorer in Russia and Venezuela to cater to the Russian and South American markets, respectively.

What years of the Ford Explorer should be avoided?

While the Ford Explorer has a long history, certain model years are more troublesome than others. Generally, the years 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006 are considered to be the weakest in the lineup. Among them, it is advisable to avoid the 2002 model year due to common complaints about transmission issues.

Owners of these problematic Explorers have also reported other issues related to suspension, transmission, body, paint, engine, and more.

Additionally, some of these problems may manifest at relatively lower mileage, adding to the overall concerns, and repairs could be costly.

It’s important to research and choose a more reliable model year to avoid potential headaches and expenses in the future.


While the Ford Explorer has undoubtedly been a popular and beloved SUV over the years, it is not without its share of issues.

Some model years have proven to be more troublesome than others, particularly the years 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006. Among these, the 2002 model year stands out as one to avoid, given the prevalence of transmission problems and other related issues.

Despite its reliability concerns, the Ford Explorer can still offer a dependable and enjoyable driving experience if you choose the right model year.

Whether you decide to go for the earlier, more classic models or opt for the more recent and updated versions, being vigilant in your selection will go a long way in securing a more dependable and satisfying driving journey with your Ford Explorer.

In the end, the choice lies with you, the buyer, to weigh the pros and cons and make an informed decision based on your preferences and budget.

Ford Explorer Years to Avoid – Make a wise choice and drive confidently on the road ahead! By avoiding the troubled Ford Explorer years and selecting a more reliable model, you can embark on an adventure with your SUV that’s filled with memorable experiences and fewer repair worries.

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