10 Common Ford Explorer Problems (Worst Years & Recall Data)

It can be frustrating if your new or used Ford Explorer has one or more issues or problems. You might not know what the problem is or what to do about it. Most of these problems are serious and cost a lot to repair or replace parts.

We will list the most common problems with the Ford Explorer, explain recalls on some models, and discuss the ways to solve problems with your vehicle.

Transmission failure is the most common problem owners have had, followed by timing chain failure. Explorers have been recalled for stalling and rough idling, power steering problems, all-wheel drive Power Transfer Unit (PTU) failure, water leaks, and painting issues plus a recent wheel bearing failure.

There is no charge for repairs if an Explorer has been recalled. You are not powerless, and this article will provide specific information about how to handle these problems.

The first thing to do if you notice any problem with your Ford Explorer is to find out what is causing the problem. Make a maintenance appointment with a mechanic or with your Ford dealership.

Most Common Ford Explorer Issues

About 775,000 of these vehicles were recalled between 2013 and 2017. Ford has sold about 7 million Explorers since the model came out in 1991.

Both the 2021 and 2022 Explorer models have been recalled due to a problem with the rear axle bolt that could cause the driveshaft to disconnect. Only 18 vehicles have this problem, but all 2021 and 2022 Ford Explorers must be recalled and checked to find them.

The Ford Explorer owner is not responsible for the cost of labor and replacement parts if a vehicle has been recalled by Ford. Only a few cars may actually have the recall problem, but it is important to take your vehicle to the dealership to be sure that your Explorer is free of this problem or issue.

Listed below are common problems and recalls of the Ford Explorer. We also discuss possible solutions that you might want to consider when your vehicle has an issue that must be fixed.

1. Heater Problems –No Recall

Heater problems are an inconvenience in some parts of North America. They can be dangerous conditions due to below-freezing temperatures. Maybe you are sitting in traffic in 100-degree weather when your air conditioning isn’t working.

These heater problems can be a basic construction failure, or they might be something that you can easily fix yourself.

A nonfunctioning thermostat or a defunct blower motor may cause the problem. Both of these causes need to be fixed so your air conditioner and heater can work.

Possible Solutions by Professionals

  • Professional testing and replacement of capacitor
  • Repair of bearings in the blowing motor by mechanic
  • Replacement of climate control unit by professional

Possible Solutions You Can Try

  • Add coolant if your Ford Explorer is blowing cold air from the heater.
  • Replace fuse as per Explorer manual

The typical cost of these repairs at Ford Dealership for a Car Heater Blower Motor Replacement is about $123 plus $28 for parts and $95 for labor.

2. Cracking Plastic Intake Manifold – Recall Number 01M02

Another problem is in Ford Explorer models from 1997-2001. V-8 engines are known to have cracking plastic intake manifolds.

This can result in engine overheating. Often, the Check Engine light or Low Engine Coolant Warning light will come on.

This problem is a factory defect and is not the owner’s fault. The leak of engine coolant eventually causes engine overheating problems.

Ford created a metal coolant passage to prevent further problems. They will insert this part in your Explorer for you.

This recall must be repaired at a Ford Dealership with Ford’s replacement part.

The typical cost for replacing a plastic intake manifold is about $283 with $74 for parts and $209 for labor. Vehicle owners do not have to pay for this replacement and repair since affected this is an official Ford recall.

There are no possible solutions other than returning your vehicle to the Ford dealership for repair.

3. Stalls and Idle is Rough – 2006 Ford Explorer Recall No. P0191

Another recall for the Ford Explorer was in the 2006 model. This was related to problems that caused the vehicle to stall and to have a rough idle.

There are a few possible reasons why your vehicle is doing this. It may have a vacuum leak, need the spark plugs replaced, or have a problem with the ignition coil. It could also be something else.

A vacuum leak is in the O-ring which should be airtight. A leak causes air to enter the engine and fuel system and so the Explorer stalls and has a rough idle.

Possible Solutions You Can Try:

  • You can go to an automotive parts store and ask them to scan your Explorer. You may also want to buy the code scanner and scan it yourself.
  • When you get the code, you will know whether the problem is an O2 sensor, spark plugs, or something else.
  • You can then repair your Explorer by replacing spark plugs, etc. if you are good at repairing cars.

The other choice is to have the repairs made by a mechanic or by the Ford dealership if your vehicle has been recalled for stalling and rough idling.

The approximate cost for replacing these parts at a Ford dealership is the following:

  • O-ring — $150-$400
  • Spark plugs — $77 plus $266 for labor
  • Ignition Coil — $159 plus $35 for labor

4. Timing Chain Failures

You may have heard of timing chain failures (Recall Number ProgRam00M12) in Explorers.

Some of the symptoms of timing chain problems include metal shavings in the oil and engine rattling when starting up a cold engine. 1998 Explorers have been known for timing chain issues.

Other Explorers can also have timing chain failures, but remember that only an official Ford recall qualifies for free repair. Problems with the timing chain can often be fixed, so don’t ignore the symptoms.

Some of the causes of timing chain failures in Explorers are wear and tear, lack of oil changes, driving a high speed regularly, engine overheating, and the chain being too tight. Permanent engine damage can occur if this condition is not repaired in your Explorer.

Possible Solutions by Professionals:

Possible Solutions You Can Try:

  • You can avoid timing chain problems by shifting at the proper time and not driving at high RPMs or your engine can overheat and cause problems.
  • Driving at maximum speed, especially after 30,000 or 40,000 miles will probably cause timing chain problems. Your Explorer may develop timing chain problems if used for racing.
  • If you accelerate fast and stop at the last minute, your timing chain may last for only 50,000 miles instead of for the life of your vehicle.

Timing chains cannot always be repaired but must be replaced. This cost approximately $1,400 to $1,800, including the cost of labor.

5. Wheel Bearing Failures

A wheel falling off could surely lead to a crash and injury to you and your passengers. If you have a Ford Explorer and have received a recall notice(Recall Number HB52-1104-C), do not ignore it.

Most of the recalled vehicles are in North America, but a few are in Canada. Explorers have also been sold in China, South Africa, and other countries.

A defective ball joint could cause a fractured rear suspension toe link, resulting in losing steering ability. There have been 6 alleged and reported injuries from this problem.

You may need a professional mechanic to make this repair either at a private shop or at a Ford dealership. People who know how to repair cars can replace the wheel bearings by hoisting their vehicle on blocks for safety.

There are ways to prevent wheel bearing problems, but a recalled Explorer has problems due to manufacturing defects. Here are a few things you can do to prevent this issue if your vehicle has not been recalled.

  • Check your vehicle’s tires for uneven wear. Have your vehicle checked by a mechanic if you see this occurring to your tires.
  • Try to avoid potholes as much as possible.
  • Turn corners with a wide turn to avoid bumping into curbs.
  • Have your Explorer aligned regularly.

The cost for a wheel bearing repair at your Ford dealership is about $430 with parts costing $230 and labor at $200.

6. Paint Bubbling Issues

Ford has been having problems with paint bubbling issues for many years. A class action suit was filed for 2013-2018 Explorers alleging that the vehicle’s aluminum panels rusted and caused problems with the paint.

New Fords are sold with a paint warranty to prevent this from happening.

Recently, the court denied class action certification. The case is not settled yet, but this is a big win for Ford.

The lawsuit called for a recall by Ford to address problems on the hoods of Explorers and other Ford models.

An unpainted hood ranges in cost from $80-$600. When you figure out the complete price, it could easily cost over $3,000.

Most Explorer owners who had a new hood painted to match their vehicle were happy with the paint job, both in the color match and the appearance of the hood.

7. Transmission Issues

Did you know that Ford has faced years of transmission issues (Recall Number 20S68 for 2020 Explorers) in their Ford Explorers? Ford has recently recalled almost 3 million vehicles, and some of these were Explorers.

Recalls for the 2020 Explorer are for a variety of reasons. Other models of 2017-2020 Explorers may also have transmission problems.

The 2020 Explorer is available with 4 different engine choices. All of them have the same transmission and some of the same problems.

Test driving by Consumer Reports showed that there were rough shifting changes from first to second gear and also from second to third gear. There were also pulls when stopped at traffic lights and stop signs.

Manual shifting was difficult and not smooth like it should be.

Explorer models from 2011-2017 have been recalled in the past. Owners should call their dealership and use Recall Number 22S27.

Here are some things that you can do before your dealership appointment that are part of regular vehicle maintenance:

  • Check the transmission fluid level to be sure it is filled to the proper level.
  • Check for trouble codes to find the exact problem by taking your vehicle to a parts shop or using your own code reader.

8. All-Wheel Drive PTU Failure Without A Recall

You may not know what a PTU is in your Explorer, but if you smell burning oil, it’s probably time to learn about your PTU. These letters stand for Power Transfer Unit.

All-Wheel Drive PTU failure has been found in various Explorer models, but especially in 2013 and 2014 models.

Another warning sign is a grinding sound that you hear as you drive. You may also experience overheating of your Explorer and see leakage of fluid where you were parked.

Here are some ways to deal with the problem:

  • You can replace the PTU if you have access to a lift because it is necessary to first drain the PTU on the bottom of the vehicle.
  • A Ford dealership will do the job for you for around $2,000, including parts and labor.

9. Steering Problems

Another problem that sometimes affects the Explorer (and even the Ford Fusion) is steering problems (Recall Number 14V286000). Some of the symptoms of steering issues are grinding or humming noise on either side of your SUV.

Uneven tire wear is another symptom that is easy to see.

This noise can especially occur when you turn the steering wheel, and it becomes louder the faster you drive. The problem may be related to an intermittent connection in the electric power steering gear.

Explorers built between 2010 and 2013 were recalled and can be repaired for free if the manufacturing was defective. Other models that may have been recalled for steering problems are the 2016 to 2021 models.

Here are some suggestions of what you can do:

  • Check the transmission fluid level to make sure that it isn’t low.
  • If there is no recall on your vehicle, make an appointment with your mechanic or with your Ford dealership for this repair.

10. Water Leaks

Almost 4,000 Explorers made in 2020 have been recalled (Recall Number 19S32) for water leaks. A leak can result from the vapor fuel lines rubbing together, causing a potential leak.

The 2016 Explorer also had problems with the water pump leaking but has not been recalled for this problem. Your mechanic or a Ford dealership can install a new water pump.

Signs of a bad water pump are water leaking from around the water pump and overheating.

If you do not have a recall for water leaks on your Explorer, you can do the following:

  • Check the coolant level to be sure it is full.
  • See if there are any leaks at the front center of the vehicle.
  • Look for rust and corrosion on the water pump.

The cost of a new water pump is about $1,500 including parts and labor.

What Years Did the Ford Explorer Have Problems?

The Ford Explorer was first made in 1990 for 1991 sales. All cars have problems, but the Explorer has had more than its share of recalls and issues.

Statistics show that Explorers do have more problems and recalls than other brands of vehicles. Recently about 250,000 Explorer models from 2020 to 2022 were recalled because they can roll even when the transmission is in Park.

These models of Explorers had the most problems that were major, expensive repairs:

  • 2002 model – Serious transmission failures after around 94,000 miles. The cost is about $2,800
  • 2003 model – Also had transmission failures and other problems.
  • 2004 model – Engine and transmission issues that could stop the vehicle from driving
  • 2005 model – Engine and transmission failures at around 73,000 miles (transmission) and engine problems at around 84,000 miles
  • 2006 model – One of the worst years for Explorers with many problems and high repair costs.

Here is a list of models that are regarded as the best for the Explorer:

  • 2008 model – Few problems and no recalls – Recommended
  • 2010 model – Enjoyable to drive and few problems – Recommended
  • 2011 model — Many have run well up to 200,000 miles
  • 2013 model – Great crash test scores, fuel efficiency, and turbo-charged 4-cylinder
  • 2016 model – Good safety features and great options such as adaptive cruise control
  • 2019 model – High performance due to large engine

Recent Recalls

 Here is a list of the most recent recalls:

  • Recall number 22V685000 – Fuel system, Gasoline Delivery: hoses, lines/piping, and fittings
  • Recall number 22V454000 – Structure: Frame and members
  • Recall number 22V255000 – Power Train, Driveline: Driveshaft
  • Recall Number 22V088000—Fuel system, Gasoline Storage: Tank assembly: Filter pipe and cap

Check to See Whether Your Vehicle Has an Open Recall

The best way to see if there is an open recall on your Explorer is to check this website:

You can click on this link to reach the government website that lists all of the recalls. You will need your vehicle’s VIN number. Here is how to find it if you don’t have it:

  • Look on the lower left of your vehicle’s windshield.
  • It is 17 characters long
  • The VIN number is also located on your Explorer’s registration, and it might be on your registration.

Enter the VIN number of your vehicle. As you scroll down, you will see how to file a complaint and other information.

Recalls from the past 15 years will be shown with or without repairs made. You can use this tool to discover if your Explorer has any active recalls related to it.

How Reliable is the Ford Explorer?

The Ford Explorer has been seen as a durable and reliable vehicle since it was introduced in 1991. Many Explorers can be used beyond the 200,000-mile point, despite many problems they have had.

The Explorer is a roomy family car with plenty of room for kids, pets, and sports equipment. It has been the SUV best-seller for many years and models.

Some problems cannot be avoided, such as manufacturing issues that are recalled and replaced by a Ford dealership. There are some things that you can do to keep your Explorer as reliable as possible. Here are some of them:

  • Have all maintenance at recommended times, including maintenance recommended by your Ford dealership.
  • Regularly check and replace low fluids in your vehicle, including oil, transmission fluid, and others.
  • Drive reasonably using good driving tips that may extend the life of your vehicle.

Many people have had Explorers that served them well for many years.

What Is Good and Bad About the Car

Here are some things that are good or bad about the Ford Explorer:

Good Things About the Explorer

  • Roomy interiors that are designed for comfort
  • They are a great value for the cost.
  • There is an option for off-roading.
  • It has many safety features.
  • It is economical to drive with an average of 17 to 20 miles per gallon of fuel.
  • Most Explorers can pull a boat or trailer.
  • It has an attractive appearance.
  • The newest models have entertainment devices.

Bad Things About the Explorer:

  • It is not fuel-efficient so owners need to fill up their tanks more often.
  • Controlling the Explorer can be difficult because of its wide body. This can lead to an increase in accidents.
  • The third row in the 2022 model has limited space for passengers.

How is It Compared to Similar Cars?

Here are some comparisons of the Explorer with other popular SUVs:

Ford Explorer Versus Chevrolet Traverse

Both vehicles are about the same in size and can carry 7 passengers comfortably. The Traverse has large windows which are great when taking a road trip and seeing new sights.

Both vehicles get about 20 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway. The Explorer is sold with standard adaptive cruise control and a lane-keeping system.

Traverse has more options that customers can add to the price.

Ford Explorer Versus Kia Telluride

One thing to consider, especially if you plan to tow a trailer or boat is that the Explorer has a turbocharged V6 engine with up to 365 HP. The Telluride has only 291 HP and a V6 engine.

The Telluride costs less and gets better gas mileage.

What Is the Life Expectancy?

The life expectancy of the Explorer varies with different models. The 2011 model is known to run up to 200,000 miles. The 1996 model can reach an even higher mileage.

Other models develop problems at much lower mileage levels. The 2003 and 2006 both have problems under 100,000 miles.

Buyers can expect their Explorer to last for 100,000 to 200,000 miles depending on the model and the maintenance provided.

What Do Owners Say About the Car?

The average rating for the Explorer is 3.5 out of 5 points. Here are some reviews and comments by Explorer owners:

“This is one of the best vehicles I have owned. The ride is very comfortable and it’s easy to get in and out of. I recommend the 2012 Explorer to anyone!” – Flip33: March 18, 2017, Yonkers, N.Y.

“I bought a 1993 Explorer from my brother. I take it camping in the mountains, and it climbs them with no problem.” – Beast4889: July 12, 2016, Vancouver, WA

“Ford messed this one up! I waited for 5 months to receive my 2022 Explorer. I have owned 2 other Explorers and really loved them until this new one. It has a bad wind noise, shifts up and down extremely hard, and the engine has a weird rumble. I am going to trade it in for another brand when it hits 1,500 miles.”  — Bob B.: July 31, 2022, New Braunfels


We have tried to cover every aspect of the Ford Explorer, including the positive and negative sides of owning this vehicle. A large variety of different Explorers are made during each model year, so your vehicle may not be included in the ones that are bad for a certain year.

There is a lot of loyalty to this popular SUV, and customers do not mind having a problem or two. It is when the Explorer is in the shop more often than out of it that customers get discouraged with their vehicles.