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The Ford Explorer attracts good sales numbers each year, but it’s still one of the most unreliable SUVs you can buy. While low reliability doesn’t always have to be a dealbreaker, it might mean that you’ll pay higher annual maintenance fees on your car.

The worst Ford Explorer years to avoid

Unfortunately, not all Ford Explorers are equal when it comes to dependability. If you’re looking for a used model, steer clear of the worst Ford Explorer years to avoid.

Looking at the Explorer’s main page on CarComplaints, it appears that the latest models don’t have many reported issues at all. Ford has been diligently working to improve its quality and reliability ratings.

1. 2002 Ford Explorer

The 2002 Ford Explorer is the worst with nearly 4,000 complaints from drivers. The most severe issue requires a transmission replacement, which typically happens at 94,000 miles and costs $2,800.

Most drivers experienced delayed shifts and blinking O/D lights before the transmission failed entirely. Owners also reported that the panel below the 2002 Ford Explorer’s rear window is guaranteed to crack eventually.

It usually happens near the 80,000-mile mark, but thankfully a new rear panel only costs about $450.

2. 2003 Ford Explorer

Just like the previous model year, CarComplaints users say that the 2003 Ford Explorer is highly prone to transmission problems.

While the transmission reportedly lasts around 10,000 miles more compared to last year, most mechanics recommend a complete rebuild eventually. The average driver pays around $2,320-$2,640 to have the transmission replaced.

The 2006 Ford Explorer off-roading
2006 Ford Explorer | Ford

Body and paint issues took up a majority of complaints for this model year, most of them regarding the infamous rear panel. paint on this SUV’s hood and roof shows significant peeling after 66,000 miles.

The wheel bearings will likely fail before the 90,000-mile mark and drivers also report a number of strange in-car electronics issues.

3. 2004 Ford Explorer

Based on owner reports, the Explorer’s problematic transmission continued to be an issue on the 2004 model, though fewer drivers needed a complete replacement.

Still, too many months of slipped gears and hard shifting are bound to wear down your transmission at a faster pace. One driver said their car only required a transmission solenoid replacement at $500.

Owners of this Ford Explorer still experience wheel bearing problems, cracked rear panels, and peeling exterior paint.

Some drivers reported cracked door panels at 66,000 miles and severe body rust after about 80,000 miles.

The 2004 Explorer is also prone to several interior problems, including a cracked sun visor and a flimsy gear shifter.

4. 2005 Ford Explorer

The 2005 Ford Explorer is still just as much of a clunker, according to actual owners. Despite hundreds of complaints, Ford still refused to recall this car’s transmission.

Several drivers also experienced the transmission lurching while the brakes were engaged and problems shifting into the reverse gear.

5. 2006 Ford Explorer

The 2006 is one of the worst Ford Explorer years to avoid because so many repairs are needed at low mileage. Drivers reported having transmission performance problems as early as 50,000 miles.

Fortunately, it appears that many drivers paid less for transmission repairs compared to drivers with older Explorer models.

You can usually avoid a transmission rebuild, though replacing certain components can still cost an average of $1,900.

Watch out for complete transmission failure around the 91,000-mile mark. The 2006 Ford Explorer also usually needs its radiator replaced after just 64,000 miles.

The 2006 Explorer may also have some rough idling problems and potentially require a complete engine replacement at around 80,000 miles.

You can save yourself several headaches (and thousands of dollars in repairs) by purchasing a Ford Explorer produced after the 2006 model year.