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The modern Ford Explorer three-row SUV is a sporty and attractive vehicle with enough technology and space for any family. It’s become a staple model in the Ford SUV lineup, and even recently added the high-performance ST trim for that extra boost. Using, it’s obvious the Explorer has had very few major issues over the last 11 or 12 years. Though if you go back far enough, you’ll find out which Explorer model years are an absolute nightmare for owners. From 2002 to 2006, we don’t recommend buying a used Ford Explorer.

The most problematic vehicle ever – 2002 Ford Explorer

A red 2002 Ford Explorer parked in a parking lot
2002 Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer | Wikimedia

Is there any way to positively know the 2002 Ford Explorer is the most problematic vehicle ever? Not really, but this model year Explorer has more complaints than any other vehicle ever on CarComplaints. That’s pretty remarkable, and making it worse is the fact that over 1,500 of the complaints are about transmission problems. Things as major as transmission failure, transmission slipping, the O/D light blinking, or just difficulties shifting are all reported frequently. Many users report constant transmission issues, even after an initial fix.

Repairing or replacing a transmission can be extremely costly, that’s why it’s best just to avoid this model year of Explorer altogether. Not only do these problems too frequently occur, but even worse are the repeat offenses. Some owners having to fix or replace a transmission multiple times is something no one should deal with.

From 2003-2006, the transmission issues continue

A white 2005 Ford Explorer parked in a parking lot
2005 Ford Explorer | Wikimedia

The Ford Explorer ST Isn’t Worth $60,000

Though the following model years’ issues aren’t quite as frequent as the 2002 disaster, the transmission problems continued. Ford just couldn’t figure out the transmission in the Explorer from 2002 to 2006. In fact, for Explorers during these model years, over 3,000 complaints have been written only about the transmission problems. In all of these model years, the most common issues are complete transmission failure, slipping, and other related events. Though the transmission isn’t the only thing frequently being complained about.

More Ford Explorer problems

There’s plenty to talk about with these model years. The constant transmission problems should be more than enough to turn anyone away from buying one, but there’s plenty more if it wasn’t. The cooling system, engine, body/paint, ac/heat, wheels, interior accessories, and even drivetrain problems are all trailing right behind the transmission. Though they aren’t quite as frequently reported, it’s enough that we can tell you those things are a common issue. Every one of these combined makes the 2002 through 2006 model years of the Ford Explorer one of the worst used vehicle choices any buyer can make.

Though Ford has been able to turn it around for the most part and turn the Explorer into a well-respected SUV, the Explorer of the early 2000s is one to be avoided. It’s not ultra-likely you’ll stumble upon one of these SUVs in good enough shape to be worth any money in 2021, but we recommend avoiding it if you do. The model years 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006 Ford Explorer are extremely problematic and will cost more than they’re worth in maintenance.