The Worst Ford Explorer Model Year You Should Never Buy

A new-to-you SUV is a great way to get a new vehicle while saving some money. However, it is good to find out first which model years of your chosen vehicle are the most reliable. Buyers considering a Ford Explorer should read on to see which model year to avoid.

Why the 2006 Ford Explorer is the worst

For insights from owners, check out The website’s graphs provide a heads-up about the most common problems on vehicles and the model years with the most issues. The site found that the Ford Explorer has had 12,897 issues submitted over the years. Across all the model years, the worst problem category has been transmission issues.

Car Complaints chose the 2006 Explorer as the worst one because of higher repair costs or problems that appear at lower mileage. However, the 2002 Explorer had more total complaints submitted. The problem that has been reported the most is a cracked panel below the rear window on the 2004 Explorer.

The Ford Explorer was redesigned for 2006, but it didn’t bring much relief from earlier problems. The model year has 766 complaints on Car Complaints. The biggest problem categories are the transmission and the cooling system. Owners experienced hard shifting and lunging along with radiator failures.

There were 236 people who mentioned that the transmission lunges or a hard jolt when shifting. They gave the problem a severity rating of 7.9 or “pretty bad.” The issue appeared on average around 49,450 miles and cost owners about $1,830 to fix.

About the same number of owners, 237, submitted that they had radiator leaks. They gave this a severity rating of 7.7 or “pretty bad.” The leaks appeared around 63,800 miles and cost about $720 to repair. Some owners have had to replace the radiator multiple times, so replacement parts may also be faulty. The numerous problems earned the 2006 Explorer Car Complaints’ “Avoid Like the Plague” seal.

The 2002 Ford Explorer has even more complaints

The 2002 Explorer has had even more complaints submitted, with 3,956 in total. Car Complaints says it is “hands-down our worst vehicle on record.” The 2002 Explorer suffers from several serious issues. The main one is transmission failure, which on average happens around 94,800 miles and costs $2,840 to repair. Submitted by 441 owners, the problem got a severity rating of 9.3 or “really awful.”

There were 181 complaints of wheel bearing failures as well. This issue appears on average at around 88,900 miles and costs $820 to fix. The actual cost ranges from $500 to $1,000 depending on how many wheel bearings are affected. Owners gave this a severity rating of 8.1 or “pretty bad.”

The 2002 Explorer also has a big problem with cracking of the panel below the rear window, often going through the Ford logo. Reported by 622 people, the problem has a severity rating of 6.5 or “fairly significant.” It occurred around 79,300 miles on average and took $450 to fix. These big problems also earned the 2002 Explorer Car Complaints’ “Avoid Like the Plague” seal.

Other model years of the Ford Explorer

The entire third generation of the Explorer, from 2002 to 2005, experienced high rates of complaints. Complaints in these years ranged from 827 in 2005 to a high of 3,956 in 2002. The 2006 model year, as the first year of the next generation, didn’t rate much better with 766 submitted issues. Since then, most model years have had fewer than 200 submitted complaints. However, 2013, 2014, and 2016 have higher numbers again, with 467, 237, and 359 respectively.

The Ford Explorer has a long history, but a few model years stand out as ones to be avoided. Based on Car Complaints’ information, used car buyers should steer clear of the 2002 through 2006 model years.