How the Ford Explorer Works


©Ford via Wieck Introduced in

The Ford Explorer was introduced for 1991 and promptly became America's top-selling sport-utility vehicle, despite many new-model "teething troubles." There were several reasons for the vehicle's popularity. For starters, the Explorer was a brand-new design, whereas its main rivals, the Chevrolet S10 Blazer and GMC S15 Jimmy, were at that time nearly a decade old. And although all three brands offered first-time four-door versions that year, the Explorer was the most refined and carlike.

This was in line with Ford's plan of targeting different audiences with two body styles. The new four-door Explorer aimed to be family friendly and on-road comfortable -- a modern take on the traditional car-based station wagon. The shorter two-door Explorer, which replaced the Bronco II in Ford's truck lineup, courted a younger crowd more interested in sport than utility.

A third factor was its just-right size. Many SUVs in those days were body-on-frame models derived from pickup trucks. But the Explorer showed less kinship with Ford's compact Ranger pickup than the Chevy/GMC models did to their pickup parents. Indeed, the four-door Explorer was something new: a midsize SUV, not a compact.

A final reason for the Explorer's ready success was relatively weak foreign competition. The only other contenders of similar size and concept in 1991 -- the Isuzu Rodeo and Trooper, Jeep Cherokee, Nissan Pathfinder, Mitsubishi Montero and Toyota 4Runner -- had much "truckier" ride and handling. They were also somewhat less spacious than the Explorer four-door.

All of this helped make the Ford Explorer not only the sales champ of its class but also one of America's most popular vehicles. Though not always the best SUV for design, performance or other qualities, Explorer regularly finished among the top-10 sellers through 2000 -- and was often in the top five. Needless to say, the Explorer became as vital to Ford Motor Company's bottom line as the full-size F-Series pickup truck line (America's top-selling vehicle of any kind since 1980).

©Ford via Wieck For a variety of reasons, recent editions of the Ford Explorer -- such as this

But nothing lasts forever, and the Explorer has lately lost much of its sales luster in a market where truck-type SUVs are increasingly seen as anti-social against the backdrop of global warming, record gas prices, concerns about future energy supplies, and other troubling global realities. The sharp drop in Explorer sales is one reason Ford Motor Company continues to post huge losses in the North American market -- a record $12.8 billion in calendar 2006 alone -- and is now fighting for its very survival.

This article traces the evolution of the Ford Explorer from its beginnings to the latest 2007 models. It's divided by the vehicle's three design generations to date, starting with 1991.

Each section begins with a description of the major design and engineering features for that generation. It then discusses the significant changes to Explorer for each model year within the generation.

Each section also includes a segment entitled "Ford Explorer Reliability." This lists the vehicle's notable trouble spots as reported by owners and mechanics, and includes problems covered in company-issued service bulletins.

Each section concludes with a segment entitled "Ford Explorer Safety Recalls." This provides a list of recalls issued by the U.S. government's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

There's a lot to know about the Ford Explorer. You'll find it all in the pages that follow.

For advice, reviews, photos, prices, reliability trouble spots, and even examples of used cars you're considering that are on sale in your area, check out:

  • Get expert analysis of thousands of used cars over the past decade at Consumer Guide's Used Car Reviews.
  • You've found the vehicle you want to buy, but only a Vehicle History Report can tell you if the odometer is accurate, if it's received any safety recall repairs, and a host of other essential information.
  • The Ford Explorer has been a perennial among Consumer Guide's Best Buy and Recommended vehicles. Find out why, and learn about our other top new-car values.

1991, 1992, 1993, 1994 Ford Explorer

©Ford via Wieck The 1991 Explorer's roomy interior and strong acceleration earned rave reviews.

The Ford Explorer rolled in for 1991 and fast became the benchmark for all other mainstream sport-utility vehicles. Offering a considered blend of car and truck attributes, the Explorer hit the mark with consumers to become a runaway sales success.

1991 Ford Explorer

The Explorer was introduced in 1991 as Ford's new "junior" sport-utility vehicle, a smaller companion to the full-size Bronco. Two wagon body styles were offered, both with rear liftgate: a two-door with a 102.1-inch wheelbase, replacing the compact Bronco II; and a new four-door on a 111.9-inch wheelbase, among the longest in the class. Both body types measured 70.2 inches across and 68.2 inches tall. The length was 174.4 inches for the two-door, 184.3 for the four-door.

Some underskin components came from Ford's Ranger compact pickup truck, including a 4.0-liter/255-cubic-inch overhead-valve V6 with 155 horsepower, the only engine available. Transmissions were the expected five-speed manual and optional four-speed automatic, linked to rear-wheel drive or optional four-wheel drive.

The latter was a so-called on-demand system with separate low-range gears, auto-locking front hubs, and Ford's Touch-Drive, which allowed switching between two-wheel High and four-wheel High ranges at low speeds by pushing a dashboard button. This was convenient, though Ford did recommend changing back to two-wheel operation by first stopping the vehicle, then backing up a few feet, this to fully disengage the four-wheel drive. A more basic system with a floor-mounted transfer-case lever and manual front hubs was available for credit.

Debt trim levels were XL, Sport, and Eddie Bauer for the two-door; XL, XLT, and Eddie Bauer for the four-door. Eddie Bauer versions had paint and trim inspired by the outdoor clothing retailer, but the four-door XLT quickly proved the most popular single model. All Explorers came with power steering and rear antilock brakes that operated in rear-wheel drive. Two-door models seated four on front buckets and a rear bench. The four-door versions carried five as standard, six with an optional front bench.

Consumer Guide found much to like in Ford's new SUV, especially compared to its predecessor, the Bronco II. Heading the list were a relatively low ride height for easy entry/exit, the four-door's roomy interior, and a torquey V6 providing strong -- if somewhat noisy -- full-throttle acceleration, though top-gear cruising was pleasantly relaxed. Moreover, said the editors, "Explorer's longer, wider stance prevents it from acting tipsy in turns, the way the Bronco II did, while the [four-door's] wheelbase gives it a cushy ride for the class." The two-door had a "decidedly choppier" ride, "but its reduced bulk makes it one of the most responsive vehicles of this type. The standard Touch-Drive system is foolproof to use. Our advice: Don't buy another sport-utility without test driving an Explorer."

That same strong recommendation also applied to the Mazda Navajo, a retrimmed two-door Explorer built in the same U.S. factory as a hoped-for sales-booster for Ford's longtime Japanese affiliate. Mazda had never offered an SUV before, but whether because of the brand name or a smaller dealer network, the Navajo drew few sales and would be dropped after model-year 1994.

1992 Ford Explorer

The Ford Explorer received a few detail updates for its second year. Horsepower was rerated to 145 with manual shift, 160 with the automatic transmission (ordered by the vast majority of customers). Sport and XLT versions now included a rear window wiper/washer, and the available power windows added a one-touch-down feature for the driver's window. Six-way power front bucket seats were newly standard for Eddie Bauers and optional for other Explorers. Deep-tinted rear "privacy glass" was a new extra for four-doors.

1993 Ford Explorer

An important "active safety" feature was added to the Explorer: standard four-wheel antilock brakes that operated in both two- and four-wheel drive. Changes were otherwise few and minor: new designs of the road wheels, steering wheel, and instrument panel graphics, plus an available "running board" side steps for four-doors.

1994 Ford Explorer

The four-door Ford Explorer added top-line Limited versions with standard leather interior, unique trim, and exclusive features that included an antitheft system, remote keyless entry, electronic digital-graphic gauges, and an overhead console with a compass, an outside temperature gauge, and reading lamps.

The Explorer now had a strong competitor in the year-old Jeep Grand Cherokee, which offered an optional V8 engine, more convenient four-wheel-drive systems, and a standard driver's-side airbag. This led Consumer Guide to recommend that buyers drive both the Ford and the Jeep. Though many folks probably did just that, Explorer sales kept rolling along --and would roll even higher with a substantial makeover for 1995.

Go to the next page for reliability ratings and safety recall information for the 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994 generation of the Ford Explorer.

For advice, reviews, photos, prices, reliability trouble spots, and even examples of used cars you're considering that are on sale in your area, check out:

  • Get expert analysis of thousands of used cars over the past decade at Consumer Guide's Used Car Reviews.
  • You've found the vehicle you want to buy, but only a Vehicle History Report can tell you if the odometer is accurate, if it's received any safety recall repairs, and a host of other essential information.
  • The Ford Explorer has been a perennial among Consumer Guide's Best Buy and Recommended vehicles. Find out why, and learn about our other top new-car values.

1991, 1992, 1993, 1994 Ford Explorer Reliability and Safety Recalls

©2007 Publications International, Ltd. Vehicle noise was a problem for Explorer models from 1991 through 1994.

Need reliability ratings and/or safety recall information for the 1991, 1992, 1993, and 1994 Ford Explorer? We cover these important topics on this page.

Ford Explorer Reliability

Brakes (1991, 1992, 1993, 1994 model years): Brakes may be grabby after the vehicle is parked outdoors in damp weather due to moisture absorbed by linings. Revised rear shoes were offered.

Heater core (1991, 1992, 1993, 1994): Leaks in the heater core may be repaired by installing a restrictor in the heater inlet hose.

Vehicle noise (1991, 1992, 1992, 1994): A chattering noise felt coming from the rear during tight turns after highway driving may be caused by a lack of friction modifier or over-shimming of the clutch packs in the Traction-Lok limited-slip differential.

Vehicle noise (1991, 1992, 1992, 1994): Synthetic-rubber radius-arm bushings may separate internally, causing noise and degraded steering control.

Vehicle noise (1991, 1992, 1992, 1994): Loose frame rivets should be replaced with bolts (welding is not approved).

Ford Explorer Safety Recalls

1991 (models with A4LD automatic transmission): Vehicle may appear to be in "Park" position, even if the parking pawl is not fully engaged.

1991: Front heat shield may contact plastic fuel tank, causing damage to the extent of penetration.

1991: A hot weld that attaches the vapor vent-valve carrier to plastic fuel tank may partially fracture, allowing fuel vapor to escape.

1991: Seatbelts may be defective, resulting in insufficiently latched or unlatched belt.

1991, 1992, 1993 (with factory sunroof): Sunroof glass-panel assembly can separate while vehicle is moving.

1991, 1992, 1993, 1994: On vehicles sold or registered in specified southern California counties, studs that attach the master cylinder to the power-brake-booster assembly can develop stress corrosion cracking after an extended period; these fractures could cause separation of the master cylinder when brakes are applied.

1992, 1993: Bracket welds for the liftgate's hydraulic lift cylinders can fracture.

1992, 1993, 1994: A short circuit can occur in the remote-power-mirror-switch circuit board; an overheating in the board and/or in other plastic and elastomeric components can result in smoke or fire.

1993, 1994 (with manual shift): Parking-brake self-adjust pawl does not line up properly and can slip.

1993, 1994: Some bracket welds for the liftgate's hydraulic lift cylinder could fracture, resulting in potential for the liftgate bracket to gradually bend, allowing the ball stud to disengage.

It's fair to say that the Ford Explorer was a key factor in convincing millions of people to switch from cars to trucks, thereby tipping the market balance in favor of trucks by decade's end. Meanwhile, Ford faced the problem of how to follow its smash-hit SUV. To learn their answer, just click to the next page.

For advice, reviews, photos, prices, reliability trouble spots, and even examples of used cars you're considering that are on sale in your area, check out:

  • Get expert analysis of thousands of used cars over the past decade at Consumer Guide's Used Car Reviews.
  • You've found the vehicle you want to buy, but only a Vehicle History Report can tell you if the odometer is accurate, if it's received any safety recall repairs, and a host of other essential information.
  • The Ford Explorer has been a perennial among Consumer Guide's Best Buy and Recommended vehicles. Find out why, and learn about our other top new-car values.

1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 Ford Explorer

©Ford via Wieck The 1995 Ford Explorer reflected an extensive redesign.

Success is seldom unchallenged for long in the auto business, which explains why the Ford Explorer was redesigned for 1995. Dimensions, general appearance, mechanicals, and other essentials hewed to the familiar winning formula, but styling was visibly fresh and there were several worthwhile new features.

An available V8 and other changes over the next six model years would help Explorer keep its title as America's favorite SUV despite aggressive new class competition. As it happened, the rival Chevrolet Blazer and GMC Jimmy were also redesigned for 1995, but these models suffered by comparison from slightly smaller size and a "truckier" nature. Import brands fielded their own new challengers, yet most buyers remained loyal to the Explorer. That was significant in light of the strong upsurge in demand for all SUVs in the late 1990s.

1995 Ford Explorer

The Ford Explorer greeted model-year 1995 with its first redesign. Some observers were surprised that this came just four years after the model's introduction, rather early by truck design standards. But Ford knew competitors were gunning for the nation's top-selling SUV, so an updating was needed to keep Explorer No. 1.

The updating was extensive. Both the two-door and volume-leading four-door (about 90 percent of Explorer sales) gained smoother styling that added about four inches to the overall length. A more telling sign that something new lurked within was that wheelbases were slightly altered to 101.7 inches for the two-door, 111.5 for the four-door.

The two-door Eddie Bauer models were dropped. Others returned with a 4.0-liter V6 claiming an extra five pound-feet of torque, 225 in all. And horsepower was now 160 regardless of transmission. In addition, the available four-speed automatic had electronic shift controls that allegedly improved its smoothness and efficiency. Also new was the available four-wheel-drive system.

Unlike the two previous setups it replaced, Ford's Control Trac allowed four-wheeling on dry pavement, not just slippery surfaces, and normally drove the rear wheels until they started to slip, in which case power would be redirected to the front wheels. A dashboard switch allowed locking in a four-wheel Low range for severe off-road situations. Standard four-wheel antilock brakes returned with rear discs replacing drum brakes. Last but not least, the dashboard was redesigned to incorporate standard dual front airbags, a boon for "passive" safety that belatedly answered some rivals.

The Ford Explorer had been a perennial Consumer Guide Best Buy pick. The 1995 models took home another ribbon -- with a few provisos. As the magazine noted: "Explorer earned its way to the top of the sport-utility field with its ability to double as roomy four-wheel-drive vehicle and upscale family wagon. The addition of dual airbags moves it ahead of the rival Chevrolet Blazer and Jeep Grand Cherokee, which have [only] a driver-side airbag. The new automatic four-wheel-drive system is a nice feature, though Jeep has offered full-time four-wheel drive for years. The [four-door] Explorer is more impressive than the [two-door] because its long wheelbase gives it a roomier interior and a more comfortable ride."

The publication went on to say: "Though Explorer's V6 doesn't have as much horsepower as the rivals at Jeep and General Motors, it produces lots of low-end torque and brisk acceleration. [But it] doesn't deliver good economy [and] seems loud and coarse when cold. Ford has plenty of competition...but the improvements to Explorer [for 1995] keep it at the front of the herd among sport-utility vehicles."

1996 Ford Explorer

Responding to competitive pressures -- and, doubtless, buyer requests -- the Ford Explorer added V8 power and all-wheel drive as exclusive options for 1996 four-door models. The V8 was Ford's long-serving 5.0-liter/302 cubic-inch overhead-valve engine, tuned here for 210 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. That outmuscled the unchanged V6 by 50 horses and 55 pound-feet, enough to boost maximum towing capacity (with optional trailering package) from 5,000 to 6,500 pounds.

Sensibly, Ford offered the V8 only with the four-speed automatic transmission. The new AWD was also tied to the V8; V6 Explorers continued to offer optional Control Trac four-wheel drive. The AWD, which lacked low-range gearing, normally divided engine power 35/65 percent front/rear but could reapportion power to either axle as needed to restore traction. A final noteworthy change for both safety and convenience was an integrated child safety seat that folded out of the rear seatback; it was another new option for Explorer four-doors.

Seeking to extend Explorer's success, Ford Motor Company's Mercury brand began selling a retrimmed, upscale V8 Explorer four-door during 1996. Called Mountaineer, and available with rear drive and AWD, it was a slow seller, likely due to higher prices and a close visual similarity to the parent Ford.

1997 Ford Explorer

Still aiming to stay ahead of rival SUVs, the Ford Explorer sought broader market appeal for 1997 by offering a new overhead-cam V6 engine, a five-speed automatic transmission, and an electronic transfer case. The 4.0-liter ohc engine shared its cylinder block with the familiar 4.0 overhead-valve V6 but differed in most all other respects. It was also more potent, producing 205 horsepower and 245 pound-feet of torque, up 45 and 20, respectively.

The "cammer" V6 was the new standard engine for four-door Eddie Bauer and Limited models, optional for all other Explorers. Tied to it was the new five-speed automatic, which did not require fluid changes under normal conditions, according to Ford. This transmission was also optional with the ohv V6. Explorer V8 models retained a mandatory four-speed automatic.

The new electronic transfer case increased flexibility of the Control Trac four-wheel drive available for V6 models. Like the previous setup, it could direct engine power to the axle with greater grip, but offered an "Auto 4WD" mode with a 10/90 percent front/rear power split and a separate four-wheel High mode for locking in a 50/50 ratio. Separate low-range gearing continued, as did the ability to use four-wheel High on dry pavement.

To no one's surprise, this year saw Ford apply the Explorer formula to a full-size SUV. Based on Ford's popular F-Series pickup, the new Expedition quickly was a big hit, taking less than a year to outsell its Chevrolet and GMC rivals combined.

1998 Ford Explorer

After seeing major changes over three busy model years, the Ford Explorer underwent detail improvements for 1998. The Explorer still offered one of the few two-door SUVs, but they were increasingly tough to sell in a market where four-doors ruled. Accordingly, Ford axed two-door XLs this year, leaving a pair Sport-trim models.

All 1998 Explorers gained a standard antitheft system, plus "depowered" front airbags designed to deploy with less force. The latter responded to a possible new federal standard that took note of a rise in reported airbag injuries to shorter-stature drivers and to children sitting in the right-front seat. Lesser changes included restyled taillamps and rear bumper, a deeper liftgate window, new audio systems, and available steering-wheel-mounted audio and climate controls for top-line Limited and some Eddie Bauer four-doors.

Consumer Guide noted that Explorers were finally being discounted due to a slight softening in demand. Even so, Ford was still grabbing one of every four sales among midsize SUVs. The Explorer got more competition in this year in the Dodge Durango, the first midsize SUV from that rival brand and based on its Dakota pickup truck. The Durango had its attractions but proved no sales threat to Explorer.

1999 Ford Explorer

Available front side airbags headlined 1999 Ford Explorer news. Optional for all models, the side airbags mounted in the outboard bolsters of the front seatbacks and were designed to protect occupants in a side impact.

Also new was a Reverse Sensing System, an option for all but XL models. This used radar-like sensors in the rear bumper to sound an audible warning when the vehicle backed up to within six feet of an object. This was an asset for high-riding SUVs that made it difficult for even tall drivers to see the ground around the vehicle. It was especially valuable for preventing unintended injuries to children who might lurk in the perimeter blind spot.

Both these features were not unique to Explorer -- other SUVs were adding them, too -- but they were timely. Curiously, however, the optional integrated rear child seat was withdrawn.

All 1999 Explorers gained huskier-looking front bumpers and detail trim changes. Limiteds had more wood-look interior trim and standard 16-inch wheels. Both Limiteds and Eddie Bauers now came with lighted running-board side steps, and a rear load-leveling suspension was a new option for those models and the volume-selling XLTs. XL models offered a new XLS option group that bundled power windows/locks/mirrors with all-terrain tires on chrome-plated wheels, side steps and roof rack.

2000 Ford Explorer

Aside from some early 2001-model announcements in January 2000, this was a quiet model year for the Ford Explorer -- at least as far as product developments. Four-door XL models were retitled XLS and added the power windows/locks/mirrors of the 1999 XLS option package. Most everything else carried over.

The Explorer gained a big new brother this model year. Based on Ford's Super Duty truck chassis, the Excursion was the largest mainstream SUV yet -- longer, taller and heavier than the Expedition and full-size General Motors SUVs. Even the vaunted military-style Hummer H1 cowered in its shadow. The Excursion drew much criticism from environmentalists and others for its jumbo size and excessive fuel thirst and was evidently too much for most buyers, as sales never came close to expectations. Excursion would be dropped after 2005.

Meanwhile, in the first of several setbacks that would shake Ford Motor Company to its core, the cash-cow Explorer and its original-equipment Firestone tires were implicated in this year in rollover crashes linked to almost 300 deaths and scores of injuries. Ford and Firestone executives blamed each other in the media and before Congressional investigators until Ford decided to pay $3.5 billion to replace some 6.5 million tires. It was the right thing to do, but months of damning publicity took a toll on Explorer sales and on Ford's public image.

2001 Ford Explorer

A facelifted two-door and the addition of a third body style headed 2001 Ford Explorer news. Arriving in January 2000 was the Explorer Sport Trac, a four-door "crew cab" pickup with a wagon-type passenger cell and an open cargo box. Compared to four-door Explorers, the Sport Trac was 14 inches longer in wheelbase at 125.9 and 15 inches longer overall at nearly 210.

Replacing the wagon's enclosed cargo area was a four-foot-long bed with a drop-down tailgate. The box had flared fenders and was made of body-colored composite plastic. An optional pivoting tubular cage effectively extended the bed length by 23 inches with the tailgate down and could be used to secure objects with the gate closed. The bed was fitted with a black molded-in liner and a weatherproof 12-volt powerpoint. An optional two-piece locking hard tonneau cover was available.

©2Ford via Wieck The Explorer Sport Trac came with a drop-down tailgate and exclusive interior features.

Inside, Sport Trac featured exclusive low-back front bucket seats, a removable soft-sided pouch doubling as center-console storage, and a split-folding three-passenger rear bench seat. Also standard was a power rear cab window with an electric defroster. Twisting a dashboard knob moved it fully up and down, and tapping the knob dropped the glass 1.5 inches for ventilation.

Bowing with Sport Trac was an updated two-door wagon called Explorer Sport, sharing the same new front-end appearance. White-faced gauges were an exclusive feature. Both new models offered a single trim level that mandated the overhead-cam V6 and a five-speed automatic transmission. V8 power was unavailable, but buyers could choose rear- or four-wheel drive.

Explorer four-door wagons were basically unchanged for 2001. They were on a short model year pending early release of redesigned 2002 versions.

Meanwhile, Ford further expanded its SUV lineup with the compact Escape, a four-door unibody wagon prompted by strong demand for the similar Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. Also sold by Ford's Japanese affiliate as the Mazda Tribute, the Escape was the complete opposite of the outsize Excursion, and it earned high marks from critics and buyers alike.

Consumer Guide immediately gave it a strong Recommended endorsement as "substantial feeling, roomy, comfortable, and even fun to drive." Though not designed for off-roading, the American-built Escape/Tribute were, as CG noted, "eminently sensible alternatives to any number of midsize SUVs, especially truck-based wagons that are less efficient in their use of space and fuel." Which meant wagons like the four-door Explorer. So was Ford now competing with itself? Not really. It was just catering to a new buyer group seeking SUV style and practicality in a thriftier, tidier, lower-cost package.

To read about reliability ratings and safety recalls for the 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2001 Ford Explorer, see the next page.

For advice, reviews, photos, prices, reliability trouble spots, and even examples of used cars you're considering that are on sale in your area, check out:

  • Get expert analysis of thousands of used cars over the past decade at Consumer Guide's Used Car Reviews.
  • You've found the vehicle you want to buy, but only a Vehicle History Report can tell you if the odometer is accurate, if it's received any safety recall repairs, and a host of other essential information.
  • The Ford Explorer has been a perennial among Consumer Guide's Best Buy and Recommended vehicles. Find out why, and learn about our other top new-car values.

1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 Ford Explorer Reliability and Safety Recalls

©Ford via Wieck The 2000 Ford Explorer was recalled due to side airbag problems.

Here are reliability ratings and safety recall information for the 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2001 Ford Explorer:

Ford Explorer Reliability

Air conditioner (1995, 1996 model years): Water may drip onto the floor when the air conditioner is operated because the evaporator strip seals were not properly positioned.

Hard starting (1996): If the engine does not start, or cranks for a long time and then stalls, the idle air-control valve may be sticking.

Heater core (1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001): Leaks in the heater core may be repaired by installing a restrictor in the heater inlet hose.

Keyless entry (1995, 1996, 1997): This may fail to operate due to damage from static electricity to the Remote Anti-theft Personality (RAP) module; if damage has occurred, a redundant ground must be added on the passenger seats.

Radiator (1995, 1996): The radiator may leak in cold weather because of a bad seal between the tank and core.

Suspension problems (1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001): The sway bar links may bend or break because the original bushings are too rigid.

Transmission problems (1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001): Transmission flare when shifting from second to third gear is due to a shift solenoid malfunction.

Vehicle noise (1995-96): A chattering noise felt coming from the rear during tight turns after highway driving may be caused by a lack of friction modifier or over-shimming of the clutch packs in the Traction-Lok limited-slip differential.

Vehicle noise (1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001): Synthetic-rubber radius-arm bushings may separate internally, causing noise and degraded steering control.

Vehicle noise (1995, 1996): Loose frame rivets should be replaced with bolts (welding is not approved).

Ford Explorer Safety Recalls

1995 (two-door): Brake tubes in some models were misrouted, resulting in excessive stopping distance.

1995: Some bracket welds for the liftgate's hydraulic lift cylinder could fracture, resulting in potential for the liftgate bracket to gradually bend, allowing the ball stud to disengage.

1995: Inner tie-rod assemblies can fracture, resulting in shaking or shimmy in low-speed driving.

1995: The passenger-side airbag's inflator body may be cracked and not inflate properly; also, the igniter end cap can separate, causing hot gases to be released.

1995, 1996, 1997: The front-stabilizer-bar link stud can fracture from bending fatigue.

1996: The certification label shows incorrect rear-tire-inflation pressure.

1996: The driver's door, when closed only to secondary latched position, may not sustain the specified load.

1996: The gas-cylinder bracket may not properly support the rear liftgate.

1996, 1997 (15 northern states): The engine may not return to idle after operation at highway speeds at below 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

1997, 1998 (with 4.0-liter engine): A gap between the plate and bore of the throttle body was too narrow, causing the throttle pedal to stick.

1997, 1998 (with SOHC 4.0-liter engine): Fuel lines can be damaged and a fire could result if the vehicle is jump-started and a ground cable is attached to the fuel-line bracket near the battery.

1997, 1998: Certain off-lease vehicles, Canadian in origin but sold in the U.S., have daytime running lights that do not meet U.S. specifications.

1997, 1998, 1999: The speed-control cable on certain vehicles can interfere with the servo pulley, preventing the throttle from returning to idle when disengaging the speed control.

1998 Eddie Bauer and Limited: The key-in-ignition/door-open warning chime may not function properly.

1998, 1999: The secondary hood latch on certain vehicles may corrode and stick in open position.

1999: The right front-brake line to hydraulic control unit connection could separate, causing leakage when the brake pedal is applied.

1999, 2000 (with 3.27 or 3.55 rear axle): The powertrain-control module could allow the vehicle to exceed the design intent top speed.

1999, 2000 (with 4.0-liter engine and AWD): The generic electronic module could "lock-up," so various functions (front wipers, interior lights, 4x4 system, etc.) could not be turned on or off.

2000 (with side airbags): The side airbags could deploy if the ignition key is in the "run" position and the seatbelt webbing is extracted from locked retractor with jerking motion.

2000, 2001 (Sport and Sport Trac): The hood striker could fracture, causing the hood to fly open while the vehicle is being driven.

2001 (with high-back seats): The upper bolt on the driver's-side seat could fracture, allowing the seat to recline until it contacts an object, thus increasing the risk of a crash. Dealers would replace the driver-seat upper bolt. In addition, seats with tubular back frames would have the fully threaded lower recliner bolt replaced.

Explorer's continuing success had encouraged Ford to expand its SUV lineup, and by 2001 it could claim the industry's broadest array, from the compact Escape to the imposing Excursion. But the Explorer remained at the heart of the market, and the market was changing -- fast. Could the Explorer change with it and still be successful? You'll find the answers by going on to the next page.

For advice, reviews, photos, prices, reliability trouble spots, and even examples of used cars you're considering that are on sale in your area, check out:

  • Get expert analysis of thousands of used cars over the past decade at Consumer Guide's Used Car Reviews.
  • You've found the vehicle you want to buy, but only a Vehicle History Report can tell you if the odometer is accurate, if it's received any safety recall repairs, and a host of other essential information.
  • The Ford Explorer has been a perennial among Consumer Guide's Best Buy and Recommended vehicles. Find out why, and learn about our other top new-car values.

2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 Ford Explorer

©Ford via Wieck The 2002 Ford Explorer had a fresh, tailored style and an unmatched array of new features.

A great deal was riding on the redesigned 2002 Ford Explorer four-doors that was introduced in January 2001. With the Firestone tire debacle still in the headlines, Ford knew its newest SUVs had to be glitch-free and built right from day one. Demanding consumers expected no less, class competition was rougher than ever. More bad publicity was the last thing Ford needed at a time when its overall sales, earnings and market share were sliding.

Sure enough, a few last-minute bugs cropped up at the factory, so Ford took the unusual step of delaying initial deliveries until all vehicles built to that point could be checked and corrected. Better safe than sorry.

Of course, the redesign had to score with buyers, and it did -- to Ford's great relief. All-new from the ground up, the 2002 four-doors lifted the Explorer to a new level of sophistication in appearance, ride, handling, and features. As a result, this Ford remained America's top-selling SUV. Though it didn't lead the class by as much as it once did, it was still vital to Ford Motor Company's fortunes. Considering that Ford would soon be fighting to survive, it's a good thing the new Explorer turned out so "right."

2002 Ford Explorer

All eyes were on the redesigned 2002 Ford Explorer four-doors, and there was much new to take in. Hallmark styling cues were reinterpreted to create a fresh, tailored look, and a clean-sheet chassis design featured independent rear suspension, a class exclusive shared only with sibling Mercury Mountaineer. Besides promising a smoother ride than the previous solid rear axle, the independent suspension made room for an optional two-person third-row seat, an increasingly popular SUV feature that expanded passenger capacity from five to seven.

The wheelbase and width expanded by about two inches apiece to 113.8 and 72.1 inches, respectively, while overall length lost an inch to measure 188.5. Height, however, rose a sizeable four inches to 72.1, and road-ready weight plumped by a porky 400 pounds to exceed 4,400. But some of those pounds came from a stronger body structure engineered for better side-impact protection.

Complementing these changes were newly optional curtain airbags, which deployed from above the side windows to help protect occupant heads in a side impact. However, they covered only the first and second seat rows, not passengers riding in the new third-row seat.

Added later in the model year were sensors designed to trigger the airbags if an impending rollover was detected. Marketed as Roll Stability Control, this was Ford's direct response to the deadly rollover accidents attributed to earlier Explorers and/or their Firestone tires. A new antiskid system was also made available at about the same time. Called Advance Trac, it mirrored similar systems on other SUVs in being designed to keep the vehicle on its intended path by adjusting engine power and braking individual wheels as needed. The adjustments were made by a computer taking in data from various sensors, including the wheel-speed sensors of the still-standard antilock four-wheel disc brakes.

©Ford via Wieck Safety features like Roll Stability Control and a new antiskid system were made available in the 2002 Explorer.

Under the hood, the overhead-cam 4.0-liter V6 was now the Explorer's base engine; the ohv unit was dropped. It still claimed 210 horsepower but now made 250 pound-feet of torque. The optional overhead-valve V8 was also dropped, replaced by Ford's newer overhead-cam 4.6-liter (281-cubic-inch) engine, tuned for 240 horses and 280 pound-feet.

The V8 teamed only with five-speed automatic transmission, which was optional for V6 models in lieu of standard five-speed manual. Available all-wheel drive was absent this season, but Ford's Control Trac four-wheel drive remained an alternative to rear drive. Among other new features were power-adjustable pedals and a tilt/telescope steering wheel as standard for and exclusive to the top-trim Eddie Bauer and Limited models. Buyers could also choose from midrange XLT and entry-level XLS versions.

Meanwhile, the Explorer's two-door Sport wagon and Sport Trac crew-cab pickup were unchanged for 2002. Both retained the basic 1995-2001 Explorer design and would see little change over the next few years.

The new four-door Explorers earned Consumer Guide's "Recommended" ribbon but not a Best Buy medal. This reflected less on Ford's update than on much rougher class competition and the advent of more car-like alternatives. Still, the Explorer was a must-see among midsize truck-style SUVs. Consumer Guide judged it "a more-than-competent overall performer with an unmatched array of useful features: available V8 power, seven-passenger seating, adjustable pedals, curtain airbags...rear-obstacle detection and antiskid system." In all, this was the best Explorer yet, and it was about to get even better.

2003 Ford Explorer

Manual transmission disappeared from the four-door Ford Explorer powertrain chart, but optional all-wheel drive returned for 2003 and a new DVD entertainment system was available. Also new were V6 and V8 NBX models that tilted to outdoor enthusiasts with a standard roof-mounted cargo basket, unique paint and trim, and a soft-lined cargo bay with storage bag. The revived AWD, still without low-range gearing, was available for the V8 Eddie Bauer and Limited models as an alternative to two-speed Control Trac four-wheel drive.

Following a popular trend, the new entertainment system allowed rear-seat passengers to watch DVD movies on a flip-down ceiling-mounted screen; it also allowed for listening to a different audio source than selected by the driver. In other news, the crew-cab Sport Trac adopted standard rear-disc brakes, like other Explorers, and exchanged optional front-side airbags for available curtain-side airbags as a running change. Heated front seats were a new extra for both the Sport Trac and the two-door Sport wagon.

Of note in this year was introduction of the Lincoln Aviator, a luxury-equipped four-door Explorer with slightly different styling and a higher price than the Mercury Mountaineer, itself a gilded Explorer. An increasingly beleaguered Ford Motor Company hoped to give a much-needed sales boost to its ailing luxury brand, but Lincoln's Explorer sold little better than Mercury's version.

2004 Ford Explorer

The slow-selling two-door Sport wagon did not return for 2004. The Sport Trac pickup now offered automatic transmission only, but was otherwise unchanged. Among four-door Ford Explorers, the Advance Trac antiskid/traction-control system was now available for V6 models as well as V8s, and second-row bucket seats with a center console were a new option for the Eddie Bauer and Limited models.

2005 Ford Explorer

Ford Explorer four-doors mostly marked time for model-year 2005. The major change was making the worthy Advance Trac antiskid/traction-control system standard for all models. As before, it was integrated with Ford's Roll Stability Control airbag activation system. In one other notable change, Explorer's all-wheel drive was withdrawn, apparently for lack of sales interest. The Sport Trac put in a brief appearance without change. A redesigned replacement would bow as an early-2007 entry.

Ford moved with the market for 2005 by adding the Freestyle, a midsize "crossover" wagon with car-type unibody construction. Sharing a platform with Ford's new Five Hundred large sedan, the Freestyle was actually larger than the Explorer in some dimensions, but proved a weak competitor against more appealing import-brand crossovers.

2006 Ford Explorer

Highlighting the 2006 Ford Explorer line were updated styling, more V8 power, an available navigation system, and the return of standard seat-mounted front side airbags. A mild facelift provided a family resemblance with Ford's latest F-Series full-size pickups (redesigned for '05). Interiors also showed an F-Series influence with more-upscale trim and a redrawn instrument panel. A new convenience touch was a power-fold feature for the available third-row seat, optional for all but base XLS models.

A raft of internal changes lifted V8 horsepower by 53 to 292, and torque rose by 18 pound-feet to an even 300. The V8 now teamed with a new six-speed automatic transmission designed to offset the increased engine power with improved fuel efficiency in top-gear cruising. Explorer's V6 was unchanged and still tied to a five-speed automatic.

The newly optional navigation system mirrored designs at other automakers by using a dashboard screen to display map position and other travel data; the screen was also used to make various audio and climate adjustments. Satellite radio arrived as a late-season option, and 18-inch chrome wheels --the largest yet for Explorer -- were newly available for Eddie Bauer and Limited models.

2007 Ford Explorer

This year's main Explorer news was a retooled Sport Trac crew-cab pickup that shared a basic underskin design and many features with Explorer wagons. Starting sale early in calendar year 2006, the new Sport Trac emulated the 2001-2005 original in marrying a four-door five-passenger cabin with a 4x5-foot cargo bed, but the wheelbase added five inches to measure 130.5, and the overall length was 16 inches greater than Explorer wagons at 210.2 inches.

©Ford via Wieck A standard power rear window was among the features of the redesigned 2007 Sport Trac.

Among many features shared with wagons were an independent rear suspension, V6 and V8 powertrains, an available Control Trac four-wheel drive, antilock four-wheel disc brakes, an Advance Trac antiskid system, front side airbags, and optional curtain side airbags with rollover deployment. A standard power rear window returned, as did an optional frame bed extender and a lockable rigid bed cover. The cargo box itself was again rendered in dent-resistant composite plastic, but it now included three in-floor covered storage bins with drain holes.

The mainstay wagons carried on with few changes after their 2006 updates. Entry-level XLS models were dropped and two new options were added: an electrically heated windshield, available linewide, and power running-board side steps for Eddie Bauer and Limited models. The latter automatically moved in or out on opening or closing a door.

For advice, reviews, photos, prices, reliability trouble spots, and even examples of used cars you're considering that are on sale in your area, check out:

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2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 Ford Explorer Reliability and Safety Recalls

©Ford via Wieck The 2002 Explorer's rear-window glass supports were a safety concern.

Here are reliability ratings and safety recall information for the 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007 Ford Explorer:

Ford Explorer Reliability

Clutch (2002, 2003, 2004): A hopping or binding sensation from the rear axle may be caused by binding in the limited-slip clutch packs; this requires replacing the clutch packs with revised units and using reformulated gear lube.

Coolant leak, V8 models (2002): Coolant may leak at the intake manifold crossover due to a crack in the manifold.

Engine noise, V8 models (2002, 2003, 2004): A ticking noise may relate to problems with the valve guides, requiring possible replacement of one or both cylinder heads.

Fuel gauge, V6 models (2002): The gauge reading may suddenly drop to empty due to an electrical problem with the flex-fuel module.

Fuel pump (2002): Stumbling or hesitation when making aggressive right turns may be caused by cavitations in the fuel tank as the fuel sloshes to one side; a redesigned fuel pump is required.

Oil leak (2003, 2004): An oil leak from the right-side axle may be caused by the seal coming loose and spinning in the housing; a complete axle assembly replacement is required.

Spark plugs (2004, 2005): Due to carbon build-up, the spark-plug hole threads in the cylinder heads are easily damaged or stripped when removing the plugs.

Timing belt (2002): A rattling noise from the front of the engine may be caused by slack in the timing chain; a redesigned primary chain tensloner should be installed.

Windows (2002): On some vehicles, the rear-window glass supports may come loose, causing the window to break; dealers would reposition and secure the support brackets.

Ford Explorer Safety Recalls

2002 (with high-back seats): The upper bolt on the driver's seat could fracture, allowing the seat to recline until it contacts an object, thus increasing the risk of a crash. Dealers would replace the driver-seat upper bolt. In addition, seats with tubular back frames would have the fully threaded lower recliner bolt replaced.

2002: The tires on the vehicle's right side may have horizontal cuts in the tread that occurred during assembly, increasing the risk of tire failure. Dealers would inspect and replace affected parts.

2002, 2003: The liftgate-glass strut may disengage or its hinge may fracture, allowing glass to fall and possibly break.

2002, 2003: The courtesy lights inside the running boards (where equipped) may overheat when exposed to excessive moisture or road salt. Dealers would inspect and replace affected parts.

2006: Some vehicles may have a windshield wiper motor that was produced without sufficient grease applied to the output shaft gear. This could cause the gear to distort or fracture after continuous use on the high-speed setting, resulting in a loss of wiper function and impaired visibility. Dealers would inspect and repair wiper-motor gears as needed.

For advice, reviews, photos, prices, reliability trouble spots, and even examples of used cars you're considering that are on sale in your area, check out:

  • Get expert analysis of thousands of used cars over the past decade at Consumer Guide's Used Car Reviews.
  • You've found the vehicle you want to buy, but only a Vehicle History Report can tell you if the odometer is accurate, if it's received any safety recall repairs, and a host of other essential information.
  • The Ford Explorer has been a perennial among Consumer Guide's Best Buy and Recommended vehicles. Find out why, and learn about our other top new-car values.