The Best & Worst Years Of Ford Explorer

The Ford Explorer is a midsize SUV that’s been around since the 1991 model year. Over the years, it’s earned its reputation for being an utter failure or a good family vehicle, depending on where it is from. That’s why it’s essential to research the best and worst years of Ford Explorer models before deciding which one to buy.

We’ve compiled the information and outlined the best Ford Explorer years to consider. We also show you which ones should be avoided, examine what the top Explorer defects are and answer your most pressing questions. 

Best Ford Explorer Model Years

We can recommend the 2007 and 2008 Ford Explorer models. Beyond these, you may also consider driving a used 2009, 2019 or 2023 Explorer, as they also receive great reviews and tend to get the highest ratings.

To determine the best Explorer models, we used recall information, complaints and consumer reviews. 

1. 2007 Ford Explorer

2007 Ford Explorer - one of the best model years

There were minimal changes with the 2007 Explorer, leaving Ford to focus on making it better than its predecessor. All of the automaker’s efforts paid off, making this one of the most reliable Explorer models on the road today. 

You can also find some used models with high-tech equipment. Look for a navigation system or a rear-seat entertainment system to get more bang for your buck. It’s best to stick to these used models if they have fewer than 150,000 miles on the odometer if you plan to have it many years into the future. 

2. 2008 Ford Explorer 

Ford added even more into the 2008 Explorer model without sacrificing reliability. The SYNC system is part of the cabin, with an optional navigation system and voice recognition. 

For just a little extra, you may also be able to find the beefed-up Explorer with 20-inch wheels. It is sure to turn heads as you roll down the road, and you don’t even need to drain the bank account to get it.

3. 2009 Ford Explorer

Following closely behind the models before it, the 2009 Explorer is a winner. It even comes standard with trailer sway control to make towing easier.

The XLT Sport trim was a new addition for this year, offering more excitement. Yet, reliability and fuel economy remain about the same as before. 

4. 2019 Ford Explorer 

2019 Ford Explorer - one of the best model years

Moving away from the older models, there’s the 2019 Ford Explorer worth considering. It offers a nice balance of value with modern amenities and still remains quite reliable. 

Look for a model with a good service history and low miles to get the most life out of it. You should be able to find numerous options by now. Local dealerships may even be offering some as part of the Certified Pre-Owned program, which would allow for additional warranty support. 

5. 2023 Ford Explorer 

2023 Ford Explorer - one of the best years

The 2023 model year may be available at dealerships as a leftover or offered as a used model by someone looking to upgrade. Either way, you are going to find like-new Explorers for a fraction of the cost. With the existing warranty, you won’t have to worry about major defects either.

The 2023 Explorer is part of the 6th generation that was originally released in 2020. It’s deemed one of the most reliable generations and this model includes the best technology of them all. With an available hybrid configuration, you can’t argue about the fuel economy ratings either. 

Worst Ford Explorer Model Years

Not every Ford Explorer model is worth driving, with some facing serious mechanical issues. The most complained about Explorer models include the 2002 and 2006 years. We also recommend avoiding the 1998, 2017 and 2020 Ford Explorer SUVs. 

Using the same data from our best Explorer models, we have the following rankings for you.

1. 2002 Ford Explorer

2002 Ford Explorer - one of the worst years

If there’s one thing this Explorer is known for, it’s the faulty transmission. During this model year, it was unclear if Ford was ever going to salvage the Explorer name. The negative reviews just continued to flow in faster than anything positive. 

Most owners say that the transmission fails before 100,000 miles, which was outside of the warranty period. Having to foot the bill for a new transmission wasn’t something drivers were happy about. To top it off, this Explorer has so many recalls it could be deemed a safety hazard. 

2. 2006 Ford Explorer

Transmission problems didn’t cease through the 2006 model years. Customers continued to complain about the transmission lunging and hard jolts felt while shifting. 

On top of that, there were troubles with the radiator. If there wasn’t enough coolant in the engine because of this mechanical defect, the motor would overheat and cause permanent damage. Needless to say, this SUV costs more than it’s worth.

3. 1998 Ford Explorer

1998 Ford Explorer - one of the worst years

While it was released before the other models we’ve discussed, it also suffers from transmission problems. In fact, you probably won’t find many of these still on the road today because of the malfunctions. Yet, it can be tempting to drive one, if you find it, because of the low price.

If you do, you may notice that the transmission slips or doesn’t shift at all. It can also be difficult to get the faulty transmissions into Drive or Reverse, rendering the SUV a piece of junk. 

4. 2017 Ford Explorer

While the transmission doesn’t seem to be a concern with the 2017 Explorer, there are other serious issues. One of the major complaints with this model stems from defective tires that wore unusually. However, these tires should be replaced by now, so that won’t be your concern.

What you do need to worry about is the exhaust fumes that can infiltrate the cabin. There are also worries about the auto glass that tends to shatter on its own, even when nothing hits it.

5. 2020 Ford Explorer

The 2020 Explorer is the first of its generation. Typically, with these models, there are defects that need to be worked out, which is why it’s usually good to avoid driving any first model of a generation. The 2020 Explorer is no exception to the rule. 

Transmission problems plague this SUV. Plus, drivers complain about the faulty brakes and warning lights that come on right before the Ford loses all power. You may end up needing to have it towed back home, which is a real bummer. 

Most Common Ford Explorer Problems

Based on customer complaints and data from RepairPal, we’ve been able to track down the most common Explorer issues. The top issues to watch for include cracks in the liftgate, heater malfunctions and a coolant leak.

Here’s some more information about these problems to watch for.

Cracks to the Liftgate

How To Open A Trunk Without A Key

Several model years have struggled with a cosmetic crack that can develop on the liftgate. While this may not be a mechanical issue, it does reduce the value of the SUV.

Defects to the body also leave room for corrosion and rust to begin. Ford acknowledged the issue and released a technical service bulletin discussing how to replace the trim panel without damaging the glass. 

Heater Malfunctions

Ford Explorer Heater issues

Some models have a heater blend door or actuator that can become damaged. Commonly, a clicking sound occurs when this happens. The consequences depend on where the climate control system is set when the door gets stuck.

For example, if the heater is in the highest setting, occupants won’t be able to turn it down until the problem is resolved. Sometimes a new heater box is required. 

Coolant Leak

Ford Explorer Coolant leak

In some older model Explorers with a V8 engine, the plastic intake manifold can get cracked. When this happens, coolant leaks and the engine can overheat. 

To counteract the problems, Ford had to release an updated engine, referred to as a PI. This motor contains metal passages in front of the intake manifold to prevent leaks. 

What is the most reliable year for Ford Explorer?

Based on our data, we believe the 2007-2009 Ford Explorer models are among the best. By these years, the transmission issues were worked out, so there were far fewer complaints. Newer models with high-reliability ratings include the 2019 and 2023 Ford Explorer SUVs.

What years did the Ford Explorer have transmission problems?

While it’s possible for any SUV to experience transmission problems, the 2002-2006 Ford Explorer suffered major failures. These models were consistently requiring new transmissions before reaching 100,000 miles. They were among the worst Explorer models ever made with people wondering if Ford would ever be able to redeem the nameplate.

Which Ford Explorer engine is best?

Ford’s newer I4 is considered a reliable and economical engine. It provides some of the best fuel economy numbers. On the other hand, the 3.0-liter EcoBoost V6 provides more power, allowing for better towing. It has better fuel economy numbers than a V8 motor, making it a reasonable option for busy families.

At what mileage do Ford Explorers start having problems?

When properly cared for, a reliable Ford Explorer can rack up more than 200,000 models. However, if a troublesome model is purchased or maintenance isn’t performed, the Explorer can fail prematurely. Some reports suggest engine or transmission failure before 80,000 miles. For this reason alone, research is needed to ensure a lemon isn’t purchased.

Before deciding which Ford Explorer model to drive, it’s vital to look at the data. We recommend reading the recalls, customer complaints and online reviews for every model year you are considering. While you may spend a little more to purchase a reliable Explorer, you will make up for the cost with longevity and dependability.

After all, no one wants to spend money on a used SUV only to have it sit in the junkyard a few months later. Ask for service records of any SUV you plan to buy and consider options outside of the Ford family. Both Honda and Toyota SUVs tend to be among the most reliable but could cost a little more.  


Categories: General

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