Ford Explorer Reliability: The Most Reliable Model Years

Here's a review of the most reliable used Ford Explorers by year, including the impressive 2010, 2011, and 2012 models.
Written by Amber Reed
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Model years like 2010 and 2011 are considered to be the most reliable used Ford Explorers, while model years 2003 and 2005 may be best avoided.
  • The Ford Explorer SUV is the best-selling SUV in America.
  • It’s usually cheaper to buy a used car instead of a new car. 
  • Towing capacity is up to 5,600 pounds on properly equipped Explorers.
  • If you want adaptive cruise control, choose an ST trim or higher.

The five best years for Ford Explorers: 2010, 2011, 2012, 2019, 2004

Let’s start with the years that are generally considered the best and most reliable—2010, 2011, and 2012. These rear-wheel or four-wheel drive
midsize SUVs
hold their value well and are less likely to experience transmission failure. 
If you really want a Platinum trim Explorer, ask your dealership if they have a 2016 or later model.

2010 Ford Explorer

Used price: $5,000-$8,000
Kelley Blue Book (KBB) rating: 4.3/5
This was the year for the traditional body styling and powerful engine option (V8 engine). It was also the last year to offer rear-wheel drive as the default. If you’re looking for a more “classic” Ford Explorer driving experience, this is the one to pick.
Pros:
  • Roomy, quiet interior
  • Good tow rating
  • Last year for the classic AWD/FWD switch vs terrain choice dial
Cons:
  • Interior is dated and has some poor quality materials
  • Standard V6 engine is a little lackluster

2011 Ford Explorer

Used price: $7,000-$11,000
KBB rating: 4.3/5 
This year is just as reliable as 2010 and offers updated technology and body style. It boasts better fuel efficiency than the previous year as well. 
Pros:
  • Higher quality interior
  • More high tech features
  • Good safety ratings from the IIHS
  • 20 mpg
Cons
  • Less cargo room than competitors
  • Increased tech can mean more problems, especially when buying used

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2012 Ford Explorer

Used price: $8,000-$11,000
KBB rating: 4.3/5 
Honorable mention goes to the crossover 2012 Explorer. As far as features go, it is very similar to the 2011 model and is a solid choice as well.
Pros:
  • Nice quality, roomy interior
  • Decent fuel economy, though not as good as 2011
  • 290 horsepower with the V6 option
Cons
  • Reported as slightly less reliable overall than 2011 model
  • In-car tech can be slow to respond and difficult to use

2019 Ford Explorer

Used price: $24,395-$26,385
KBB rating: 4.3/5
If you’re looking for a newer-model Explorer, you’ll save a little off the original MSRP of $33,460 with a used 2019. We especially like the Explorer XLT or Limited trims—or opt for the Sport to get all-wheel drive. 
The sporty styling and high-end available upgrades mean the 2019 Explorer is holding up well. 
Pros
  • Stylish exterior
  • Seats up to 7 (more than the
    Ford Bronco
    )
  • AWD and terrain management system
  • Trim upgrades include touch screen, driver-assistance features, and power tailgate
  • 5-star overall safety rating from the NHTSA
  • Blind spot monitoring
Cons
  • Not ideal for off-roading conditions

1993 Ford Explorer

Used Price: $457-$866
KBB rating: 4/5
Looking to relive a bit of 90s nostalgia? The 1993 Ford Explorer might be perfect for you! There’s always a risk when you’re buying a vehicle that’s nearly 30 years old, but this model year tends to hold up pretty well.
Pros:
  • Old-school styling
  • Reliable
Cons
  • Likely to have high mileage 
  • Difficult to source replacement parts

Ford Explorer models to avoid

Now that you know some of the best years to buy, let’s take a look at the ones that most sources recommend you avoid. Remember that some trim levels are more problematic than others. 
Broadly speaking, 2001-2008 seems to have been rough years for the Explorer, with some sources calling vehicles from this era “unbuyable.” 

2002 Ford Explorer

Used price: $900-$2,400
KBB rating: 4/5 
The Ford Explorer was completely redesigned in 2002, and this model definitely offered more luxury features than its predecessors. However, transmission problems and high maintenance costs make this year one to skip. 
 Pros:
  • More luxury features and trim options
  • New exterior design
Cons:
  • High cost of ownership due to frequent and expensive maintenance needs
  • Frequent transmission and wheel bearing problems

2003 Ford Explorer

Used Price: $1,500-$4,000
KBB rating: 4/5
Depending on who you ask, the 2003 competes with the 2002 Explorer for Worst Year Ever. A wide range of mechanical issues, from very minor to quite severe, mean this is a year that is not worth the money or the risk. 
Pros
  • Comfortable seating for seven with third-row seats
Cons:
  • Frequent transmission problems
  • Prone to cracked body panels
  • Timing chain issues have also been reported for this year

2004 Ford Explorer

Used price: $2,000-$5,000
KBB rating: 4/5
The 2004 Explorer is also a frequent competitor for the distinction of worst year ever due to major engine and transmission problems.
Pros
  • Good crash test rating
  • Roomy interior
Cons:
  • Major functionality issues reported with the engine and transmission

2020 Ford Explorer

Used price: $33,000 and up
KBB rating: 3.8/5
Newer isn’t always better! The 2020 Ford Explorer has been the subject of numerous serious recalls, and many sources against purchasing one. Not to mention that 33k is a lot of money to spend on an unreliable car. 
Pros
  • Efficient Ecoboost engine
  • Quiet interior
  • New and improved 10-speed automatic transmission
  • Rear-wheel drive (vs. the
    Toyota Highlander’s
    FWD)
Cons
  • Issues reported with brakes, electrical system, failing powertrain, and more
  • Several sources consider this model unsafe to drive
  • Base trims come with a four-cylinder engine

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Common problems with used Ford Explorers

Any time you are buying a used car, there’s the potential for mechanical problems. Here are some of the most common issues with used Ford Explorers: 

Transmission problems

Ford Explorers are notorious for having major transmission issues, all the way up to outright failure. To avoid expensive problems later, it’s a good idea to have a trusted mechanic do a thorough evaluation before you purchase a used Ford Explorer.

Exterior body issues

Cracked exterior panels and paint issues are a commonly reported issue. While some body issues are merely cosmetic, some can affect the safety features of the car or lead to things like leaking during a rainstorm. 

Climate control stuck on hottest setting

Many owners report this as a frequent problem with used Ford Explorers, and it might not be something you would think to check. However, it can be a costly automotive repair and—depending on where you live—quite unpleasant. 

Rough idle and stalling

These issues are not only annoying, they can cause severe damage to the vehicle and be more expensive to repair than it’s worth. 
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