Most Common Ford Explorer Issues: 3rd Generation (2002 to 2005)

The Ford Explorer is a popular SUV. It has existed since 1991, is currently in its 6th generation, and is very similar to the Mercury Mountaineer. This post and video reviews the top Ford Explorer issues owners have experienced with the third generation that covers model years 2002 to 2005.

Most Common Problems with the 3rd Gen Ford Explorer (2002 to 2005)

1. Ignition Coil Failure

Symptoms of Ignition Coil Problems with the 3rd gen Ford Explorer

  • Lack of engine power
  • Rough running engine from engine misfires
  • Check engine light for engine codes like P0301 to P0306.

Causes of Ignition Coil Failure

The ignition coil pack transfers a spark to the spark plug to help combust the air/fuel ratio in the cylinder. Excess heat from the engine can break down the plastic on the ignition coil pack, allowing moisture to leak inside. If moisture leaks inside the ignition coil, it can damage the contact points for the spark plug wires and the ignition coil pack’s electrical connector.

How to Fix Ignition Coil Problems

Since one ignition coil pack controls all the spark plugs, you may have to replace the entire ignition coil.

If a check engine light reads for a misfire in a specific cylinder, check the condition of the spark plug and the spark plug wire for that cylinder, as those might be the cause.

If there is an issue with multiple cylinders, the ignition coil pack might have to be replaced. We recommend checking the condition of the spark plug wires and the spark plugs since those are usually replaced at the same time.

2. Timing Chain Issues

Symptoms of Timing Chain Problems

  • Ticking or whining noise from the engine
  • Runability issues like less engine power

Causes of Timing Chain Issues

The timing chain helps keep the engine timed. If the valve can’t open and close at the right moment, the engine will have trouble running right.  

There may be a problem with the timing chain, timing chain tensioner, or timing chain guides on the 3rd gen Explorer.

How to Fix Timing Chain Issues on the 2002 to 2005 Ford Explorer

We recommend fixing this problem as soon as possible. Not doing so can cause internal engine damage.

Replacing the timing chain requires removing a number of parts from the front of the engine to access the timing chain and timing chain tensioner. We recommend replacing the timing chain, tensioner, and any worn timing chain guides at the same time. If the timing is thrown off while doing this repair, the engine probably won’t run right. This may be a better job for a professional depending on your experience.

3. Blend Door Actuator Failure

Symptoms of Blend Door Actuator Issues on the 2002 to 2005 Ford Explorer

  • Clicking noise behind the dash when adjusting the temperature settings
  • Airflow settings don’t work
  • Temperature settings don’t work

Causes of Blend Door Actuator Failure

The blend door actuator helps divert hot and cold air through different vents. The blend door actuators can bind up inside and break.

How to Fix Blend Door Actuator Failure

2001 to 2005 Ford Explorer HVAC box
2001 to 2005 Ford Explorer HVAC box

The blend doors are located inside the HVAC box. The glove box will need to be removed to access the blend door actuators in the heater box. The blend doors will need to be diagnosed, and the HVAC box is usually replaced if there is an issue with one of the blend door actuators.

4. Fuel Pump Failure

Symptoms of Fuel Pump Failure

  • Loud humming noise underneath the SUV near the fuel tank
  • Engine runability issues like lack of power or problems starting from low fuel pressure

Causes of Fuel Pump Failure

The sensor on the fuel pump that gauges the fuel level may fail. The fuel pump also sends fuel up to the engine, and sometimes the pump wears out. Running on low fuel often can also burn out the pump, and a humming noise from the gas tank is usually a symptom of a failing fuel pump. If the fuel pump is failing, it may also cause problems with the engine like a lack of power from low fuel pressure.

How to Fix Fuel Pump Failure

To see if the fuel pump is causing this problem, make sure the fuel pressure is up to spec. If the fuel pressure is a little low, check the condition of the fuel filter. If the fuel filter looks damaged, rusted, or worn, or clogged, replace it.

Retest the conditions after the fuel filter is replaced. If the problem persists, replace the fuel pump, which is located on the passenger side inside the fuel tank under the Explorer.

If replacing the fuel pump, we recommend replacing the fuel filter at the same time.

Fix common 3rd gen Ford Explorer issues yourself with quality auto parts at

5. Rear Wiper Arm Failure

Symptoms of Rear Wiper Arm Failure

  • Rear wiper arm doesn’t touch the rear window after being replaced
  • Wiper arm doesn’t move when switched on

Causes of Rear Wiper Arm Failure

If the wiper blade isn’t touching the rear window, there could be a problem with the wiper blade but it’s usually because the hinge on the wiper arm is worn or corroded and is no longer able to apply pressure to the blade and hold it against the window.

If the wiper arm isn’t moving after being switched on, the wiper motor has failed.

How to Fix Rear Wiper Arm Failure

If the wiper arm hinge is rusted, spray it with rust penetrant and move the arm up and down to work the fluid in, which should help loosen the hinge so it can apply the right amount of pressure. Replace the wiper arm if it still doesn’t work.

If the wiper arm isn’t moving after being turned on, check the wiper motor, which sits behind the interior hatch trim panel and connects to the wiper arm. Confirm the wiper motor electrical connector is connected and not corroded or damaged. If the electrical connector is damaged, replace it.

Test the wiper motor’s electrical connector for power and ground. If the connector is working and power is reaching it but the motor doesn’t work, the motor is defective and needs to be replaced.

6. Splitting on the Exterior Rear Hatch Trim

Cracked Exterior Rear Hatch Trim on a 3rd gen Ford Explorer

Symptoms Cracked Exterior Trim Issues on the 2002 to 2005 Ford Explorer

  • Crack or split beneath the rear window glass on the exterior rear hatch trim

Causes of Splitting on the Exterior Rear Hatch Trim

Sometimes the exterior trim on the rear hatch splits or cracks on the 2002 to 2005 Ford Explorer.

How to Fix Cracked Exterior Rear Hatch Trim

The only fix for this problem is to replace the exterior trim on the rear hatch.

Fix Your Own 3rd Gen Ford Explorer and More

Learn how to diagnose and replace parts on your own Ford Explorer with 1A Auto’s how-to videos that have step-by-step instructions from professional mechanics for many makes and models.

3rd Gen Ford Explorer Model Years

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Most Common Ford Explorer Issues - 3rd Gen (2002 to 2005) - 1A Auto
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Most Common Ford Explorer Issues - 3rd Gen (2002 to 2005) - 1A Auto
Learn the most common Ford Explorer issues owners experience with the 3rd generation, years 2002 to 2005, as this article and video reviews their symptoms and fixes
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