Should I Buy a Used Explorer? Yes, but avoid this engine


The Ford Explorer is one of the best-selling SUVs in the country. With thirty years of production history, there are a lot of examples on the used market. But should you buy a used Ford Explorer?

Ford Explorer’s overall reliability has been poor. Many customers complain about models equipped with the V6 engine. However, fourth-generation V8-equipped Ford Explorers (2008-2010) are praised by many owners as being a reliable choice.

While the Ford Explorer is a capable SUV turned crossover, it has been plagued with poor reliability. While there are undoubtedly individual cars that make it to very high miles, when compared to its competitors, it’s far from a reliable vehicle.

Ford Explorer History

In 1991, the Ford Explorer started its life off as a replacement for the iconic Ford Bronco II. As time went on, the Ford Explorer has evolved to be less rough around the edges and more refined. As you look at used Ford Explorers, you will notice that the farther back you look, the more truck-like the Explorer becomes.

Up until 2002, the Ford Explorer shared many of its underpinnings with the Ford Ranger pickup. The Explorer would later grow in size with its third generation with a new platform unique to itself. Additionally, it did away with the three-door body style that was available on the first and second-generation models.

In 2011 we saw the introduction of the fifth-generation Ford Explorer, representing a big shift in the model. With the fifth generation, the Explorer had once again shifted platforms and was this time converted into a crossover. Interestingly, the chief engineer of the fifth-generation Explorer had worked prior with Range Rover. The engineer’s effects on the design could be seen from 2011 onwards with the Explorer would carry a less rugged feel than its predecessors.

Currently, the Explorer is on its sixth generation, recently introduced in 2020.

What to Do Before Buying a Used Car?

Before getting into the specifics of used Ford Explorers, there are some universal tips to consider before buying a used car.

Research: This will be the most time-consuming step when considering a used car. There are of course many different ways to research your preferred model years. Looking up reviews from when the car was new will give you a better idea of the features and quirks. However, as cars age, new issues are found. As such, it’s also recommended to find forums or other online sources that have owners sharing their experiences.

Carfax Report: While this still falls in line with research, it is important enough that it needs to be highlighted on its own. Attaining your vehicle history report will help in identifying any potential underlying problems that can creep up later on.

Test Drive: There will always be peculiarities that will not become apparent unless you get in the driver’s seat yourself. If you really want to take the extra step, you can bring a mechanic with you to help confirm the condition of the used Explorer.

Are Used Ford Explorers Reliable?

Unfortunately, used Ford Explorers are far from the most reliable vehicles. Ford as a whole has been below industry average when it comes to reliability. However, it seems that there are few Ford Explorers that were truly bulletproof.

One of the most notorious issues arises within any second, third, or fourth-generation Ford Explorer equipped with a V6. In the V6 engine of those years, Ford made extensive use of plastic for timing chain guides and tensioners. These parts have been seen to deteriorate at even sub-100,000 miles. This produces a very distinct noise and could lead to serious damage to the engine. As if that wasn’t enough, these same used Ford Explorers also had transmissions that were notorious for failing prematurely, needing yet another costly repair.

Many of these issues would be resolved towards the end of the fourth generation in 2011. However, the fifth and sixth generations came with problems of their own. An internally mounted water pump can fail and dump antifreeze into the engine. With the antifreeze mixing with the engine’s oil, damage amounting to thousands of dollars has been seen. A class-action lawsuit was raised regarding this issue, but it was dismissed. A separate lawsuit for these used Explorers was filed dealing with paint on the hoods peeling prematurely, but it was also dismissed.

The newest model hasn’t been fairing that well either as Consumer Reports has given both the 2020 and 2021 models a 1/100 for reliability. Owners have cited issues once again with the transmission as well as the electronics and powertrain.

Best used Ford Explorers

After reading the above reliability history, it might be hard to imagine that there are actually some worthwhile used Ford Explorers on the market. However, for the right price, there are some model years worth considering.

As you may have noticed, a lot of the major issues stemmed from the Explorers equipped with a V6 engine. These issues however were not found in the V8-equipped Ford Explorers of those same years. As such, late fourth-generation V8 equipped Ford Explorers (2008-2010) are praised by many owners as being a reliable choice.

For those that want something a little newer in terms of comfort and safety features, the fifth-generation model (2011 – 2019) can be looked at as well. It’s typically recommended to avoid the first year or two of a new generation as kinks are ironed out, so perhaps start your search from 2013 onwards. They still won’t be as reliable as competitors from other brands, but you might get lucky.

For those looking at something more classic, the first-generation Ford Explorer gets its fair share of praise from owners as well.

Worst Ford Explorers

Any used Ford Explorer pre-2010 with a V6 engine should be avoided. These cars have been notorious for issues with both the engine and the transmission, two of the most expensive things to fix in a car.

Used examples of the current generation Ford Explorer should also be avoided. These cars are still under warranty but there aren’t many things less pleasant than constantly waiting around a dealership for your car to be fixed.

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John Cunningham

John Cunningham is an Automotive Technician and writer on Rustyautos.com. I've been a mechanic for over twenty years, I use my knowledge and experience to write articles that help fellow gear-heads with all aspects of classic car ownership, from tires to roof aerials and everything in between.

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