Launched in 1990 for the 1991 model year, the Ford Explorer was a new kind of family vehicle that immediately became one of Ford’s best-selling models. In 1998, the 4-speed 4R55E transmission used in the second-generation Explorer V6, was upgraded to a new 5-speed unit. The 5R55E featured an additional forward gear for better fuel economy, and it’s regarded as the first 5-speed automatic to be used in an American production vehicle.
The Ford 5R55E transmission was used in both 2 and 4-wheel drive Explorers, as well as many other FoMoCo models like the Mustang, Ranger, Lincoln LS and Mercury Mountaineer. Given the popularity of these vehicles, it’s pretty hard to find a good one on the used market. In fact the consumer review site Car Complaints declared the 2002 Explorer to be the “Worst Vehicle on Record”, due to the large number of reported transmission failures that occurred under 100,000 miles. The 2004 Explorer is ranked the 3rd worst vehicle, followed by the 2003 Explorer at number 6, and the 2005 Explorer brings up the rear at number 18.
Does something seem wrong with your Explorer? Let’s look at some of the most common transmission problems, and see what you can do to get your car back on the road.
The 3-door Ford Explorer Sport continued to offer the Mazda derived 5-speed manual transmission until that model was discontinued in 2003. The 5-door Explorer could still be ordered with the manual until the 2002 model year. After which, the 5-speed Ford 5R55E became the only available transmission.
Although it looked quite similar to the previous model, the 4th generation Ford Explorer featured a number of significant improvements, including the brand new 6-speed 6R automatic transmission, which was based on a ZF design and built in-house by Ford. The new Ford 6R transmission was only available in V8 models, so they redesigned the 5-speed auto (now called the 5R55W) and made it standard equipment on V6 models.
The all-new 5th generation Explorer now used two variations of the 6F transmission exclusively. The 4-cyl Explorer EcoBoost received the standard Ford 6F transmission, while V6 models got the 6F SelectShift. The twin-turbo Ford Explorer Sport used the same transmission, with the addition of paddle shifters.
Failure of the solenoids
One of the most common Ford Explorer transmission problems is a failed solenoid. These little plunger like devices are used by the computer to route pressurized transmission fluid and change gears. To activate one of the solenoids, the computer sends an electrical charge though a coil of wire that wraps around the plunger mechanism. Heat and vibration can cause these wires to short out, which will lead to all sorts of transmission problems.
If you want to check the functionality of your solenoids, simply hook an ohmmeter to the two wires coming off of the solenoid. The reading should be somewhere between 20-30 ohms. If you get a reading above or below that number, it’s a safe bet that solenoid won’t function properly.
Explorer Technical Service Bulletins (TSB)
2013 TSB 365099 / 13-5-31
According to the Technical Service Bulletin: “Some 2013 Explorer vehicles equipped with 3.5L GTDI (twin-turbo EcoBoost 3.5L) engines may exhibit long crank-to-start times and delayed/harsh downshift when commanded in the middle of a 4-5 or 3-5 upshift and delayed upshifts from 3rd, 4th or 5th gear when transmission fluid temperature is below 21 degrees Celsius (70 degrees Fahrenheit).”
To fix the problem, a Ford dealer will need to update the Powertrain Control Module (PCM) software.
2013 TSB 365977 / ASI-32216
Certain 2013 Explorers with the 6R35 transmission may experience a fluid leak from the left hand half shaft seal. This is likely due to premature bushing or seal wear, caused by the half shaft surface finish.
Fixing the problem will require the installation of an updated case bushing, seal and half shaft.
2002 TSB 190029 / 04-24-17
Certain 5-speed auto equipped 2002 models built before 03-04-2002, may experience slipping on the 2-3 shift, or a loss of 3rd gear altogether. This problem is most likely due to a broken intermediate band, which could trigger diagnostic trouble codes: P0733 and P0745
To properly fix this problem, you’ll need to replace both the intermediate and OD bands, along with the pistons. The direct clutch drum should also be inspected for damage.
2002 TSB 88202 / 01-10-7
2002 models of the Ford Explorer that were built between 11-13-2000 – 03-08-2001, might experience a problem where the Transmission Control Indicator Lamp (TCIL) flashes with different DTC / diagnostic trouble codes, like P0713, during the self test. This is likely caused by water seeping into the transmission solenoid body connector.
If this happens, the transmission wiring harness will need to be replaced with updated part # 1L2Z-7C078-AB.
What Transmission Does a Ford Explorer Have?
How to Diagnose & Fix
- Check the OBD Codes
- Check the fluid level
- Test transmission pressure
- Drop the transmission pan
- Repair, replace or rebuild
What to Read Next
Related Forum Discussions
- 2006 Ford Explorer Transmission Replacement
- 2005 Explorer Transmission Problems
- 2001 Ford Explorer OD Light Blinking
Over to You
What Problem Does Your Explorer Have?
Let us know the year, mileage and problem you’re having as well as any trouble (OBD) codes you’ve found. If you’ve been given a quote or paid for a repair, we’d like to hear about that too!