Farther back in the driveline came a new independent rear suspension, the benefits of which included improved ride quality and much more compact packaging. This move allowed the rear floor to be dropped 7 inches, making a third row of seats possible. Rear drive was standard, and Control Trac four-wheel drive (with low-range gearing) was optional. By 2003, an automatic all-wheel-drive system was added to the options list.

In general, the Explorer has been reliable. Both engines are mature and durable. But a significant number of reports cite transmission problems, particularly with the 2002 model. As reported, these are not minor problems, but major transmission blowups, some with as few as 44,000 user-reported miles. One symptom is that the Overdrive light flashes while the vehicle is driven. There are dramatically fewer reports of this problem with 2003 Explorers.

Another common problem is a cracked trim piece below the rear window; reports of this issue, said to cost $1000 to repair, are widespread.

As with any used vehicle, a close check of the service records is warranted, and a thorough test drive should be considered mandatory. If you're eyeing a 2002 model, it would be a good idea to look for transmission problems in particular.

2002-2005 Ford Explorer
Body type 4-door SUV
Drivetrain Front engine, RWD/4WD
Airbags Driver, passenger
Engines 4.0L/210-hp SOHC V-6; 4.6L/239-hp SOHC V-8)
Brakes, f/r Disc/disc, ABS
Price range, whilesale/retail (est) $4150/$8610 (2002 RWD XLT); $12,775/$19,365 (2005 4WD Limited)
Recalls Too many to list; see www.intellichoice.com
NHTSA frontal impact rating, driver/pass Five stars/five stars