2003 Ford Expedition
2003 Ford Expedition. Click image to enlarge

By Chris Chase

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Like its major competitors, DaimlerChrysler and General Motors, Ford’s been building sport utility vehicles (SUVs) since well before anyone had heard that now-ubiquitous term. Chevy’s Blazer nameplate survived until quite recently; Dodge had its Ram pickup-based Ramcharger and Ford’s Bronco (full-size) and Bronco II (mid-size) trucks were that company’s pre-SUV models.

The Bronco II was replaced in the late 1980s by the mid-sized Explorer, which has gone on to become one of the most popular vehicles in the SUV segment. Ford’s big Bronco, on the other hand, survived until 1996 as Ford’s entry in the big SUV market.

Reflecting the trend toward four-door SUVs, the Bronco was replaced in 1997 by the Expedition. That first full-size, four-door Ford SUV was sold until 2003, when the second-generation Expedition – the subject of this week’s used vehicle review was launched.

Outside, the 2003 Expedition got a makeover to give it more of a family resemblance to its little brother, the Explorer. Bigger changes awaited under the new sheetmetal: a new interior greeted occupants, and a new steering system, bigger brakes and an independent rear suspension (replacing the previous generation’s live axle) improved the driving experience. The new truck also rode on a stiffer platform.

2003 Ford Expedition
2003 Ford Expedition. Click image to enlarge

Engine choices remained the same: XLT models got a 4.6-litre V8 making 230 horsepower, and Eddie Bauer models used a 5.4-litre V8 good for 260 horsepower. Of course, torque is what it’s all about in trucks, and both engines provided lots of both. The smaller engine made 293 lb.-ft. of twist, and the 5.4 boasted 350 lb.-ft. Both engines were bolted to a four-speed automatic transmission. In 2005, the smaller V8 was dropped, leaving the 5.4-litre as the only engine.

Fuel consumption was on the high side, with Expeditions drinking between 17 and 18 L/100 km in the city and 12 to 13 L/100 km on the highway, depending on engine choice and model year.

2003 Ford Expedition
2003 Ford Expedition. Click image to enlarge

What crash safety data is available paints a positive picture. In the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) frontal crash test, the Expedition scored five stars each for driver and front passenger protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) didn’t test the Expedition, but it did test the 2004-2006 F-series pickup truck, upon which the Expedition was based. The F-series earned a “good” rating in the IIHS’ frontal offset crash test.

There’s not a lot talk of serious problems with the Expedition to be found in online Ford Truck forums like Ford-Trucks.com, FordTruckWorld.com, ExpeditionForum.com and F150online.com, which is usually a good thing.

2003 Ford Expedition rear suspension
2003 Ford Expedition rear suspension. Click image to enlarge

However, Consumer Reports magazine will tell you to avoid these second-generation Expeditions. The magazine prefers the first-generation (1997-2002) truck, citing apparent problems with the air conditioning system, brakes, electrical system and other issues which fall under the somewhat vague “drivetrain” descriptor. The magazine feels similarly about the F-series, with their preference there going to pre-2003 models as well; so at least there’s some consistency. The Expedition’s apparent reliability troubles are a surprise, given that Ford trucks are arguably some of the best on the market.

Should you fancy a newer Expedition nonetheless, expect to pay anywhere between the $20,800 Canadian Red Book value for a 2003 XLT model and the $44,725 that a fully loaded 2006 King Ranch model commands.

2003 Ford Expedition. Click image to enlarge

Used Expedition values are a little lower across the board that those for the Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon twins, and far lower than what you can expect to pay for the similarly-sized Nissan Armada or Toyota Sequoia, for example. The Sequoia, predictably, boasts a good reliability record, and newer versions of the Tahoe and Yukon have fared better than the 03-06 Expedition. The Armada, however, has not enjoyed as much success in this area, so we’d rule it out as a used SUV option. The Sequoia is the best bet if reliability is the only criterion, but when money is an object (when is it not?), we think the Tahoe and Yukon hold a better position on the value-to-dependability ratio scale than the Expedition.

If you must have a Ford product, we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the first-generation Expedition, but the second-generation version looks like a riskier buy despite its more recent heritage.

Online resources

  • www.ford-trucks.com – This is a happening place, and much of the activity goes on in the forum section dedicated to the Expedition, but the first-generation version (1997-2002) gets more attention than the redesigned 2003-2006 truck.
  • www.fordtruckworld.com – The Expedition forum over at Ford Truck World is busy too, but a lot of the discussions focus more on cosmetic stuff than questions about mechanical repairs, maintenance and common problems.
  • www.expeditionforum.com – An Expedition-specific forum looks promising, but ExpeditionForum.com isn’t nearly as busy as the Expedition sections in the general Ford Truck sites. That said, there’s a fair bit of information to be had, but have fun sifting through it all – the first- and second-generation trucks are lumped into the same forum section and most of the posts deal with the older versions.
  • www.f150online.com – There’s an Expedition forum here too, but again, there’s just not a lot of specific information for owners of 2003-2006 Expeditions.

Given the apparent lack of Expedition-specific information available on the web, we’d suggest scouring the F-series pickup truck sections of Ford-Trucks.com, FordTruckWorld.com and F150Online.com. Since the Expedition is based on the F-series and shares most of the pickup truck’s drivetrain components, any common issues that turn up there will most likely affect the Expedition too.

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Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.

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