2002 Ford Explorer
2002 Ford Explorer. Click image to enlarge

By Chris Chase

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In 1990, Ford saw an opportunity to capitalize both on the growing popularity of sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and its long history as a successful builder of light trucks, and launched the Explorer. This mid-sized SUV – based on Ford’s compact Ranger pickup – was an instant success and provided serious competition for trucks like the Jeep Cherokee, Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota 4Runner.

A second-generation, launched in 1995, was made infamous by a controversy involving disintegrating Firestone tires that caused high-speed rollovers in some Explorers. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) eventually sided with Ford in the matter, largely absolving the automaker of fault in the matter, and the issue didn’t seem to have a significant effect on the Explorer’s sales, which remained strong.

2002 Ford Explorer
2002 Ford Explorer. Click image to enlarge

A second redesign for 2002 was far more extensive than the 1995 refresh. This time, the Explorer cut all ties from the Ranger pickup and the Explorer Sport Trac four-door pickup that debuted in 2001. The two-door Explorer Sport carried on until 2003.

Other changes for 2002 included an independent rear suspension, a first for the Explorer. A five-speed automatic transmission became the only one available in four-door models, (it was an option in the previous-generation Explorer), while a five-speed manual continued to be offered in two-door Explorers and the Explorer Sport Trac. Also, a third-row seat became an option for the first time. Buyers who opted for the V8 option in the new-2002 model got a new 4.6-litre engine, which replaced the aging 4.9-litre (a.k.a. Five-point-Oh) that gained popularity through its use in the Mustang until the mid-1990s.

A quick look through topics in Explorer-based forums on the Internet doesn’t reveal any standout reliability issues but reliability data published on sites like ConsumerReports.org warn of fragile transmissions and drivetrains as key problem areas. Owners posting in the forums at Explorer4x4.com mention noisy rear differentials in Explorers fitted with an optional towing package, and the FAQ at that site lists high fuel consumption and parts and maintenance costs as the Explorer’s key drawbacks as a daily driver.

The rest of the picture isn’t stellar, with below-average reliability overall, but no worse than that of the Dodge Durango, Chevrolet Trailblazer/GMC Envoy and Jeep Grand Cherokee, the Explorer’s domestic rivals. For a better guarantee of reliability at a similar price, consider a 2000-ish Nissan Pathfinder or Toyota 4Runner. They both lack the third-generation Explorer’s independent rear suspension, but either will be a better long-term proposition.

2002 Ford Explorer
2002 Ford Explorer. Click image to enlarge

The third-generation Explorer has proven itself to be very good at protecting occupants in the event of a crash. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave the Explorer four and five stars respectively for driver and front passenger protection in frontal impacts, and five stars each for front and rear seat occupant protection in side impacts. The only safety concern the NHTSA noted was that the front door became unlatched in the side impact test. Results posted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) were equally positive. That organization gave the Explorer its “good” rating. The NHTSA is the only organization of the two that tested a two-door Explorer Sport, which earned four stars each for driver and front passenger protection in frontal impacts, and five stars each for front and rear seat passengers in side impacts. Neither organization tested the Explorer-based Sport Trac four-door pickup. Note that the NHTSA tested an Explorer fitted with side airbags, which were optional on 2002-2005 Explorers in Canada.

2002 Ford Explorer
2002 Ford Explorer. Click image to enlarge

Explorer fuel consumption is typical for this class of vehicle, ranging between 15 and 16 L /100 km in the city for V6 models, and about 11 L/100 km on the highway, according to Natural Resources Canada. Opt for a V8 model, and expect consumption more along the lines of 16 to 17 L/100 km in the city and about 11.5 L/100 km on the highway.

Price-wise, the Explorer is about on a par with its domestic counterparts, with values ranging from $12,675 for a 2002 Explorer Sport two-door, to a high of $32,100 for a 2005 Explorer Limited V8. Depreciation is steep – that ’05 Ltd. sold new for $49,495. A 2003 XLS or XLT model should come in just below, or right around, $20,000, depending on options.

Ford’s got a lot of experience in the light truck business, but while its F-series pickup is considered one of the most reliable lines of trucks around, the Explorer falls short in dependability. That’s a shame, because the third-generation of this SUV has a lot going for it, like the independent rear suspension that contributes to a decent on-road ride. The SUV market is a crowded one, though, and trucks like the Pathfinder and 4Runner outshine the Explorer (not to mention the rest of the domestics) in how they hold up over the long term.

Online resources

www.explorerforum.com – This site boasts close to 50,000 members. The forums here cover an extensive array of topics, including repairs, performance modifications and off-roading, as well as a number of off-topic sections. For an interesting read should check out the Axle 101 topics here, which gives a primer on what makes a 4×4 drivetrain tick.

www.explorer4x4.com – Here’s a site for Explorer owners who prefer driving on dirt and rocks to navigating suburban sidestreets. Check out the FAQ, which offers advice on suspension and tire options well-suited to offroad use. This site is apparently run by the same gang who look after ExplorerForum.com .

www.ford-trucks.com – This is a positively massive site, and shows how popular Ford’s trucks really are: there are more than 330,000 registered members here. Of course, forum sections dedicated to the F-series pickup are the most popular, but the Explorer forum (which also covers the Explorer Sport Trac, plus the U.S. only Mercury Mountaineer and Lincoln Aviator) sees plenty of activity too. This post contains links to helpful repair tips and general Explorer info.

www.fordforums.com – This site covers Ford models sold in North America and Australia. The Explorer shares a forum section with its Mercury Mountaineer and Lincoln Aviator twins, where it gets a moderate amount of attention at best.

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Manufacturer’s Website

  • Ford of Canada


    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2006079; Units affected: 368

    2001-2002: On certain vehicles, the upper bolt on the driver’s high back seat that attaches the seat recliner mechanism to the seat back frame could fracture. If this happens, the seat back may recline until it makes contact with an object behind the seat, such as the 2nd row seat cushion. The occupant could potentially lose contact with the steering wheel or foot pedals during such an event. Correction: Dealer will replace the driver’s seat upper bolt.

    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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