1995 Ford Explorer clutch mystery

I had a clutch, slave cylinder, and master cylinder replaced about 20,000 miles ago. Everything seemed to be working fine until I drove across the Rockies from OR to TN around Thanksgiving 2013. The transmission was extremely difficult to shift, and the vehicle would actually roll forward when cranking the engine at fuel stops (temps were minus twenties). Once I got out of the mountains on both ends of the trip (where it was warmer), the clutch worked normally. The local Ford dealer found lots of air in the hydraulic clutch system, bled it, and it worked fine for several months. The clutch is doing the same thing currently, but not all the time. Some days it’s fine, other days it’s difficult to shift although double clutching seems to help. It gets particularly hard to shift after a long drive (e.g., interstate driving for a couple of hours). I took it back in this morning to see if the dealer could figure out what is going on, they’re saying it’s likely a bad slave cylinder. I’ve heard the 1995 Explorer clutches are a bear to properly bleed, and can’t help but think there may still be some air in the system. Of course, the dealer wants about $1200 to fix it.

A dealer is the most expensive place to get a car fixed unless you run into a crook. Of course there is no guarantee that you won’t run into a crook at the dealer either.
Find a good local independent shop, not a chain. Ask relatives and friends and expect to make an appointment. If he is honest, competent and not overpriced, he will be very busy.

There seems to be a problem bleeding the master cyl:

Thanks for the replies - looks like bleeding the master cylinder isn’t a simple deal. Can anyone fathom a guess as to why it might be particularly problematic after longer drives and operate normally at other times? Would the air (if that’s the problem) expand due to higher engine temps and create a larger “bubble” in the hydraulic clutch fluid, making it harder to engage? But on the other hand, it was the opposite when heading across the Rockies in 2013 - there the clutch was stiff at very cold temps, and “normalized” once I hit the flat lands… This clutch only has 20K miles on it, and not rough ones…

I replaced the clutch master cylinder on my Corolla not too long ago. The instructions with the new one said it was necessary to bench bleed it, otherwise all the air couldn’t be removed from the system if you tried to bleed it once it was installed. I’m not sure if that is true to not, but I did bench bleed it before the install, following the written instructions, and never had any problems with air remaining in the system.

I think if I were in your position I might be inclined – before engaging in a “replace this, replace that” procedure – to simply remove the MC, bench bleed it, reinstall, bleed the slave, and see if that fixes the problem. On the Corolla at least bench bleeding is a very simple process, takes 5 minutes. The only tricky part is figuring out how to hold it steady and level without crushing the cylinder. I grabbed in in a bench vice by the ears of the mounting gadget.

Higher elevation = lower atmospheric pressure so any air bubbles would expand (just like if heated).