2002 Ford Explorer in need of 2nd rebuilt transmission

I have a 2002 Ford Explorer 4WD with 166K miles. I bought it new. It had the routine Ford recommended maintenance done at a Ford dealership from 2002-2011. I had no problems until 2007 when the O/D began flashing. Ford installed a rebuilt transmission and replaced rear differential. It ran great for a couple years and then in 2010 problems began. Flashing 4WD light. Flashed in sequence 8 times every 2 min on the dot. Ford replaced transfer case. Flashing again. Replaced sensors. Flashing again. Replaced another sensor. Oil leaks. Transmission fluid leaks. Both repaired. 6 months later leaking again. Left Ford in 2011 and found new auto repair shop. Output shaft seal replaced. Another transfer case sensor replaced. Noise in right rear end that mechanics could not pinpoint. I thought it was coming from rear tire so i took it to tire/brake shop instead. Noise was broken right rear brake pad slipping around. Found a new auto repair shop. Now in 2013 it has hard shift from neutral to reverse and from park to reverse, a sluggish then jolting feel when driving above 40 mph, and groaning/squeaking (like rusty springs) sound in rear end when driving over speed bumps. Auto shop says there is clicking noise that they pinpoint to transmission. Recommend yet another transmission (this time a Jasper), trans cooler, rear controller arm assemblies, and front struts = $6500.

I don’t think buying a new car is always the answer to mechanical problems. However, I have easily spent 12-15K in repairs in the last 3-5 years. I can no longer afford a new SUV of comparable size so I have had to look at used. My concern is that I will buy someone elses problems. Just as someone would do if I sold my car. I also cannot afford to continue pouring money into this car if it will not last another couple years. The explorer has never had body damage, airbags have never been deployed, it has bright, glossy paint finish with only the normal paint chips to front end, and the interior leather upholstery is in great condition. The interior is spotless. I haven’t seen anything used under $20K that is in as good a condition. Yet because of the mileage mine is valued at $3.5-4K.

I don’t know anything about cars other than what I have learned as I address the issues with my own car. And that “certified” is not necessarily a guarantee. I will be moving across country soon and I need a car I can depend on. I don’t have anyone to consult other than the mechanic, Ford forums, and car talk forums which I have been reading for the last 3 months.

My questions:

  1. What about my engine? How does all of these problems affect an engine in the long term? Is the engine goinig to last as long as I continue routine oil changes and maintenance. Can I expect to get 200-250K miles on it?

  2. When a vehicle is not a hobby or a collector’s item, but is simply necessary transportation, is there a point when one should stop repairing it. Whether because of age, or mileage, or amount of repairs versus resale value, etc.? Or, does it just make sense to continue repairing a vehicle until on an annual basis it becomes more expensive than buying new?

Body on frame SUVs like the Explorer that are built on truck frames have always been the least reliable and most expensive to maintain. People that tow heavy things or need serious off road capabilities are really the only people that should buy them. From the description of the great appearance and paint of yours I don’t think you are a person that needs one. A unibody front drive based SUV, minivan or wagon might give you better service. Depending on where you are moving to you might consider not getting 4 wheel or all wheel drive. It costs more to buy, more in repairs and gets less fuel mileage.

Do you need 4WD now? Do you need something that large and powerful?

If the answer to both questions is “no”, I think it best to trade it in on something that better suits your needs. With a nice 4 door sedan you’ll have better reliability, lower repair bills, an improved ride, and better gas mileage. I myself own a powerful 4WD truck, along with a econobox sedan, and know from experience the complexity in the bigger 4WD truck means more maintenance. Unless you actually need those functions, you’ll be happier and have a fatter wallet if you switch to a 2 wheel drive sedan. Even though you may love your 4WD truck-like-vehicle, I think you’ll find driving the new modern sedan pleasantly surprising in fact. See which vehicles Consumer Reports recommends and choose one that interests you.

Yes, the engine should last a quarter million miles if it is not overheated and the oil change regimen is good with the oil level being maintained.

Your second question is a lot tougher. The amount of money you’ve sunk into this vehicle borders on obscene and now they’re talking about another 6500? Ouch.

The details behind the diagnosis of past problems are unknown to me but the thought of misdiagnosis and/or performing an incorrect repair does cross the mind anyway.
Example. The transmission failed but was the fluid system flushed out and the torque converter also replaced at that time? If not, that could have led to problems.

Sorry I can’t be specific. The thought of sinking roughly 20 grand in repair money on a 2002 Explorer over 6 years is mind boggling.

I would get rid of it. I had a 2002 also and I got rid of it at 75k. These transmissions are very bad, I was told by someone to dump mine before I have trouble. Google it and you will see.

10yrs of ownership. 25k new, 20k repairs. 4500/yr? Buy a new caddy for 44k and sell it in 3 yrs for 13k. Whats the difference? Cars are expensive

Can I expect the same problems with my 2000 Explorer Auto 4 Wheel Drive? Have owned it since 2005. Have had the slow shifting problem that I reported before. Is that likely a portent of things to come?

If you buy a used vehicle, yes, you may get someone else’s problems. But by the sound of it, any problems you get may be less severe than yours! You can buy a fairly decent used vehicle for the $6,500 in repairs you have been quoted.