Front end woes....lost confidence in this vehicle

I am looking for advice or to hear from others who have had a similar experience. I am have lost confidence in my Explorer in the sense that I don’t know how safe it is to drive and I’m afraid it is going to keep costing me tons of money. Here’s the story:

I bought this vechile in October 2005 with about 8,000 mile on it. It had been a rental (maybe that’s the problem right there). In January 2009 I paid for front brakes pads and rotors, two ball joints and a right front inner tie rod. I guess that’s just usual wear and tear. In August it got rear struts (mileage about 60,000). And yesterday I picked it up after it had some mysterious work done of the front end. I say mysterious becasue I don’t know exactly what they did and the mechanic apparently had to work at figuring out the problem. I brought it in a week ago for a check engine light (thermostat) and the mechanic and I went for a ride in my Explorer. We hadn’t gone more than 1/2 a mile before he said I had a wheel bearing problem. I don’t doubt this at all. I had noticed the noise from the front left tire for months. Why I didn’t have it checked out is a different story. Anyway, they checked it out and fixed it…I think. My invoice says I paid for front wheel hub assembly, a bearing, an axle rebuild kit, a front differential seal and a miscellaneous seal. I know they told me there was something wrong with the differential, but I guess I don’t know exactly what the problem was. I also don’t know if it’s truly fixed. I’ve only driven it about 15 miles. I notice the steering is tighter and the noise from the right front tire is gone. Granted, I haven’t heard it’s normal noise in months, but it now has a low growl coming from the front end. I’m bringing it back to them on Monday for a recheck on that.

This is extremely long-winded. Sorry about that. The mechanic and everyone I’ve talked to agrees the differential should not have had any problems. Now that’s it’s been worked on, though, can I trust it? I mean trust it not to break again or not to have something else go wrong…there’s rear differential to think about, right?) I have 3 young children and I need a safe vehicle. (I also need AWD or 4WD where I live, so don’t suggest I switch to a minivan…I can’t afford an AWD Sienna and my kids are all in car seats so I need at least 55 inches of hip room to fit 3 seats across the back. I did a ton of research before buying the Explorer…I thought I had a decently dependable, safe, affordable, 4WD with enough room for kids and stollers and groceries.)

Wear and tear on the front end of any car, truck, or SUV is highly dependant on where you drive and how you drive. For instance I have some railroad tracks to cross and I slow way down because they are “rough” tracks. Yet, I see most drivers rip over these tracks without slowing down at all. Over time guess whose front end parts, ball joints and tie rods are going to be shot sooner, mine or the “full speeders”?

The parts you have replaced are wear and tear parts and are not a sign of a bad, defective, unreliable, or unsafe SUV. Your 2005 is 5 years old now and you are going to have to budget for some repairs, that’s life with any car. If you think you SUV is not holding up and you can’t adjust your driving patterns then you can consider selling it and getting another one.

As for the groaning front differential. Since the wheel bearing was so noisey for so long perhaps the front differential was making noise too, but was masked by the beraring noise. Your bearing repair indicates that you drove the car with a bad bearing long enough that other parts were damaged in addition to the bearing. If you want the Explorer to last you need to replace differential fluids every couple of years and consult the manual to keep all the maintenance up to date.

The fact that car was a rental for 8,000 miles seems immaterial to me at this point, what is the mileage on the Explorer now?

Thank you for your input. I feel better now. I understand th wear and tear part of a car’s life, but the mechanic seemed to think that this part shouldn’t have failed just yet. My Explorer has 65,000 miles on it.

I suppose driving the car with the bad bearing could have hurt the differential, but the mechanic told me that wasn’t the case. Either way, they took the whole front end apart, including the differential, I thought. I’ll double check that with the mechanic on Monday. I want to be sure that growl isn’t something I should be paying attention to because I didn’t get the bearing noise checked out soon enough. Regarding that, I did notice the noise when it started in the spring. I thought it was my imagination. The mechanic had my vehicle in August and drove it after repairing rear struts and telling me the vibration was gone, so when the noise was still there I figured it was supposed to be. Lesson learned.

As far as my driving…it’s tough to admit but I don’t drive 10 mph on a stretch of dirt road that is so full of pot holes it is like driving on an old-fashioned washboard. It really is a 10 mph road and I guess I usually go too fast (about 20 mph). It gets so bad sometimes it is a 5 mph road. I do slow way down when that happens. The town only grades this road 4-5 times a year. I can change my habits it that really is going to make a difference.

Now that you have a new wheel bearing, you might want to have the thrust angle / toe in checked because it should be off, especially if you noticed better steering.

AWD / 4WD vehicles typically have much higher maintenance and repair expenses than 2wd vehicles. That’s just part of the package. But you have had way more than your share of problems…Those first 8000 miles must have been rough ones indeed. Like maybe it spent a lot of time in deep water…You say you MUST HAVE a 4wd vehicle. I suspect the time is rapidly approaching where you MUST HAVE other things more…

Hmm…about the must have 4WD…I have had a debate with myself over this one. I live in a snowy area and my driveway is 2/10 of a mile long with a nice little slope at the end of it. Rear wheel drive or front wheel drive vehicles consistently get stuck in my driveway. I used to get stuck all the time in my Escort. My parent’s Camry can’t get out. My husband’s Dodge something…Intrepd? can’t get out. I mean, they don’t get stuck FOREVER, but it can easily take 10 minutes to get out and require a bucket of sand. And I don’t get to call out of work if I can’t negotiate my driveway. Not acceptable. I suppose I could have major work done on my driveway. It has been a thought, but we’re not there yet.

Lifestyle choices can be difficult…Money spent on vehicles is simply gone…Money spent on the driveway would hopefully add to your homes value and could be viewed as an investment…While the Escort was not ideal, you survived and spent far less money on transportation. Is the money you are spending maintaining a 4wd worth the convenience the vehicle provides?

Worth the convenience? Well, so far, yes. When I watch my husband trying to maneuver that Dodge or I’m dragging out a bucket of sand for a friend, I’m glad I’ve got my 4WD. And I forgot to mention mud season. No way to get in or out of driveway sometimes without it. And I keep saying driveay, but most of it is actually a private road, so we can’t make changes to it without signing a road agreement. We live at the end of it, closest neighbor can’t afford to pay a dime towards road maintenance, furthest neighbor doesn’t need a paved road, so the cost of paving 2/10 of a mile would fall entirely on us. I guess right now major driveway maintenance isn’t worth it. But it’s something to think about.

The Explorer, built on F-150 truck underpinnings, have an excellent reputation for reliability and low maintenance costs… Your expensive failures are somewhat unusual. Do you drive on unpaved roads generally? Washboard roads will quickly destroy ANY vehicle. Shocks, struts, ball-joints, tie-rods, idler arms, all these things take a terrible pounding. Your Escort would have been trashed in 6 months if this were the case…So get you Explorer fixed up and hope it settles down for the winter. If it remains problematic, trade it off and move on. What State do you live in?

I drive unpaved roads every day. My driveway 2/10 of a mile and one stretch of another road (the washboard one…we maintain our driveway) which is about 3/10 of a mile. Then there’s springtime when one paved road I drive 2 days a week turns into a nightmare of frost heaves. I live in Maine. Funny about the Escort. I had it for 7 years, but traded it soon after we moved here. I think I had it in this location for under a year and, yes, did have to replace struts or shocks or something…of course it had over 80,000 miles on it by then.

Will be interesting to hear what the mechanic says tomorrow. I drove it again today, about 10 miles and it does growl. It’s most noticeable at low speed.