2018 Ford Explorer Problems and Top Complaints – Is Your Car A Lemon?

Fuel system, engine, structure, electrical and powertrain issues among the top complaints received by the NHTSA from vehicle owners

Updated on Author: Brian Jones

Updated on Author: Brian Jones

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The 2018 Ford Explorer continues a storied history of this model. Newer versions are hailed as being “rugged yet versatile,” yet customers can’t help but complain about all of the problems. From a defective structure to leaking fuel and a malfunctioning electrical system, the manufacturer has a lot of things to answer for.

Click on other model year to view more problems:  2019   2020   2021   2022   2023

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NHTSA Complaints for the 2018 Ford Explorer

Complaint CategoryNumber of Complaints
Unknown Or Other
Electrical System
Fuel/propulsion System
Power Train
Back Over Prevention
Back Over Prevention: Sensing System: Camera

Problems with the vehicle structure

Many people that drive a 2018 Ford Explorer plan to tote around the family. With this in mind, the structure must be built up to par, but that’s not the case.

Just use this Edmunds review as one example. “I’m sorely disappointed with my 2018 Ford Explorer Sport. I have yet to get it above 13mpg. The cargo rack on top has come loose. Scared the heck out of me while driving from Austin to Houston.There is now an issue with the 3rd-row seating. There’s a piece of metal that is sticking out. This vehicle has less than 17k miles on it! I came from a Tahoe, Mercedes, and a Ford Expedition.”

It started with a loose roof rack and morphed into trouble with metal sticking out of the rear seats. Of course, that’s not the only seat issue. NHTSA Campaign Number 19V33000 documents a seat-related recall that says the vehicle might be equipped with seats that don’t have the appropriate strength. This leaves occupants inadequately restrained during a crash. This recall affects more than 600,000 vehicles, further proving how much the manufacturer failed. Let’s hope owners are not being too rugged with the Explorer SUV.

Problems with the fuel system

The top concern with most customers is the smell of leaking exhaust and/or fuel. A quick search online shows countless complaints.

Take this one from Edmunds as a perfect illustration of what’s happening. “Leased my 2018 Explorer Sport with Ecoboost June 2018. Several weeks later I began having headaches, dizziness and tiredness. After a long trip I had to pull over several times due to nausea and feeling like I had to vomit. After missing 3 days of work and taking several pregnancy tests (all negative), I thought I had the flu. I then began smelling a ‘rotten egg smell’ during and after hard acceleration. All this only 3 months of driving the vehicle. I looked up “rotten egg smell on acceleration Ford Explorer” to diagnose what I could be smelling to see if it was an issue that I should bring to Fords attention, and I was appalled of the articles that popped up. The smell I was smelling was exhaust leaking into the cabin and was the reason I had been feeling sick. Ford had been receiving complaints about this since 2011 models and was refusing to recall these vehicles and continued to produce and sell them. Ford is refusing to admit there is a problem. The deny all claims and told me that because my vehicle was a 2018 it wasn’t affected by this, although they allowed it to go on from 2011-2017, and admitted to smelling the ‘rotten egg smell’ however claimed my vehicle was safe and the smell was ‘normal’. They refuse to perform the inspection on my vehicle which would determine if CO2 and other hatful exhaust fumes are leaking into the cabin and I am terrified to drive the car and refuse to allow my family to do so. Ford should be ashamed and I am furious I didn’t do better research before purchasing from Ford, because thousands of complaints over the last 8 years prove their neglect.”

While there is a recall related to a fuel leak, it only applies to 144 vehicles. With the amount of complaints present, that can’t possibly cover all of the people actually experiencing this situation. NHTSA Campaign Number 18V807000 says that the fuel pressure sensor might leak fuel because of an “assembly error.” This problem could ignite a fire. This is reminiscent of the time that this popular model was referred to as the Exploder. Things haven’t changed much.

Problems with the electrical system

Among the other customer complaints, the electrical system continues to top the charts. From dead batteries to malfunctioning systems, this Explorer faces a lot of trouble.

One Edmunds review states, “We have had problems with this car from day one, dead battery after dead battery. Dealership cannot find a reason for the problem. The car has been in the shop for 50 days with no resolution and FORD refuses to acknowledge or do anything about it!! I would not recommend this car to anyone, it’s a real LEMON. I’ll take a Toyota any day!”

It’s probably safer for this SUV to remain still and unmovable. Otherwise, occupants could get into an accident and the seats won’t support them or it could start on fire. On a lighter note, there are humorous electrical system issues. For example, Service Bulletin #SSM 48340 talks about how the maps might only display half of a screen after the SYNC 3 software is updated. Between the dead battery and the lack of map display, it doesn’t appear that this Explorer is as versatile as it claims to be. Instead of “rugged,” it’s possible that the company meant to say “rough.”

Problems with the engine

The engine is the heart of the entire SUV. It must be working correctly for a smooth ride, yet that’s not what customers claim happens.

One NHTSA complaint says, “While driving normally, acceleration will begin to reduce continually until the vehicle stops altogether. No warning lights or anything. This happened on the expressway each time. The vehicle is one month old. Dealership can’t find a problem.”

Among the numerous engine problems, Ford has documented several issues. Service Bulletin #SSM 48001 talks about a squealing noise that comes from the drive belt, damaged alternator pulley and illuminated charging system indicator. Even after all of these issues, there are still no engine-related recalls or alerts to the consumer. Instead, Ford continues to mass-produce the Explorer with no regard for the customer. Apparently, it’s versatile enough to act as a lawn ornament after owners decide to stop driving it.

Problems with the transmission

Looking at the powertrain, it’s evident that there are just as many problems with this system as others.

One Edmunds complaint reads, “I love the Ford explorer until now. 2018 new vehicle 4 months old less than 3000 miles suddenly has total transmission FAILURE with no known cause. Transmission must be replaced.  I believe that Ford should give me a new lease vehicle.  I GOT A LEMON!”

In fact, according to Service Bulletin #SSM 47750, Ford acknowledges that some models with a TCU may also struggle to gain access through the mobile app. To fix the problem, they advise technicians to remove the TCU fuse for five minutes and then reinstall it. Their solution is to simply “reboot the computer” instead of actually fixing the problem. Even if you are looking for an adventure, the Explorer might provide to be too much for your family.

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Brian Jones

About the Author:

Brian Jones spent more than 30 years working as an ASE Certified Master Tech and Parts Specialist at multiple dealerships. Brian has become an authority in the industry, traveling across the country to consult for car dealerships and contributing his expertise as a writer for several major automotive publications. In his spare time, Brian enjoys working on pickup trucks, muscle cars, Jeeps and anything related to motorsports.

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  • Markietta

    Hello I’m starting to think more and more that I may have a lemon because I brought a certified preowned 2018 Ford Explorer in September 2021 things seemed to be fine except I realized there were a couple of knocks here and there and my husband said that seems like the transmission and he said my Explorer felt like it lagged when taking off and to switch into gears too this issue comes and goes so I let the dealership look at it and they said it was the torque converter so they were supposed to fix this 2/23/23 but called me a day before and said the tech had a lot to do so they couldn’t get me into 3/1/23 to me I felt like they didn’t want to do the job so it seems like he intentionally delayed it so they fixed it so they say and now here we are again 3/23/23 truck is knocking again while I was coming back from vacation and I thought we were going to be stuck on the side of the road or lose speed or power it knocked three times back to back and it seemed like every time I accelerated I would jerk because it was jumping into gear and this lasted 20-30 minutes every time I hit the gas to accelerate. I don’t understand why am I having the same issue that I had before if they replaced the torque converter and they give you this warranty on the vehicle but no one wants to keep going back and forth to the dealer when it’s seem too early in the mileage to have these transmission or torque converter problems I’m only at 44,950miles

  • Montgomery

    2018 ford explore sport. Bought in January 2022, map sensor out, constant electrical issues in display (changes settings with lights, radio, heat etc) the worst is the fuel had fuel sensors and pump replaced. Lucky to get 240 miles on tank of gas. 13mpg average.

    Ford dealerships are awful, they don’t care just like ford. Having acceleration issues. I drive less than 35 miles a day and highway/interstate miles too.

    Vehicle is a lemon if I ever saw one. Can’t stand it

  • Sandra A

    I git my Ford Explorer 2018 on May 2020 at a dealer in city of Commerce, California. 2 weeks later I noticed a humming noise when turning right on the passenger side. I took it back to the dealer 2 times and left it for 3 days every time and they say it was nothing
    I took it to a Ford dealer in Cerritos Ca and they told me what the problem was, I went back to the dealer I bought it from and they said the other dealer were lying. This was when the pandemic was very bad and I was afraid to be up and down. Last month I took it to another Ford dealer in Long Beach, they seem to find the problem in the steering wheel thank God I purchase insurance fir mechanic issues at the dealer where I bought the vehicle. But guess what? I am starting to hear the noise again. I am getting so frustrated and specially cause I am on my own. Don’t know what to do anymore 🤦🏼‍♀️

  • E. G

    I purchased a 2018 Ford Explorer Limited, with an extended warranty. I immediately began noticing that besides issues with the electrical, like having to frequently buy new car batteries, small little pieces were falling off in the interior. It’s almost as if the plastic they used was not built for this Texas heat. I would hear small little crackling noises but never thought much of it. And now I’m realizing that it was the plastic pieces in the interior deteriorating. Pieces were just falling off like the trim, that holds the A/C vents in place, cup holders which were never used, the wood trim on the glove box vent clips the list goes on.

    Prior to this I drove a Kia Soul that I still own and nothing has ever fallen apart in it. If they knew there were issues they were the ones who notified me by letter or in person when I was getting standard maintenance done.

    Ford however refuses to take any responsibility, and even claims that it looks like I have done this myself trying to repair the vehicle myself. Why would someone who doesn’t even do their own oil change try and repair something complicated especially knowing that you purchased an extended warranty. And now they’re telling me to replace the trim that fell off the glove box they cannot simply just buy the trim, I have to buy a whole new glove box plus labor that alone would be over $600.

    This has honestly been the worst vehicle I’ve ever owned! And for the price I paid I’m beyond angry!

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