2020 Ford Explorer Problems and Top Complaints – Is Your Car A Lemon?

Powertrain, electrical, backover prevention, brake, and engine issues are among the top complaints received by the NHTSA from vehicle owners

Updated on Author: Brian Jones | Reviewer: Sergei Lemberg

We are investigating reported powertrain, drivetrain & transmission issues with this vehicle. Are you experiencing jerking and/or hesitation while shifting? Read more about Ford Explorer Transmission Problems.

The 2020 Ford Explorer continues a long line of SUV production from the Blue Oval. This model continues to be a top choice, especially considering the automaker claims that it is “built for life’s adventures.” However, these aren’t the adventures that most people signed up for. This SUV suffers from failing powertrain and electrical system issues, malfunctioning brakes, and a whole lot of unforgiving engine problems.

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

Most Common Problems

There is a growing mountain of complaints to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) about the 2020 Ford Explorer. From the time it was launched in late 2019 until mid-March 2023, there were an unbelievable 366 complaints about just about every component and system relating to the SUV.  The top 5 problem areas are the powertrain (120), electrical system (66), backover prevention (53), brakes (51), and engine (33).

There are also 14 recalls for 11 components, with the powertrain attracting 3 of them. But they don’t necessarily relate to the complaints on file. Some do and some don’t.

Ultimately, complaints reveal all kinds of problems, many of which have owners and prospective owners losing sleep. One, from an owner in New Hampshire, describes “a horrific incident of spontaneously bursting into flames. There were flames coming from under the hood and smoke inside the car.” The Explorer was filling with smoke while the driver tried to get into the shoulder so that he and the passengers could escape. The vehicle had been with a Ford dealer recently for “regular maintenance.”  The vehicle had been driven that particular day for about 100 miles without incident before it caught on fire.

Incredibly, after the fire started with no warning, putting countless people on the road at risk, the damage was so bad that the vehicle was totaled by the insurance company.

But this is one of so many complaints, it can’t be used as a trend in terms of examples. Nevertheless, there are several other incidents that involve 2020 Explorers catching fire!

2020 Ford Explorer Complaint Summary

Complaint CategoryNumber of Complaints
Power Train
Electrical System
Unknown Or Other
Service Brakes
Back Over Prevention
Back Over Prevention: Sensing System: Camera
Fuel/propulsion System
Forward Collision Avoidance: Warnings
Forward Collision Avoidance: Automatic Emergency Braking

Powertrain Problems

There are more powertrain problems than Ford will ever want to admit to when it comes to the 2020 Ford Explorer. Since mid-December 2019 and mid-March 2023, there have been 120 complaints to the NHTSA that owners regard as powertrain issues. These are varied, but many of them describe jerking and hesitation while shifting through gears after coming to a stop. Often the vehicle jerks and malfunctions when the driver presses the accelerator or brake pedal. There are also a lot of oil cooler assembly issues as well as warnings that say the transmission is contaminated.

Then there are complaints like one from a New York owner who says, very simply, that “the transmission has failed.” The problem started “with hard shifting between gears.” The dealer wasn’t able to find a fix after 2 days. But as the owner was driving through an intersection after the check-up, the Explorer “went into a neutral-type mode, lost all power, and coasted, then picked up and started going again.”

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Problems with the Cooling System

An owner from Texas tells how a new replacement Ford Explorer that had transmission cooling system problems had exactly the same issues as the other vehicle. And the parts were in such “high demand,” the dealership took nearly a month to do repairs. The complaint states that the owner no longer has faith in this Ford Explorer model because the transmission oil cooler failed on both vehicles after not more than two hours of constant highway driving.

Another owner also had a problem with a replacement vehicle, but this time a loaner. The transmission went out and transmission fluid was leaking, It wasn’t shifting either making it “a very dangerous highway drive to the nearest dealership.”

When an owner from California had the transmission replaced because the cooler drain system was leaking metal, this caused a powertrain malfunction.

Jerking Transmission Problems

An owner from Illinois tells how the transmission started slipping in and out of gears until the vehicle was basically undrivable. An owner from Arizona tells how an Explorer with 65,000 miles on the clock started jerking at 15 mph without any warning signals. The dealer said that the transmission needed to be replaced. But the owner’s warranty had expired, so there was no closure at that point.

With 41,000 miles, an owner from Florida filed a complaint when his Explorer started jerking and then stopped. At the time of the complaint he said Ford had been waiting for a month for the parts to be able to do the repair.

An owner from Wisconsin describes how the Explorer jolts and jerks when “the car is speeding up or slowing down and seems to be between gears 4-7. It feels like the car is going to die in the middle of driving and could be at speeds 50+.”

Even when owners think they’ve got the problem covered, this is not always the case. An owner from Texas experienced jerking while shifting gears. But after the car accelerated above 10 mph, the vehicle operated normally. The dealer replaced the transmission, but that didn’t help. Then they did a software update. That didn’t help either. So, at 3,000 miles, “the mechanic was unable to determine the cause of the failure.”

Problems with the Electrical System

Running behind the scenes of everything in the SUV is an electrical system. When something becomes glitchy, it can create a lot of problems, just like consumers are experiencing. The problem is huge because it encompasses so many elements from the brake system and backup camera to the Explorer’s instrument panel. From the complaints consumers have filed with the NHTSA, it seems that what can go wrong will go wrong. And anything can go wrong!

For example, the radio, climate control, and navigational control screen goes black when owners are driving. A New York owner describes how a computer system fault stopped everything from working. The rear camera seems to malfunction often, sometimes creating a blind spot on the display screen behind the vehicle.

Someone from the South Dakota Police Department lodged a complaint relating to two 2020 Ford Hybrid Explorers that are used as patrol vehicles that experienced a loss of power. One incident happened when an officer was responding to an emergency call traveling at about 50 mph. The vehicle’s dash lights all came on and the vehicle’s power system shut down. And, according to the complaint, “the vehicle almost came to a dead stop.” It almost made him crash, and he said that if he hadn’t been wearing his seat belt he may have gone through the windshield. It gets worse because the vehicle had this failure about 8 times! But that’s not all because, according to the complaint, this has happened in lots of other police jurisdictions.

The bottom line comes from the Police Department: “We cannot provide sufficient public service to our community with these vehicles. If we cannot respond to emergencies in a timely manner due to these vehicles not properly functioning then the potential for the public’s safety is potentially at risk.”

Backover Prevention Problems

A rearview camera is an essential tool for safe driving. But it’s not doing well in many 2020 Ford Explorers. There’s even been a recall fix that isn’t working.

An owner from Michigan describes how the rearview camera “randomly displays a blue screen on reverse backup.” All the sensors tend to fail now and then too. Even though there has been a recall because the camera reduces the driver’s rear visibility, “it seems this issue never gets fixed. I keep getting notices of recalls and they claim they will patch it with software fixes but there seem to be more serious sensor issues. When this happens in a school zone it feels dangerous.”

Other Explorer owners agree stating that even when repairs are made they recur sometimes a week later. An owner from Illinois states that after the camera failed and the dealer said it needed to be replaced, “the recall repair did not include a backup camera replacement.”

An owner from Kansas states that the dealer “downloaded new software updates with no success.” And this consumer is one of many.

Problems with the Brakes

Stopping a vehicle should be priority number one, but it seems that there’s not a lot that’s going to stop the 2020 Ford Explorer right now. Complaints range from “braking system stopped working” to “I nearly was in an accident but fortunately was able to pull off to the side until (the) car was able to fully stop.”

Lots of the complaints say that the car simply “rolls” instead of stopping when they try to brake. An owner from Georgia says that “while the brake pedal is fully depressed the car will move forward.” He assumes that the master cylinder loses pressure. “It does this randomly and is not repeatable. If this ever happens and someone or another car is around it could be a very bad day.”

Some complaints describe how brakes have failed, sometimes ending in a crash. A Californian owner was slowing down at a traffic light when his brakes failed. He “crashed at low speed into the rear of a vehicle already stopped at the traffic light.” According to the complaint he had been “pumping the brakes and was not able to stop.” Strangely, the “dealer diagnosed that there were no problems with the brakes.” The damage to the vehicle was repaired “but not the brakes.”

There’s a brake-related recall too! NHTSA Campaign Number 19V575000 says that the Manual Park Release cover might not have been installed, which could allow the vehicle to roll away. So far, the only adventure shown is the constant trips that owners have to take to the dealership for repairs.

Engines That Catch Fire

There are lots of engine issues, but the worst are those that result in 2020 Ford Explorers catching fire. Stalling, getting stuck in gear, and other engine malfunctions pale in comparison to fires!

An owner from Massachusetts was driving at about 15 mph when the Explorer started decelerating. When he stopped he “saw fire located on the front passenger side wheel.” He and his wife and grandson got out of the vehicle before it was engulfed by the fire. The Explorer was destroyed, and at the time of the complaint, there was no explanation for the fire.

An owner from New Jersey was woken up one Saturday morning when neighbors saw smoke from their garage. “The entire parking garage was filled with thick black smoke. The sprinkler system had activated and the Fire Dept arrived. Through the smoke, I was able to see that my 2020 Ford Explorer Limited Edition was on fire. The front end was engulfed in flames which were now shooting up the side of the building and the ceiling of the parking garage.” There is no indication of how or why this happened.

But these are definitely not isolated incidents. Several other complaints indicate fire-related issues. For instance, an owner from Michigan tells how there was a “burning smell of wires” when the heater was turned on. The dealer said it was the “heater core” but the parts required to fix it weren’t currently available.

A police officer from Pennsylvania complained about a strong exhaust smell coming through the vents of a 2020 Explorer. There weren’t any visible leaks or noises, but the vehicle was taken out of service.

What Should You Do If Your 2020 Explorer is a Lemon?

Just because your 2020 Ford Explorer has problems doesn’t mean it’s a lemon. But if these problems recur and affect the use and value of your vehicle, it may be a lemon. You need to decide whether you want to live with the problems or take action. If you want to do something about your problems, Lemberg Law is here to assess them and see whether you have a case.

Every year, auto manufacturers buy back, replace or pay cash settlements to thousands of consumers who have bought ‘lemon’ vehicles. And the law makes the automaker, in this case, Ford, pay the legal fees. So call our Helpline or fill out a contact form if you need our input.

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.

See more posts from Brian Jones
  • Jon L

    My engine is vibrating @ 1200 rpms and has been causing damage to my exhaust system. It has broken/cracked both catalytic converters and separated the exhaust pipe causing massive exhaust leaking. They had fixed that under warranty, however it still vibrates and now my exhaust flex-pipe has been broken. I have been complaining about the vibration since I bought the car brand new in 2020 and they can’t seem to figure out the cause. I brought it into them when my full warranty was about to expire and they said that I would have to book an appointment for inspection again. The three weeks later when I brought it in for the appointment they said I had to pay for it because it wasn’t covered under extended warranty which I also have. They just replaced the flex-pipe and the engine still vibrates violently at around 1200 rpms. So what will it destroy next? I only have 19,000 kms on my Explorer ST 2020. I am still very upset with the dealer and Ford Canada. What am I to do now?

  • Winn

    I have both catalytic converter broken as well. Then it caused my engine to break down. Now, it will be out for a month, if there will be a problem from the motor.

    Ford explorer ST 2020

  • KB

    Took my 2020 Explorer in for the 21E11 recall (left hand catalytic converter) only to find out BOTH of my catalytic converters are cracked. Ford won’t cover the right hand catalytic converter because I’m over 36,000 miles. HOWEVER, this recall is an emissions recall and the emissions warranty is 8yr/80,000 miles. How does that make sense? Anyone else having this issue and was it covered.

  • Nicholas P

    My 2023 explorer XLT has a computer fault

  • Raymond C

    I have a 2020 Ford Explorer. Last weekend while backing up to park my truck when I heard something drop. Suddenly, I couldn’t turn the wheel to back up. After calling for a tow truck because I needed the vehicle moved. When he went to move it to get it on the flatbed, we saw on the front Passenger side the Outer Arm had broken.

    One thing I know for sure, I am the only one who drives my truck and I take care of it. I am wondering if anyone else has had this experience? This must be a malfunction for the Outer Arm to break already.

    Ford said wasn’t and it is costing me $2,000. to get this truck out.

  • Janie S

    My 2020 Ford Explorer has lots of humming noise as it takes off and also as I’m driving it is nerve racking I sometimes feel that something is rubbing and might start on fire when I turn the AC off it stops taken it to two dealerships and was told they could not fix it till the AC went out it will probably go out when it is out of warranty or the noise makes me go crazy we paid so much money to drive a car that is very noisy I traded a very good car that had no noise because we wanted a new reliable car to travel now I’m very disappointed at ford

  • Jedediah S

    I need help my 2020 explore is crap going for arbitration. If that’s denied what do I do? I want my money back. It’s a lemon and they know it… Over a month to start off with in the shop had ford engineers try and fix it electrical problems all the time they don’t care. Denied my buy back twice. Please help me. Leave a voicemail if I do not answer.

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