2021 Ford Explorer Problems and Top Complaints – Is Your Car A Lemon?

Engine, powertrain, and electrical system issues are among the top complaints received by the NHTSA from vehicle owners

Updated on Author: Brian Jones | Editor: Rita Roberts | Reviewer: Sergei Lemberg

When customers purchase a 2021 Ford Explorer, they expect to find the reliability they received with older models. After all, Ford dubs this Explorer the “ultimate exploration vehicle.” Yet, customers are left scratching their heads as they deal with faulty engines, defective powertrains, and a gamut of electrical system problems.

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

Problem Summary

There is a huge volume of complaints about the 2021 Ford Explorer on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website, as well as on other reputable platforms. Lemberg Law has also received complaints about similar issues to those reported to the NHTSA.

In terms of volume, various powertrain problems rank at the top of the list of NHTSA complaints. Rear bolt fracture issues cause considerable alarm. There are also problems with transmission failure and issues with cars that lose power.

Backover prevention problems rank second on the list, with numerous complaints about the rearview camera image. This is the subject of two recalls, but owners are discovering that the parts needed to fix the recall problem are not available. Next on the list are electrical system issues. Many of these also relate to the rearview camera, but there are all kinds of other electrical faults as well.

None of these issues are clear cut, and some seem to be interrelated, as demonstrated by the complaints.

Although owners report powertrain issues four times as often as engine issues, engine complaints are also extremely serious. Two issues that stand out are spontaneous acceleration and engines that “smoke.”

Additionally, recalls and investigations compound the problems experienced by 2021 Ford Explorer owners.

2021 Ford Explorer Complaint Summary

Complaint CategoryNumber of Complaints
Power Train
63
63
Unknown Or Other
33
33
Electrical System
25
25
Engine
19
19
Back Over Prevention
15
15
Service Brakes
11
11
Structure:body
9
9
Vehicle Speed Control
9
9
Back Over Prevention: Rearview System Braking
8
8
Fuel/propulsion System
8
8

Recalls

The first recall issued by Ford Motor Company for the 2021 Explorer was in December 2020. It affects 1,405 2020-2021 Ford Explorer and Lincoln Aviator models. The right-hand engine motor mount fasteners may have been incorrectly tightened and may loosen over time. With vibration, the axle could disconnect from the engine, resulting in a loss of power. This would, of course, increase the risk of a crash.

Since then, there have been 10 more recalls. The most recent recall came in October 2023. This only affects 2020-2022 Explorers that have a rear axle horizontal mounting bolt that may fracture and cause the driveshaft to disconnect. This is one of the most common problems highlighted in complaints, but as recently as November 20, 2023, the parts needed to fix the problem were not available. Two other recalls appear to address the same problem. The NHTSA lists one as a parking brake problem and a powertrain issue. The recall states that if the electronic parking brake is not applied, the vehicle could roll away if the driveshaft disconnects. This could result in a loss of drive power.

There are four recalls that apply to backover prevention problems related to the rearview camera image. Again, owners complain that the parts needed to fix the recall problem aren’t available.

The other recalls relate to the airbags and suspension. Side airbags of certain 2021 Explorer vehicles have a weld stud that could fail. A small number (20) have a rear suspension module with the incorrect components.

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Investigations

Unsurprisingly, one open investigation relates to the powertrain and rear axle bolt failure. The investigation report states that a functioning driveshaft and transmission parking pawl are necessary to hold the vehicle in park. If the vehicle loses its “transmission primary-park” function, the vehicle will roll away while placed in Park, increasing the risk of crash and injury.

“Ford’s remedy was to add a software update which automatically applies the electronic service parking brake to keep the vehicle from rolling away in the event of a driveshaft failure. However, there is no safety remedy addressing the failed rear axle horizontal mounting bolt which is the basis of this safety issue and the cause of the impaired vehicle.”

The other investigation relates to the engine and a loss of motive power. The original investigation focused on an alleged defect in the valvetrain in 2021 Ford Bronco vehicles equipped with 2.7L EcoBoost engines. It resulted from complaints that these cars were “experiencing catastrophic engine failure resulting in loss of motive power in a variety of driving conditions with no ability to restart.” The investigation later extended to 2021-2022 Ford Explorer and Lincoln Aviator vehicles.

Ford has acknowledged that a fractured intake valve can result in catastrophic engine failure and a loss of motive power. The company has noted that following a valve fracture, a vehicle typically requires a full engine replacement. It subsequently implemented a design modification. However, the NHTSA Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) is continuing its investigation on various levels. One aims to evaluate the effectiveness of Ford’s manufacturing improvements regarding the alleged defect.

Rear Bolt Fracture

Some owners complain that the design of the 2021 Ford Explorer changed from two rear bolts to only one, as well as that the bolts fracture. The most serious complaints describe how rear axle bolt fractures resulted in the Explorer crashing.

A police officer was badly injured when the vehicle fishtailed out of control. The malfunction started with the rear wheels wobbling and vibrating while he was driving in a straight line. The Explorer slammed into a tree at about 50 mph, resulting in two knee fractures and a broken left leg. The vehicle was under recall, and the incident was therefore probably caused by the rear bolt fracture issue Ford is having.

An initial solution for a potential rear axle bolt fracture involved reprogramming the powertrain control module (PCM). An owner from Indiana describes how the Explorer started randomly slamming to a complete stop while driving after having this done. “We took the vehicle to the dealership several times, but they said they were not able to reproduce the issue, and continually returned the vehicle to us despite our grave concern for high risk of crash and injury.” Ultimately, it resulted in the owner crashing into a utility pole.

One of the complaints that highlights the fact that there is only one rear bolt for the rear differential states that it “is completely inadequate for the performance and duty of the car. It can break and cause great injury or death if it fails. It puts anyone operating and in the car at great risk of injury or death if the only remaining rear bolt breaks, dislodging the drive shaft and half shafts in catastrophic failure.”

Transmission Failure

Transmission-related complaints vary. An owner from North Carolina experienced the transmission slipping. This was diagnosed as coolant that had intruded into the transmission. An owner from Virginia highlights how the vehicle displayed a transmission failure after it stalled. There appears to have been an impasse with this particular issue as the dealer insisted on charging a diagnostic test cost because the vehicle was out of warranty.

An owner from Illinois tells how loud “clunking” noises alerted him to a transmission problem. In particular, he noticed there was a “delay and pull when the transmission engaged to drive.” This was accompanied by a loss of power when accelerating. The dealership said that the vehicle needed an update. Then, they changed their minds and said they needed to replace the vehicle’s transmission.

“They told me to drive it for 500 miles and [the] transmission will adapt. I drove it for 1000 miles and now the problems are worse, even with [a] new transmission.” There is vibration while driving on the highway, clunking noises, and still a loss of power. At the time of the complaint, the vehicle was at the dealership and there was “no estimated time on repairs or how long this will take.”

Loss of Motive Power

While the NHTSA filed the complaint mentioned above as a powertrain issue, owners have also filed loss of power complaints as electrical system and engine problems. They also describe “no acceleration” issues.

An owner from New Hampshire noticed a rattling sound while driving at about 60 mph. The complaint states that “the vehicle started shaking and vibrating before the vehicle lost motive power and stalled. The vehicle was towed to the local dealer who diagnosed that the engine was faulty and needed to be replaced.”

When the light turned green at a stop light, an owner from Georgia pushed on the gas pedal but there was no power. “However, all of my auxiliary power worked. Everything inside the car still had power, from my dashboard to my Apple CarPlay but my engine would not turn on. The check engine light did come on but not until it had been sitting there for 20-30 minutes. The Auto Start/Stop was activated so I don’t know if there was an issue with that and it just never turned back on.” The repair shop could not find anything wrong.

A Wisconsin owner states that the vehicle loses power while on the freeway and “4WD, Pre-Collision Assist, Hill Start Assist, and other warning messages display.” The complaint states that the vehicle lost power about five times while registering the messages. The dealership repair facility inspected the Explorer and diagnosed a bad 4WD module.

Rearview Camera Image Issues

As mentioned above, four of the recalls highlight issues with the rearview camera image in the 2021 Ford Explorer. Complaints indicate that numerous owners have experienced the failure. Others state that the parts required to complete the recall repair are not available.

One of the more recent complaints is from an owner in Pennsylvania who states that “Ford has failed to remedy issues around reverse Automatic Emergency Braking. Whenever the 360° camera screen is blue, the system in place to prevent collisions also fails. There is no pattern of failure. Nearly 60% of the time the vehicle is driven an error related to 23V342 [the recall] occurs.”

Other complaints state that the camera image is blue and black, black and gray and then blank, or black and blue.

An owner from North Carolina states that “the front camera screen image was black or gray before going blank. Additionally, the navigation system was inoperable. There were no warning lights illuminated.”

An owner from Florida states, “I am reporting countless incidents of my backup camera screen going to black or blue when the Gear Shift is selected to REVERSE. This has happened multiple times a day, week, month, etc., and is extremely frustrating.”

A complaint from an owner in Utah states, “I have taken my Explorer in twice to have the infotainment system repaired. It will randomly shut down and go blank. Nothing will work to include the camera/backup assists. Sometimes an ignition cycle will clear it, but there have been times [when] it will not. Both local dealers claim they could not duplicate despite bringing in and showing the service advisor during an event. Ford has also performed a ‘recall’ for this 4 times, with the 3rd being canceled because it was not actually fixing the issue.”

Spontaneous Acceleration

Unintended acceleration is a major problem. The NHTSA files these complaints as powertrain, electrical system, and “unknown or other” problems.

An owner from Florida reports how a 2021 Explorer “was self-accelerating and applying forward propulsion.” It was behaving as if the cruise control was on, but it was verified off. “Upon stopping the vehicle and letting off on the brake, the vehicle would accelerate as if the gas pedal was depressed. Upon parking the vehicle, the engine would rev up to 6k rpm and if I let go of the brake the vehicle would accelerate. Turning off the vehicle and turning the vehicle on did not reset the issue.”

While planning to leave a carwash, another owner experienced the Explorer taking off on its own at about 20-25 mph. So, “I applied the brakes and the pedal went to the floor with no braking. I applied the brakes continually, as the car jumped a curb, traveled through a meadow, went through a fence, and crashed into a tree.” The dealer could not find anything wrong — and they were unable to explain why this malfunction occurred.

An owner reported to Lemberg Law that even though the Explorer was in Park, it “suddenly accelerated and went through my garage door!”

Smoking Engines

Reports of 2021 Ford Explorer engines smoking are rife. Some owners report that their cars have caught on fire.

An owner from California could not start the Explorer. “The car’s engine turned over only halfway and started to restart and turn over multiple times even though the motor was running halfway.” After about 15 minutes, he opened up the hood. A couple of minutes later, “the engine seized and turned off and started smoking.” Then it caught alight, burning “from the bottom of the engine. The fire went on for 10 minutes until we turned it off.”

A dealer confirmed this problem when an Explorer belonging to an owner in Ohio started smoking after a cold start. The complaint states that “the engine was replaced, but the smoking problem remains.”

Another owner describes how there was blue-gray smoke on startup. The dealer was able to reproduce the problem and said that “both turbos were defective and leaking oil into the hot exhaust on both sides of the engine which could have led to a fire and endangered our lives. The dealer removed the engine and transmission from the vehicle in the process broke numerous bolts and repaired (the vehicle) with inferior quality parts.” Ultimately, Ford denied a buy-back request and said the owner didn’t qualify for state lemon law after the vehicle had been with the dealer for two months.

Your Lemon Law Legal Rights

Vehicles that have recurring problems that affect your safety and/or the value of the vehicle may be lemons. So, if you think you’ve got problems that no one seems to be able to sort out, Lemberg Law will evaluate the issues free of charge. Ultimately, the law makes Ford pay the legal fees for lemon law cases. Additionally, auto manufacturers buy back, replace, or pay cash settlements to thousands of lemon owners.

All you have to do is call our Helpline or fill out a contact form and we’ll get back to you.

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
8 COMMENTS
  • Barbara R

    While driving, warning comes on “Brakes Applied, Speed Reduced”. I am driving along at 40 – 60 mph when all of a sudden the car brakes. I had Legacy ford look at it but they say that they don’t see anything wrong with it.

  • Steve K

    I have a 2021 Explorer and I opened the passenger door while it was parked in the garage and the accessories turned off. I cannot turn the accessories off. I have to let it timeout. Any suggestions?

  • Rafael G

    I owned a 2021 Ford Explorer XLT and it is a nightmare ……
    I purchased it in June 2021 and in October I bring back to the Jennell Ford dealer for left front noise and all suspension system making noise .
    They told me that the mechanic don’t found nothing and today I had to bring back with worse noise in all strucks and suspension system . I will never again buy another ford vehicle . Ford are building trash . They have a bounch of idiots assembling cars in chicago . I recomend do no purchase any more ford brand . Also brand new 2018 Ford Expedition I payed almost $ 80,000 dollars with 7 months of used it started licking transmission oil and I get frustrate with this suv . Double experience . Mechanics at Jack Madden Ford are sucks and stupid ……Rafael Gonzalez

  • Laura S

    My Ford explorer was in park but then suddenly accelerated and went through my garage door! I have a whole insurance claim pending now. This morning, the damn car won’t even start for whatever reason. It seems there’s a bigger manufacturing issue going on with these cars.

  • Brian K

    Absolutely, my wife and I bought a new Explorer in June fully expecting the same great vehicle we traded-WRONG. At about 2500 miles we started experiencing transmission issues, sluggish backing, slamming into gear, rapid unexpected and unintended acceleration. At 4000 miles they replaced the valve body, seemed to fixed the sluggish backing but the acceleration issue is still there, the ride is not nearly as smooth. My wife is the only driver as I’m blind from a combat injury from Iraq. My nerves are all keyed up anytime she’s out without me as I never know what this car is going to do or where it’s going to leave her stranded at.

  • Chante

    My 2021 Ford (purchased in June 2021) started rolling forward when I would put it in reverse similar to a manual transmission might. I almost hit parked cars and even people! It’s been sitting in the shop for the last 3 weeks at the dealer while they are replacing the transmission.

  • T. V

    I bought my 2021 Ford explorer January 30th. By the end of May I started having problems shifting and the suv would roll backwards as if it was a manual. Then it started not shifting gears and shifting hard but intermittently it wasn’t consistent. I’ve taken it to Ford at least 3 times for a total of 35 days. They’ve now said it’s the valve body in the transmission. I’ve been dealing with Ford since I could drive and both of my parents since before me. I’m done with this vehicles. I’ve been paying for a vehicle that is unsafe and spends more time in the shop than with me. Oh and I have about 15k miles on it.

  • Newton C

    I purchased a brand-new 2021 Ford Explorer ST. At 2k miles, the transmission cooler started leaking and on the same day the engine failed. It appears that one of the values was hitting the valve head which caused the cap to break. That wasn’t the only issue, the cylinder cracked the valve head causing major engine failure and metal to circulate through the entire system.

    That’s a car that I used to drive my son to school 1 mile away and buy groceries at a grocery store less than a mile away, as I work from home. I bought it new because I wanted to avoid previous owner’s lack of care, but here I am having transmission leakage and major engine failure on my brand-new Ford suv before the first oil change even took place…

    I’m currently driving a cheap loaner as Ford states they will only pay for $35 a day for a loaner. I still have to pay $12 a day on top of that $35 because that’s the cheapest rate at Enterprise car rental where they told me to get the loaner.

    I have just made another payment to Ford Finance for a brand new car that I can’t drive and has been sitting at the dealership for 3 weeks now.

    I called Ford and started the buyback process based on the Lemon Law in Nevada where I reside. However, they said that it must be approved first and that they will re-build my engine and/or transmission. This is unacceptable for a brand new $60k car. I’m not going to accept anything but a new car, a refund, or a new motor and new transmission with an additional 200k miles extended warranty on it.

    Anyone else living a nightmare similar to mine?

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