The first-ever hybrid model of the Ford Explorer debuted for the 2020 model year alongside the release of the sixth-generation Explorer.
It’s the most fuel-efficient Explorer to date while still providing the same levels of comfort, seating capacity, cargo space and towing capacity of the non-hybrid variants.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the common issues and complaints Explorer Hybrid owners have had since its debut.
Table of Contents
1. Transmission Issues
The Explorer Hybrid uses a 10R80-MHT transmission which is a slightly modified version of the 10-speed found in the Ford F-150 and Mustang that’s built specifically for hybrids.
The non-hybrid Explorer uses the 10R60 10-speed which is slightly smaller and is the same one used in the new Ford Bronco.
One of the most common complaints hybrid and non-hybrid owners have with the sixth generation Explorer’s transmission is that it will sometimes have trouble finding the right gear, causing moments of hesitation or delayed acceleration.
This is a fairly common issue in modern transmissions that have 6 to 10 gears since most manufacturers try to keep the engine RPMs as low as possible in order to provide better fuel economy and lower emissions.
It doesn’t happen all the time and will sometimes go away on its own as the transmission adapts to your driving habits or after updating the transmission software.
Explorer owners have also reported issues such as:
- Hard or jerky shifts
- Won’t accelerate and behaves like it’s in neutral
- Gets stuck in certain gears
- Whining or grinding noises
None of the issues listed above would be considered common or widespread, but it’s best to have the dealer inspect the car for possible defects if you experience persistent issues.
Ford also issued a Technical Service Bulletin to address harsh or delayed shifting in the 2020 to 2022 model years of the Ford Explorer Hybrid, Lincoln Aviators and Police Interceptor Utility (PIU) which recommends cleaning the main control valve body to fix the issue.
Rough shifts and noises from the transmission can also be caused by fluid leaks. A mechanic can easily lift the car up to check for leaks around the transmission or transfer case.
2. Rear Axle Mounting Bolt Recall
The 2020 to 2022 Explorer Hybrid is part of a large recall that affects over 250,000 sixth gen Explorers for a roll-away risk.
According to the recall, vehicles that have been driven hard have a higher tendency to break one of the rear axle mounting bolts which can then lead to the driveshaft getting disconnected and letting the rear wheels roll freely on their own — unless the brakes are applied.
When the bolt has fractured, owners may notice a grinding, clunking or binding noise coming from the rear axle.
To keep the vehicle from rolling away, Ford dealers will update the vehicle’s software so that the electronic parking brake will automatically engage every time the transmission is shifted into Park.
Recalls are performed free of charge even if the vehicle is already out of warranty because of the safety risks and liability involved.
3. Power Window Issues
Several sixth gen Ford Explorer owners have reported that their windows intermittently have issues rolling up or down.
The most common problem owners have noticed is that the windows will randomly roll back down as soon as the windows reach the top of the door frame when using the auto roll-up feature.
Sometimes, the switches will also require several pushes before the windows actually respond.
Here’s how a few owners described their experience:
“The window rolls up all the way then just goes back down. very slow to completely roll down, then the motor doesn’t go up all the way and I have to keep pressing it.”
“Driver window on the 2020 Explorer randomly when rolled down and you roll it up with the auto up, will hit the top, then bounce back down. This used to happen once a month, and now is about once a week.”
“I had a similar issue where the windows acted strangely (auto reversed when shut closed, etc.) and they finally just stopped one day at about 75% down and wouldn’t move anymore.”
In a lot of cases, you can force the windows to fully close if you keep pulling up on the switches.
You can also reset the Ford Explorer’s power windows by following these steps:
- Fully roll up the windows
- Hold the window switch up for a few seconds
- Fully roll down the windows
- Push down the window switch for a few seconds
- Test the one-touch function and see if it has recalibrated itself
If the windows don’t respond at all, turn off the vehicle then walk away with the key fob for a few minutes. This will force the vehicle to completely turn off all of its electronics and power cycle them back on when you get back in. You can also pull the window fuse or disconnect the 12-volt battery to accomplish the same thing.
The 2020 to 2021 model years of the Ford Explorer also have a TSB that advises dealers to reconfigure the Driver Door Module’s software to clear out any glitches. The dealer should also be able to check if the window switches need to be replaced because they can also fail prematurely.
4. Torn CV Axle Boot
It’s fairly common to see tears in the sixth gen Ford Explorer’s CV axle boot at around 10,000 to 15,000 miles.
When the boot gets torn, grease will start to leak out of it and it will eventually let in water and dirt which will wear out the axle much quicker.
It’s not dangerous to keep driving with a torn axle boot, but it will start making clicking and popping noises after some time.
You can apply more grease and replace just the boot, but this takes more time and effort compared to just putting in a new axle.
New OEM CV axles for the sixth gen Explorer cost around $150 and take around 1 to 2 hours to install.
5. Power Liftgate Problems
A number of sixth gen owners on ExplorerForum.com have experienced different issues with the power liftgate.
The most common complaint is that the hands-free functionality will sometimes cause the liftgate to open or close on its own when standing near the rear bumper.
Here’s how two owners described their issue:
“Every so often, I will walk by the vehicle and my foot will slide under the rear bumper causing the liftgate to activate.”
“I’ve been hit on the head while vacuuming the rear of the car. Another time I was moving my vacuum around the back of Explorer and it triggered the close of the liftgate.”
Some owners have simply disconnected the kick sensor in the rear bumper to prevent the liftgate from opening and closing on its own. You can also check with the dealer if they can adjust the sensitivity of the liftgate sensors.
There have also been complaints that the power liftgate will not fully close on its own when using the button on the dash. This can be avoided if you unlock or keep one of the doors open before pushing the button.
Other liftgate issues can be caused by faulty control modules or struts which can be diagnosed and fixed by the dealer.
6. Camera Issues
Ford has already recalled the sixth generation Explorer at least once to fix an issue with the backup camera where it will randomly display a blue screen.
Despite these recalls, backup camera issues still persist and a new recall was announced in January 2023 that involves almost 300,000 Ford Explorers equipped with a 360 camera.
This recall affects all 2020 to 2023 model years of the Explorer Hybrid since the hybrid drivetrain is only available in trim levels that come with a 360 camera as standard.
The latest recall recommends updating the Image Processing Module’s (IPMB) software to prevent it from going into standby mode which causes the blue screen issue. Some sixth gen Explorer owners have also reported that replacing the camera module got rid of their blue screen problems.
7. Refueling Issues
Several sixth gen Ford Explorers have had issues filling up their gas tank because the gas pump automatically clicks off even if the tank isn’t full.
In order to get a full tank of gas in the car, owners have to manually squeeze the gas pump trigger or set the pump to a lower setting which significantly slows down the refueling process.
This issue typically affects the 2020 to 2021 model years of the Explorer.
Ford released a TSB to address this problem which recommends replacing the fuel filler pipe with an updated part.
8. 12-volt Battery Issues
Some 2020 to 2021 Explorer Hybrids may show a low battery warning on the dash or fail to start due to a 12-volt battery failure.
In most cases, simply swapping out the battery for a new one or jump starting the car will fix the issue
The Explorer Hybrid is more sensitive to 12-volt battery issues because it has lots of electronics and computer modules. If the car isn’t driven regularly or if it’s parked outside in the cold a lot, the battery can easily get drained. It’s also possible that the battery was defective from the factory.
Ford also released a TSB for the Ford Explorer Hybrid and Lincoln Aviator Hybrid that recommends replacing a 125-amp fuse in the body control module (BCM) if the low battery warning persists even after replacing the 12-volt battery.
9. Hard Brake Pedal on Startup
Several sixth gen Ford Explorer owners have noticed that the brake pedal can become extremely hard on startup.
This usually happens if the brake pedal is pressed really hard when starting the vehicle. If the brake pedal is only pressed lightly, the brakes perform as expected after pressing the start button.
This issue usually only affects the early builds of the 2020 Explorer Hybrid.
Once the brake pedal is released, the brakes will start working properly again. However, the initial brake feel can catch owners off guard and cause momentary panic because it makes them think that the brakes aren’t working properly.
To address the issue, Ford released a TSB that recommends updating the ABS module’s software to correct the issue.
Ford Explorer Hybrid Pros and Cons
- Third row seats
- Captain chairs are standard
- Decent fuel economy for an Explorer
- Good for towing
- Lots of cargo space
- Extremely versatile
- Doesn’t have latest Ford infotainment software
- Rivals have better fuel economy
- Lots of wind noise at highways speeds
What Do The Reviews Say?
“Slotting between the midsize five-passenger Ford Edge and full-size Expedition, the three-row Explorer is well suited for family hauling duty. It also boasts strong towing capabilities for its class.”
“The Explorer with the hybrid powertrain feels eager and balanced. Much of this goodness stems from a chassis that combines the dynamic benefits of a rear-wheel-drive foundation, an advanced four-wheel independent suspension, and lightweight unit-body construction.”
“The Explorer’s front seats are nicely shaped and comfortable. But we don’t recommend the optional massaging ones — the mechanism behind the massaging can make the seats feel lumpy when it’s turned off. Seat comfort gets progressively less cushiony as you move back to the second and third rows. Our Explorer Limited test vehicle rode smoothly most of the time, but smaller road imperfections were a little more noticeable than in some other SUVs.”
“You’ll get a full complement of standard driving safety aids, including a forward collision warning system that can automatically brake for you if you don’t react in time. It all works well, but the alerts for these various systems sound overly similar and the lane-centering system may falsely accuse you of taking your hands off the wheel.”
“The Explorer is especially well suited to towing, and the 5,000-pound maximum tow rating is quite good for a hybrid SUV.”
“The all-wheel-drive version of the hybrid gets an EPA-estimated 25 mpg combined (23 city/26 highway), which is only 2 mpg higher than a regular Explorer Limited with the base turbocharged engine. Our test vehicle fell slightly short of the EPA estimate with an average of 23.3 mpg over 610 miles of mixed driving.”
What’s the Resale Value of a Ford Explorer Hybrid?
Here’s a quick look at used car pricing on Edmunds at the time of writing. Prices quoted are for the Limited Hybrid trim level: