9th Nov 2014, 12:00

This is the original reviewer, posting an approximate 1-year update for my 2002 Ford Explorer Sport. Since last year's update, I have driven 15,033 miles and the odometer now stands at 174,906 miles. This is a bit higher than historical yearly averages because I went on a 2,500-mile round trip for Christmas last year, and it's a testimony to the reliability of this Explorer Sport that I would undertake such a venture with a vehicle that, at the time, had over 160,000 miles on it. During the preceding year, I changed the oil 5 times at intervals ranging between 3,100 and 3,600 miles while continuing to use the recommended 5W-30 Motorcraft Synthetic Blend oil and Motorcraft filter. When the Motorcraft filter was not available, I used a Pure One Premium filter and in one case a Bosch filter. I also changed the air filter at its recommended 12,000-mile service interval.

I continue to check the the transfer case fluid level every 12,000 miles, and the differential fluid levels every 10,000 miles. The rear differential seal continues to leak, but the rate has not increased and I expect no problems so long as I continue to check the fluid level and add the required few ounces of gear oil periodically. During the past year, I changed the fluid in the front and rear differentials 69,000 miles after it had last been done. That job was made possible by an inexpensive but very good hand pump from Advance Auto that did very well with the high-viscosity gear oil.

Moving on to more expensive routine maintenance, I had the engine coolant flushed and changed, and the transmission fluid changed, both at around the recommended 50,000 mile service interval. I'm amazed that the water pump has not required replacement at this high mileage, but one of my justifications for changing the engine coolant according to the severe use schedule is that bits of rust and scale that might otherwise erode the plastic impeller blades are routinely being flushed out, and hopefully that will allow an extended life for the water pump. Similarly, I've had no problems with the transmission that others have mentioned, no flashing OD light or shifting problems, and I credit this with keeping up the routine maintenance. I'm a bit leery that the fluid changes do not include changing the actual filter, but it doesn't seem to have adversely affected anything by not changing it.

All of the above represents routine maintenance, rather than required repairs. The only real problem I had during the past year was needing a new alternator at 172,625 miles. That was, however, the original to the best of my knowledge so I would consider it superlative service. As with everything else on this modern vehicle (for me, of course, recognizing that it is now a dozen years old), the alternator was a lot more expensive than they were for my old Charger or Ramcharger. Having the alternator replaced and combining it with the coolant and transmission fluid changes cost $850. Finally, I had one of my fan speeds for the climate control restored. Last year, the fan settings had dropped to 1-1-1-4, and it cost $93 to replace a resistor and I now have 1-2-2-4. If it apparently costs a hundred dollars per setting, I decided to live with what I have.

I did indeed remove the running boards because of rust, and it was a benefit to aesthetics. The undersides of the kick panels are beginning to rust, though one has to look underneath to tell. Surface rust bubbles bloomed around the front driver's side wheel well and the rear passenger side wheel well. These appeared after last winter, and it was my opinion that driving to the harsh winter conditions of Wisconsin, with road salt and hundreds of miles of pounding, was harder than usual on the body. I ground off the rust with a 4-inch grinder, sealed and repainted both areas of about 2 inches in diameter. The front wheel well spot has remained dormant since then, but the rear wheel well spot has reappeared to various degrees, but not yet enough to re-grind and paint.

I continue to be pleased with my Explorer Sport. I considered anything past 150,000 miles to be gravy, so I will continue with maintenance and keep it on the road for as long as possible, but as with my other vehicles, I suspect that it will have to be retired when the rust gets out of control and not because of mechanical breakdown. This vehicle has spoiled me, and there are now features that I've grown used to that would have to be available on my next car or it would feel like stepping backward. It will be sad when it goes because it's been a great vehicle and I'll never get another deal like this one. I've owned this Explorer Sport for almost 8 years, which translates into 8-years worth of car payments that went into investments instead of a depreciating asset. Thank you, Ford!

2nd Nov 2015, 19:41

This is the original reviewer providing a yearly update for my 2002 Ford Explorer Sport. The odometer currently stands at 185,920 miles, so I've put 11,014 miles on my Explorer since my last update. The yearly average has come down a bit compared to previous years because I've been using my '71 Barracuda and '73 Charger for weekend driving, which has kept a few thousand miles off the Explorer.

The previous year was characterized by a virtual absence of major repairs. At one point I heard some scraping and felt some bouncing in the front end, and subsequently observed that one of the front stabilizer links had snapped in two. I had both front stabilizer links replaced, as the other was very rusty and looked as though it might be in danger of failure. The front tires had been wearing unevenly, so I had a front-end alignment at the same time that the front stabilizer links were replaced. Not long after I had the tires rotated.

The rust around the rear passenger side wheel well finally required attention this spring. A small patch rusted through from the inside, so I ground down the thinned and rusted metal completely, and did my best to remove the packed-in mud and dirt that collected inside the fender. There is a mating seam in the wheel well that doesn't fit right, and apparently the drive wheel throws mud up into the slightly open gap at the mating surface between two pieces of metal that define the inner wheel well. This mud then collects inside the fender and the latent moisture allows rust proliferation. After removing the sediment, I applied an adhesive-backed metal mesh and body putty, and ground it down. This was the first rust hole that needed to be patched, so I hope this isn't the beginning of the end. It's lasted since March, and we'll see if it lasts through the coming winter.

The only other failure was that the temperature/compass display on the overhead console quit working last winter. Too bad, because I really liked those features and used them all the time. I followed the directions that some may find online about this problem, and disassembled the overhead console to expose the circuit board. Some say this is a common problem because a certain resistor on the circuit board gets hot enough to partially melt the solder, and the connection is therefore lost. My experience was the same as others in that the display became erratic, and then would only work when a map lamp was turned on, apparently because it physically strains the circuit board into restoring contact with the resistor leads, but I saw no evidence of a loose connection when I looked at the circuit board under a microscope. So, I have to live without it, apparently. Perhaps I should have left well-enough alone because I've now noticed that I need to hold pressure on the sunroof switch, which is part of the same assembly, or it doesn't want to open or close.

Everything else was routine maintenance. I changed the oil three times, each at around 3,200-3,400 mile intervals using the 5W-30 Motorcraft Synthetic Blend and Motorcraft filter. I also changed the air filter during the past year at the usual recommended interval. I also checked the rear differential fluid level, as I do about every 10,000 miles. Gas mileage for short drives in mixed traffic is 18-19 mpg, although I recorded 22 mpg doing 45-55 mph on a 600-mile trip through the Appalachians on US and state highways.

As of right now, everything is looking pretty favorable for the continued operation of my 2002 Ford Explorer Sport, and I think there is a reasonable expectation of seeing it turn 200,000 miles. I expect to be within striking distance of that mark by the end of next year, barring the unforeseen, of course. Unless a catastrophic failure requires that I post the details, final summary, and epitaph, I'll provide another update next November. Although one might question who would still be reading a review of a vehicle that is now about to be 14 years old with nearly 200,000 miles. I happened to see this morning for sale on the street a 2000 Ford Explorer with 106,000 miles and an asking price of $900. Knowing what I know from my own Explorer, I would be able to recommend that as one heck of a deal to someone who needs a cheap car, as there are likely to be many tens of thousands of miles left in that vehicle.