6 Common Ford Explorer Towing Problems: A Comprehensive Analysis

The Ford Explorer, a stalwart in the SUV segment, has long been celebrated for its versatility, especially when it comes to towing. From boats to campers, many have relied on the Explorer to transport their prized possessions. 

However, as with any vehicle, the Explorer isn’t without its challenges. Some owners have reported specific towing problems, raising questions and concerns. 

In this deep dive, we’ll explore the common towing issues associated with the Ford Explorer, shedding light on potential causes, solutions, and preventive measures.

6 Common Ford Explorer Towing Problems

6 common towing problems of Ford Explorer include transmission overheating, engine strain, rear suspension challenges, potential body damage, steering difficulties, and ECU complications. Let’s dive deeper into each of these issues:

Transmission Overheating:

When towing heavy loads, especially in challenging terrains or during hot weather, the transmission can overheat. This is due to the added strain, causing the transmission fluid to heat up beyond its optimal range. For models between 2002 to 2006, this issue is particularly prevalent. 


Installing a transmission cooler can help in regulating the temperature of the transmission fluid. Regularly checking and replacing the transmission fluid can also ensure it retains its lubricating and cooling properties.

Engine Strain:

Towing, especially up steep inclines, can put a significant strain on the engine. If the Explorer isn’t adequately equipped or prepared for such tasks, it can lead to engine overheating.


Regular servicing and maintenance can keep the engine in optimal condition. For those frequently towing in challenging terrains, consider upgrading the cooling system or adding an auxiliary fan to prevent overheating.

Rear Suspension Challenges:

When a trailer is attached, the added weight can strain the rear suspension. This not only affects the vehicle’s balance but can also lead to premature wear and tear of suspension components. 


Using a weight distribution hitch can help in evenly distributing the trailer’s weight, reducing the load on the rear suspension. Additionally, regular checks and potential upgrades to the suspension system can ensure it remains robust and responsive.

Potential Body Damage:

If the weight limit set by Ford for the specific Explorer model is exceeded, there’s a risk of causing damage to the vehicle’s body. Overloading can lead to issues like the hitch separating from the SUV, potentially tearing parts of the car away. 


Always adhere to the recommended towing capacity of the Ford Explorer model you own. Before towing, inspect the hitch attachment points for any signs of wear or damage. Consider professional installation and regular inspection of towing equipment.

Steering Difficulties:

Towing can introduce challenges like trailer sway, which can make steering the Explorer more difficult. This is especially true if the vehicle isn’t equipped with the right hitch or other towing accessories. 


Implementing anti-sway measures can enhance steering stability. Properly loading the trailer, ensuring even weight distribution, and using the right hitch equipment can also improve steering control.

Electronic Control Unit (ECU) Complications:

The ECU monitors the vehicle’s performance. When towing, especially if the trailer is overloaded, the ECU might detect anomalies in the engine or transmission performance. This can trigger a protective “limp mode,” limiting the SUV’s performance until the issue is addressed.


Regularly service the vehicle to ensure the engine and transmission are in good condition. If the “limp mode” is activated, consult a professional to diagnose and address the underlying issue. Avoid overloading the trailer to prevent undue stress on the vehicle’s systems.

Why does U-Haul prohibit towing behind a Ford Explorer?

U-Haul’s decision to restrict towing behind certain Ford Explorer models wasn’t arbitrary. In the early 2000s, the Ford Explorer was at the center of a significant controversy involving tire failures, which led to numerous rollover incidents. These events culminated in one of the largest tire recalls in automotive history. 

Given the potential risks associated with these incidents, U-Haul, in a move to prioritize customer safety and reduce liability, decided to prohibit towing behind the affected Ford Explorer models. This decision was a precautionary measure, reflecting the company’s commitment to ensuring both customer safety and the protection of their equipment. 

However, it’s essential to note that this restriction was specific to certain older models and might not apply to the newer Ford Explorer iterations. Always check with U-Haul’s current policies when considering a rental.

Essential Maintenance Tips For Towing With Ford Explorer

Towing with your Ford Explorer can be a breeze, but it’s crucial to ensure that the vehicle is in top shape to handle the added strain. Here are some essential maintenance tips to keep in mind:

Regular Oil Changes:

Towing can put additional strain on the engine. Ensure you’re using the right grade of oil and change it at the recommended intervals. Consider more frequent changes if you tow regularly.

Check Transmission Fluid:

The transmission fluid should be checked regularly for both its level and quality. If it’s burnt or dirty, it’s time for a change. As mentioned earlier, consider adding a transmission cooler if you tow heavy loads frequently.

Inspect Brakes:

Towing adds extra weight, which means your brakes work harder. Regularly inspect the brake pads, rotors, and fluid. Replace or service them as needed.

Tire Maintenance:

Ensure your tires are properly inflated and in good condition. Remember, under-inflated tires can overheat, especially when towing. Rotate them regularly and replace them when the tread gets low.

Cooling System Check:

The radiator, coolant, hoses, and fans should be in optimal condition, especially if you’re towing in hot climates or up steep inclines. Regularly check the coolant level and consider a system flush every couple of years.

Suspension and Hitch Inspection:

Before towing, inspect the suspension components for wear. Also, check the hitch assembly for any signs of damage or rust. Ensure all connections are secure.

Battery Health:

Towing can demand more from your electrical system. Ensure your battery is in good health, with clean terminals and a full charge.

Upgrade When Necessary:

If you find yourself towing frequently or pulling heavy loads, consider upgrading parts of your vehicle, like the suspension or brakes, to heavy-duty versions.

Practice Safe Driving:

While not a maintenance tip per se, driving safely and avoiding sudden maneuvers can reduce the strain on your vehicle. This includes accelerating gradually, braking earlier, and taking turns gently.


Is The Ford Explorer’s Rear Suspension Robust Enough For Heavy Towing?

While the Ford Explorer is designed for towing, using a weight distribution hitch can help distribute the trailer’s weight evenly, reducing strain on the rear suspension.

How Do I Ensure Safe Steering When Towing With My Ford Explorer?

Properly loading the trailer, ensuring even weight distribution, and using the right hitch equipment, along with anti-sway measures, can enhance steering stability.

Why Might My Ford Explorer Go Into “Limp Mode” When Towing?

The ECU might activate “limp mode” if it detects anomalies in engine or transmission performance, especially when towing an overloaded trailer. This mode restricts the SUV’s performance to prevent further damage.

How Often Should I Service My Ford Explorer If I Tow Regularly?

Regular servicing is crucial, especially if you tow often. Consider more frequent oil changes, brake inspections, and checks on the transmission fluid and cooling system.

Can Overloading My Trailer Damage The Body Of My Ford Explorer?

Yes, overloading can strain the vehicle’s hitch attachment points, potentially causing damage to the SUV’s body. Always adhere to the recommended towing capacity.

Are There Specific Ford Explorer Models Known For More Towing Problems?

Older models, especially those from the early 2000s, have been reported to have certain towing challenges. However, it’s essential to consult specific model reviews and owner feedback for detailed insights.

Final Thoughts

Recognizing potential towing problems is only half the battle; the real triumph lies in proactive solutions and regular maintenance. The Ford Explorer, when treated with care and respect, stands as a reliable companion for all your towing needs. 

So, as we wrap up this deep dive, remember to always prioritize your vehicle’s health and safety.

Ricardo Vaughn
Ricardo Vaughn

Vaughn is a seasoned off-roading expert and professional winch specialist. When he's not out on the trails, he shares his knowledge and experiences through his writing as a blog author in the off-roading and outdoor lifestyle space.

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