2011-2019 Ford Explorer Parts Buying Guide, Maintenance, and More

Evan Williams
by Evan Williams

Ford basically invented the modern crossover and SUV market in 1991 when it first introduced the Explorer to the world. Combining comfort closer to a car with capability more like a truck, it struck a chord with buyers. The Ford Explorer is now in its sixth generation, and the SUV has come a very long way through its generations—growing larger, more capable, and more carlike all at the same time.

The fifth-generation Ford Explorer was sold from 2011 through 2019, with a few updates in the middle. From families to fleets, this two- and three-row SUV was popular with options ranging from low-priced economical rides to fully luxurious and twin-turbocharged rockets. It even found favor with police departments across the U.S. as the Utility Interceptor. If you currently own a fifth-generation Ford Explorer, or considering getting one off the used car market, you’ve come to the right place. This is your comprehensive guide to maintenance, replacement parts, and common issues for the 2011-2019 Ford Explorer.

For more information on the 2011-2019 Ford Explorer, refer to our table of contents.

Fifth-Generation (2011-2019) Ford Explorer Specifications

This was the first Explorer to really move away from its truck-like roots to fully make the trip to the crossover side of the aisle. With that came more space, more capability, and improved styling like the black pillar floating roof look.

It launched with a 3.5-liter V6 and six-speed automatic, with 2.0-liter turbo-four, 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6, and 2.3-liter Ecoboost I4 options joining later in the run. The 2016 model saw a facelift with revised F-150-like styling. That year also saw the 2.0-liter engine dropped for the 2.3, a new Platinum trim with more luxury features, and more driver aids like parking assistance.

In 2018, a second facelift brought a new grille and LED headlights. It also changed some exterior colors.

2011-2019 Ford Explorer Commonly Reported Problems

Complaints are common about the MyFord Touch infotainment system. It was an early touchscreen system, and older software often doesn't measure up to modern components. While it was replaced with the 2016 upgrade to Ford Sync 2, an excellent solution is to upgrade to a more modern aftermarket solution like this from Autostereo. Designed to work with 2013-2018 Explorer models, it adds Apple CarPlay support as well as Android Auto. With a system like this, you can upgrade your infotainment, add navigation, and maintain all of the factory controls for temperature and other functionality. While this isn't a cheap option, modern vehicles are much more complex and more integrated than before, and that all costs money to replace.

There are few other common issues reported with this generation of Explorer. Some owners report aluminum panels with bubbling or peeling paint that require replacement. This is much less of an issue than on a steel panel, as far as the integrity of the panel, it is more of a cosmetic issue.

Some owners report 2016-2017 models with chattering front windows while rolling up or down. The fix for this is to replace the glass, regulator, motor, and wiring harness.

Reports of a fluid leak from AWD Ecoboost I4 models are from a transfer case intermediate seal which would need to be replaced.

A popping or creaking from the front of the vehicle at low speeds can be caused by a subframe bolt issue on 2015 and 2016 model year vehicles. On older vehicles, it can be a sign of worn suspension components like strut mounts.

2011-2019 Ford Explorer Gas Mileage

Ford Explorer front-drive 2.0-liter models should return 20 mpg city, 28 highway. The 2.3-liter models should see 19/27 with front-drive or 18/26 with AWD, showing very little compromise for the extra traction.

The 3.5-liter NA V6 models are estimated to return 18/25 and 17/23 with AWD, while 3.5-liter EcoBoost models are rated for 16/22 with all-wheel drive.

2011-2019 Ford Explorer Recalls

A total of 1.2 million 2011-2017 Explorers were recalled over a rear suspension toe link that could fracture. Ford Recall 19S17 was launched in June of 2019, so some vehicles may not yet have been repaired.

Also, 194,000 2011-2013 Explorer models were recalled over an inside door handle that might not spring back after opening. Ford will inspect and repair as necessary, recall 15S11.

Recall 14S06 affects 2011-2013 models that may experience intermittent power steering assist failure. A software fix is the standard repair, but a new rack is possible.

Recall 13S04 covers 2013 model year vehicles where a fuel delivery model could crack and allow fuel to leak.

Lastly, 2015-2019 Ford Explorer models were recalled as the roof rail covers could loosen and detach over time. The fix for this is to replace any damaged clips or covers and install securing push pins.

2011-2019 Ford Explorer Common Parts: Wheels

The Ford Explorer offers a wide range of factory wheel sizes, but one of the best was the 20-inch upgrade offered on the Explorer Sport trim. These wheels are refurbished factory Sport wheels with the machined face and black-painted backing and make any fifth-gen Explorer look better than new. All of this generation of Ford Explorer use 5x114.3-inch bolt pattern wheels. Remember if you change your wheel size, you'll also need some new tires.

2011-2019 Ford Explorer Hub Caps

Ford didn't offer the Explorer with factory steel wheels. That said, if you have a set and you're looking for a cover, this set from OxGord looks just like the Ford Fusion 17-inch covers, helping make your Explorer's covers look factory fresh. They're designed to snap into your wheels with adjustable retention rings that ensure a secure and tight fit.

2011-2019 Ford Explorer Headlights

Headlights looking cloudy or even cracked after as many as 10 years on the road? Check out this set from ECCPP that offers a blacked-out upgrade look when compared with the factory part for 2011-2015 Explorer models. They come with factory-style projector low beams for the best illumination at night, and just plain look great during the daytime. The best part is that it's a complete set, meaning that you only need one box to replace both sides of your vehicle's nose.

Replacements for the 2016 and newer models aren't as easy to find just yet, but this example offers you the LED illumination of the modern headlight and the shadowline appearance of the Sport trim model. CAPA certification guarantees that the part should fit and perform just like the factory component, while a one-year warranty guarantees performance.

2011-2019 Ford Explorer Cabin Air Filter

Your cabin air filter removes particles like dust and dirt, preventing them from getting in through your ventilation system. They're a great way to improve your in-vehicle experience in heavy traffic, during pollen season, and in the event of forest fires hundreds of miles upwind of you. Keeping particles out of the cabin will improve your breathing and a clean filter will make sure you're getting plenty of airflow. See the maintenance schedule below for more on when to change it. To change the cabin filter, open the glove box and pull the box door out of the clips on the bottom of the glovebox shelf. Behind that shelf, there is a plastic housing you unclip and pull out to change the filter.

A FRAM Fresh Breeze cabin air filter is a great replacement for the original filter in your SUV. It's designed to filter 98 percent of dust, pollen, and other similar contaminants. The filters offer more flow to give you more cooling and heating performance from your HVAC system. FRAM offers more than just activated carbon to remove odors from the air, the system also includes Arm & Hammer baking soda working even harder to prevent musty or unpleasant smells from reaching you on your drive. Ford's stock filter part number is W840C.

2011-2019 Ford Explorer Engine Air Filter

Your air filter is critical to proper performance and long life. If it's dirty, your engine can't breathe. It will waste more fuel and make less power, and can ruin your experience with your Ford. Two clips on the front and tabs on the three remaining sides are all you need to remove to get your filter changed.

Ford uses the same engine air filter for all of the 2011-2019 Ford Explorer engine options, making picking out a filter quick and easy. We recommend the same filter that your Ford had when it left the factory, this filter from Motorcraft. Motorcraft is Ford's in-house parts department, meaning that it is exactly what the engineers who designed your Explorer expect to be under the hood. And you can expect it to work like your Explorer did when new.

2011-2019 Ford Explorer Tires

The Ford Explorer offered a wide range of tires from a number of tire companies depending on what trim of vehicle you purchased. Common base-model sizes are 245/65R17 with 245/60R18 on XLT and other mid-trims. Limited, Sport, and Platinum models use 255/50R20 tires.

For the 17-inch size, the Cooper Evolution Tour All-Season is an excellent choice. The Evolution Tour comes with a tread pattern designed for a smooth and quiet highway ride to take advantage of the more car-like Ford Explorer. The tire's technology is meant to help improve your fuel economy to help your wallet and has a 65,000-mile wear rating which should keep you in comfort for years. A new 3D micro-gauge siping technology from Cooper is meant to make the tire work better in the snow to help take advantage of the Explorer's AWD system all year long.

With larger 18-inch wheels, look to the Goodyear Assurance MaxLife. This tire is made in the U.S. and comes with an 820 treadwear rating. That comes with an 85,000-mile treadwear warranty and the assurance that you're not likely to need a replacement anytime soon. Intermediate tire ribs feature a built-in wear gauge that lets you know how many 32nds of an inch of rubber you have remaining. The same ribs help the Explorer track straight on the highway with deep circumferential grooves to move water out of the way.

The Explorer's 20-inch wheels and tires are often found on the Sport model of the Explorer. So take advantage of that with the BFGoodrich Advantage T/A Sport light truck tire. The BFGoodrich Advantage is designed to offer 30 percent better traction in the snow than its predecessor, but also to give you 10 percent better handling and up to 20,000 more miles of tread life. Better grip and a more sporting feel combine to give you a tire that takes advantage of your Sport Explorer while delivering excellent bad weather traction too.

2011-2019 Ford Explorer Front Bumper

Ford used three front bumper covers over the various years of the Explorer. This one fits 2011-2015 models as a direct replacement. The cover is offered unpainted and with a textured finish. Meaning that if you're worried about just scratching or denting it again, you can install and leave it as-is and it will still look like a finished part. Or you can paint it to match the rest of your Explorer. The bumper comes with a front plate provision and has a tow hook hole. It also offers fog light holes for your factory fogs, or you can use the new holes to upgrade with new fog lights.

Got a slightly newer Explorer? This bumper fits 2016 and 2017 models. It's a direct replacement for those years, and it comes CAPA certified for fit. It's also primed, saving you a step if you're planning on painting it. This bumper cover comes with a one-year warranty to help cover you and ensure that it fits correctly and measures up to the rest of your Explorer.

2011-2019 Ford Explorer Oil

All 2011-2019 Explorer models use 5W20 motor oil. It's a weight that offers improved fuel economy while maintaining protection at a cold start. Castrol GTX Magnatec 5W20 meets Ford's specifications for these engines. It also helps reduce startup wear with a claimed six times better wear protection thanks to molecules that are engineered to cling to critical engine parts during warm-up as well as stop and go traffic. They're designed to not drop off of engine parts as quickly as conventional oil. Castrol aims Magnatec at drivers who often see heavy traffic or multiple short trips.

Valvoline's MaxLife oil is designed for higher mileage vehicles, those over 75,000 miles. That should cover most Explorers, as this generation is now 10 years old. It comes with enhanced anti-wear additives to help protect engines that have already endured heavy stresses. Extra detergents are meant to protect against and even remove sludge and deposits that have built up over time. Seal conditioners can help stop small leaks and weeping caused by old and brittle rubber seals.

2011-2019 Ford Explorer Oil Filter

All six-cylinder Explorers, including both 3.5-liter models use the same oil filter in this generation. We recommend the Motorcraft FL-500S filter because it's the factory part. It's also offered at a price that's more than competitive with aftermarket solutions. The Motorcraft filter is made with pressure relief and drain back valves to protect your engine from oiling system problems and filter clog issues. The steel case of the filter is designed to fit precisely and has fluting on the end to help you get a grip with slippery hands for installation and removal.

For all 2.0T and 2.3-liter EcoBoost Explorer models, we recommend another Motorcraft filter. The FL-910S model is made for these applications, and it offers all of the same features and benefits as its six-cylinder sibling. That includes the backing and recommendation of Ford as well as a silicone anti-drain-back valve that will outlast the nitrile rubber (or the no valve at all) of some other filter manufacturers.

2011-2019 Ford Explorer Battery

Your Ford Explorer uses a Group 65-size battery with top posts and should have at least 700 cold cranking amps. We recommend this MaxStart from Delphi Automotive. It's an AGM battery, meaning it has its electrolytes in a glass mat instead of sloshing around inside. That makes it better able to resist the heat and vibration under your hood and help ensure a long life. The battery also offers fortified posts to help with durability. Its 750 CCA rating helps make sure it can start on even the coldest mornings, and 150 minutes reserve capacity is plenty for if you're planning to leave the radio on.

2011-2019 Ford Explorer Keyless Entry Remote Battery

Remote locking not working as well as it used to? A CR2025 3-volt battery is what you’re looking for to replace the one in the fob of your early Explorer. From Energizer, it comes in a two-pack, because if your one fob's battery is flat, the other one is likely not far behind. If you're not changing both, the battery can sit for up to 10 years in storage without losing its charge. They can also handle a wide range of temperatures, so your remote should still work in extreme hot or cold.

Later Explorer models use a CR2450 battery. In this size, we recommend Duracell, because they're available at less cost than the Energizer battery in the same size. They're guaranteed for 10 years of power in storage and will power your remote for years. They're also sold in child-resistant packaging and have a non-toxic bitter coating to help make sure that small children who manage to get hold of them doesn't accidentally ingest them. They should also function at their best in a wide range of temperatures, just like you and your Explorer.

2011-2019 Ford Explorer Spark Plugs

Ford uses a wide range of spark plugs depending on your engine, but all are platinum-tipped to help ensure long life and that the plugs will last through the 100,000-mile service intervals.

All NA V6 Explorer models use Motorcraft SP520. For a full set that is comparable to the factory components, try these NGK 6509 Iridium plugs. Iridium is one step better than platinum on the spark plug scale for long life and performance. They're pre-gapped so you do not need to set the plug gap—although we do recommend checking them. Otherwise, just screw them in, reattach the coils, and you're ready to go. They'll also work with 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6-powered models.

2.3- and 2.0-liter EcoBoost engines use SP550. The factory component is the most common plug for this application, and since it's made by Ford that's not hard to understand why. Again offering a platinum tip for long life, this plug comes pre-gapped and is ready to install. These plugs come with a two-year unlimited mileage warranty to give you confidence about your new plugs and ensure your Explorer is running right.

2011-2019 Ford Explorer Wiper Blades

The wiper blades for your Explorer come in 26-inch length for the driver, 22 inches for the passenger, and 11 inches for the rear glass. Replace all three in one go with this set that includes Rain-X Latitude wipers for the front and a Trico blade for the rear. Rain-X Latitude blades use a beam design that works to keep them flat to your glass in all positions of the wiper's sweep.

The graphite-coated blades offer a chatter-free wipe over the life of the blades, helping improve visibility and reduce noise. They're also tough enough for summer and winter use and are easy to install. The included Trico Exact Fit is meant as a factory replacement for the rear window. It uses the same cage design as the factory part, where a beam-style is often not offered because of the flatter (and less wind-exposed) nature of the rear windshield.

2011-2019 Ford Explorer Brake Pads

Bosch makes top-quality ceramic brake pads for the Ford Explorer. Ceramic pads are copper-free, which is good for the environment, and make less brake pad dust overall. They're quiet thanks to the ceramic compound as well as a factory-style rubber shim that works by absorbing noise-causing vibration. Each set of QuietCast brake pads also comes with brake caliper lubricant as well as all of the metal hardware and shims required to install them on your Ford.

2011-2019 Ford Explorer Headlight Bulbs

Headlight bulbs burn out, but even before that they can get dim with time. If you're not able to see as well at night as you think you should, it might be time to swap those bulbs anyway. And always replace both, because even if one is still working, if it's old it won't be working as well as the one beside it.

Ford Explorer models in this generation use either a 9005 bulb or an HID.

For 9005 bulbs (check your owner's manual to be sure which your trim uses), Phillips 9005 CrystalVision bulbs are a great choice. They put out bright white light up to 30 percent farther down the road than the factory bulbs. They also last up to 300 hours, which is more than double the rating of a standard bulb, giving you reliable dependable performance.

HID-equipped models use size D3S. This OSRAM bulb comes with a four-year warranty, important as these bulbs are more expensive than standard halogen. OSRAM is also one of the leading companies making HID bulbs, and the company offers a security code label to ensure you're getting the real thing. It offers a lower heat output than standard bulbs with more light and a daylight-matching color temperature. While it's offered only in packs of one, we do recommend replacing both for the best visibility.

2011-2019 Ford Explorer Maintenance Schedule

This generation of Explorer has an intelligent oil-life monitor system. This will tell you when your oil changes are due more precisely, but Ford says to never exceed one year or 10,000 miles between changes.

At 20,000 miles, Ford requires a cabin air filter replacement, tire rotation and suspension check, oil change, cooling and exhaust system inspection, transmission and rear axle fluid checks, and brake pad checks.

At 30k, maintenance is the same as at 20k, with the exception of changing the engine air filter in place of the cabin filter.

40k repeats the 20k service.

At 60k, both air filters are required to be changed along with the remainder of the 20k service items.

80k service repeats 20k and 90k repeats 30k.

100k requires new spark plugs and a coolant change as well as all of the 20k services. Subsequent coolant changes are every 50k miles.

From 100k miles, the service interval repeats.

2011-2019 Ford Explorer Accessories and Modifications

Protect your Explorer’s carpets from front to rear with these Maxliner hard mats for the Ford Explorer. Laser measured and then molded for a precise fit, these mats keep mud, snow, slush, and rain contained for easier cleaning. All three rows of seats are protected thanks to this full set of mats. A textured anti-skid finish keeps your feet securely where you put them, and the texture can be quickly cleaned with soap and water.

The Ford Explorer offers a massive cargo area, which means that if you have smaller items to hold, they can end up rolling around while you drive. What you need is a cargo carrier that can keep smaller items like groceries in place while folding up when it's time to hold full-size cargo. This trunk organizer from Fortem has multiple adjustable compartments to hold your gear as well as straps and a non-skid bottom to keep it in place. When you're not using it, it folds up to get out of the way, but ready for the next time you need it.

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Evan Williams
Evan Williams

Evan moved from engineering to automotive journalism 10 years ago (it turns out cars are more interesting than fibreglass pipes), but has been following the auto industry for his entire life. Evan is an award-winning automotive writer and photographer and is the current President of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. You'll find him behind his keyboard, behind the wheel, or complaining that tiny sports cars are too small for his XXXL frame.

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