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Why the Ford Explorer works so well offroad

With the Ford Explorer being the #1 SUV in America for over two decades there is certainly no one in the US who not familiar with this vehicle. The trouble is that most people equate a Ford Explorer with soccer moms and shopping malls rather than off road trails such as the Rubicon and Terminator.

The 1st and 2nd Generation Ford Explorers may be the best kept secrets in the off-road world. When these rigs are stock they are capable off-road performers. After a few modifications they become nearly unstoppable.

From 1991-1994 the Ford Explorer platform came with a full ladder type frame based on the tough Ford Ranger platform, an extremely tough 8.8” 31 spline rear axle, Dana 35 Twin Traction Beam (TTB) front suspension (axle diameters and U-joints are the same as a Dana 44), choice of a manual or electronic shift BW1354 transfer case with low range, manual or automatic locking hubs, and a torquey, super reliable 4.0L V-6.

In 1995 Ford changed the front suspension on the Explorer to an IFS system (Independent Front Suspension). Although the IFS systems offer less wheel travel than the TTB systems, they have proven themselves to be extremely capable and reliable off-road.
2002 brought more changes to the Explorer 4 door. The most noticeable change is the addition of an Independent Rear Suspension system in place of the live axle suspension all previous Explorers shared.

So, what does it take to make the Explorer “really” off-road worthy? The same type of modifications as any other rig. Large tires for flotation and ground clearance. A lift to accommodate the big tires. Re-gearing to compensate for the larger diameter of the  tires and a locker or two for putting the power to the ground. Approach and departure angles can be maximized by installing aftermarket bumpers, and the break over angle is excellent since the transfer case is tucked well up within the frame rails.

The Big Change:

2011 brought the biggest changes to the Explorer since it's inception in 1991. Beginning in 2011 the Ford Explorer was  built on a unibody chassis. There is no longer a separate frame. In 2011 Ford also ditched the Explorer's transfer case, so low range is no longer available. Sadly, due to the changes which have made the Explorer more "car like" the Fifth Generation Explorer is the least capable in off highway conditions of all the generations. I am looking forward to eventually seeing 5th gen Explorers with solid axle conversions front and rear, along with a proper transfer case.


Welcome to
"Serious Explorations" ®

" Serious Explorations"® has been the #1 Ford Explorer and Ranger enthusiast community since 1996!

 Our  Message Board.  is the top resource for all Ford Explorer, Ford Ranger, Explorer Sport Trac, Mercury Mountaineer, and Mazda Navajo related topics providing guidance to the do it yourselfer, preventive maintenance tips, service, modifications, and on and off-road event planning.

The message board is your gateway to our extremely active and friendly community of Ford Explorer / Ranger based truck owners. You will find lots of great people there ready to help you solve your most obscure problems.

In our network of sites you will find the Ford Explorer Generation Guide and Ford Explorer and Ranger Maintenance Tips to keep your Explorer and Ranger based trucks running great.

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Thousands of Tech Tips Can Be Found
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In the beginning...
The first Ford Explorer...

The Inside Story of the
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by Derek Elliott
 Former Ford Body & Electrical Engineer


Ford Explorer Specifications
1991 - 2011

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All tips on this site are for use at your own risk and discretion.
Modifying the suspension on any vehicle will cause
 changes to it's handling characteristics.


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