2003 Ford Explorer AC Not Cold Enough

12:21 pm Air Conditioning, Ford Problems, Tech/Mechanic


This picture shows some side dash bolts with trim removed.

© DenLorsTools.com Summary: Common cause of 2002-2005 (Third Generation) Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer low airflow issues covered. Broken recirculate doors can affect airflow from the blower fan if the main air inlet door has fallen. A Ford Explorer that has a full charge of refrigerant and is cooling, but is not quite cool enough may have a broken fresh air door, preventing proper recirculation. The fresh air door is also called a recirculate door, max air door or main air inlet door.

The function of the door is to let fresh air in, or to recirculate the inside air. When the air conditioning control is set to the max position, the fresh air door seals off the outside air to recirculate the air in the passenger compartment. When the air is recirculated, cooler air temperatures can be obtained since the air is cooler to begin with, compared to the outside air.

Not Just Ford. Any vehicle with a broken recirculation door or actuator that moves this door can have this problem. However a broken blend door is a common problem with the Ford Explorer. This can be checked easily. First, listen for increased air flow when changing the the AC to max. If the air doesn’t sound louder in the max position, there’s a good chance the recirculate door is broken. Next open the glove box and look for movement of the recirculate door when switching from normal to max air.


Fresh Air door assembly, broken door fell to the bottom.

Dash Removal. If the door is broken, dash removal is required to access and change the door assembly. Book time pays 6.9 hours not including check out time and evacuation and recharging.

This job can be done by an experienced technician in about 45 minutes, with no need to evacuate and recharge the AC system. The dash is not completely removed, just unbolted and swung out to rest on the passenger seat to allow removal and replacement of the main air inlet door assembly.

Remove the Console. Remove the center console upper trim (one 7mm screw), unplugging the power outlet. There are two 10mm bolts securing the front of the console to the floorboard. Move the seats forward, from the back seat area remove  two 10mm bolts from the sides of the console. Now the console is loose, place it to the side.

Unbolting the Dash. After disconnecting the battery, remove the trim panels from the sides of the dash and the defrost trim from the top. There are two bolts on each side and two on the top. Unbolt the steering coupler near the driver’s floorboard. There is one hidden 10mm bolt that is accessed from the outside.


Hidden Dash 10mm Dash Bolt

Sneaking it Out. No need to remove the wipers and cowl trim. Gently pry the cowl trim up and leave it propped up about an inch and a half to allow access to the bolt. Have a magnet pick up tool handy in case the bolt falls out of the socket. Unbolt the wiring harness on the right side and unplug the antenna.


Swing the dash out to access the recirculate door

Swing It. Slowly swing the dash out with care not to put excessive force on the wiring. Once the dash is pulled back, remove the 8mm screws from the metal support bracket and the top of the door assembly. There are two 8mm screws that cannot be accessed, pull on the fresh air door assembly break it away from the evaporator case. Now remove the 8mm screws and remaining plastic, making sure no plastic pieces fall into the blower fan.


Use Right Stuff Sealant at the Mounting Points Marked in the Picture

Right Stuff. Instead of re-using the two 8mm screws at the hard to access attaching points near the firewall, apply right stuff sealant or a similar substance to secure the fresh air door assembly. Then re-attach the remaining 8mm screws that can be accessed. By using the right stuff securing method, much time is saved. Now re-install the dash and console and an eight hour job is completed in about 45 minutes!  

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206 Responses
  1. Neal :

    Date: January 8, 2014 @ 9:03 am


    I have a 2002 Explorer, Eddie Bauer that has the automatic climate system with towing package. I just had the AC charged with freon and now notice that the passenger side is blowing out warm air, or warmer air than the drivers side. I also noticed that the temperature of the drivers side AC air is not as cold as it should be in my opinion. I also noticed that when I put on “auto” and place it to a cool temperature, the AC light does not automatically turn on anymore and also noticed that I don’t hear a creaking noise of something opening and closing anymore. All thoughts of what you think the problem is would be appreciated.

  2. dennisb - Auto Tool Sales :

    Date: January 8, 2014 @ 9:37 am

    AC problems this time of the year is an unusual one. New York and other Eastern states are reporting record lows, breaking over 100 year old records. I see you are in warm, warm California. Neal I would take low and high side gauge readings and temp readings in the vents and go from there. We have an article that covers what the AC gauge readings mean. There could be several issues. Good Luck.

    AC Gauge Readings Explained

  3. Neal :

    Date: January 8, 2014 @ 4:25 pm


    Thanks for the quick reply. One other item I did not mention that may help point to the problem is that flow rate of incoming air on the passenger side is significantly less than the drivers side. All thoughts of what the problem may appreciated.

  4. dennisb - Auto Tool Sales :

    Date: January 8, 2014 @ 4:43 pm

    Door or actuator…

  5. Matt :

    Date: January 9, 2014 @ 2:12 pm

    Hi Dennis,

    This site has been a big help for me. My wife has a 2004 Mountaineer with manual dual climate and today of all days when the heater knob is turned to max (red) there is a loud knocking noise coming from the dash. The noise doesn’t stop unless the temp. knob is turned down a little. It does it regardless of the blower speed. Does that sound like an actuator to you? Thanks for helping!

  6. dennisb - Auto Tool Sales :

    Date: January 9, 2014 @ 2:17 pm

    Yes, exactly. The plastic gears strip inside. The system tries to self calibrate itself and if the gears are stripped it cannot. If you can get access to it they’re simple to replace. Some are buried though. Good Luck.

  7. Neal :

    Date: May 2, 2014 @ 5:36 pm


    I have a 2002 Explorer, Eddie Bauer that has the automatic climate system with towing package and have posted semi recently. I have replaced the condenser, compressor, charged it with freon, and replaced two door blend actuators. I’m getting nice and cold air out of the drivers side vents, but warm air initially out of the passenger vents that eventually gets cooler, but not as cold as the right side. About the only thing I have not replaced is the blend door itself. Should I replace that or do you think it’s something else?

    Thanks, Neal

  8. Neal :

    Date: May 3, 2014 @ 1:20 pm

    Hi Dennis,

    This may help you to solve this problem. I put the AC on “Dual” and one at time cranked each side down to 60 degrees. The Drivers side was very cool and had a lot of flow rate, but when I cranked down the Passengers side to 60 degrees it was not as cold as the Drivers side and had less flow rate?

    I also changed out the whole dual control temp unit and the other performed exactly the same, so it is not the unit.

  9. dennisb - Auto Tool Sales :

    Date: May 3, 2014 @ 5:59 pm

    A little difference in side to side temp and airflow is normal. I would check the refrigerant charge because even a little low on charge can drastically affect coolness from vents on each side. I wouldn’t replace the door unless it’s broken. Good Luck.

  10. rito :

    Date: May 7, 2014 @ 5:28 pm

    Hi i have a 2004 ford explorer and the ac dont work, when i turn the ac on the compresor dont start how can i check if the compresor is good or bad is any chance can a fuse is bad

  11. dennisb - Auto Tool Sales :

    Date: May 7, 2014 @ 8:28 pm

    Most likely low on refrigerant. Less likely possibility is – If it’s got enough refrigerant then it could be a bad coil or cycling switch. I would check the refrigerant charge first – both high and low readings. If there’s not enough refrigerant in the system (at least 50 psi) for the low pressure switch to allow the compressor to come on there most likely is a leak. See our other AC articles for more information on diagnosing AC problems. Good Luck

  12. Neal :

    Date: June 2, 2014 @ 1:19 pm

    Hi Dennis, I took your advice and had the refrigerant recharged and it worked great for about a week with a little difference in temp between the driver’s and passenger’s side, but seemed fine. About a week later the passenger’s side became warm and the drivers side also started to become warm. They found a leak in an aluminum line going from the front of the car to the back, just below the passenger’s side. A lengthy process, but it’s now fixed!

  13. EddieMac :

    Date: June 8, 2014 @ 9:31 pm

    My wife’s 2002 Ford Explorer Sport Trac has a problem. The AC blows cold air and works fine for about an hour, then the amount of air coming from the dash vents gets less and less until almost nothing is coming out. The fan is still working and goes up and down with the fan control. The recirc door behind the glove box works like it should. Where is the air going? I just can’t figure it out.

  14. dennisb - Auto Tool Sales :

    Date: June 9, 2014 @ 6:31 am

    The evaporator core is most likely freezing up and blocking the airflow. If the AC can be turned off awhile and then restarted and the airflow is normal again that would be an indication of the evapoartor icing up after the AC has been ran for a good period of time. The Orifice tube may be restricted causing too low of refrigerant flow which could cause a lower temp in the evaporator than normal allowing it to reach freezing instead of just above freezing. Good Luck.

  15. ckpankratz :

    Date: June 15, 2014 @ 9:38 am

    Thank you!

    I completed this repair on my 2002 Explorer XLT yesterday, and it went very well. Not working particularly fast, it took me 3 hours start-to-finish, including a dinner break in the middle.

    I want to shout out to user Kzac for the excellent tip as a variant to using sealant.

    I similarly broke out the old housing, cut slots in the new housing’s screw holes and guide holes, adjusted the depth of the two back mounting screws, and slid the new housing right in. With the two screws nearest the firewall adjusted so the housing slides in firmly, the spongy gasket underneath the housing then makes a sufficiently tight seal. You can inspect it by pushing open the recirculation door, making sure the lower gasket/screen didn’t shift during installation.

    To remove the old housing, I removed all of it’s screws, even those that only hold it’s upper and lower two pieces together. I then pulled firmly on the upper half, which was enough to break off the mounting tabs that were still held in by the two screws nearest the firewall. Once the top piece is removed, it is then relatively easy to
    unscrew the screws and remove the lower housing piece.

  16. mike :

    Date: July 7, 2014 @ 2:47 pm

    Will this fresh air door change out procedure work on a 2004 ford explorer?

  17. dennisb - Auto Tool Sales :

    Date: July 7, 2014 @ 3:00 pm

    Yes, Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer 2002, 2003, 2004 & 2005. Good Luck.

  18. slick auto tech florida :

    Date: July 9, 2014 @ 11:04 am

    I was just searching and found your site under 2005 explorer no air flow through center vents. I looked at your article found it very helpful. I am always looking for faster and easier ways to fix peoples cars. I did notice the vent door though it was broken on the end still had enough lever on it to drill a hole in it. I drilled 1/8 hole in it installed a tie wrap between the vacuum actuator and the vent door lever.Not pulling the tie wrap to tight but leave enough room for the vent door to function properly. This is all done just pulling the glove box down and accessing right from the glove box. You might say this is not fixed properly but in this economy and time not everyone has 800. bucks to spend when you can fix it for less than a dollar. tie wraps are cheap. keep up the good work I enjoyed your site. Slick

  19. dennisb - Auto Tool Sales :

    Date: July 9, 2014 @ 11:18 am

    Thanks for the feedback.

  20. Juan Lopez :

    Date: November 18, 2014 @ 4:38 pm

    Hi!…I have a 2002 Ford Explorer and the problem I have is that the A/C only works when you set it to MAX A/C, if you set it to regular A/C it doesn”t blow cold air

  21. dennisb - Auto Tool Sales :

    Date: November 18, 2014 @ 4:41 pm

    I would check the refrigerant amount by the pressure readings. See our AC gauge readings explained for more information. Good Luck.

  22. Juan Lopez :

    Date: November 18, 2014 @ 5:58 pm

    It seems to be an electrical problem cause the light goes on only in MAX AC, when you set it to regular AC light shuts off and even if you push the button it doesn’t light up again and AC stops blowing cold air.

  23. dennisb - Auto Tool Sales :

    Date: November 19, 2014 @ 7:11 am

    If it is electrical, it could be time to diagnose using a wiring diagram and knowledge of how the circuit works and how to carry out tests to pinpoint the problem with a multi meter. This is easier said than done and may require a tech that is experienced in wiring and electrical issues. Good Luck

  24. ryan :

    Date: February 9, 2015 @ 10:23 pm

    I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate your site. You had the step by step directions and the darn hidden bolt that I would have never seen. It is greatly appreciated.You saved me tons of money. Thank you!!!

  25. jonny :

    Date: March 2, 2015 @ 12:53 am

    So my wedding ring fell down the dash and into the vent that blows on the windshield. I have an 04 Expedition Eddie Bauer Edition with the 5.4. Is the best solution unbolting the 4 dash bolts and trying to see how far it went down into the vent or is there another way to access this area?

  26. dennisb - Auto Tool Sales :

    Date: March 2, 2015 @ 6:30 am

    Jonny, the Expedition dash is completely different than the Explorer. But, yes I suppose you will end up taking the dash apart. Good Luck.

  27. Edwin :

    Date: May 2, 2015 @ 5:16 pm

    Hi, I am not sure if the same issue mentioned of cold air in the driver and not in the passenger side’; 2002 Explorer my current issue, A/C only blow cold Air only on the sides vents, at the center vents hot air, the one in the dash and the one in the center that goes to the back seat.

  28. dennisb - Auto Tool Sales :

    Date: May 2, 2015 @ 7:06 pm

    Not the same issue as the article, could be a blend door issue or actuator. Good Luck.

  29. garciano7 :

    Date: May 15, 2015 @ 2:31 pm

    My 2002 explorer has limited airflow in all vents, and I can select all of them but the floor vent is on at all times. Can you shed some light on to this, and I will check behind the glove box. And if I do have a vacum leak where is most likely to be? Thanks for all the great help.

  30. dennisb - Auto Tool Sales :

    Date: May 15, 2015 @ 2:33 pm

    I would check the recirculate door. Generally speaking, vacuum leaks are most common in the engine compartment – vacuum lines. Good Luck.

  31. Dusan :

    Date: June 18, 2015 @ 12:24 pm

    I have problem on my 2004 ford explorer .
    When i switch air selector for my feet its not working no air is coming out..
    All other selection are working ..
    Any suggestion what can cost that??
    Than you ..

  32. dennisb - Auto Tool Sales :

    Date: June 18, 2015 @ 12:35 pm

    Possibly a broken door, linkage or actuator. Hard to guess on the price before diagnosing the problem. Good Luck.

  33. Dusan :

    Date: June 18, 2015 @ 1:34 pm

    if its door can you give me info how to change it .

  34. dennisb - Auto Tool Sales :

    Date: June 18, 2015 @ 1:40 pm

    Sorry, you would need a service manual. Good Luck.

  35. bah :

    Date: June 25, 2015 @ 7:54 pm

    Dennis, great article and blog. I have the same air flow issue and will be looking at the fresh air door. On another note, I have a 2005 Explorer XLT and when running the AC through the vents only, I have air flow at the feet as if it was set to vent/floor. This also causes the center console to get cold, thinking that’s caused by the line running to the second row seats? My concern is when I get the airflow issue fixed, will the floor airflow increase as well? Thanks again!

  36. dennisb - Auto Tool Sales :

    Date: June 26, 2015 @ 7:51 am

    Thanks. Could be the actuator or door that controls the airflow to the floor. Keep in mind that these systems don’t seal off each position completely. So if it’s just a little air that would be normal. If it’s excessive, I’d look for the moving parts (if possible) while working the controls. See if they are operating fully in each direction. Good Luck.

  37. bah :

    Date: June 28, 2015 @ 8:28 am

    Well it looks like my fresh air door is working fine (I see it open/close in MAX and normal without issue). I do have airflow from all vents in all fan settings, just doesn’t seem like it’s enough. In setting 4, I get a low rumble but the fan sounds like it should be “blowing your hair back”, however it’s not. Bottom line. I feel I have a volume issue as it’s not really strong in any fan setting, but it does increase. I feel setting 3 should be what I would feel on setting 1 or 2. Thanks again. I haven’t checked the floor vent yet, but will this week.

  38. Kristen :

    Date: July 13, 2015 @ 4:43 pm

    Hi my husband had to put in a new compressor In my 2005 Mercury Mountaineer v8 4.6L due to it blowing apart. He was told to make sure the orifice tube is clean but he can’t seem find it. Would you happen to know where it is located? Thanks!!

  39. dennisb - Auto Tool Sales :

    Date: July 13, 2015 @ 5:25 pm

    Inlet of the evaporator core. That’s the small line at the evaporator. look for the crimped area, that keeps the orifice tube in place. Good Luck.

  40. ScottC :

    Date: August 24, 2015 @ 7:29 pm

    Wow, Dennis I can see years of great assistance provided by this article you wrote YEARS ago. My son just bought a 2002 Explorer XLT that we got a good deal on because of a bad blend actuator and the fresh air door (both were bad). I replaced the actuator fine, then researching the recirc door and found your article… Fantastic!

    Just a couple questions – 1) the steering coupler is the bolt accessed outside from the cowl (the hidden one) yes?

    And, 2) is it really needed to use the adhesive for those two remaining unreachable screws? I haven’t been inside there yet so cannot tell but I wonder if it would detract if you just left them off (are they critical?)

    Thanks again, this was GREAT stuff.
    Best Regards

  41. dennisb - Auto Tool Sales :

    Date: August 25, 2015 @ 7:29 am

    Thanks Scott. I used to do a lot of these. Been selling automotive tools for quite awhile now. The steering coupler is located near the floorboard (follow the shaft to the floor and you’ll see). The 10mm bolt under the cowl cover bolts to the backside of the dash not the coupler. It’s one of those hidden bolts that can drive you crazy if you don’t know where to look. I don’t recommend adhesive, in case you ever want to take it apart again. Use silicone or Right Stuff, which will prevent rattling but can be removed if you ever need to take it apart again for some reason in the future. If you would rather use the screws the entire evaporator case will need to be removed. That’s a lot more work, that was the reason for the article. Good Luck.

  42. Momo :

    Date: August 31, 2015 @ 7:44 pm

    Hi Dennis, great write-up! This has been invaluable to me. I’ve got my dash all ripped apart and swung out but can’t for the life of me seem to break away the existing recirculation assembly. I have the new housing all ready to be put in. Any tips on how to snap that thing out? It really is starting to drive me nuts, I’m so close! Thank you!

  43. dennisb - Auto Tool Sales :

    Date: September 1, 2015 @ 10:36 am

    After you remove the front screws the rear snaps off pretty easy…

  44. SidCharming :

    Date: September 12, 2015 @ 9:45 am

    Hi Dennis, I have 2002 Explorer EB with Dual climate control. DCC diagnostics says blend door on passenger side is bad. Thermostat does not work properly unless temp is pushed 100% hot for heat or 100% cool for cold. I think the blend door is causing the temperature sensor (behind glove box (My thoughts) send wrong temperature to vehicle) I’m looking for good instructions on what I need to remove to get to the blend door. Whole dash remove or part of, can do through glove box removed port. I’ve replaced blend door below temperature control console a few years back. Just getting my ducks in order before I start tearing into this job. Thanks for feedback.

  45. dennisb - Auto Tool Sales :

    Date: September 12, 2015 @ 1:46 pm

    That’s a lot more involved to replace blend doors. The evaporator case would come out for that, which means you’d have to remove refrigerant with a recovery machine, unhook heater and AC lines on the engine side of the firewall etc. Not the average DIY project. A lot more to it than with the fresh air door. Good Luck.

  46. SidCharming :

    Date: September 12, 2015 @ 2:01 pm

    Thanks Dennis… Oy vey! o.O Yep, you are right, that is not the average DIY project. (so starts the search for some place or person to do this for me, with or without part in hand). BTW I live in Minneapolis (NE burbs) if you have suggestions or recommendations, I’m open. :o)

  47. dennisb - Auto Tool Sales :

    Date: September 13, 2015 @ 9:37 am

    Sorry, no specifically to recommend. Good Luck.

  48. Tim :

    Date: October 17, 2015 @ 8:26 am

    Dennis should my a/c compressor clutch kick on and off when the heater is on, 2003 ford explorer 4.0. The information on a/c door behind glove box is something I will b looking for, the same as other it realy dose’t get cold air Thanks

  49. dennisb - Auto Tool Sales :

    Date: October 17, 2015 @ 9:23 am

    Tim, it’s normal for the AC compressor to cycle on some even if you’re just running the heater. This helps remove moisture from the passenger compartment especially when using the defrost for the windshield. Good Luck.

  50. amy roller :

    Date: July 16, 2016 @ 11:29 pm

    Dennisb, do you have a fix for the a/c not blowing through the middle console in 2003 Ford Explorer that cools the 2nd and 3rd row? It seems like there is a restriction, but cannot find any information on fixing it. We just had a problem with the fresh air vent door for the front a/c and figured out how to fix it and now blows very strong, but the a/c in the middle console for the rear passengers is slim to none. Can you help?

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