How to Fix Ford Explorer Terrain Management System Faults

If you own a Ford Explorer it would almost be rude to only drive it on the smooth asphalt. That beast is designed to hit the rough terrains and the equipment packed into it is meant to help you with that. One such system is known as the Terrain Management System.

This is an important aspect of the Explorer's makeup so when it develops a fault this can be very frustrating. In this post we will take a look at the potential faults that may arise with the terrain management system and some ways to fix these issues ourselves.

What Is the Terrain Management System?

The Terrain Management System is a standard addition to all new Ford Explorers. It offers multiple driver modes each designed to optimize the SUV for specific conditions. There are number of drive modes available including:

  • Normal – For everyday road driving
  • Eco – This helps to maximize efficiency and lower fuel consumption
  • Sport – Increases acceleration response, engages lower gears for longer so as to increase speed
  • Tow/Haul – Provides boosted pulling power for trailers and large loads
  • Slippery – Limits torque to avoid slipping on slick surfaces such as gravel, ice, snow, wet roads
  • Trail – Allows for wheel spin so momentum can be maintained on muddy, rutted, soft or uneven ground
  • Deep Snow/Sand – Helps you plow through heavy snow or deep dry sand without bogging down (only in 4WD models)

In theory controlling this terrain management system is very easy. The button is located in the center console and you need only turn the dial to light up your desired mode. Once chosen the Explorer will automatically set the driving style and parameters to meet the chosen terrain.

Potential Ford Explorer Terrain Management System Faults

It would be great if everything we bought worked as it was intended and never had faults but sometimes they just happen. When it comes to the terrain management system in a Ford Explorer there are a few common issues that can develop.

Terrain Management System Faults Possible Quick Fix
Wrench Sign Turns On Disconnect and reconnect the cars battery
Pop Up Warning Identify warning code and attempt repair if able
False Warning Replace faulty sensor causing the warning
Software Bug Update software
Voltage Issues Disconnect and reconnect the cars battery

The above problems are all common and the solutions provided are the quick and easiest potential fixes. It is however possible that the issue will be a little more complicated to resolve so will go into further details later in this post

Terrain Management System Goes Dead

This fault is not wholly uncommon and can be caused by a number of things. Usually it may happen because the battery was disconnected but it can be a result of cleaning the terrain management system.

Fixing the Wrench Sign Turning On

The wrench sign turning on in a Ford truck is usually an indication that an issue has been detected in the vehicle's engine or powertrain. This could occur for a number of reasons including a glitch in the terrain management system.

It is likely that along with the wrench symbol you will experience a loss of power as the truck's computer attempts to protect it from further damage. This could be a throttle body issue which is connected to the terrain management system so one of the first things to check is the throttle body itself.

If the throttle body is not working or is faulty you may have to replace it in order to clear the wrench error code. If you have the throttle body replaced you should also have the cylinders balanced at the same time.

It is also possible that the issue is connected to the terrain management system itself. If this is the case then using an error code scanner will detect a U code fault. This is often a glitch which may not need fixing.

You will have to disconnect and reconnect the battery however to reset the system and clear the code that is blocking the use of your vehicle. Once you perform this reset you will also have to go through the idle relearning procedure as outlined in your owner's manual.

Fixing a Pop Up Warning

Car sensors are delicate things and can easily break or wear down over time. When these sensors break it can cause inaccurate readings and ultimately a warning signal will be sent. Some of these sensors are connected to the terrain management system so their failure can cause issues within that system.

If you receive an error code that indicates something is being misread or not recorded at all you should always check on the appropriate sensor. You may discover that it is faulty or broken and is in need of replacement.

The problem may be a single sensor or multiple so if you have a scanning tool gather as much information as you can regarding the error codes. A faulty sensor can lead to damage in more important car parts.

If you have the skills yourself you can attempt to change any sensors although it may be wise to allow a professional to do this for you. Some sensors can cost up to $150 to replace so be prepared if there are multiple issues that this may not be cheap.

Dealing with Software Bugs

A common issue in Explorers with low mileage are software issues. In models prior to 2014 a simple update of the ABS software was enough to repair the issue. In more recent Explorer models these early problems have been resolved and they are easily fixed by making sure you have the latest software installed in your terrain management System.

Can I Fix the Terrain Management System in My Ford Explorer?

The terrain management system in a Ford Explorer may be controlled by a single dial in terms of how we initiate things but it is still a complex system. A lot of preset settings are involved in its operation so we need to understand that it takes an intelligent system to deal with our terrain requests.

The hi-tech nature of the system means that it can experience faults some of which can be resolved with ease. There are plenty not mentioned here that may arise which we will not be able to fix ourselves. It takes a long time for mechanics to learn their craft and for those without the know-how somethings are just beyond us.

As a general rule of thumb if you feel confident attempting a specific fix then it is okay to try. Always be aware though that if your vehicle is still under warranty messing with certain aspects of the car may void your protection in that regard.

If you are not confident that you can fix or diagnose the problem it is smarter to allow someone with the experience needed to affect the repair to take over. We should all have some basic car maintenance and repair skills but there is a limit to that.


The Terrain Management System on a Ford Explorer in general is as tough as the SUV itself but of course nothing is perfect. Issues can develop and repairs may need to be made. Sometimes a reset is all that’s needed but often a part might need fixing or to be replaced.

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