Saturn Informative - Death date: 12 Aug., 2004 @ 56,757 miles
The pasted message below this one shows the track record of this piece of domestic/Made in USA trash.
After a brief, leisurely trip of about 30 miles that marked the end of this nightmare, my wife and son stopped for something cold to drink before continuing their planned trip of some 190 miles.
Upon restarting the car, 1995 SL2, the engine catastrophically failed and I ain't gonna even bother to look to see why; it is almost a relief to see this nerve taxation end; dead at 56,757 miles.
--------A compendium of a Saturn's history-------
Update to below as of 12 August, 2004: I actually bothered to have the transmission rebuilt; failure diagnosis was premature torque converter failure which damaged other components.
This was done by a respected non-Saturn shop who did great work, never had another hiccough from the ‘different kind’ of transmission.
A few weeks ago, I installed #6 alternator – these units were shrunken in size to save space and weight, resulting in a unit which had to dissipate roughly 1200 peak watts (at its 100 amp rating) of thermal energy in about the same size package that formerly handled perhaps 1/3 that amount.
The unit is also wedged into a space where cooling is nearly nil.
This whole experience is by far the worst I have ever had with any car while the car was treated better and gentler than any I have ever owned.
I will never buy another GM car and if they were the only company left on earth, I would walk.
I really wanted to believe that one could safely buy a US designed and manufactured vehicle and get usable quality; I will never trust one again.
After seeing the rising prices and decaying quality of American built cars in the early '60s, I started driving European cars while the quality of US cars continued to decline.
The Great Awakening which occurred in US automakers board rooms in the mid-80s was encouraging and when it was time to replace my aged '80 Fiat X1/9 in 1995, based on the (then) better-than-average record of the Saturn, I chose an SL2 as my first American built car in 33 years. I (along with others) wasn't entirely happy about the very prominent engine noise but was generally pleased with the response and satisfied with the economy.
I was less pleased when, after a few days of ownership, I noticed the severe distortion of the drivers side door on the area at the bottom of the window, at the black trim strip. On further inspection, I found that same door very poorly matched at the lower forward corner, protruding about 3/4 inch beyond the surface of the fender.
Since these were cosmetic problems, I waited for the first inspection interval to have this and the intermittent ceiling courtesy light corrected.
When I received the car back from inspection, it was accompanied by an apology that stated they could do nothing about the distortion of the windowsill and the fender - door transition had only somewhat improved. The ceiling light seemed to function OK.
It has now failed again due to poor contact; if one hits or wiggles it, it will light. Had to remove the fixture and carefully bend the bulb contacts to make it reliable.
In the first weeks of ownership, I noticed several rattles and squeaks from the dash and the suspension noise is the worst I have ever heard in any car. After the car had ~10,000 miles on it, the interior noise when traveling over rough roads had exceeded that of my worn out Fiat. On those same roads, it is necessary to readjust the driver’s sideview mirror daily. I also think the right strut blew out at around that odometer reading.
The first time I took the car above 80 MPH at about 6,000 miles and intentionally braked sharply to familiarize myself with its behavior in an emergency situation, I detected a warped front brake rotor. Since I don't often have a need to drive at that speed or faster, I didn't bring it in for service until the warranty was about due to expire. It was taken care of at no charge.
Now, in October of 2001, the same problem exists -
(I replaced those rotors at 41,000 miles)
Several weeks ago, the car suddenly no longer cranked at its normal speed and on checking the battery, found it had one dead cell. While I was accustomed to replacing the original equipment battery at 5-6 years in previous cars, this didn't bother me that much, particularly since it was a Delco unit from which I have never had good service.
2-3 days after replacing the battery, a pronounced whine appeared but because the car has an automatic transmission, I cannot tell whether it is from an engine-related accessory or the transmission and frankly, I'm starting not to care much about it.
A few days after the whine started, the car started missing at lower RPMs at random; some days it ran fine, others it didn't.
The problem stabilized a few days ago and the engine started missing frequently. I pulled the plugs since I have had cracked porcelain insulators act his way but a high voltage check showed no defects. I re-gapped them and reinstalled them. The improvement lasted only a few hundred feet and the miss returned. With the sun down, I ran the car at an idle and checked for high voltage leakage, which I found. I pulled the plug wires and inspected them, finding one terminal oxidized which I cleaned. Wires reinstalled, the miss had become very regular. I removed them, one by one, measuring resistance. I found the #1 plug wire completely open.
The car was in no condition to drive to the dealership some 30 miles away so I called a local supplier and ordered a new set.
With a manual transmission, I have driven problem cars safely, but with the stupid lockout which prevents restarting in neutral, it was not even safe to drive home since there are many situations while on the road that would preclude simply stopping, shifting to Park and restarting.
I performed surgery on the bad cable to see if the open circuit was locatable. I found it at the coil end; the carbon filament had burned off at the contact. I trimmed back the insulation and had to cut off fully two inches to find enough filament to re-terminate at the coil jack.
In all the years I have had resistor leads, on vehicles with conventional and electronic ignition system, including a high-energy system I designed and built, I have never seen a conductor simply burn away like this.
Of course the cut open rubber ends leak a little high voltage but it was at least drivable until the replacement set arrived.
A nasty flaw in the ABS system showed itself while the alternator (the first of two) was dieing; when the charge/battery voltage had fallen to a point still allowing engine operation but no longer sufficient for the ABS modulator, that item froze at an intersection in heavy traffic and would not release the brakes. I had to floor the accelerator to drag the cursed thing to a parking lot.
As mentioned before, the car is on its third alternator and now the death symptoms I have read regarding the much-vaunted automatic tranny have appeared.
Two days ago, the car turned over 40,000 miles after six years.
In summary, in case anyone has taken the time to reach this point, I would have to say that my first American car in three decades isn't what I'd read it was, it has problems I never had with my lowly and much maligned Fiats or the English Ford that proceeded them and these at a mileage of only 40,000.
I'll be glad to dump this sorry excuse for a car, I had originally planned on spinning the car off to my youngest son but he hasn't done anything bad enough to deserve that kind of punishment.
I will be disposing of the car in the next months and hope to find someone I don't like very much to buy it.
I'm disappointed and will probably buy foreign next time again.
- Later: I didn’t dump it in time; the transmission failed at < 41,000 miles and after letting serve as a landscaping feature for a while, I decided to pay the price to have this ‘technically advanced’ piece of garbage assessed.
It cost ~ $800 US to get the thing on the bench and inspected, the repair cost estimate is $3,300 +.
I am weighing bringing it home and setting it on fire.
The car looks nearly new but I have no more trust in it at any price.
Update: After trying to ignore the lousy car for months, I decided to have the transmission repaired at an independent dealer with a history of good service.
This was done in June of 2003 at the cost stated above although the car was not even worth that price but in its sad state, I would have literally had to give it away otherwise.
There seemed to be a new problem evidenced by noise apparently emanating from the tranny again but a thorough test by the repair service found no problems.
This turned out to be alternator failure number 4.
The defective diodes were replaced in Mesa, AZ while on a trip.
Once we managed to get this disaster of a car home, I bought a rebuilt alternator and stashed it in the trunk as a spare.
Four months later, the bearings in the repaired unit failed and I installed the spare unit (5th alternator) two days before our move to a new home some 2500 miles away.
That trip was uneventful other than the frayed nerves attributable to the miserable history of the car.
It is now March of 2004 and the rebuilt units bearings are failing with now still fewer than 60,000 miles on the odometer.
I finally realized why this the alternator is failing with such regularity; heat.
The unit is rated at 95-100 amps ~ at 13 volts.
Fairly simple physics dictates that a transfer of power from source (alternator) to load (all drains of current) cannot exceed 50%.
This means that in an ideal power transfer, the alternator is required to dissipate around 1300 watts in the form of heat.
For the purpose of comparison, a toaster represents 900-1,000 watts of heat dissipation; the small element of an electric range is rated at about 1,500 watts.
It struck me that the alternator in a 1972 Chevy LUV we once owned, was rated at (maximum) 35 amps and would have to get rid of ~ 450 watts at full load and the Saturn unit and the LUV unit are nearly identical in size.
This means that the modern unit has been sized to reduce weight and space requirements and as a consequence, must dissipate 250% as much heat and that in an engine compartment much tighter than earlier cars.
Folks, this is really stupid engineering and it shames me to know that American engineering has sunken to this low level of competency.
The next vehicle and any future vehicle I will acquire will not be of American design.
We have somehow lost our edge in the marketplace of ideas and even simple technology.
This can only result in our continued slide into the realm of low skills and failing leadership.
I mourn for our country.
Steve Allison – email@example.com