Common Saturn Car Problems

by Dennis Hartman

Founded in 1985, the Saturn division of General Motors began selling cars in 1991. For nearly 20 years, Saturn's vehicle offerings have ranged from compact coupes and sedans to sports cars and SUVs. Despite generally good performance and reliability, several issues have become common across Saturn's lineup of vehicles.

Engine Lights

One of the most common problems on many Saturn vehicles is the Check Engine light on the dashboard. The Check Engine light is a function of the electronic engine management system, meaning it will light when an engine problem is detected and cannot be turned off until the resulting error codes are read from the vehicle's computer by a technician and the light is reset manually. In some cases, Check Engine lights remain on even after service is performed.

Timing Chains

Another engine-related problem that some Saturn vehicles have become notorious for involves the engine's timing chain. This problem is most common on the Saturn L Series and usually occurs when the timing chain breaks or disengages due to broken or worn teeth. As a result, the engine may stop suddenly, posing a serious danger to the driver and other motorists. The Saturn L Series does not contain a diagnostic sensor for warning drivers of a faulty timing chain, making it difficult to diagnose until a major problem occurs. While some timing chain issues have been covered by recalls, others have not.

Transmission Problems

Saturn vehicles are also known for a series of transmission problems, many of which are costly to repair. Saturn models that feature an automatic transmission sometimes slip between gears. Another common issue is simply an automatic transmission that shifts noisily or seems to labor. Other Saturn vehicles are equipped with manual transmissions. In the case of problems with these vehicles, owners have reported worn cooling lines and bent clutch disks.

Saturn Recalls

Several recalls, both major and minor, have affected Saturn vehicles over the years. In 2009, over 16,000 Saturn Ions were recalled to repair problems with the exterior lighting. Other recalls have dealt with Saturn steering systems, transmissions and parking brakes. Safety recalls have included components like seat belts and windshields. Beyond the recalls issues for the Saturn Ion, the Relay minivan and Outlook SUV have each been the subject of multiple recalls.

Other Known Problems

Another issue common to Saturn vehicles is an electrical issue that disables the vehicle's ignition system. Undiagnosed electrical problems elsewhere can lead an ignition to become difficult to start, requiring extensive testing before the source of the problem can be found and treated. A recall of the L Series dealt with this ignition problem, but other models have been plagued by it as well. An unrelated problem involved the Sky sports car, which was the subject of a 2007 recall for a faulty axle assembly.

About the Author

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