What are some problems that occur with this car?


Asked by Feb 01, 2007 at 06:54 PM about the 1997 Saturn S-Series 4 Dr SL1 Sedan

Question type: Maintenance & Repair

Is there a problem that occurs with the engine at about 125,000 miles or more?  What are some common problems that occur with this car?  I'm lookin into buting one with 125,423 miles on it and it would help to know a little about the problems that might occur with it.

25 Answers


Dear runner5-- I actually have one of these Saturns myself. It has over 155,000 miles on it. I have it because it refuses to die. My daughter was going to donate it to charity a year ago, but I took it instead. Since then I use it to drive my dogs around. It is also one of the few remaining places where I can smoke a cigar legally. I have had a few problems, like the heater and the muffler, but the engine is a workhorse (although very loud when cold). The transmission makes some odd sounds at times and I expect that will be the first major component to go. Go to www.carcomplaints.com and they will verify what I have said. Don't spend a lot of money on it and you should be okay. Good luck from Bovan.

23 out of 23 people think this is helpful.

Why, when I start the car it will not idle....unless I keep my foot on the gas pedal it dies instantly. Can only drive it by 'feathering' the gas pedal all the time?

71 out of 71 people think this is helpful.

Hey helpmeplease; i have that same issue. I actually have to start my car in Neutral with my foot on the break, then "Bogart" it into gear with my foot on the gas. Makes for a lot of peel outs, but it does the trick. I've been told by many it's the idle (aka throttle) control sensor. Good luck.

22 out of 22 people think this is helpful.

the only problem I've had with my Saturn 1997 Sl-2 is that it isn't very strong. I got into a fender bender... well that's what it was for the other car (Volvo... enough said). My whole bumper, side panel, hood, and lights were gone, 1,200 $$ in damage.

4 out of 4 people think this is helpful.

My '97 SL-1 is about the same mileage as bovan's, and the only real problem I've had is a sour alternator. If you get it or any Saturn into any kind of wreck, there will be a LOT of body damage (the doors and quarter-panels are all fiberglass and the bumpers are plastic) but the frame is a solid steel roll cage, so you're pretty safe in a major pileup. Believe me, I used to work at a Saturn dealership. We had a few come through torn to pieces, but the driver and passengers had barely a scratch. If you do the regular maintenance, it really will refuse to die (we had early '90's models coming in for oil changes with 300,000+ miles that purred like a kitten). They might not be powerful, but they're cheap and worth the money, especially the 10 gallon gas tank. And I highly recommend a manual transmission over an automatic-cheaper maintenance and repair. They just plain last longer, too. By the way, I used to hate Saturns with a passion before I had this car.

5 out of 5 people think this is helpful.
Nick Sengheiser

Engine problems. Suspension Problems. Steering problems. Self Destruct problems. I swear to god i saw one of these driving the opposite way and the back end was on FIRE! HAHA. Dude buy a honda like everyone else.

9 out of 9 people think this is helpful.
Jay Kozak

I have been selling Saturns for 3 years now as an auto dealer and with 24 years mechanics under my belt one would have to be a fool to buy any timing belt interference engine Hondapail over a timing chain indestructable rustproof simple to fix car. When Saturn built a car to teach Honda how things should be done they certainly did it. Unfortunatley they did not see the big picture that if you buld a car to last so lomg to look so good after 20 years it is hard to increase sales. with GM's mismanagement something had to go and the car that made the brand that made the least amount of money had to go. So folks if you are a novice in regard to mechanics 101 buy an Saturn and you will be safe AS EVEN A BAD SATURN REVIEW AFTER TAKING THE FEW FLAWS INTO CONSIDERATION IS A GOOD REVIEW. You can't argue great engineering when comparing Honda to Saturn when in 2006 Honda replaced timing belt inplosion engines with a chain.....Like a Saturn hmmmmm. makes ya think

18 out of 18 people think this is helpful.
Alex Nazarian

This topic is 6 years old...

3 out of 3 people think this is helpful.

I have a 2001 Saturn SC2 with 139K miles on it, roughly. It has been shifting very hard lately. Love the car, dual over head cam, 16 valve, excellent gas mileage, enough said. I don't want the problem to escalate, hoping for a little advice.

54 out of 54 people think this is helpful.
Kayla Blankenship

Is there a GSR for automatic vs manual?Will an automatic GSR make a manual check engine light come on? Will it make it idle like a vacuum leak.?

9 out of 9 people think this is helpful.

I have an 01 SC2, I was gonna get rid of it for a year or so, power steer, altenator, engine idle. It was ALL to do with the Serpentime belt and the idler arm. It make the car like new again, REALLY, will do 65 m/h no prob

6 out of 6 people think this is helpful.
Kate Bennet

The main problem is oil consumption, they all do it and sometimes it's severe. The single cam engine have issues with head cracking but it's less than 5%. The automatic transaxle has its valve body go out first, that is the hard shifting or refusal to shift into 1st or reverse. The manual transaxle can have the carrier cross pin come out which destroys the transaxle case, again this is pretty rare. Overall they're extremely reliable just keep oil in it.

8 out of 8 people think this is helpful.

From my personal experience, you simply cannot purchase a more reliable car than Saturn for the money. I purchased a used 1996 SC2 back in 1999 and drove it for 9 years with no major problems whatsoever. The car was Totaled in 2006 (with me in it) as I was at a red light and rammed by a Porsche traveling at around 30-40 miles per hour by a woman not paying attention and who did not once apply the brakes- testimony to the fact that not only was this car reliable- I also walked away from the accident unharmed (the lady in the Porsche was taken away in an ambulance from what I suspect was mostly her being in shock from the impact). As the search for a replacement vehicle began, I knew in my heart I wanted another Saturn- Lo and behold, about 10 -15 days later I found another 1996 on a car lot- this time the 4 door version. This car was a godsend, literally. It was 11 years old with only 67,000 miles on it! Well, here we are 2014, 6 years later and another Saturn with no major problems whatsoever! In my 15 years experience of driving 2 Saturns I will put this car against any as far as reliability- you simply will not find a better car for the money- THANK YOU SATURN!!!

7 out of 7 people think this is helpful.

I bought a 01 SC2 for $3400 in 2011. Had 100K on it. Gets 36-37 highway mpg. Couldn't be happier. My son will probably get it when he goes to college. Should last for a long, long time.

1 out of 1 people think this is helpful.

Ahhh, good for you 01sc2, I bought mine new. Great car, just lately the oil change guy pointed out that there was a left front spring broken, they wanted to replace the 2 front springs and shocks and give it an alignment for $1000, I went to my guy who did the springs for 100 labour and 140 for the springs. It was broke about 8" into the coil spring, I'm in Toronto Canada and this winter was hard and a lot of potholes in the roads that are hard on the front wheels. My revered mechanic said I didn't need shocks or an alignment. I had a power window stop working. I just sprayed it with compressed air into the area around the window button and it works. Mines got 85000 kilometers which is roughly 53000 miles. That serpentine belt was a killer app solution, I was ready to look for another car, after the belt install it became a new car,,,,, no engine oil burning, ac works good, the heater selection rotator wouldn't change from feet to feet and head or to defrost, the black knob wouldn't turn, my guy put some goo somewhere under the center dash and gently massaged the knob on the dash and then it would turn from far right to far left' The car is a dark blue and I washed it on this sunny day and the car looks great. Had it 14 years, my mechanic said the tranny would outlive me. No other probs. Good luck to all, you're helpful to me

3 out of 3 people think this is helpful.

Yeah, the serpentine belt is my next project. I live in MN, had a slip/fall - concussion and neck injury. My old change place advised me to get it replaced before the winter. Luckily, it made it through the winter. But I'm not experiencing any of the issues you were. Just needs an extra quart or less betwwen changes. Mine is the "bright blue metalic". When washed, it looks brand new. Only one little chip in the black pillar on my side. It is cool to have such a reliable, GREAT mpg, good looking car that is 13-14 yrs old. I've attached a photo of a car exactly like mine.

9 out of 9 people think this is helpful.

That is the same colour as my car, I am gonna do a spring clean-up on mine and will send you a pic. I feel the problems I have had are little things, as long as the air con, tranny and engine don't act up we're winners. I'm getting better gas mileage now that it's warming up. thanx for you info 01sc2

1 out of 1 people think this is helpful.
Kody Russell

Alex Ur an idiot... Just because a post is 6 years old doesn't mean nobody else can post... These are here to help people... I've seen u post "this post is?" So many times... What do u do go around finding old posts and bashing on people... Instead of spending all Ur time online and bashing on people do something productive!

13 out of 13 people think this is helpful.
Alex Nazarian

Yup. All I do is bash. Not like anyone benefits from my input. Time to get back to turbocharging my car.

2 out of 2 people think this is helpful.
Tom Denton

The problem with your Saturn not idling while at a stop or in neutral can sometimes be fixed, I know this is going to sound stupid, by replacing the water temp sensor. They are fragile and crack easily. Takes a few minutes to get the old one out and the new one in, they are fairly cheap, and it fixed the problem on my 97' SL1. Also the motor mounts and tranny mounts wear out around 150k miles. Replace those to keep problems minimal. Fuel filter is along the driver side front fender inside. Took me about 30 minutes to replace. Idle pulley bearings went out at the 200K marker. Take a nut and bolt off replace pulley and while you are at it replace belt. Hard shift tranny is a valve body on the top of the tranny. Best to get someone experienced to fix this due to small parts. Valve cover gasket is the only gasket to blow on mine. Replaced it and all was fine. Doing most of the work besides the valve body by myself parts were about $500 maybe a little more. Car had to be put down at 250K marker because it came from up north and the salt had destroyed he underside of the car beyond repair. If it had not been for that it would still be going strong today. Keep up the oil and other fluid changes, keep up the tune-ups all on a regular schedule and these cars will last you forever. Not too mention at 250K marker it was still getting 35MPG and more on hwy.

3 out of 3 people think this is helpful.

Thanks Tom,,, a few things I will watch out for. A lady backed out of a driveway and into my drivers door, funny, hers was a newer SUV Saturn, it was a hard hit. The door just popped out and is a little scuffed, the mirror was knocked off, my mechanic glued it together and glued it on for $100. Replacements were 300 from a wrecker. Lately I had to get the the front sway bar replaced (used for 180 cause they're not in stock) and 2 front lower control arms, Those rubber grommets were bad, am in Toronto, Salt on roads in winter. I like the car. It's a met blue SC2 2001


I love this car. I've got a 2002 Saturn SL2, manual transmission with 195k miles. Mechanic says the wheel bearings are bad & the catalytic converter is about to break. But this is the first major problem I've had since I replaced the clutch at 100k. (I replaced two clutches on an old Dodge Shadow with the same mileage) So does it make sense to put the money in it?

Pinyin Yinhead

from 1995 - 2001 there was a problem with the stick shifts on the manual 5 speeds. an easy fix for any DIY'er but the plastic bushing costs anywhere from 19.99 - 24.99 to replace. mechanics may charge you anywhere from $50 to $100 for labor even though it will take them approx. 5 - 10 mins to fix. lol but true.

1 out of 1 people think this is helpful.

I've had a 96 Saturn SL2 since 1998 when I bought it with 30K. It now has 155K on it. I have really loved this adorable little car and fully intend to drive it until something major goes. Here's my list: 1) Cat Converter got plugged up around 50K. You had to gun the crap out of her to accelerate. Took it to Saturn in Knoxville and they replaced it for FREE! 2) Coil pack went bad around 75K which I easily replaced for $30 3) Alternator went at 100K. I think it was because my valve cover gasket was leaking oil down the motor and oil was soaking the alternator. I ripped the battery out of my IROC and limped the Saturn home on battery power only. Replaced valve cover gasket and an alternator I got at Pull-A-Part for $25. 3) the Crank Position sensor went out at 120K. No spark. It's on the backside of the motor and hard to get to but a new one was $10. 4) Coolant started draining out each time the car would shut down and cool. Water pump seal had gone bad at 130K. It's a tight squeeze but doable for anyone at $30. I did a new thermostat also for $10. 5) Around 140K the clutch started chattering and I KNEW it had to be the pressure plate so I started shopping around for mechanics. Cheapest estimate was $1,150. SCREW THAT! It turns out the clutch can be done for $90 and the motor stays IN the car. It's no easy job though! Of course I've done all the usual wear and tear maintenance such as brake/rotor replacement. Put a new muffler on it and new serpentine belt. AC was recharged about 8 years ago, still works great. Oh yeah, I had the shifter thingy break under the shift handle. I jury rigged that easy by drilling into the metal boss, tapping in some threads and putting a bolt and washer in there to hold the linkage together. Piece o cake, working on these wonderful little Saturns!! ;-)

3 out of 3 people think this is helpful.

02 SC2. good car for me, had it 14 years, 100k on , that's 65,000 miles, (Canada),,,, serpentine belt was a good fix, they wanted to change power steering, altenater, water pump, nobody mentioned the belt, that was the prob. Lately I had front end probs. front lower control arms, sway bar (used cause you can't buy a new one), new springs. It's those rubber grommets that get distroyed, Excel-G strut and KYB strut mount. I made some mistakes with people I delt with people that made the prob worse, my cost came to nearly $2000. The overcam engine is good, no oil burning, everything works, hmmm, 14 year old rad might blow, a/c works good, windows good, tranny good. No more long trips, the third door is handy for picking up groceries and p/u people for dances. Maybe I irrationally love the car, wanna drive it till 2020, the older ladies I dance with think it a sports car.

1 out of 1 people think this is helpful.

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