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.

40 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.

24 out of 24 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?

101 out of 101 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.

35 out of 35 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.

9 out of 9 people think this is helpful.

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.

11 out of 11 people think this is helpful.

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

31 out of 31 people think this is helpful.

This topic is 6 years old...

6 out of 6 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.

81 out of 81 people think this is helpful.

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.?

12 out of 12 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

11 out of 11 people think this is helpful.

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.

14 out of 14 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!!!

13 out of 13 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.

4 out of 4 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

7 out of 7 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.

16 out of 16 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

2 out of 2 people think this is helpful.

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.

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

4 out of 4 people think this is helpful.

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.

4 out of 4 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?

1 out of 1 people think this is helpful.

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!! ;-)

5 out of 5 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.

Im looking at a 1995 Saturn 5speed says only thing wrong is it idles fast and that its the air intake control valve. Anything I should know before I buy?

2 out of 2 people think this is helpful.

I have a '92 SC Coupe and had an '02 L200 sedan which I promptly sold. That year they failed on the climate control module. It would blast heat until it got a couple of degrees higher than the setting, then blast the air conditioning to cool it down. Was told by the regional director, "It is operating in the manner in which it was designed." I had another issue with it where it wanted to run forward when stopped at a light. Turned out that the O2 sensor was bad... Both of them. Fixed those and it ran better. Still sold it because of the climate lack of control. Repairing the '92 since after 24 years the interior is starting to dry out and crumble to dust.


@Alex - regardless of how old the post is, since these cars are still around, the postings will still be helpful for people who bought the cars new (like me) and those who have bought them from a prior owner. If you have tricks and tips for Saturn repairs, I look forward to seeing them.

2 out of 2 people think this is helpful.

I've had 2 SL1 Saturn's ... My first 1 was a single cam 1.9.. Had head gasket issues when I bought it.. I just put some head sealer in it and ran for bout 2 days and... After that drove the car all over put about 15,000 moles on it... I am now on my second SL1 THIS TIME IT'S THE TWIN CAM 5 SPD WITH 380,000 ON THE BODY.. WE JUST GOT DONE A MONTH AGO PUTTING A DONOR ENGINE IN IT AND I'VE BEEN DRIVING PROBLEM FREE SINCE THEN....MY NEXT CAR WILL BE A SATURN Vue 4cyl 5 speed but waiting till this one wears out.. If it Ever does.!! I used to hate Saturn's..with a passion.. But till I've owned a couple I'll never say a bad word about them again.!!

1 out of 1 people think this is helpful.

I have a 2001 sc1 manual with 214k and my wife drives a 2002 sc2 automatic... I hated Saturn's...until fate brought them my way I paid $750 for my 2001 back in 2014 best investment ever


I bought a 1992 Saturn SC Coupe as a factory order. It has outlasted the Plymouth it replaced, the Ford Escape that was my second car and the 2002 Saturn L200 Sedan that I hated from the start. It has over 250,000 miles on it, with the original clutch lasting for the first 125,000 miles. Other than redoing the 24 year old interior that is wearing with age and use, I've done the normal maintenance and repairs. Recently, two issues cropped up - the shifter cable broke (pricey fix since they had to order one from a supplier) and it isn't passing emissions. Valves and sensors seem to be working but other than replacing the complete exhaust and hoping for the best, I need some experienced thoughts on what else to check. (I already did the injection cleaner, dry gas, high octane fuel,etc. Runs great, just running fuel rich)

1 out of 1 people think this is helpful.

There's an older post in here about the carrier cross pin in the manual comes out I have a 97 sc2 I bought at 166,000 miles about 170,000 it happened to mine blew a hole right through the bell housing area. I seen another post said his has been shifting hard mine did after about a 1000 miles of drive time then 3000 miles of hard shifting then it shot that pin through the transmission . I paid 1,300 for it I now have around 2000 in it and it's still a turd bad experience with it and probably won't buy another one. I did replace the transmission which you have to drop the whole under carriage to do but it barely has any power the front end is screwed up I replaced the strut on the side that is giving the most problem. I'm going to put 2 new fully assembled struts on it and see if that helps if not I'm driving it till it won't drive anymore.


My friend won lottery and gave me his 2001 sc2 DOHC (vin 7) has 153k on it the owners before him completely neglected the car so when i got it i had to replace the shock/strut/spring assembly, wheel bearings and hubs, ball joint/control arms, tie rods inner and outer, cv axels, an alternator 1200$ so far doing all work myself beside all wheel alignment after that the tranny/engine is acting up its burning oil at an alarming rate the motor mount are bad has a cooling issue an a possible bad port 2 rod a bad crank shaft bearing which makes the harmonic balancer shake which causes the tensioner pulley to go out every 6 months til i rebuild engine an tranny the brakes are starting to fail i have 30% front brake power an 40% rear losing 30% somewhere but despite the list of the bad parts from neglect i love my sc2 an will never get rid of it plan on fully restoring the car an getting a long life out of it even with problems it outlasts my friends cars

1 out of 1 people think this is helpful.

What colour is your Saturn? Thanks for the info on your car. Mine only has a brake issue. I've had 3 rotor/pad replacements over the last 4 years, they all whine or scrape depending on if it's winter or summer. When it rains up here the car looks brand new. 100K on it. Thanks for your info toedoe


I bought a 1992 SC2 Coupe a few months ago 122K miles. The previous owner is a mechanic, and cared for it well before he had to sell it. Aside from some rough driving, hard shifting (it is 24 yrs old) is a good "A to B" car. about two weeks ago, we got a lot of rain, and I had filled up the tank prior to the downpours. When moving from idle to 1st, the car could not stay lit, and would die. After feathering the gas, I was able to get back to 30, 40, then 50; but anytime I reached a light, and slowed to less than 10, the car wanted to die. This also only happened after a good 20 minutes of driving; especially after car was turned completely off, and sat for a few minutes. Car always started, but very intermittent between idle & 1st gear. Thought it was slug gas, put in some HEET; that seemed to clear it....but it is happening again. Have already filled tank with new gas, and problem still ocurring....

1 out of 1 people think this is helpful.

I bought an 02 sl2 had no problems till my ignition went out bout I can't figure out what's wrong


I have a 2002 SC2 manual and I had trouble with hard shifting as well. I just took the center console off and sprayed WD-40 all in the linkage. That was a couple of months ago and it still shifts like butter. Quite the easy fix.

1 out of 1 people think this is helpful.

I LOVE MY SATURN!!! Manual...2001 SC1...350,000 MILES!! Bought it with 70,000 miles a long time ago and NEVER A MAJOR PROBLEM. ( except vacuum manifold issue years ago!) I think this car is from the planet "Saturn!" It keeps going and going!


Amazing just 9 years ago and people are still replying. Is this man alive? Lol. Anyway I am 21 years old and I drive a 1995 saturn sl1 gold sedan. I always wanted that car since I was 2 legit when my grandmother bought the car. So many childhood memories in that car and Everytime I drive it I have flashbacks of my grandmother driving it and my late brother. It never really fully drove alot mostly a point A to B when my grandmother had it. Mines is pretty cool because it was the last year they made them 1st gen body style however it was the first year they began the 2nd Gen interior. So pretty much its a first gen interior mixed with a second gen. I love it. It has been in the family for 18 years and only has 98,684 miles on it! Wtf? And Im hearing people say thier 2002 saturns and 1997 saturns have 163,000 miles on thiers. Unique if you ask me. I will never get rid of this car unless the transmission goes out. I do have a selonoid problem alittle bit when I put it in reverse but that's it. Mines is a point A,B, and can be a C car. Very dependable to drive on the turnpike. I wouldn't however enjoy putting that many miles on it on the turnpike.I drove that thing up to palm beach and I live in plantation. About an hour drive. Very smooth man. Cars in good shape alot of people comment that my car is clean. Usually when I show them my car the first thing they say is "omg the interior is soo clean." I'm like wow the interior gets more attention then the exterior lol. But I love my car and I'm going to drive it until it goes out or if God forbid it gets into an accident. My next car will be a 93 buick century. Or it just might be a second car I don't know more than likely it will because my saturn runs great! When I first got it I had to redo the headliner because the orange foam was exposed...I also had to restore the hubcaps cuz originally when my brother drove it he had universal ones put on it. But I wanted the car original so I did some tweaks...fixed the hubcaps, headliner, and restored the door trims. And I put seat covers to match the interior. I have in the front plain brown..exact color as the center console versus the back bench seat baige. It really looks like oem saturn seat covers! I love it. By the way nobody may not read this but you know what. That's how much I love my saturn. Sitting down on my bed in pj's writing for 30 mins means alot.

1 out of 1 people think this is helpful.

I had a 1995 Saturn for years. Ran great good mileage. Was up worked it up over 200k thought I was going to hit a million. The fan for the motor went out. Like an Idiot I took it to a so called reputable chain. They are all thieves. This one was Firestone. Still had the stock alternator in it with zero problems. The guy told me he would not touch the fan unless I had a new alternator put in. In the end the bill was around 500. He probably just wanted mine for his car. The new alternator died in a year and the fan died 2 months after that. Find your own mechanic. They hire bums off the street to work at this large chains. Do year later had to get another alternator put in, had some belts changed, new motor mount all for a good price. The car was running like a champ but 2 weeks later we had a storm and it turned in to a boat because of a clogged drain in the road lol. My car before that the mechanic actually was freaking out and asked my friend and I if we new how to get the belt off. We were kind of shocked. Then he started pounding the gas pedal after an hour of him trying to get the belt on. I told the manager to tell him to stop. Then smoke flys out and this retard comes out and says I found the problem. You have a blown head gasket. The manager refused to even drive it off the lot. They are all thieves.

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