1996 Saturn SL SL1


Cheap repair costs, excellent reliability


The brakes were done shortly before I acquired the vehicle.

Rear brake cylinders were replaced at 220k.

Starter was replaced at 221k.

Alternator was replaced at 223k.

Burns oil, and usually have to put in a quart ever 300 miles.

Will have to replace front driver-side control arm and wheel bearing.

Interior makes some squeaky noises, but they're cheap to begin with. Still in relatively good shape, but rust is developing under the foot panels inside the doors.

"Performance" mode causes the transmission to fluctuate much more aggressively than I'm comfortable with to use it.

Struts and shocks will have to be replaced soon.

A/C does not work, no idea how long it's been out.

General Comments:

I was given this car for free from family, and it's been a bit of a nuisance, but very reliable. Parts are easily found, and it's relatively easy to work on if you've got the aptitude for it.

Performance is lacking. Steeper hills almost require you to go into 3rd or 2nd gear. Does well merging onto most highways, but it leaves much to be desired.

Handling has a "bubbly" feel to it. The suspension will have to be replaced, as bumps cause the car to bounce around a bit at higher speeds.

Road noise is a little loud. After putting in aftermarket speakers, it's hardly an issue any more.

Plenty of room for 4 passengers, nice and roomy, but you take a hit in performance and a bit on gas mileage, with it needing more RPM because of the extra weight.

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes

Review Date: 26th June, 2012

2nd Sep 2012, 00:38

Worst car ever designed. I will never even sit in a GM car again. $650 to replace the $50 wiper motor, because the genius design put this part behind the dashboard, requiring it to be removed to replace this $50 part.

Engine is commonly known to burn oil, so pretty much every other day I had to top off the oil. GM continued to produce these oil burning contraptions for at least 4 model years. Endless little stupid things would break, just because.

1996 Saturn SL 2


Reliable car with just a couple of problems


Air conditioning went out after 120,000 miles.

Ceiling has worn badly.

3 windows have lost power, one has been fixed so far.

Goes through oil quickly, but no leaks I can tell of.

Transmission is going out at 200,000 miles. Not sure when or if it was previously replaced. I bought it used in 2006, and it has been fine until now (2010).

Has a loud engine.

General Comments:

Pretty good on gas. About 25mpg average.

It has had minor superficial problems, but no problems with the engine or anything mechanical.

I ride my car rough, and it has held up great.

It gets around well for being a 4 cylinder.

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes

Review Date: 31st August, 2010

1996 Saturn SL SL1


Saturn produced a great car in 1996


The only problem I've had with my Saturn is that at 250,000 miles, I needed to replace the fuel pump.

General Comments:

Awesome car for adults as well as a teen's first car. It is great on gas and very reliable.

I love my Saturn.

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Don't Know

Review Date: 28th July, 2010

28th Jul 2010, 22:31

It burns oil, but just keep up with it and you will be fine.

1996 Saturn SL


Wish I could buy another one brand new


Changed muffler at 100,000 km.

Changed muffler and tie rods at 250,000.

General Comments:

Besides general maintenance (oil, brakes, etc...), have not spent more than 600 dollars on repairs.

Reliability is still there, even after 300,000 km.

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Don't Know

Review Date: 29th June, 2010

1996 Saturn SL SL2 1.9L DOHC


Not a bad little plastic car, if you can find a nice one!


Coolant temp sensor.

Falling headliner.

Needed exhaust work.

EGR valve installed backward (!)

Valve cover leaking.

Trunk had severe leak.

Taillight broken.

Struts badly worn.

AC inoperative.

3 of 4 speakers blown.

Broken console latch due to poor design.

Clearcoat flaking badly on factory alloy wheels.

Lower right torque strut on engine bad.

Two adjusters broken on driver's side headlight.

General Comments:

Engine is a little buzzy.

Ride is firm, but not harsh.

Handling is tight... especially with new struts.

Seats are nice, and interior is holding up well.

Shifter is somewhat balky and imprecise.

Clutch has very little feedback/feel, though the pedal is very light.

Turning radius is a bit wide for a car this size.

Car is fairly quiet and does not have many squeaks/rattles.

Brakes are decent.

These are not bad little cars! I got mine from a guy who bought it from a wrecking yard. The car had not been hit, but it had a bad motor. He replaced the motor with one from another SL2 that had been rear-ended, drove it for a month or two, then it developed an electrical problem. After that he purchased a new Ford truck, and the Saturn sat for about two years.

When I got the car it would run... poorly... until the engine got warm. Then it would quit, and it would not restart until it had cooled down for awhile. These cars are notorious for having a poorly designed engine coolant temp sensor, and this one was no exception. The temp sensor is made of plastic instead of brass, and after awhile they crack and short out. This causes the engine computer to give the car more fuel than it needs when it is warm, and it stalls out. I replaced the temp sensor and it ran better... but not well.

The car kept throwing a diagnostic code for the EGR valve. I took the valve off, noting it's position on the engine, and then put it back on. Still threw the code. I assumed the EGR valve was bad, so I went to the wrecking yard to source another. While pulling it off, I noticed that the valve was on backwards when compared to my car. Turns out the valve on my car was put on BACKWARDS by somebody. Turned it around, and the car ran great!

It then started throwing a code for an O2 sensor. I discovered that the ground wires for the sensor were not hooked up. They must have forgot to do it when they replaced the motor. Got this stuff sorted out, along with the other issues above, and the car has been great.

Overall, these cars are a really good value if you can find a nice one. They get Honda Civic mileage, but are cheaper and not as likely to get stolen. I get 29-32 in town, and mid-30s on the freeway. Mileage is similar to what I was getting in my 1991 Toyota Corolla, but this car is bigger and roomier.

Plastic body panels will never dent or rust, and are easy and cheap to replace if you have a minor accident. These cars, at least here in the Pacific Northwest, are abundant in the local wrecking yards. GM made hundreds of thousands of them from 1991-2002, and many parts are interchangeable between ALL those years.

One thing I would suggest is avoiding the SL1... some of them have a tendency to crack their cylinder heads (read other reviews here).

All older Saturns seem to use oil... it's just something they do. By "use" I mean that they don't leak it, and don't really burn it. It just sorta disappears. My car uses about a quart every 3500-4000 miles, which is good by Saturn standards. Some of them will use a quart every 750-1000 miles. Try not to rev the hell out of the engine, keep the oil clean, and you should be fine.

Overall, these cars are pretty decent little commuters. I would certainly buy another.

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes

Review Date: 2nd May, 2010

12th Oct 2010, 23:23

Original poster here.

My '96 Saturn now has 191k, and all I have had to do in that time is change the oil and replace the front brake pads.

Go, Saturn, go! If you find a nicely maintained SL2, do not hesitate to buy it! They are underrated cars.

31st Jan 2015, 16:36

Thanks for the review. A co-worker (who is a mechanic) is selling me his 1996 Saturn SL2 (manual transmission) for $500. I look forward to getting over 30 MPG.