- Bucking under acceleration that was caused by some vacuum leaks (replaced some hoses), failed APC valve + APC solenoid and failed mass air flow sensor.
- Broken HVAC knobs.
- Hood and trunk struts needed replacing.
- Engine hesitation caused by worn out spark plugs, which were replaced.
- A rubber seal came partially off in the winter, due to opening the hood when it was frozen shut. Fixed by replacing some of the clips.
- Saab Information Display (SID) had so many pixels not working that it was unreadable. This is caused by a data ribbon for the display that gets disconnected over time (the conductive glue stops sticking). I fixed this by taking the unit out, taking it apart and where the data ribbon is glued on to the circuit board, I applied a lot of heat using a soldering iron. Then I put on a piece of weatherstripping and cardboard to apply extra pressure to the connector, and this fixed about 90% of the pixels.
- The Clarion stereo occasionally has to be reset by having it pulled out, unplugged and plugged back in. This unit also has terrible AM reception. But the CD and FM reception work great.
- The previous owner replaced the power antenna (which commonly fails) with a fixed one.
- Fog lights stopped working (not bothering to fix).
- Headlight wipers stopped working (not bothering to fix).
- Some dashboard lights burnt out (everything still readable, just not uniformly illuminated).
I bought this car used for $2500.
Considering the wholesale/retail value of this car was $4000/$6000 at the time of purchase, I knew there was going to be some money to spend on repairs.
Aside from what is listed under 'things gone wrong', the only other things I've done to this car are oil changes, replaced the air filter, and I also dropped the oil pan to make sure that the screen on the oil pickup wasn't clogged. Dropping the oil pan every 100,000km or so is essential preventative maintenance. If that oil pickup gets clogged with sludge (which is what happens when people use cheap non-synthetic oil on a turbo engine), the engine can get starved for oil and it *WILL* kill the engine prematurely. And DOHC 16V turbo engines are NOT cheap to rebuild or replace.
With the repairs listed above and, I spent around $4300... so I feel I got a good deal.
For these engines to last, a good quality 100% synthetic oil like Amsoil 5w40 Euro Formula is absolutely essential if you're going to follow the 10,000km change intervals listed in the manual. If using regular name brand oil, then you have to change it every 3 months or 4000KM, or IT WILL TURN TO SLUDGE and KILL THE ENGINE. This is why you see some people saying their Saab died after only 60K.
Saabs aren't for everyone.
They have some ergonomic quirks, such as having the ignition key and power window switches in the centre console.
And a Saab will cost more to operate and maintain than a small or mid size Honda, Ford or Toyota. For example... I recently replaced the MAF sensor, and it cost $127 for the part. On a Ford Escort, a similar part that does the same function costs around $100. And using synthetic oil is highly advisable. That Amsoil synthetic oil I mentioned goes for around $8 a bottle (but you only need 4-5 bottles each oil change). So while I'm saying it costs more to maintain, it's not outrageously expensive. Another issue is that not all parts for this car are widely available.
The key to owning a SAAB is to not skimp on maintenance. It also helps to have a good independent mechanic who has the SAAB-specific diagnostic equipment. Going to the dealer won't result in any better repairs, but you will get upsold. Doing work yourself is also an option - particularly if you download the SAAB WIS or Workshop Information System, which you can find on some Bit Torrent sites.
These SAABs aren't terrible to work on. For example, I change my own oil and I changed the MAF sensor myself.
But they are more complex, so more homework needs to be done sometimes to get to the root of a problem (such as the bucking during acceleration problem I had, that turned out to be 3 separate problems).
But why spend the extra money driving a SAAB?
Well now we're getting to the positives...
1. The engine
The 2.0 DOHC 16V Turbo Slant-4 engine (mine is the B205) with a balance shaft is smooth and powerful. Plus the engine is mounted on a rubber isolated subframe, so you feel even less vibration than you do in any 4 cylinder Honda or Toyota. Remember that APC valve I mentioned that I replaced? APC stands for Automatic Performance Control... meaning it automatically adjusts performance for the fuel you put in... meaning that this is a turbo engine that you can use regular unleaded fuel in without causing the engine to knock. If you drive gently, you can get 7 to 8L/100KM. And when you push this car, it revs to 6000 RPM like it's nothing. And by chipping it and doing some minor modifications, 240HP is easily attainable out of these engines... but then you will have to use super-unleaded fuel all the time.
2. The manual transmission
In spite of this car having 300,000km, the shifter and clutch are still great - although I don't know if the clutch is original. The shifter is smooth and direct, with reasonably short throws. This is one of the nicest manuals I've had.
3. The body/chassis
This car feels very solid when compared to the typical Toyota and Honda. The doors close with a 'thunk'. The 5 door hatchback body is very practical. The trunk is quite large, and large things can be easily loaded due to the hatchback body style. It's not the biggest car, but it's big enough for my wife, my two kids and myself. Handling is quite good. There are two negatives. The first is that on cold winter mornings, the suspension bushings creak... which is fixable if you replace the stock bushings with polyurethane bushings. The second is that this car seems to be a little twitchy when driving on rutted roads. But that's a common problem with cars with sporty suspensions. I personally like the firm suspension. But it won't appeal to the typical Buick, Lincoln or Lexus driver. This car is also quieter than a typical Ford or Honda... Probably more noisy than a Lexus though. But after 8 years and 300,000KM, the body is still straight and rust free, and the paint is still shiny.
4. Status/Prestige. I wasn't expecting to get any compliments on my car... after all... it's just another $2500 car. But I have been getting compliments.
Owning a SAAB can be enjoyable if you want a car with some character, above average performance for low cost, and you're willing to take preventative measures to avoid problems.