1995 Saturn SL SL2 1.9 L DOC from North America
Brake discs - twice.
Alternator - twice.
Blown front strut.
Leaking - now failing transmission.
Leaking doors (rains in).
Seat on driver's side collapsing (190#).
Stress cracks in many interior plastic parts.
Poor body fit (as new).
I chose an SL2 as my first American built car in 33 years. I (along with others) wasn't entirely happy about the very prominent engine noise, but was generally pleased with the response and satisfied with the economy. The price with ABS and traction control was good and other items are of little interest to me. I waited 3 weeks for delivery since all the cars in their system also had high-end stereos and moon roof.
I was less pleased when, after a few days of ownership, I noticed the severe distortion of the driver's side door on the area at the bottom of the window, at the black trim strip. On further inspection, I found that same door very poorly matched at the lower forward corner, protruding about 3/4 inch beyond the surface of the fender.
Since these were cosmetic problems, I waited for the first inspection interval to have this and the intermittent ceiling courtesy light corrected.
When I received the car back from inspection, it was accompanied by an apology that stated they could do nothing about the distortion of the windowsill and the fender - door transition had only somewhat improved. The ceiling light seemed to function OK.
It failed again due to poor contact; if one hit or wiggled it, it would light. Had to remove the fixture and carefully bend the bulb contacts to make it reliable.
In the first weeks of ownership, I noticed several rattles and squeaks from the dash and the suspension noise is the worst I have ever heard in any car. After the car had ~10,000 miles on it, the interior noise when traveling over rough roads had exceeded that of my worn out Fiat. On those same roads, it is necessary to re-adjust the driver's sideview mirror daily. I also think the right strut blew out at around that odometer reading.
The first time I took the car above 80 MPH at about 6,000 miles and intentionally braked sharply to familiarize myself with its behavior in an emergency situation, I detected a warped front brake rotor. Since I don't often have a need to drive at that speed or faster, I didn't bring it in for service until the warranty was about due to expire. It was taken care of at no charge.
As of October of 2001, the same problem exists.
At three years old, the car suddenly no longer cranked at its normal speed and on checking the battery, found it had one dead cell. While I was accustomed to replacing the original equipment battery at 5-6 years in previous cars, this didn't bother me that much, particularly since it was a Delco from which I have never had good service.
2-3 days after replacing the battery, a pronounced whine appeared but because the car has an automatic transmission, I could not tell whether it is from an engine-related accessory or the transmission and frankly, I started not to care much about it.
A few days after the whine started, the car started missing at lower RPM at random; some days it ran fine, others it didn't.
The problem stabilized a few days later and the engine started missing frequently. I pulled the plugs since I have had cracked porcelain insulators act his way, but a high voltage check showed no defects. I regapped them and reinstalled them. The improvement lasted only a few hundred feet and the miss returned. With the sun down, I ran the car at an idle and checked for high voltage leakage, which I found. I pulled the plug wires and inspected them, finding one terminal oxidized which I cleaned. Wires reinstalled, the miss had become very regular. I removed them, one by one, measuring resistance. I found the #1 plug wire completely open.
The car was in no condition to drive to the dealership some 30 miles away so I called a local supplier and ordered a new set.
With a manual transmission, I have driven problem cars safely, but it was not even safe to drive home since there are many situations while on the road that would preclude simply stopping, shifting to Park and restarting.
I performed surgery on the bad cable to see if the open circuit was locatable. I found it at the coil end; the carbon filament had burned off at the contact. I proceeded to trim back the insulation and had to cut off fully two inches to find enough filament to re-terminate at the coil jack.
In all the years I have had resistor leads, on vehicles with conventional and electronic ignition system, including a high energy system I designed and built, I have never seen a conductor simply burn away like this.
Of course the cut open rubber ends leak a little high voltage, but it was at least drivable until the replacement set arrived.
A nasty flaw in the ABS system showed itself while the alternator (the first of two) was dying; when the charge/battery voltage had fallen to a point still allowing engine operation, but no longer sufficient for the ABS modulator, that item froze at an intersection in heavy traffic and would not release the brakes. I had to floor the accelerator to drag the damned thing to a parking lot. An email I sent to Saturn about this potentially dangerous flaw brought a "gee whiz" response and a promise to pass it on.
As mentioned before, the car is on its third alternator and now the death symptoms I have read regarding the much-vaunted automatic transmission have appeared.
The car has not yet reached 41,000 miles after six years.
In summary, in case anyone has taken the time to reach this point, I would have to say that my first American car in three decades isn't what I'd read it was, it has problems I never had with my lowly and much maligned Fiats or the English Ford that proceeded them and these at a low mileages for most cars.
I'll be glad to dump this sorry excuse for a car, I had originally planned on spinning the car off to my youngest son, but he hasn't done anything bad enough to deserve that kind of punishment.
I will be disposing of the car in the next months and hope to find someone I don't like very much to buy it.
I'm disappointed and will probably buy foreign next time again.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? No
Review Date: 18th December, 2001
30th Jan 2002, 08:25
Seems to be the norm for people driving American made cars, too bad really. I drive Japanese vehicles and never suffer any problems. I would go back to foreign autos.
20th May 2003, 13:33
I need to tell you about Saturn. I have worked on many cars, trucks and SUVs, and you know what? I never saw a car with a Saturn logo come in for more than an oil change and tune up. I think they build a more than a good car; it is one of the best out there for the price.
If you want to buy cars from the guys who have nukes pointing at us, the same guys who will not sell or cars in their country, that's fine, that's your prerogative, but remember who has got your back when it comes to war. You are American, please show some respect and be that.