1996 Saturn SL SL2 1.9L DOHC from North America


One of the better 500 dollar beaters I've ever bought!


I've had the car for 2 months now, and so far:

The belt tensioner was bad. Cost $126 with tax for a replacement at Canadian Tire, plus an extra 25 for a new belt.

Idler pulley. The bearing inside the pulley was completely shot and was making a loud growling sound. $35 with tax at Canadian Tire for a replacement.

Coolant temp sensor was replaced. The old plastic-tipped one was replaced for a brass-tipped one from Canadian Tire.

Rear window defroster doesn't work. The switch itself lights up but nothing happens on the window.

Cigarette lighter doesn't work. The fuse appears to be good but it still doesn't work.

Power mirror (yes just one, on passenger side) doesn't work.

Power door locks don't work. Well, they do sorta; it will unlock the driver's door, but won't unlock any other door, nor will it lock them.

General Comments:

Well, when my '96 Cavalier spun a rod bearing, I needed another car. I only had 500 bucks MAX to spend so I wasn't going to be picky at all with what I was looking at. I looked at a local classified ad website and saw an ad for a '96 Saturn SL2. Licensed, inspected and had working AC. I came across this ad less than an hour after it was initially posted. I fired off an email to the seller as quick as I could. A few emails back and forth later, and that same afternoon I handed over 500 bucks and came home with my 'new' car.

The seller did tell me that the front brakes were bad and needed to be replaced. Fortunately, he included 2 new rotors and new brake pads with the car. The reason why the brakes were so worn down is because the left front caliper was sticking, because the slider pins were rusted. While changing the brakes, I lubed up the slider pins and that caliper works fine now. Heck, even the handbrake works, which is rather unusual for a 500 dollar car with an auto transmission in this part of Atlantic Canada.

The top right motor mount is bad. The rubber is all torn and probably doesn't have any support left in it. Hmmm, probably not a critical component, but I should replace it as soon as I can anyway. I think they're only 35 bucks or so at Canadian Tire.

Alignment is off, and the car pulls to the left. I think the left outer tie-rod is worn. I'll just leave that for now.

The suspension seems a bit firm, especially noticeable when going over rough expansion joints on bridges. This is probably normal.

Front tires are worn thin. I've got 2 used studded winter tires to go on the front; I'll have to leave the rear all-season tires on for now. Winter tires in this car's size (185-65/15) are a bit hard to come by for some reason.

Now don't start thinking that it's all bad with this car. With the exception of the rather expensive belt tensioner, most of the problems I've had so far can be expected from a 500 dollar 12 year old car.

On the plus side of this car, the body is in great shape (LOL it's plastic!). The car runs (most of the time) great, it has decent performance and quite good fuel economy. On my last measured tankful, it averaged out to just about 32 mpg. For an automatic transmission equipped car, this isn't bad at all.

I hit a deer with the car almost a month ago while I was out on the highway at night. I don't think I made full contact with the deer; I think I mainly hit it in the front quarters of the body. The impact shattered the fender (remember, it's plastic), put a small crack (which spread) in the windshield, destroyed the driver's outside mirror, broke the left rear door handle off and put a crack in the left rear door skin. Considering that I hit it at something like 65 mph I think the car came out pretty well. After making sure nothing was leaking or majorly damaged, I was able to drive away. Thank goodness I didn't hit the deer in the center of the car, or I would have likely been looking at major front and windshield damage.

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes

Review Date: 1st December, 2008

19th Feb 2009, 20:14

I owned this car - the cigarette lighter and the power door locks are on the same fuse, located on the passenger side of the front center console. There's a fuse diagram on the cover you pull out, I think. I fixed them for 5 bucks by replacing the fuse, once I figured out (two years later) that they were connected. In case you were wondering, it's an easy fix.

12th Nov 2010, 21:24

I'm the person who wrote this review. After all the trouble I had with the car while I owned it, the transmission had a severe valve body malfunction, in which it would massively over-pressurize the fluid or something, and it would shift extremely hard, and it blew out 2 transmission filters.

Later on, this problem progressed into another problem where the transmission would lock itself into 2nd gear and not shift up or down. My best guess was that the valve body had some sort of internal electrical error that couldn't be fixed without removing it from the car.

I could have gotten a completely rebuilt, much improved valve body from a member of the saturnfans.com forum for around $300, which probably would have fixed my problem, but at that point I was just too angry at the car and sold it. I wish I wouldn't have done that.

1996 Saturn SL SL2 1.9 from North America


Love it, but try to predict the future


I love my 1996 SL2 that I bought new. I know little about cars which is why I had Saturn change the oil and filter every 3,000 miles and followed their scheduled maintenance plans. My 72,000 miles is the result of gigs, the bank, and the liquor store because I teach private students at home. Saturn isn't as friendly despite my recent visits concerning the "tapping" in my engine. After being told that my last oil change may fix the problem, I drove back and talked to the head mechanic who after listening explained that I need a new engine...$4,000. Now that I'm researching my options, I appreciate sites like this as I'm able to get a better understanding of the facts. I'm not sure if I will have Saturn replace my engine or find a re-built engine..etc. I really like my Saturn as it has lots of life left but after reviewing my recent visits, I understand Saturns reluctance to fix what is not mentioned. Those of you that suggest what I should have known outside of the manual are probably right and I will from now on.

General Comments:

I love the response and feel of the SL2 5-speed. Now that I've reviewed my paid efforts to avoid something as drastic as a new engine, I still love everything else as I haven't experienced some of the things mentioned (Transmission, etc.) but, a new car that's been well taken of with 72,000 miles shouldn't suddenly require a new engine.

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

Review Date: 26th July, 2008