1996 Saturn SL 2 1.9L DOHC from North America


Find a good one and it might last


Air conditioning failed at 100 kilometers.

Rear disk brakes seized at 60,000 kilometers.

Valve cover gasket replaced at 100,000 kilometers.

Alternator failed at 140,000 kilometers.

Starter motor failed at 130,000 kilometers.

Four batteries in 10 years.

Side window seals leaked water constantly.

The odometer died at 60,000 kilometers.

Engine seized at 185,000 kilometers.

General Comments:

This car was actually a great deal of fun to drive. The 16 valve DOHC engine with the manual transmission provided lots of acceleration in town. On the highway the road noise and constant wind noise from the side windows made it unbearable.

The front seats are uncomfortable and the rear has very little leg room. Visibility is good, and the plastic body panels mean the car always looked new.

This car was not cheap to maintain however. Parts are expensive and hard to get. There is no Saturn dealer in the town I live in, so everything has to be ordered in. In some cases, special tools are required.

The four-wheel disk brakes with ABS are excellent, but the pads wear quickly. One of the rear disks seized at 60,000 kilometers.

I probably would have maintained this car for several more years. Sadly, the engine seized - despite oil changes every 3 months - and a rebuilt will cost over $4,000. Motor parts are very expensive. I have found a mechanic who is willing to rebuild the engine at a reasonable cost, so it will be back on the road at some time.

Strangely enough, I bought two Saturn SL2's new in 1996, and the second one has been completely problem free. It has had the battery replaced once and one motor mount. So it seems that one was a lemon and the other was not.

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? No

Review Date: 4th August, 2007

1996 Saturn SL SL1 from North America


I'm glad I got this car, it served its purpose


Headliner dropped.

Comsumes oil. Have to add a quart about every month.

General Comments:

Very reliable car for me. I took this for long distances without any problems. Doesn't look all that great, but got me to points A and B.

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes

Review Date: 17th April, 2007

1996 Saturn SL 1 1.9 from North America


This car, unfortunately, is not for me; I will never, EVER, buy another


Major brake issue.

Belts have had to replaced several times (on one occasion I had 2 belts within 1 month).

Oxygen sensor problem.

Terrible sunroof (it leaks EVERY WHERE).

Horn randomly blows (I eventually had to totally unplug it)

Belt tensioner went bad.

General Comments:

The car is very reliable. I can only count just a few times that the car didn't start the first time I tried it.

However, when something goes wrong, it is EXTREMELY expensive. I would drive the car forever if I didn't have to worry about maintenance. I am sure the car was great to begin, but the older it is the more costly it can be.

I would not suggest anyone buying this car without willing to make a huge commitment to paying a great deal in upkeep.

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? No

Review Date: 20th January, 2007

1996 Saturn SL SL2 Twin Cam 4 cylinder from North America


The weirdest quirkiest car I've ever driven


As soon as we got the car it went back to the used car dealer over 5 times because it wouldn't pass emissions. They replaced the muffler, O2 sensors, and opened up the engine to scrape the carbon out of it to get it to pass. Soon as it passed inspection the alternator went, and then again a week later. The car burned gallons of oil from the start, about a quart every 4 or 5 days. At around 130,000 the car started running very roughly at highway speeds. The mechanics scratched their heads for weeks over this; replacing spark plugs, wires, the Catalytic converter, until finally they unplugged the EGR module and the problem went away (except that we had to remember to plug it back in for inspections). At 146,000 it started to run rough again, but at lower speeds, and was burning excessive oil (up to a quart every 2 days). Replacement of air filter and spark plugs fixed the problem for about 5 days, and then it came back. At the same time the radiator started leaking and the smoke coming out of the car went from blue/black to white - usually a sign of a blown head gasket. Now the car is at a salvage yard.

General Comments:

The car was obviously cheaply built, but it was kept simple so at times this made repairs easier. It drove nice on the highway, took corners well, and had great brakes - definitely fun to drive. The twin cam engine had plenty of horsepower for getting on the highway. In spite of all the oil burning and malfunctions, we pushed the car for 3 years with only 3 "sessions" at the shop. The clutch was getting near the top when we bought the car, and somehow that clutch never let go - I was prepared to replace it within the first year and never had to. Some days it would run smooth like a Lincoln, other days you thought it was a model T. It didn't like cold weather very much and would run funny all day long unless you let it idle for 10 minutes to warm up. It vibrated like a hotel bed when it idled and every piece of plastic trim rattled and hummed until you thought you'd go crazy. It was my girlfriend's first car and she hit everything including sign posts, boulders, guardrails, 2 Ford pickups, and a tree, and with the plastic bumpers and dent resistant panels you would have never known it... she caused $2000 in damage to a Ford Ranger and we just kicked out the dent in her bumper and drove away. Overall a true heap, but good for a cheap first car.

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

Review Date: 30th December, 2006

7th Dec 2007, 09:49

I just bought a used SL2 and your description of the interior noise is extremely accurate. I just put bigger speakers in it to drown it out. You should really enter your girlfriend in a demolition derby. I'd place my bet on her!

22nd Dec 2007, 13:04

I second the comment regarding how it runs in different weather. Also, I can feel when the oil level is falling because it won't run as well. Looks like you're one lucky guy with a great girl. In my option, without the plastic panels, Saturn is just another ugly GM car.

18th Nov 2009, 16:06

The problems you have described could have been easily fixed:

Rough running in cold weather and will not heat up: new thermostat and possibly coolant temp sensor total $25 or less at local auto parts store.

Blown head gasket was caused by Dex-Cool, the orange coolant that GM recommends. Dex-Cool actually eats gaskets, and builds up a rusty sludge in your radiator. Will also eat water pumps and hoses. Expensive fix after the fact, but easily avoided. All GM cars after 96 had it. If you ever come across another car with this Dex-Cool crap in it, have the cooling system flushed and re-filled with green stuff.

The EGR valve should never be disconnected, and if it is, the car will never run right. It will go through spark plugs like crazy and barely idle without your foot on the gas.