I have had my Saturn for about 5 months now, and am so far not at all impressed with its reliability. I got a great deal on the car, so I purchased an additional 3 month/3,000 mile warranty at the cost of $250. All I can say now is thank God I did!
This has been my experience with my Saturn up until now:
The SERVICE ENGINE SOON light came on after I had driven about 2 miles off the car lot. The car ran fine, so I took it back to the dealer a few days later when I had some time. They said that the PCV valve needed to be replaced, and they replaced it under warranty.
That same day, about 20 miles later, the light came back on. The car continued to run fine, and normally I would not have made a big deal about it, but I figured I might as well get my $250 dollars worth that I had spent on the warranty, and have them look at the car again. When I brought it back to the dealer, they said that the EGR valve was faulty. They didn't have any in stock at the time, and told me to come back in a few days. So a few days later, on my third trip to the dealer in a week, they replaced the EGR valve, and the light has not come back on since.
The first major problem occurred only a week and a half after I had purchased the car. My girlfriend wanted me to teach her how to drive stick shift. So I took her to an empty parking lot and she stalled out twice. On the third try, she stalled again, but the car jerked forward really hard (I had gone through the same thing when I learned, so I wasn't worried about it.) But she didn't want to try it again. Well little did I know that the car would not move after that. I tried all the gears, but the engine would just rev. I figured that she had blown the clutch and actually wasn't that upset about it, because I could get it fixed under warranty. Anyway, I had it towed to the dealer and they called the next day and said that the clutch was fine and that the front axle was broken. I personally don't see how teaching my girlfriend how to drive stick shift would affect the axle. My guess was that it was getting ready to go, and that one jerk forward sent it over the edge. So the dealer fixed it under warranty, which made me happy, because it would have run me around $1200 without the warranty.
Okay, so I drive the car for about a 3 weeks after that, and nothing else went wrong, but I noticed that the brakes were getting really squeaky. They were operating fine, but once again I figured I might as well have them checked, since I paid for the warranty. So I drove out to the dealer, and after pulling off the wheels, they discovered that all four brake pads and rotors were shot, and replaced them all under warranty. This would have run me around $450 if I hadn't purchased the warranty, so again, I was very grateful.
The next day, I went to start my car, and when I turned the key, nothing happened. None of the indicator lights came on, and the dome light wouldn't work. I didn't need a mechanic to tell me what was wrong this time... the car obviously needed a new battery. This was the one thing that wasn't covered under warranty, so I picked one up at Pep Boys myself for $60. No big deal there; it wasn't the car's fault that the battery was old.
At this point, I had owned my Saturn for about one month. It ran fine for another 5-6 weeks or so. Then the battery light came on while I was driving home one day. I called the dealer, and they said that it was probably the alternator, which is what I had suspected. Again, not a big problem because it was covered under warranty. The dealer is located about 22 miles from my house, and I didn't really have much time the next day. Also, I didn't really want to pay to have it towed again, so I took a BIG chance and drove it out there myself. I didn't use the radio or AC or anything else that would take power from the battery, and I made it the whole way! They replaced the alternator in about an hour, and I was good to go. At this point, I had only had 63 miles left on the warranty, so I'm glad it went when it did.
A week later, the battery light came back on, but only when I accelerated past 3000 RPM. My 3 month/3000 mile warranty had expired by this time, but the alternator had a 90 day warranty, so once again, I drove out to the dealer and they put in another alternator. Also, they said that my serpentine belt was in really bad shape, and was probably not operating correctly at higher RPM, which would cause the battery light to come on. So I paid $40 a new belt and have not had a problem since.
It has been about 3 months since I last had my Saturn in the shop for repair. In that time, I have taken a trip from Central New York to Cape Cod, MA. and back, and also from Cape Cod to Boston and back while I was there (a total of about 1200 miles), and the car performed flawlessly. I was skeptical of even taking the trip in the first place, based on the car's performance in the past, but like I said, nothing went wrong.
I think at this point, a lot of people would have gotten rid of the car after all that has gone wrong. I have considered it myself, but I've decided to hang on to it for a few reasons. The first one is that I personally have only paid around $100 of my own money in repairs since I bought it, so I don't feel like I've sacrificed much for it. All I can say is that without the 3 month/3000 mile warranty, I would have had to have put around $2500 of my own money into it, so I'm VERY thankful that the salesman talked me into purchasing it.
My second reason for keeping the car, is that despite all that has gone wrong, I absolutely love the car itself. I only paid $2295 for it with 82500 miles on it, which is in my mind a steal. It's nothing special, it is definitely a base model car. The only option in mine is air conditioning (and the Pioneer aftermarket AM/FM CD player that was in the car when I bought it). However, I love the body style, the color (dark green) and it drives much better then I would have expected for a Saturn. The engine is relatively quiet, and is almost silent on the highway. It drives much smoother than I expected going 75 MPH down the highway. I like the way the clutch feels, and it shifts extremely smooth. Also, it accelerates much quicker than I expected for a 4CYL 1.9L engine (I haven't done any tests, but I would estimate about 7-8 seconds for 0-60 - I can chirp first, second, and sometimes even third gear when it's in the mood.) The car's gauge cluster is one of its high points in my mind. The speedometer and tach are very large and easy to read, and it's got a very practical set of warning lights. Again, it's nothing special, I just happen to like it a lot.
The other thing I really like about my Saturn is it's fuel economy. I went online to www.fueleconomy.org and it said that my car should get something like 32 city, 39 highway. I haven't tested it, but with 90,000 miles, I would estimate that my car gets pretty close to that. This is a huge advantage with the rising gas prices. The only thing is that it's only got an 11 gallon tank in it, so I have to fill up more often than I had to with my other car. But at $15 to fill it from empty, how can you go wrong.
Like I said before, I have not had to have any work done on the car in about 3 months now. However, I have noticed a chatter in the brakes, which is becoming more frequent. I have to dig out the paper work from when they fixed it, but I think they still might be under warranty. If that's the case, I'll bring it back out and have them take a look at it.
The other thing I have noticed within the past few weeks or so, is that the car has been starting very rough, and it's starting to happened more frequently now. This past week, I had my mechanic take a look at it, and also 2 friends of mine who are mechanically inclined, and they can't figure out why it's doing it. Then my uncle told me today that he thinks that the computer is not functioning properly. He thinks that it is not allowing the fuel to flow to the engine at the time when it should, which is soon after you turn the key. But lately I have been having to crank it for 5-10 seconds before it will start. His theory makes sense to me, but it will be rather costly if he is right. I don't have a lot of money at the moment, and would consider letting it go for a while... I can live with it starting rough. But the down-side is that it's putting a lot of wear on the starter (which isn't cheap to replace). Also, when I'm cranking it, the whole car vibrates, which I think knocked something loose in the engine, which has resulted in a loud rattling noise at low RPM. So I think I should probably have the computer checked, and if needed, replaced, to avoid future costly repairs.
I really hope my car has gotten the constant repairs out of its system, because I am about to move to another apartment, which is about 25 miles away from where I work. I drive quite a bit on top of that, so I'll be racking up a lot of miles. The one thing that concerns me is that my girlfriend's dad's car (a 1996 Saturn completely identical to mine, same engine, etc.) just blew a cylinder, which has made it undriveable. He has already put new head gaskets in it, on top of that (this was a recall on the 1996 Saturn 4CYL 1.9L). I'm assuming they corrected the problem in the 1997's, because to my knowledge, the head gaskets have never been replaced on my car, and there was no recall (and the engine in his car is completely identical to the one in mine.) Needless to say, he has decided that the car is not worth fixing the cylinder on it, and the car only has 75K on it. I hope I have better luck!
One advantage that I have is that I work for Valvoline Instant Oil Change, and can get a really good discount on every service that we do there. I am taking advantage of this by changing the oil religiously every 3000 miles or less using our best oil (Valvoline's Full-Synthetic), and performing every singe preventative maintenance service that we offer when I reach the mileage that Saturn recommends it should be done. So far, I have manual transmission drain and fill, an entire fuel system cleaner, and a fuel system treatment (rec. every 12000 miles.) Also, I put in a fuel injector cleaner every time I change my oil. The next big thing I will do is a cooling system flush when I reach 100,000 miles.
As most Saturn owners know (that have the 4CYL 1.9L) the car burns a lot of oil. I pull my car in for a top-off at work every three days or so, and it is almost always at least a half a quart low. Working at Valvoline helps me to stay on top of this, and do every service that I can to help my car last with as few repairs as possible!