1998 Saturn SL SL1 1.9 liter SOHC from North America


If you can't afford one, you are probably a homeless mentally ill drug addict


Radiator cracked.

Dome light went out (fixed in seconds once I realized why).

Gears have always been a bit notchy.

Burns a decent amount of oil (quart or 2 down at 5k miles change).

CEL occasionally came on until I cleaned the EGR valve and replaced the O2 sensor.

Shifter bushing went out.

Wipers got loose -- had to tighten.

Driver's window crank end (the spinny thing you grab with your hand) keeps popping off. It just snaps back on though, so I've actually made a nervous habit out of popping it on and off. If I cared, I would do something, but I can still open and close window without it.

General Comments:

Cheap to buy.

Cheap to fix (if you do your own work).

Easy to fix.

Cheap to drive.


Easy to drive.

Ridiculously fuel efficient (especially the manual transmission). I get about 37 mpg average with a good mix of city/highway, and between 45-55 on highway, depending on speed.

For its year it is in top 10 most fuel efficient cars. Mileage is comparable to the early Prius, but at the cost of a replacement battery pack.

In summary, I have found this car reliable, and by far the cheapest to buy, drive, and run of anything I have owned.

I was scared to buy one years ago when I read some of the horrible reviews, but it was so cheap I couldn't resist, and now four years later I'm back to talk about it.

The number one thing to keep in mind is that these cars are mostly driven by young drivers, the poor, and people that just don't care about them at all because of their price. My father was a mechanic, and none of our cars has ever seen a shop, and I can say this car has about average reliability, above average if you consider that none of the issues were severe (expensive). A lot of the common problems are probably due to poor maintenance.

-- I can't believe stories of cylinder heads cracking 5 times when it hasn't happened to me once in 45k miles. It is very likely that the radiator cracked first, and they didn't notice until all the coolant evaporated and overheated the head. This DID happen to me, but I caught it before the coolant was empty, because this car has a low coolant light. Cracked radiators are a common problem, do not buy the cheapo aftermarket ones like I did the first time. After I got a decent quality one, hasn't cracked yet, and it's been a couple years. I thought it cracked again, but it was actually a rip in the hose. Maybe this is why people are reporting repeated crackings?

-- The other stories about the check engine light going on and off could easily be solved if the engine codes are checked with a scanner. Any decent shop will do this for free. I had this problem, and it was the EGR code and oxygen sensor. Replacing the oxygen sensor and cleaning the valve fixed it. Cleaning the EGR valve can be done by anyone, needs to be done on most cars infrequently, but a bit more on Saturns because they usually burn oil, which soots it up faster. I have only needed to do it once so far.

-- I had trouble starting it for a while, and it turned out to be rusty battery terminals. The number one cause of starting trouble is dirty battery terminals. Saturn OEM side post terminals suck, but you can get aftermarket replacements that pop in off fleabay for 10 dollars. I think a lot of reports of batteries dying or cars not starting for no reason were actually bad terminals.

-- The most annoying problem I had so far was a broken shifter bushing. It failed slowly, but I was too lazy to replace it until suddenly it snapped on a cold day, leaving me without any gears. The part costs around 20 bucks on ebay, and it took me about 10 minutes to replace.

-- The wipers have come loose, but I fixed that with thread locker. More annoyingly, the overhead lamp is junk, but you just have to bend the contacts back into place when it stops working. Don't hit it to make it work like many people do; this breaks the clips holding it to the ceiling and bends the contacts even worse. Gently take it off, and you'll see right away what needs to be done, and then pop it back in.

-- The car does burn oil, but the rate has been steady since I bought the car, and is between 1 or 2 quarts between oil changes. More in the winter. This is normal for Saturns, and the likely reason is an improper oil control ring. I have heard the problem was mostly solved in the 99 model.

-- I'm sure some of these poor reviewers have gotten lemons, but I think a lot of them gave the car a bad rap because they got the car for cheap and didn't care about it. Noticing many of the reviews listed problems like broken engine mounts, worn out clutches, pulsating brakes, loss of first/second gear in a manual, and blown out stereos within periods of a year or less, most of these are obviously due to abuse. I have had none of these problems in a fairly high miles car that I've been driving for years.

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes

Review Date: 2nd October, 2010

5th Nov 2010, 21:44

My parent's had one of these, it was the worst car we ever owned.

Keep in mind it was an ex-rental car, so it had probably been abused, so when the head gasket went we were not surprised. My dad had not paid much for it and it was a rushed buy, so we got what we paid for.

Apart from the mechanics, no one in the family really liked this car. Looks were ugly, only really seats 4, and not very comfortably. Good thing we didn't keep it long..

After that my parents bought a 1997 Lumina, which was a much much better car. More comfortable, better suspension, handling, higher top speed and more luxury options.

The Lumina is a great cheap family car that doesn't drive or feel like a cheap car.

1998 Saturn SL SL2 1.9 I4 DOHC from North America


This is your beater people, stay on top of the oil and you're golden for thousands of miles!


Let me preface this by saying almost all of the miles I have put on have been highway...

- She burns a lot of oil, more on highway... a quart 750-1K miles, burning is less in city driving.

- Wiring problem in rear tail light, resolved around 100K.

- I ran over deer carcass around 120K, car flew in air and popped a tire. I later found a cracked radiator reservoir, causing a slow leak, and it also cracked a plastic shield underneath the engine. Radiator later replaced as a preventative measure at 125K, MacGyvered the shield off one day when it started dragging on the pavement.

- Cold crank sensor failed around 127K, car towed.

- General tune up around 130K while the car was in shop, plugs, wires, coolant change, other fluids.

- Last winter in the high 130s, a bizarre 'Service' red light (with a wrench not the OBD check engine) came on and the heater/defroster quit working... this was after I stopped to use the bathroom while driving home in a snow storm. Next day, the light was gone. Has appeared once or twice since then, same symptoms. Mechanic theorizes the blower motor is going, as I do run the A/C and heater constantly, but it has yet to completely break.

- A flex pipe on exhaust fell off while driving around 149K, car towed.

- Automatic tranny has been shaky since I got her. I change the fluid every 25K, it's never given me any serious problem, it just shifts weird downhill sometimes.

General Comments:

I call her the Snow Warrior, my brother's '02 we call the Blue Battler. It's been a love/hate relationship... not because of any failure of the car, but just because of how cheap it feels... like a disposable camera. But under the hood lurks a monster.

Truthfully this car is a beast, which is a term I normally reserved for late model Caprices or other ex-police cruisers. It takes the abuse of awful Pittsburgh winters, and even worse PENNDOT roads.

She was $1500 to purchase from dear old Dad, and roughly $2000 total maintenance in 4 yr/68K... She has only truly failed me twice in this time and:

- She's driven as far west as Athens OH, as far north as Buffalo NY, as far south as Winchester VA, Erie PA dozens of times, and up I-79 daily.

- She runs over deer and flies through the air.

- She takes a side swipes at 35 miles an hour, does not dent, and only requires some acetone for $6 to remove the black scuff marks without needing body work... netting you an $800 profit in a judgment against the defendant. Yes, this happened.

- Her body will never rust.

- She's plastic and doesn't mind when you tap people in the parking lot.

- She drives 75 miles an hour, 60 miles a day without question.

- She's a 4 banger. It will do around 30 hwy on said commute.

- Her brakes and tires are very cheap to replace.

- She keep me cool every summer, without her A/C I would have melted in July.

- She lacks even the most basic options, save power steering, airbag, aftermarket CD, and ABS... but options? We don't need no stinking options!

- She only asks very regular oil changes, Lucas every 3K, and 25K tranny flushes.

This is your beater people, cheap and effective. If you can still find one that's not destroyed, look for a 96-99 SL 5-spd or auto, stay on top of the oil and you're golden for thousands of miles!

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

Review Date: 31st August, 2010

25th Feb 2011, 15:44

96-99 have to be the worst years for Saturn engines; their 1.9 SOHC engines had bad cylinder heads on them that crack below 100k.

Their DOHC engines are good though, although I wouldn't advise running auto in one, because they're weak.