Initial maintenance check-up and oil change within 2-3 weeks of driving it brand new off the lot, revealed a faulty/broken transmission valve seal, which caused a leak. The valve was replaced.
In 2005, the car wouldn't start. Got a jump, but the engine nearly stalled out at every stop and had no "oomph" to accelerate. Car died in the middle of a four-lane intersection of a local highway and would not take a second jump. Had to replace the battery, as well as a blown fuse and relay at around 4,000 miles.
Spark plugs and wires needed to be replaced within a year of that incident.
In 2005, a Subaru Outback T-boned me while driving. The Subaru impacted my driver's side center frame support and bent the re-bar. The high impact polymer doors sustained damage, but not beyond the interior layer. The front airbags did not deploy. In short, both doors on the driver side were smashed and had to be replaced -- the front end of her Outback was completely mangled with the grill lying in pieces alongside the road. Thank you, Saturn for a decent safety-rating, one of the selling points when I bought the car.
The serpentine belt was cracked and rotors unable to be turned at about 60,000 or 70,000 mileage in 2007. Since several people told me I could probably go longer without having to replace either, this came as a mild surprise.
In September 2008, the idler tensioner pulley blew its bearings, nearly punching a hole in the engine and completely without warning. One moment it suddenly sounds like the muffler was dragging while stopped at a light awaiting to turn onto the highway. A second later the light turns green and as I'm completing the turn, I loose power-steering and the engine temperature gauge soars towards the red -- in a nanosecond! I hit the hazards and cut across two lanes of traffic to pull off on the shoulder where I immediately stopped the engine just before the needle hit the red. A very expensive repair...
Earlier this week, I go to start the car and it immediately lurches and bucks with a loud clunk, which sounds/feels like it's happening in the rear. It continues to do this in both drive and reverse, but not park. I drive three blocks, the car lurching, bucking, and clunking intermittently, turn around and park the car. Boyfriend comes home to take it for a spin around the block and says it's fine.
Today (07/06/09), I start the car again and the same lurching, bucking clunk occurs as I shift into gear. I shift back into park and let the car idle. Nothing. I shift into reverse and keep the foot on the brake: Clunk! Back to park I go. Then I try Drive: Clunk!. Back to park I go. Try Drive again: Clunk! Idle with the brake on. No clunk. Take foot off the brake. No clunk. Drive three houses down and lurching clunk! This continues as I drive around the block. I slow down. I speed up. Clunk! Clunk! I wonder if the brakes aren't disengaging. I hit the brakes hard...
Nothing happens EXCEPT that the car doesn't come to a complete stop. It stops and then a soft slide as I notice the automatic car has shifted itself into neutral, without me touching the shifter and without my permission! I manage to finish the block (lurch clunk! lunch clunk!) and park the car in the drive where it now sits with less than 80,000 miles on it.
This 2002 Saturn SL1 car is a single-owner drove off the lot brand new the Summer of 2001. It was the first car I ever bought new.
Regular performance maintenance occurred within manufacturer's specification at the Saturn dealership where the car was purchased. I even hand washed and dried the car until it was about 2 or 3 years old.
Overall, I have very mixed feelings about the car: to think I survived an impact by a Subaru Outback is impressive, but I'm leaning towards too many serious mechanical issues too early in its lifetime to convince me that GM should receive bailout money!