Original Reviewer with an update.
My Saturn has almost 187,000 miles now. It hasn't been driven very much lately because it sat at my friend's bodyshop for a week or so before he could get it in to fix the rot on the passenger side rear door sill. But it's fixed now, and looks as good as new.
I also fixed my A/C. Thankfully I got it right before one of the biggest heat waves New England has had in a long time. Was just a few leaking o-rings at the compressor and connections for the evaporator core. Blows ice cold now.
The car left me stranded once, and not because it broke down. The shifter cable-to-shifter connector snapped (with the car stuck in neutral.) This is very common for these cars. Rather than replace the whole cable, I took a wire coat hanger and looped it through the connector and then through the shifter. It works just like it did before it snapped, in fact it even tightened up the shifter a little (was a little sloppy before). Problem solved.
Gas mileage hasn't changed, still averaging 37 MPG. I still have no complaints for this car, because so far it owes me nothing.
Original Reviewer again with an update.
Did not yet replace the lower control arms, but I have found the source of the heavy clunking in the front end. One of the sub-frame bolts had come loose, allowing the the frame to slide back and forth over bumps. Tightened the bolt and fixed the problem. The lower control arms will still need replacement eventually, but at least now I can put them off a little longer.
I've replaced the lower control arms now (found them online for cheap.) Also decided to replace the front struts. Had it aligned, and now it drives like brand new. A lot of people probably think I've wasted a lot of money on this car, but as it stands, I've only spent about $1600. For $1600 and a little work, I now have a car with only 85,000 miles on it, and essentially a brand new suspension. New clutch too. It even looks like new. Really couldn't be happier with it.
Just had my first issue that wasn't caused by the previous owner's neglect! Rear brake rotors were making noise and had to be machined. Everything else has been great!
188,200 miles now. After cutting the rear rotors, I haven't had any issues with my Saturn. Averaging about 33 MPG. Had some cold mornings lately, the heat works great!
Nearly 190,000 on the odometer now. That means 88,000 miles on the replacement engine.
I had only one "problem" since my last update. After letting the car sit all weekend long, I went to start it up on a very cold Monday morning, and it struggled to start. I had to help it idle for a few seconds, and then it just ran rough. After about 30 seconds, it ran completely fine. I drove to school and it drove just fine. I tried to recreate this problem for about a week and a half, and never got it to do it again. Even now it has been sitting for a day and a half or so, and when I went to start it just a few hours ago it started right up. I guess all I can say is I hope it doesn't do it again!
Original Reviewer again.
My Saturn has 192,000 miles on the odometer now. I never had the starting issue again (knock on wood), thankfully. My brake rotors did however become so badly warped that it would actually lurch very badly when slowing to a stop. I replaced all 4 rotors and the front pads (rear pads were put in only 10,000 miles ago). Solved that problem, and so far after around 1,000 miles since replacing the rotors, no lurching or pedal pulsation. I have to say, I've never had a car give me so many issues with brakes (My Corolla has 197,000 miles on the original rear shoes and drums!) But, it has been quite good otherwise, considering the price.
Since I have now owned the car for nearly 10,000 miles, and have gotten more used to its quirks, I figured I would write up another little "mini" review on it.
Like all '97 Saturns, if you don't wait for the fuel pump to completely finish its prime, it won't start. I don't know why all '97's do this, but it seems to be the case with most of them, this one included. It's almost like a diesel with the "wait to start" light. I use the "TRACTION ACTIVE" light to gauge when the fuel pump has finished priming; once that light shuts off, it will fire right up without hesitation.
When it's really cold out, the clutch chatters a bit, but usually goes away once it is fully warmed up.
The front suspension still hasn't settled yet (from when I replaced the strut assemblies and lower control arms), so it looks like the rear end is sagging.
It had a very small water leak in the trunk that seems to have somehow miraculously repaired itself (I AM NOT gonna question it, I'm just glad it stopped, haha!).
When driving at any speed, there is a noise that sounds exactly like a clock ticking from the drivers floorboard area. It doesn't matter how fast you are going, the sound doesn't really change much based on the speed. It hasn't affected a thing, so I just don't worry about it.
With 5 people in the car, the dashboard squeaks over bumps.
Because the rear window track broke on the right side last summer, I repaired it with a slightly broken used one from a junkyard. I'm afraid it will break again, causing the window to fall down inside the door again, so, I just never open the rear windows!
All this makes it sound like a piece of junk, but it really isn't. It runs smooth and quiet, uses no oil, and still shines after being washed.
It drives very smoothly on the highway (WAY smoother than you would expect from a cheap, plastic econobox. It's far quieter than my Corolla on the highway). It handles very well. Turns right into corners with no complaints from the tires, and understeers less than you would expect from a front-wheel drive car.
At 5000-6500 RPMs, it will throw you back in the seat (but it's a total dog up until that point. That's OK with me though, I think it's seen those RPMs only once, maybe twice with me. Like I said in my original review, my average cruising speed on the highway is 55-60.)
I've driven it only once in the "snow" (I say "snow", because it only snowed a pathetic half-inch where I live. We normally have a few feet by this time.) It seemed to handle it well, had no problems with wheel spin by starting off in second (I shut off the traction control whenever I drive it, I've noticed it seems to make that occasional clutch shudder/chatter worse). But, we're supposed to get 5+ inches this weekend, so I'll find out how it really performs soon enough.
Overall, I'm really quite pleased with this purchase. At first I didn't plan on really caring much about this car. I bought it for $200 and figured I'd just sorta toss it around, but it cleaned up so nicely, it seemed to me that that would be such a waste. It's grown on me, to the point that I must say while I haven't owned very many cars (5), and not a single one of them has been newer than 1999, this is definitely one of my favorites.