Heavy trailer towing - Saturn SL2 update

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Apr 20, 2003
Ottawa, Ontario
Just thought I'd post a little update since you guys helped me out with my oil selection several months ago. See: http://theoildrop.server101.com/ubb/ultimatebb.php?ubb=get_topic;f=1;t=002008#000001 for the original post. After loading everything up for the 5 week holiday, the trailer ended up weighing right at 2000 lbs (being towed by a 2380 lbs 2000 SL2). The car grossed out at about 3300 lbs when it was loaded, so we had a GCW of about 5100 lbs. Anyway, the car (and camper) worked awesomely. The entire trip was a great success. The Delvac 1300S 15W40 worked very well and oil consumption averaged about 1 liter per 4000 kms (same as 10w30 not towing). We travelled a total of 16,382 kms, including up and over the rocky mountains twice. I changed the oil every 4000 kms. As usual I drove the car very hard, travelling up the mountain passes with my foot on the floor at 5000+ rpm, overtaking just about everyone. I didn't give it a break at all, even in 110°F weather we kept the A/C on fairly high and flew up the mountains. No problems, including no issues with running hot (did have 70% water/30% Dexcool, no waterwetter). Travelling down the mountains I used the engine to keep the speed in line (brakes are for slowing down and stopping only IMO), often running 2nd gear at well over 5000 rpm. With a total of 194,000 kms on the car, 41,000 kms towing 1500-2000 lbs trailers and about 20 hours flat out at the race track, it's still looks and runs like new (except for now burning 1 liter/4000 kms). We also averaged 33 mpg, getting as high as 38 mpg at 60 mph with the A/C off and as low as 28 mpg at 80 mph with the A/C on. Thanks again for the oil advice, we're thinking of doing another long holiday next summer, Steve
One thing I forgot. I ran in 5th gear most of the time and haven't seen any evidence of sludge building up. In fact the amount of sludge on the bottom of the oil filler cap and on the splash gard? under the cap reduced substantially. I attribute this to the increased detergent levels in the Delvac 1300S. Steve
That's very cool Steve! [Big Grin] Through my research and learning, I've become a fan of heavy-duty engine oils as well...they are a very good oil (great protection and keep engine clean for a good price) In regards to your oil consumption: If you continue to use 15w-40, may I suggest Pennzoil Long-Life (sorry friendly!). I have used Rotella and Delo in my pickup before (Chevy with 4.3L), and consumption was pretty noticeable. After the change to Long-Life though, consumption dropped considerably.
I had been considering Pensoil long life because of the higher moly content, but the Delvac is considered just as good by most and is considerably less expensive (I can get it at Walmart - they don't carry Pensoil long life locally). I've actually switched back to Castrol GTX 10w30 for the winter as temperatures get quite low here. The past 2 oil changes with 10w30 I'm still averaging 1 liter/4000 kms (it's actually a been doing a little better than this, probably more like 1 liter/4500 kms) Steve
If you can't get the Long-Life for the same price as the Delvac, then forget about it...Delvac is just as good, if not better. My only reason for recommending Long-Life is because of it's ability to reduce consumption.
Hey there, No offense, but while the engine might be fine; what about the transmission ? [Eek!] Sure the engine is fine but your transmission might not last as long. Did you switch the transmission fluid to handle this kind of trip ? Not only that but, you do realize that the towing weight for Saturn includes loading your car (What's inside) right ? [Roll Eyes] It's the same for our Saturn VUE 2003 AWD V6 I own. Until Saturn makes some improvements in their transmission I won't even think about using a trailer. Even the new Redline Series of vehicles due out in Early 2004 only increases the VUE from 2,500->3,500lbs. Not only that but alot of the SL2s I have seen are rated at 1,000lbs. Hmm.... Transmission cooler maybe ?? Strong Transmission (w/transmission cooler) + Strong Engine = Safe Towing [Smile] Well, at least it's not my vehicle. [Big Grin] Just my $0.02 Slade [ November 19, 2003, 06:03 AM: Message edited by: Slade ]
Slade, If you skim through the thread linked there is a post where I discuss the entire setup. The transmission is a 5 speed manual and it's pretty much always run Redline MTL. MTL has a much higher viscosity and exceeds GL-4 specifications, so it should provide far superior gear lubrication than the dino ATF Saturn calls for. The manual is fairly vague. It does mention 1000 lbs max, but there's no mention of not allowing the full GVWR at the same time (not that going over GCWR has ever bothered me before). For interest I did call Saturn about this and an engineer told me that with the 5 speed tranny these cars are so bullet proof, towing a 2000 lbs trailer shouldn't be a problem (if GAWR, GVWR, & hitch ratings aren't exceeded, and trailer brakes are used). It would void some of my warranty though (now long gone). For the important (safety related) ratings, none of the axles are loaded beyond their GAWR, nor is the GVWR exceeded. This coupled with the stiff suspension, stiff sidewalled tires, Saturn trailer hitch (designed for a 2000 lbs trailer and 200 lbs tongue weight) and very good trailer brakes and controller makes for an easy to control, safe and legal towing combination. I also always check the tongue weight before leaving each day to make sure it's under 200 lbs. So the only potential issue (as you mentioned) is drivetrain failure. I think the car has proven itself well in this regard. I'm sure it will wear out and fail quicker than not towing, but with almost 200,000 kms on it so far, 41,000 kms towing, and 1000's of kms on the racetrack (which is much harder on it than towing) I can't complain. It still isn't showing any signs of any drivetrain problems. This is exactly why I researched lubricants and chose to run the Redline MTL, Delvac 1300S 15w40, and used 70% water/30% Dexcool for this trip. We'll never know if it would still be running if I had used dino ATF in the tranny and cheap 5w30 oil... (anyone interested in doing a little experiment with their SL2 - take a heavy trailer & tow it 41,000 kms and then spend 20 hours running the car flat out on a racetrack all with stock lubricants...) Steve [ November 19, 2003, 09:48 AM: Message edited by: SaturnSL2 ]
BTW, We have been so impressed with the durability of my 2000 SL2 that we bought a 2000 SW2 (station wagon) for my wife recently. Hers has the 4 speed automatic transmission and I wouldn't tow more than 1000 lbs with it because of this.
Hey there, Hmm, that's interesting. I am glad it worked well for you. I agree that the Manunal would hold up better (Less heat overall). I might have missed this but, did you use a tranny cooler at all ?? By all means keep us upto date on this situation. It makes for a very good REAL-WORLD situation. It seems you took the necessary precautions [Smile] . It's ironic though that the engineer would mention the tranny being bullet proof. MY 93 Ford Tempo has been great 112,000 miles so far and was used as a training car for my 2 brothers (learning stick) and I a WHILE AGO. Only the clutch has been replaced (Gear wise). I am glad your car is doing well. I just was afraid I was going to hear another HORROR story a few months later. With a wife and all having a car break is NOT a good thing. GOOD NEWS is always good. Like I said keep us posted with any updates on EITHER of those cars. You would be surprised how similar a VUE 2003 can be to a SL2 model (with car company these days). [Wink] Good luck and take care. Slade
The transmission is a 5 speed manual and it's pretty much always run Redline MTL. MTL has a much higher viscosity and exceeds GL-4 specifications, so it should provide far superior gear lubrication than the dino ATF Saturn calls for.
I pulled a travel trailer one time with a 1982 S-10 (1.9L), 4 speed. I had all synthetic fluids in it. I could always pull the dipstick and hold it in my hands. [ November 19, 2003, 06:03 PM: Message edited by: MolaKule ]
No added cooling for the transmission. The tranny does get fairly hot when climbing a mountain. A couple of times I pulled the tranny dipstick and it was hot enough to burn (or at least be quite uncomfortably to touch). It wasn't hot enough to smell like it was breaking down in any way. I'd estimate it got into the 200°F range after running almost wide open for a good 45 minutes in 110°F ambient temperatures. I can't remember exactly, but I believe the MTL is supposed to be good for well over 300°F. As long as the oil doesn't start to break down, I don't believe there's much sensitive to heat in the manual transmission anyway. I still haven't had to change the clutch and no signs of problems yet. Although it was changed under warranty early in it's life (before towing anything) because the original one was shuddering a little. This car really has me impressed. I have a history or wearing out cars and trucks prematurely (and then rebuilding them with much heavier duty parts). I do maintain them well, but typically they still wear out quickly...(wonder why??) This is also the first new vehicle I've bought (so it has survived my abuse for it's entire life). My personal belief is out of everything Saturn has manufactured, it's only the 2000 to 2002 Saturn S-series cars that are this tough (they had 10 years to improve them and get all the bugs out). Steve
Thanks,SaturnSL2, for the update. All too often people will join a board like this, get some advice and then we never see them again. Glad everything seemed to work out OK. I remember some of us gave you a hard time when you described your set-up to us. [Wink] How long (how many miles) are you planning on running that MTL for? Polyol ester can withstand temps up to 700F but we don't know what percentage of MTL is actually polyol. [I dont know] --- Bror Jace
Does your Saturn REALLY weigh just under 2,400lbs.? Man, that IS light! [Eek!] The "tuner" four-bangers in the September Car & Driver article all weighed at least 200 lbs. more than that: some a LOT more than that: try 700 lbs.!! These included modified Focus, VW Golf, Acura RSX, Neon, Civic models, both EX & Si, Mini-Cooper, Miata, a Mercedes C230 Coupe, Lancer Evolution, an Impreza WRX & a S2000 Honda! I had no idea the Saturns were that light: it would explain a lot about your performance! Power to weight ratio rules! [HAIL 2 U!]
The s-series is one of the lightest compact cars out there. I believe that is dry weight. Also the 2 series with 124 hp and half decent torque makes them go pretty good. The suspension (with good tires) also makes for impressive handling. Consistantly I have measured 0-60 mph in 7.9 seconds (my best is 7.7 seconds, one of the magazines managed to squeeze 7.6 seconds out of it).
I've been changing the MTL every 50,000 kms (30,000 miles) so far and have about 45,000 kms (27,000 miles) on this fill so far. I'm thinking now would be a good time to change it. This fill has seen more abuse and heat than any other before. It still looks clean and smells fine so maybe there isn't much advantage to changing it yet. I suspect it's the contaminants (metal shavings from the occaisonal missed shift, etc.) that should really drive the change cycle. Not easy to measure that though... Steve
Norm, that is correct. Having bought one of those "tuner cars" recently (2003 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec-V), I was suprised to see that 2,800lbs was about the average ... even the (tiny) Honda Civic Si. Honda Civics from 15 years ago were just around 2,000lbs. even. Some (like the CRX) were even under that mark. [Eek!] I think my 1995 Coupe was something like 2,215lbs. [Smile] As for the "seemed to work out OK" line, I really didn't put that much thought into it. Take it at face vale: Everything did seem to "work out" fine. If you have a driveline component failure in the next 20,000 miles. Maybe it was due to operating the vehicle under such stress ... maybe not? [I dont know] The point is you made it through your trip(s) without a catastrophic failure which was what some were fearing when you described the way you operated your vehicle. [Wink] --- Bror Jace
I'm not so sure there's anything magic about the 2000 and later model years. My 95 now has over 140,000 miles on it. One bug they've worked out was a casting goof in the head that caused mine to crack at 109,000 miles. But incredibly they admitted fault and paid for 2/3 of the cost of a new head. My only other repair in all that time was an EGR valve. Older models faults consisted of frequent alternator wear out, oil burning, rotor warping and clogged up auto trans valve bodies. Regular oil changes and Italian tuneups generally kept the oil burning under control. Regular trans fluid changes takes care of the valve bodies, rotors are $18 each new and dumb easy to install. That leaves alternators as a trouble spot. Big deal. These things last forever with adequate maintenance. Oh, and my stripped down SL model has fewer features than the 2 models. No PS, PW, PL sway bar. Mine is just barely over 2,000 pounds. No wonder I'd get 41 mpg on road trips. Not the power of the twin cam versions though. [ November 21, 2003, 06:41 PM: Message edited by: manualman ]
Originally posted by SaturnSL2: Also the 2 series with 124 hp and half decent torque makes them go pretty good. The suspension (with good tires) also makes for impressive handling.
I agree. Just replaced a set of Dunlops on my 96 SL2 with Bridgestone Turanza LST's. Very good handling, quiet and FAR better than the standard Firestone tires. This thing zips to 60mph and gets 36 MPG on the interstate. Not bad for a 7 year old car with 94K on it.
Originally posted by manualman: I'm not so sure there's anything magic about the 2000 and later model years.
Maybe not magic, but they did slowly make improvements over the years. Some of the ones that I consider important to me are: - '97 (or so) fixed the single cam head cracking issue (bad years were something like '94 to '96). twin cam models didn't have this problem though. - '97-98? new higher output alternator is more reliable. - '99 (or '99 1/2) engine updates including new pistons and rings that substantially reduce high mileage oil consumption. Engine noise is reduced substantially also. - '00 new high output alternator is bulletproof (I think it was '00 it was introduced, might have been '99). - every year from about '96 until '00 they made major improvements to the interior noise levels, especially the 2-series (twin cam, etc.). Starting in 2000 the SL2's became quieter inside than our old Cadillac Seville (mid '80s vintage). We test drove a number of them (try a 2000 up SL2 and you'll be amazed at the lack of noise) - '00 redesigned the interior (I like the look/layout much better) One negative with 2000 up is they got rid of the 4 wheel disk brakes, switching to drums at the rear. Other problems with the 2000's are: - cracking exhaust resonators (updated part installed by dealer and used in following years). - new composite intake manifold leaks coolant (new two part gasket installed by dealer and used in following years). - warped rotors (still! - I just ignore the pulsation...). Neither expensive nor cheap aftermarket rotors seem to remain smooth for long either. - ACDelco batteries fail with acid leaking out of positive terminal (don't think this was fixed until 2003, problem started somewhere around 1999). Not just Saturns though. Lots of GM's used the same battery. So they aren't perfect. Probably the best year is 2002 or 2001 for a station wagon (not available in 2002). Most of the above was covered under the warranty. Either way, after the updates, you end up with a very durable car. One other point (for the others following this thread...). Although they are a very, very far cry from a BMW, Lexus or other high end car; I only paid $17,500 Cdn (about $11,300 US at the time), custom ordered, fully loaded, including leather interior. Add the price into the equation and it's a great car (I did have a GM Visa credit of about $3300 in there). Steve
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