SATURNS: Educate me please

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472
Location
Cleveland, GA
Thinking about buying one. I will be wanting as new and low mileage as possible. Budget is probably $2000-3500. I'll need 4 doors, and prefer 5 speed UNLESS automatic is more reliable. I'd LOVE cruise. Need GOOD fuel economy. How reliable are the motors and is there any one motor that is better than another? What transmissions are more reliable? What do all the SL, SC, etc designations mean? Are there any items or trouble areas to watch for? ANY other information would be much appreciated!! FYI: I will be buying this to replace a 2003 Corolla 5 speed with 154k miles that gets 33mpg. Only had this car for 2 years and have had the common 5 speed input bearing problem. Had it "repaired", but is making noise again.
 
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Messages
5,628
Location
London, ON, Canada
5 speeds are definitely more reliable, but a common wear item is the pressure plate, not so much the friction material. Just a note. SL, SC, SW are - Sedan, Coupe, Wagon 1,2 models are trim level, 1 is always SOHC engine, and different seats and overall appointments, plastic bumpers etc. 2 models are always DOHC and have a more upscale fabric on the seats, and have more possible options on the car as a whole (sunroof, alloys, foglights, etc) I would personally go DOHC 5 speed because the SOHC gets slightly better MPG but is not as much fun to drive. Also with the potential for more options and a nicer exterior, the 2 model designation gets my vote. DOHC/5speed Saturns are actually quite fun to drive and have a decent power to weight ratio. I don't think the rest of the car will be as solid as a Toyota, but the powertrain is good. I never had any major motor problems with my Saturns, at least because of my ownership smile
 
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14,505
Location
Top of Virginia
Originally Posted By: Scooby
How reliable are the motors and is there any one motor that is better than another? What transmissions are more reliable? What do all the SL, SC, etc designations mean?
The 1.9L engines had a reputation for consuming oil. Lots of oil. Otherwise reliable, I think a number of these engines suffered early demises because of oil starvation from burning everything out of the crankcase without constant top-offs. My wife's '97 SC2 ended up that way. It burned oil, only had 80k miles on it. Sold it to a family friend for their son's first car, and he blew it up a year later...ran it out of oil. I don't hear about any major issues with the automatic transmissions. The designations: SLs are sedans and SCs are coupes. The number after denotes the number of camshafts. An SL1 is a SOHC sedan, an SC2 is a DOHC coupe, etc.
 
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1,515
Location
Ohio
I had a '97 SL2, 5-speed. I had 128,000 miles on it, but needed something larger. The coolant temperature sensor is a problematic part, the originals had a brass tip that was prone to cracking and letting coolant corrode the guts of it. Later design sensors have a nylon tip to fix this. Both my rear stabilizer links froze up within a week of each other; road salt casualties. Loud CLUNK BANG going around corners. Easy to replace though, about $30 apiece. Parts counter guy said they keep a supply on hand since they tend to get frozen. Only other problem I had was the timing cover gasket leaking oil into the spark plug wells. Made kind of a mess when it came time to change the spark plugs, but it wasn't too hard to change the gasket. Usually got 38 MPG on the highway, no complaints there.
 
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36,513
Location
ME
If you like driving stick the S-series automatics will annoy you less than many others. The SOHC ones are tuned for economy and shift when I would. They also go straight from 4th with TCC lockup to 3rd without, so they don't spend time messing around when you need power. You can nurse them up hill at half throttle for a long time before they downshift too. If it's MPG you're after, get the SOHC, no doubt. The DOHC is spunky but they put shorter gearing in that hurts mileage. It's way old now but I am partial to 1995s, this is the first year they upped the hp from 85 to 100 and put a nicer interior in. But really anything 95-02 will suit you; obviously newer is better. Expect 38.5 MPG or 40 if you can find zero-ETOH gas. I would not pay more than $1500 though. You're in GA so rust should not be an issue (it starts by the left lower control arm and on door sills.) AC is great and reliable on these cars; the CCOT compressor is smooth and takes most of the motive horsepower at lower speeds. The reward is nice cool air. They burn oil but where you are I'd run 15w40. All in all though I'd try to find a new different j/y tranny for your corolla. IMO they should be assembled in clean rooms and many transmission shops will screw one up if they get it apart.
 
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2,695
Location
Easton, PA
Originally Posted By: Scooby
Thinking about buying one. I will be wanting as new and low mileage as possible. Budget is probably $2000-3500. I'll need 4 doors, and prefer 5 speed UNLESS automatic is more reliable. I'd LOVE cruise. Need GOOD fuel economy.
you do realize they stopped making the S series in '02? so, 'newer' doesn't really apply. any S series you find will be pretty worn out and high mileage. the S series was replaced by the ION, which IMHO had a better engine (the ecotec) it was NOT a better car. just get a toyota.
 
Messages
2,695
Location
Easton, PA
Originally Posted By: Dave Sherman
I had a '97 SL2, 5-speed. I had 128,000 miles on it, but needed something larger. The coolant temperature sensor is a problematic part, the originals had a brass tip that was prone to cracking and letting coolant corrode the guts of it. Later design sensors have a nylon tip to fix this.
you wrote that backwards. the originals were PLASTIC that cracked; the later design is BRASS.
 
Messages
1,712
Location
VA
The S-series ended right around the time your Corolla was new, so most will probably be older and have as many miles as your current car. I don't know much about the Ion, except that they got lower mileage and some had a sort of mini rear door like the extended cab pickups. The main problem with S-series Saturns is oil consumption. They keep running if you put oil in them, but you had better check the oil. At this point, high miles could mean the car was taken care of, but I would also wonder if previous owners were on the "add two quarts when it starts rattling" oil program. I got rid of a '94 SOHC 1.9 5-speed last year. It had 190,000 plus miles and used a quart of oil every 200 miles. Mileage was as good as 38-39 (plus a quart of oil per tank) on long highway trips, low 20s in town. It never had any major mechanical problems, but all the interior pieces were broken loose, the headliner was disintegrating, and the driver's seat and floorboard got soaked every time it rained. Eljefino can tell you more, as he seems to fix up Saturns as an avocation. You should also check out saturnfans.com.
 
Messages
609
Location
New Jersey
The Toyota you are driving can probably be repaired at a lower cost than buying the well-used Saturns you are looking at. When buying used, and on a budget, I think that it is best to look at the condition of cars first and at the brand second. From where I stand, there is little to recommend Saturns. They started out as an experiment and had some novel technology - plastic body panels and the "no-haggle" pricing. Their technology did not move forward, and their last effort, the Ion, was a woefully uncompetitive car that happened to have an okay engine. The other later efforts were GM leftovers, although I would give high marks to the Opel/Saturn Astra that was sold in the U.S. for about thirty seconds. If you look at BITOG, you'll see that oil consumption issues are a Saturn calling card. Good luck.
 
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16,240
Location
N.H, U.S.A.
Originally Posted By: mpvue
Originally Posted By: Dave Sherman
I had a '97 SL2, 5-speed. I had 128,000 miles on it, but needed something larger. The coolant temperature sensor is a problematic part, the originals had a brass tip that was prone to cracking and letting coolant corrode the guts of it. Later design sensors have a nylon tip to fix this.
you wrote that backwards. the originals were PLASTIC that cracked; the later design is BRASS.
Sounds like the brass would be problematic due to galvanic action. What woul dhappen to the polymer unit (unless it was in a turbulent fluid stream with lotsof flotsam)?
 
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5,091
Location
USA
Old plastic bodied Saturns have lived their lives and are now cheap wheels (under $800),and thats usually a bad thing.It means the car has almost 200K miles,the car is long out of production,the car will need a ton of repairs,and parts will be hard to get thru GM if at all.The 1.9s were used in no other GM carline as well.I would seriously pass on a Saturn unless you plan on starting a "Lemon Grove" (reference to Hugh Leslie's wooded lot full of dilapitated Edsels) just for spare parts.
 

Scooby

Thread starter
Messages
472
Location
Cleveland, GA
Originally Posted By: dja4260
If in your situation and the corolla was still in good shape I'd stick with it. You should be able to get 250k out of it. Is the gas mileage that much more that it warrants the switch?
No, it's the self-destruction C59 transmission.
 
Messages
36,513
Location
ME
Originally Posted By: NHGUY
Old plastic bodied Saturns have lived their lives and are now cheap wheels (under $800),and thats usually a bad thing.It means the car has almost 200K miles,the car is long out of production,the car will need a ton of repairs,and parts will be hard to get thru GM if at all.The 1.9s were used in no other GM carline as well.I would seriously pass on a Saturn unless you plan on starting a "Lemon Grove" (reference to Hugh Leslie's wooded lot full of dilapitated Edsels) just for spare parts.
They made 350,000 of them on a good year and they're the same design 11 years straight. I've had no issues finding parts. I just got a muffler for $18 after coupon: beat that, any-other-brand. laugh While many have 200k, I sold one with 112k and OMG 50 people were interested; I was shocked, and accidentally priced it too low.
 
Messages
15,128
Location
Canada
FORGET the 'S' series cars - yes, they are good, but there are a lot of 'little' issues that you will have to constantly be on top of. As someone else said, get an ION coupe or sedan with the Ecotec engine. You get the benefit of the plastic body panels AND the rock-solid reliability of the 2.2 Ecotec engine.
 
Messages
2,695
Location
Easton, PA
Originally Posted By: addyguy
FORGET the 'S' series cars - yes, they are good, but there are a lot of 'little' issues that you will have to constantly be on top of. As someone else said, get an ION coupe or sedan with the Ecotec engine. You get the benefit of the plastic body panels AND the rock-solid reliability of the 2.2 Ecotec engine.
I brought up the ION, but I did NOT recommend it. the only thinng good about them is the drivetrain; steering column issues and cheap suspension are irritating.
 
Messages
2,695
Location
Easton, PA
Originally Posted By: ARCOgraphite
Originally Posted By: mpvue
Originally Posted By: Dave Sherman
I had a '97 SL2, 5-speed. I had 128,000 miles on it, but needed something larger. The coolant temperature sensor is a problematic part, the originals had a brass tip that was prone to cracking and letting coolant corrode the guts of it. Later design sensors have a nylon tip to fix this.
you wrote that backwards. the originals were PLASTIC that cracked; the later design is BRASS.
Sounds like the brass would be problematic due to galvanic action. What woul dhappen to the polymer unit (unless it was in a turbulent fluid stream with lotsof flotsam)?
the plastic ones crack. known issue. I don't really care why, they just do. and SO many mechanics aren't familiar w/ the problem. $11 brass one cures all sorts of S series ills.
 
Messages
888
Location
Ohio
Engine cradles are prone to rust on northern cars. These are no longer available other than from a southern recycle yard. There was one BITOG member who could change out the cradle in a couple of hours IIRC.FWIW--Oldtommy
 
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