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Old 09-14-2022, 02:06 AM   #1
Vellyn
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1997 SW2
Wrench 1997 Saturn SW2 (HELP)

The car just recently got a new battery (for the 4th time). Now has a new alternator (2nd one so far), a new starter, a new master cylinder, and new bolts for connecting the cables into the battery. As well as a new air filter. And new spark plugs.

Just recently, for no obvious reason, the lights started going dim inside the car, then flickering, then the gauges started going haywire, the battery light was constantly flickering. The rpms went up but the car was barely getting up and going (basically like it was being pulled backwards while you are trying to go forward) shifting hard at times.

The alternator is brand new, just replaced. The battery is brand new as well. We have new spark plugs and air filter... all the fluids are at the point they need to be...

What is going on? We really don't want to sell it but we are stumped as its electrical or not? Bad ground? A short? Fuse? Relay? Sensor?

Open to anything we can test and/or try at the very moment. We need every bit of advice possible!!!!
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Old 09-14-2022, 06:18 AM   #2
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Default Re: 1997 Saturn SW2 (HELP)

You'll need a dc capable volt meter at the very least, that specific of a device is rare but digital multimeters are super common and cheap (example). If the alternator is working properly it'll give a steady voltage reading from 12.9v to 14.2v.

It's possible, with all the wire and part changes, a nut came loose somewhere. GM batteries are very picky about the torque on the battery terminal, about 11ft/lbs otherwise it either strips the battery threads or loosens on it's own.

The large positive battery cable goes from the battery to the starter, then another wire (technically a "fuseable link") goes from the starter to the alternator. The smaller positive battery cable just goes straight to the fusebox next to the battery. The battery and fusebox terminals use a 8mm hex head, the rest are IIRC 13mm hex heads. You'll need ramps or jack & jackstands to check the alternator/starter ends of the cables, they're buried too much for most folks (including myself) to reach from above.

Was the alternator actually new-new or reman-new? Do you know the build date of the SW2? '97 is an alternator change over year, Napa used to post the VIN on their site, with all the '97's I've had it was roughly a Dec-Jan build date. Up until the changeover they used the good alternator, same as the '91-'96's; after the change it's a smaller unit with a different harness plug.

A lot of people have been very happy with DBElectrical alternators and starters, this new one is for the '91-'96 models: https://www.dbelectrical.com/product...400-12137.html

A video on how to use the multimeter, it probably focus's on "around the house" checks but it's mostly the same for automotive: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ciyWwcKmPC4
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Old 09-14-2022, 11:52 AM   #3
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Default Re: 1997 Saturn SW2 (HELP)

Oh, it's and electrical problem; and sounds like it has been around in one form or another for quite a while. Hence throwing all the batteries and alternators at it. Are you doing the trouble-shooting personally, or taking it to a shop? If you are using a shop, you need to find a new shop. If it is DIY, then we need to help you learn better skills.
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Old 09-14-2022, 02:27 PM   #4
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Default Re: 1997 Saturn SW2 (HELP)

Quote:
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Oh, it's and electrical problem; and sounds like it has been around in one form or another for quite a while. Hence throwing all the batteries and alternators at it. Are you doing the trouble-shooting personally, or taking it to a shop? If you are using a shop, you need to find a new shop. If it is DIY, then we need to help you learn better skills.


We have been seeking help from my dad (who is a mechanic. He is just thousands of miles away from me) We have been getting help here, advice from different shops. Mostly doing it solo because the car has a bunch of issues and we know a shop will withhold her. It has been wrecked before we bought it. 3rd owners or 4th owners for us.
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Old 09-14-2022, 03:11 PM   #5
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Default Re: 1997 Saturn SW2 (HELP)

I'll take that to mean you want to learn more about DIY. Do you have an electrical multimeter and know how to use it? What make/model is the meter?

Like your dad, will have to be using you as our hands and eyes. Following our directions and reporting back accurately will be crucial o our being able to help. Proof-read what you write before posting to prevent typos. Typos, or any other inaccurate info you post will cripple our attempts to help.

Don't be discouraged, frustrated, or confused if some of us (including your dad) seem to be asking for redundant tests or seem to be heading you off in a completely different direction. All of us are acting in good faith, but there will often be different opinions on what is the best procedure or sequence for trouble-shooting. All tests, if results are reported correctly, are useful to some extent. Most can not hurt anything other than chew up a bit of your time. If one of us sees a post that does seem to involve some risk to the car or you, they will post a "dissenting opinion" or a caution on what the risks may be.
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Old 09-14-2022, 04:21 PM   #6
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Default Re: 1997 Saturn SW2 (HELP)

Quote:
Originally Posted by billr View Post
I'll take that to mean you want to learn more about DIY. Do you have an electrical multimeter and know how to use it? What make/model is the meter?

Like your dad, will have to be using you as our hands and eyes. Following our directions and reporting back accurately will be crucial o our being able to help. Proof-read what you write before posting to prevent typos. Typos, or any other inaccurate info you post will cripple our attempts to help.

Don't be discouraged, frustrated, or confused if some of us (including your dad) seem to be asking for redundant tests or seem to be heading you off in a completely different direction. All of us are acting in good faith, but there will often be different opinions on what is the best procedure or sequence for trouble-shooting. All tests, if results are reported correctly, are useful to some extent. Most can not hurt anything other than chew up a bit of your time. If one of us sees a post that does seem to involve some risk to the car or you, they will post a "dissenting opinion" or a caution on what the risks may be.
We have a cheap one, doesnt provide much in ways of it's just volts not amps. We will be getting a new one soon however.

I had a question. 1 problem is the rpms go up but the car is slow/wont accelerate much. Would that be something to do with a clutch/clutch plate? I'm literally chasing everything right now �� We have checked fuses, made replacements and triple checked every new part, new hook ups, every connection.

We just got a new battery and once we hooked it up, it's already basically dead. Even got new cables for it. The alternator is new as well. Triple checked those connections as well.

I grew up with my dad so I know a good chunk as well as learning more from people like you and him. Me and my partner just need this car to run �� and avoiding a shop is our current plan as those get expensive really fast.

Also. I have been told to check the fuel filter and fuel pump
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Old 09-14-2022, 05:01 PM   #7
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Default Re: 1997 Saturn SW2 (HELP)

If the battery is going down, be sure to keep charging it; never let it get below 11.5V and stay that way for a few hours. I assume you have a standard lead-acid battery, and those can be damaged by leaving in a discharged state for an extended time.

Is the battery going down when the car just sits, or is it only going down as you drive?

This is a manual 5-speed trans, correct? Yes, if the engine revs up but the car doesn't speed up proportionally, then the clutch must be slipping. If the car didn't move at all, then we would have to consider a problem with the trans or axles; but that isn't the case, correct?
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Old 09-14-2022, 05:53 PM   #8
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Default Re: 1997 Saturn SW2 (HELP)

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If the battery is going down, be sure to keep charging it; never let it get below 11.5V and stay that way for a few hours. I assume you have a standard lead-acid battery, and those can be damaged by leaving in a discharged state for an extended time.

Is the battery going down when the car just sits, or is it only going down as you drive?

This is a manual 5-speed trans, correct? Yes, if the engine revs up but the car doesn't speed up proportionally, then the clutch must be slipping. If the car didn't move at all, then we would have to consider a problem with the trans or axles; but that isn't the case, correct?

We got the battery, hooked it up, tested everything. It drained pretty quickly. It is currently at 11.87. My partner disconnected it to hopefully prevent it from draining anymore, since we don't know what is draining it. If i am not mistaken, it drains both, when driving and when sitting. We haven't driven it in 3 almost 4 days because it just wont function. If we try to drive it, not even 5 minutes into driving, the car lights inside start to dim, the battery light starts to flicker, the car rpms go up and the car will hardly accelerate. The gauges also start to fluctuate and go haywire.

No, it is an automatic. The car will move, if the battery ever will stay charged but it wont drive far before it starts acting up. And we don't want to risk moving it too much and making matters worse.

The alternator was replaced again and as far as we know it works. The last battery drained too, but we aren't sure it would be the alternator yet again unless there is a messed up connection we are overlooking. But we have checked everything, several times. The car does move, just wont keep going as it starts to struggle to speed up, like it is begin pulled backwards while you are trying to drive.
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Old 09-14-2022, 08:59 PM   #9
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Default Re: 1997 Saturn SW2 (HELP)

Recently had a similar issue with the alternator dying quick. The power steering had a leak and I believe that is what was killing it. Changed all of that and now have issues with the car not accelerating while warm. If I figure mine out I will post back and please keep everyone posted about yours
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Old 09-14-2022, 11:23 PM   #10
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Default Re: 1997 Saturn SW2 (HELP)

Vellyn and Roofcock.

Indeed, your trans problems seem very similar. So, my advice here is the same, disconnect that 10-wire cable on top of the trans and see if R and one forward gear work fairly normal. Certainly the car should move in R or D without the engine revving up much past 2500 rpm until the car is going about 50 mph.

Disconnecting that cable removes all electrical "influence" on the trans, so if the engine does not seem to be connecting properly to the wheels, then either the trans or an axle has problems. If it was an axle, I don't think the car would move at all, and there would probably be some loud ugly noises.

My understanding is that neither of you is reporting noises or total failure for the car to move; just that the engine has to rev up a lot to get even slow motion of the car. Correct?

Vellyn,

You need to get a meter that will read at least 10 DC amps, but 20A is becoming common and would be safer (for the meter). Use that to find out what parasitic current draw is when the car is at rest and everything is supposed to be powered down. You do that by putting the ammeter in series with the negative battery cable. Do not try to turn anything on with the meter in series, especially cranking the engine! Wait about 15 minutes and then read what the current is. It should be in the 50-100 milliamps range (0.100-0.050A). If it is greater than that, tell us what it is.

You have two threads going on the same vehicle. Perhaps you could stick to one? There seems to be two different problems, but I may get lost flitting back-and-forth between your two and roofcock's similar one!
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Old 11-30-2022, 08:54 AM   #11
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Default Re: 1997 Saturn SW2 (HELP)

We have tested for parasitic draw, there is nothing. We have replaced belt tensioner, alternator, battery, negative cable, air filter, spark plugs. We have gotten the alternator tested and it tested good. Even replaced fuses (which temporarily fixed it!)

With testing, the battery is not charging but very little and it loses that charge quickly. Once it gets started you can SOMETIMES drive it very small distances before it starts acting up. It will lose power, everything goes dim, the dash lights start flashing like crazy. Sometimes it will shift hard to the point it grinds. The rpms go up but the car does not accelerate much, like it is being pulled backwards while you are trying to drive forward.

We are planning on replacing the positive cable next just incase there is a bad connection there. If not then it must be a bad wire or bad ground somewhere
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Old 11-30-2022, 11:06 AM   #12
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Default Re: 1997 Saturn SW2 (HELP)

My positive battery cable was very heavily corroded underneath the plastic covering of the part that connects to the battery, not visible until I took a single edged razor blade and cut away the plastic covering to reveal where the connecting piece is crimped onto the wire itself.

I also had to clean where there is a ground wire to the drivers fender and I forget where else, somewhere on this site there is a diagram of the grounding locations, perhaps someone will know where it is.
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Old 11-30-2022, 11:49 AM   #13
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Default Re: 1997 Saturn SW2 (HELP)

We are going to order a brand new positive cable and see if that fixes it. Otherwise we are at a dead end. The alternator is not communicating properly with the battery so we are assuming some cable between that and the battery is bad.
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Old 11-30-2022, 01:14 PM   #14
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Default Re: 1997 Saturn SW2 (HELP)

No parasitic draw? These cars always have some draw, probably in the 50-100 mA range; due to keeping memory in the PCM and radio/clock alive. So, if you found, literally, zero, then you did the test wrong.
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Old 11-30-2022, 06:32 PM   #15
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Default Re: 1997 Saturn SW2 (HELP)

I didn't read through the whole post. There is a fusible link in the red wire coming off of the alternator. If that fuse is blown then the alternator won't charge the battery. A simple continuity test on that wire will tell you if it is good or bad.
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Old 11-30-2022, 11:11 PM   #16
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I didn't read through the whole post. There is a fusible link in the red wire coming off of the alternator. If that fuse is blown then the alternator won't charge the battery. A simple continuity test on that wire will tell you if it is good or bad.

We will check that. Is that the wire running from the positive cable to the fuse box?
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Old 11-30-2022, 11:13 PM   #17
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No parasitic draw? These cars always have some draw, probably in the 50-100 mA range; due to keeping memory in the PCM and radio/clock alive. So, if you found, literally, zero, then you did the test wrong.

It had .5 when it was tested (in amps)
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Old 11-30-2022, 11:29 PM   #18
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Default Re: 1997 Saturn SW2 (HELP)

Did you wait about 15 minutes after turning everything off before checking for parasitic current? That .5A is higher than it should be, but not so bad that I would expect all the other problems you report.

I better go back and sort through the symptoms reported again...
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Old 11-30-2022, 11:30 PM   #19
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Default Re: 1997 Saturn SW2 (HELP)

One of my lock buttons failed and it was drawing 0.346 amps all the time. That killed the battery. I'm thinking it was less than 0.05A after I removed the stuck switch. Half an amp is too much.

Still I don't think this is your main problem. If you get the car started then the alternator should easily handle an extra half amp.

Is the wire from the alternator to the starter on the right post? Should be the same post as the battery positive cable.
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Old 11-30-2022, 11:49 PM   #20
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Default Re: 1997 Saturn SW2 (HELP)

OK, you say the battery drains "quick", but what does that mean? If fully charged (12.6V or more), does the battery drop to 11.9V in ten minutes? eight hours? What? A good battery, in a good SW2, will hold 12V or better for several weeks. If the battery is going down to 11.9 V just sitting overnight, then disconnect one battery cable and try again, see if the battery itself is bad and self-draining.

Since you say it is the 4th battery, I expect it is OK (unless it has been left discharge) for hours at a time). So, I am focused on parasitic current draw, but we need to have confidence the battery is OK. I suggest you take it to a FLAPS for load test, too.

Whatever further testing you do, be sure to always start the drive/test with the battery fully charged! Not only will this keep the battery healthy, but it gives us somewhat of a stable base-line while evaluating the symptoms you then report.

Did you try disconnecting the 10-wire cable on top of the trans and taking it for a ride? With that cable off, all electrical influence on the trans is removed and the engine should not rev freely without the car trying to move. The engine will rev up to about 2500 rpm if you give it full throttle; that is the stall speed of the trans torque converter. And, the car will not accelerate fast, even at full throttle, with that cable off. But the car should certainly not feel like it is going "backwards". If the engine rpm goes much past 2500 rpm, then there is probably a problem inside the trans. Tell us what you get.
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