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Old 08-15-2019, 08:29 AM   #1
trottida
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2001 SL1
Default Problem areas to look for when buying an Astra

I'm looking for a good check list to follow that identifies the typical problem areas to look for when purchasing a used Astra.

For instance, the S Series would include door sills, sub-frame, trailing arms, ETCS and Thermostat among other things. Where are the problem areas in the Astra?

Here's what I've found so far
  • Clutch wear
  • Timing belt
  • Rear brakes
  • Cam wear (dieseling at startup)
  • Struts
  • Drop links
  • Water leaks (B pillar, roof antenna)
  • Exhaust flex pipe
  • Spark plug history (replace every 25K or coil pack fails)
  • Horn CIM
  • Airbag recall
  • Sluggish engine due to poor maintenance (plugs, air filter, MAF, TB)

The prospect I'm currently looking at is a 2009 5 door XR MT with 150K KM (93K Mi). In photos it looks decent enough except it needs paint work on the bottom of the doors due to rust. I'm having my daughter and her boyfriend evaluate it as it is not local to me and need to pass this along. It's listed at $2499 CAD plus tax certified on on the road.

I feel these cars are under valued in the market place. Most people seem to think that parts will be scarce and don't know that the Astra is a world car for GM. At the asking price plus about $500 in body work I think this prospect would be a good value since I tend to hold on to vehicles for the long haul as seen in my signature. I've had the 2001 for 11 years now and the 99 for 2 1/2. Both purchased for under $2K. Looking to replace the 2001 as it's undercarriage is end of life even though it has been rust proofed yearly for 11 years.

...
1999 SL2 MT (287,130 km @ 10/2019)
2012 Ford Focus SEL HB MT
2011 Suburban LT

Past Saturns
2001 SL1 MT (438,500 km 11y)
1993 SW2 AT (10y)
2001 LW200 MT (3.5y)
1992 SL2 MT (5y)

:canada:

Last edited by trottida; 08-15-2019 at 08:40 AM..

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Old 08-15-2019, 02:50 PM   #2
AstraFasta
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Default Re: Problem areas to look for when buying an Astra

I wouldn't buy that car at that price. Especially if it is rusting away. In the US, these sell for $2,500 all day long in good condition.

That timing belt replacement schedule is all over the place but 10 years is the longest I have seen published for the Astra H. So if you don't have documented change for that (and the tensionser and idler pulley), it needs to be done ASAP. I wouldn't be surprised if this to US$700 at an independent shop. I did DIY with my friend's tools a a few other bits for about $100.

The manual transmission is not considered "robust". Plenty of clutches seem to die suddenly after the cars turn 100k miles. Some are failed clutches and others are related bits. Repair is in the US$2,500 range at an independent shop per a few colleagues.

Rear brakes wear very rapidly.

The flexpipe (exhaust) rusts away frequently. An idependent shop can replace for $100 to $200, assuming your cat is in good nick and there is space to work.

You likely need to replace coilpack and spark plugs as normal owners don't know about that issue. You can DIY for $100.

At this stage you may want to change the coolant and brake fluid.

I don't have problems sourcing parts. The local dealers don't know much about these cars as GM killed Saturn (and Opel and Vauxhall). I find parts online, at scrapyards, from Europe.

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Old 08-15-2019, 03:33 PM   #3
trottida
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Default Re: Problem areas to look for when buying an Astra

I respect your opinion but you have to consider the whole picture before you deem this a bad decision for anyone and all. I agree, you're absolutely right that this would not be a car for everyone.

That's about $1800 USD and keep in mind the US is a different market than Canada. Everything seems cheaper and more readily available there. The market price for a 2009 XR MT is typically in the $3.5-4.5K range with dealer asking prices in and around the $5.5K price point. The 2009 Mazda3's, Corolla's and Civics command a higher price.

The rust appears to be only surface rust and that's easy enough to look after. Probably caused by someone not taking care of small blemishes at the time they happen and building from there. It's limited to the bottom of the passenger door from what I can see in photos. I padded the number as I haven't seen it in person. I will be looking at the undercarriage condition for sure.

I'm pretty verse on DIY work and sourcing out parts in the most economical fashion similar to what you say. After-all I do own an S Series. I do have a trusted and fair mechanic when I get lazy or I'm in a time crunch. This would be a 3rd vehicle for me and temporarily going down to 2 if needed would only inconvenience my teenage drivers.

The checklist I'm looking for focuses on identifying the areas of concern and validating they've been looked after or not. My decision point is after considering the findings.

So is there anything else to add to the list?
  • Clutch wear
  • Timing belt
  • Rear brakes
  • Cam wear (dieseling at startup)
  • Struts
  • Drop links
  • Water leaks (B pillar, roof antenna)
  • Exhaust flex pipe
  • Spark plug history (replace every 25K or coil pack fails)
  • Horn CIM
  • Airbag recall
  • Sluggish engine due to poor maintenance (plugs, air filter, MAF, TB)
  • Coil pack (see spark plug above)
  • Fluids condition

...
1999 SL2 MT (287,130 km @ 10/2019)
2012 Ford Focus SEL HB MT
2011 Suburban LT

Past Saturns
2001 SL1 MT (438,500 km 11y)
1993 SW2 AT (10y)
2001 LW200 MT (3.5y)
1992 SL2 MT (5y)

:canada:

Last edited by trottida; 08-15-2019 at 03:39 PM..

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Old 08-15-2019, 04:53 PM   #4
eric08
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Default Re: Problem areas to look for when buying an Astra

I've been going through my recent memory on what I carefully inspected /or repaired on the 2008 I bought last fall and I think your list is comprehensive. I agree that it is a good vehicle, especially compared to the other economy cars offered at the same time. If you are comfortable with the condition of everything in your list I can't see anything else popping up and biting you on the behind.

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Old 08-15-2019, 05:26 PM   #5
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Default Re: Problem areas to look for when buying an Astra

These are some of the problems I have had and find with some frequency in the forums

camshaft actuator solenoid service (threw away the orange filters per the GM note but sometimes that is not enough). Easy to filter delete or replace DIY.

Cam wear can DIY when you change the timing belt (if you are comfortable with that as you have pretty good access at that point.

5-door model has defective wiring harness to back doors (and hatch). Typically problems start with the rear passenger door (lose power window, power lock, speaker, maybe sequentially). Wiring is probably too short but can splice it. There are DIY threads here. Requires significant disassembly but not too hard. Maybe half day per door.

I had water leaks coming from front door at speaker (popular problem). Also behind glovebox at fresh air intake (rare issue). More or less fixed the door in about half day all in.

Poorly designed PCV valve has limited life and requres replacement of valve cover. Not such an issue as valve cover gasket also is prone to fail so replace all together.

Check horn works properly. There is a $1 clip that might fix it which is easy. I see much more complex repairs on the UK forums.

Check parking brake is working properly. Water tends to enter from back end and rust cable. They are cheap but replacement is a bit painful. Dropping the exhaust may crack the flexpipe which boosts cost.

MAYBE LESS CRITICAL ITEMS BELOW (unless the issues crop up on your car)

Make sure to change out the cabin air filter and clear any leaves debris. A dead blower motor resistor is a popular issue and a pain to change.

Accelerator Pedal Position (APP) sensor codes pop up with some frequency. Typical fix is remove and Clean UEC (Underhood Electrical Centre). Or try to clean pedal housing contacts.

Low coolant indicator often is defective (showing "low coolant" message despite full tank; software can be reflashed. Also tank measuring system gets clogged. I just rewired at the tank.

Headlights yellow; poorly protected from UV. If they are yellow you might want to refinish and reseal.

Last edited by AstraFasta; 08-15-2019 at 05:32 PM..

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Old 08-15-2019, 07:26 PM   #6
FreedomSoftware
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Default Re: Problem areas to look for when buying an Astra

Only issues I have had with my Astra after buying it 3 years ago are: Coilpack and plugs, Leaking PCV membrane on the valve cover (could cause the engine to run rough, easily replaced with the right tools), rear brake calipers failing(2 now since owning the car), and leaking tail light.

Other than that, the car has been very good to me. I learned the drive manual on this trans with a VERY worn clutch when I bought it 3 years ago. Some how after being told originally it needed replaced, its still going. I have been hard the trans and motor at times but it has held up very well.

Edit: I have a persistent check engine light that is related to the MAF sensor. I clear it but it comes back consistently. Not sure what the issue is. Also I forgot about the Throttle Position Sensor. Since owning my car, I have replaced mine 2 times. Both throwing the code with "Throttle Position Correlation." It must be something electrical not in the peddle but I got it replaced under warranty both times

...
'08 Saturn Astra
-Debadge
-Vauxhall Grille
-Thule Roof Rack (and wind fairing)
-1.25" Lowered
-Windows Tint all around
-JVC Head unit
-Dual 12" Subs

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Old 08-16-2019, 08:22 AM   #7
maschinenbauer
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Default Re: Problem areas to look for when buying an Astra

I've never heard of the dieseling issue due to cam wear. In fact I haven't seen anything on this forum about camshaft wear. Some folks get the cam phaser solenoid issue, where the inlet screens get clogged, but nothing about the actual camshaft. If you change the oil often and only use full synth, you can make it well past 100k miles on the original solenoids and screens like I am doing.

Take AstraFasta's list with a grain of salt. He somehow found the biggest lemon of them all. I'm still convinced your car must have flood history. Anything about Houston on the vehicle history?

...
'08 Astra XE 5-speed
'72 Chevrolet El Camino
'31 Ford Model A pickup

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Old 08-16-2019, 09:49 AM   #8
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Default Re: Problem areas to look for when buying an Astra

Quote:
Originally Posted by maschinenbauer View Post
I've never heard of the dieseling issue due to cam wear. In fact I haven't seen anything on this forum about camshaft wear. Some folks get the cam phaser solenoid issue, where the inlet screens get clogged, but nothing about the actual camshaft.
That dieseling issue is quite common. It is camshaft phasers as detailed in this post (different from the troublesome camshaft position actuators). Sorry for the confusion.

http://www.saturnfans.com/forums/sho...d.php?t=209166

Quote:
Originally Posted by maschinenbauer View Post
Take AstraFasta's list with a grain of salt. He somehow found the biggest lemon of them all. I'm still convinced your car must have flood history. Anything about Houston on the vehicle history?
hahaha. My Astra has had lots of issues but is also hyper-well maintained. It looks and runs like a brand new car and is fun to drive so there's that.

No flood history as we purchased it new with about 30 miles on it.

All the Astra issues I noted are the typical Astra problems we see constantly on forums in the US and Europe. I just happened to run into most of them, unfortunately.

Below is a rather comprehensive maintenance log of my Astra from 45k-75k miles

http://www.saturnfans.com/forums/sho...d.php?t=208132

Of course, the auto transmission cooler is a disaster but since OP is looking at a manual version, I did not mention that expensive debacle : )

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Old 08-29-2019, 08:12 AM   #9
trottida
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Default Re: Problem areas to look for when buying an Astra

Thanks for all the responses. I looked at the car and managed to talk them down to an as is price of $1000 including taxes however there were a few things that swayed me not to move forward. I'm still pondering it though.

One, the A/C was dead and while I know it could be a simple seal failure I also know it could be a pricey repair. Working A/C was high on my list of requirements.

The second thing was the coolant had a skim of oil on the top. Not much but enough to make me wonder what's going on. It seemed to be overfilled with oil too. Perhaps coolant in the oil. There was no milkshake going on though.

It drove well enough and without the 2 issues above I probably would have moved forward. As best I can tell it needs ...
  • Battery
  • Rear brake pads/rotors
  • HVAC blower coil
  • Paint work (~$500)
  • LCA bushings
  • Flex pipe

I was surprised at how much an HVAC blower coil costs. Having an S Series I also peeked at the hub bearing prices and they are pricey. Are they problematic in these cars?

...
1999 SL2 MT (287,130 km @ 10/2019)
2012 Ford Focus SEL HB MT
2011 Suburban LT

Past Saturns
2001 SL1 MT (438,500 km 11y)
1993 SW2 AT (10y)
2001 LW200 MT (3.5y)
1992 SL2 MT (5y)

:canada:

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Old 08-29-2019, 12:22 PM   #10
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Default Re: Problem areas to look for when buying an Astra

$1000 Canadian is good price negotiation., nice job. Thanks for the follow up.

**Oil mixing with coolant is never a good sign, even just a thin layer. Head gasket problems on the Astra are rarely reported so I would guess extremely unlikely. Some say minor oil layer in coolant of older cars might not be an issue but I am not so comfortable given the Astra's known defective mixed transmission oil cooler.

If I recall correctly, our Astra had a very thin layer of oil in the coolant tank for a while then one day the whole tank was like a milkshake. The automatic transmission failed shortly thereafter.

Assuming the seller did not recently flush milky coolant, there is a possibility that no coolant or say just a few drops entered the transmission. So MAYBE no catastrophic transmission damage. Hopefully, you could just drain the transmission oil, flush the coolant circuit with fresh water, add a new dedicated transmission cooler. Worse case scenario is replacement transmission; in that case you would want to replace the coolant hoses (they will fail if oil runs inside). I don't think that is a good bet to play.

**For the AC, the compressor failure is rather common. I suspect that might be just a clutch or bearings typically but can't remember if those are easy fixes with a $30 kit on the Astra. There are threads here and in the UK that can help you there.

The condenser can suffer rock damage so they seem to break sometimes from rock damage, particularly for cars in rural areas of Europe. The interior evaporator failure is not too common; I don't know how much of the dash needs to be removed to replace.

If the AC system has been without any gas for some time, the moisture in air can cause significant deterioration so might warrant a more extensive rebuild. New dryer for sure. Regardless, once sorted have a shop pull a vacuum for say 30 minutes to remove all moisture before recharging.

Use caution with the AC gas as it is dangerous to you and illegal to outgas to environment (but you already know that).

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Old 08-29-2019, 01:32 PM   #11
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Default Re: Problem areas to look for when buying an Astra

Defective transmission oil cooler...does this relate to manual transmissions too? The car I was looking at has a manual transmission.

...
1999 SL2 MT (287,130 km @ 10/2019)
2012 Ford Focus SEL HB MT
2011 Suburban LT

Past Saturns
2001 SL1 MT (438,500 km 11y)
1993 SW2 AT (10y)
2001 LW200 MT (3.5y)
1992 SL2 MT (5y)

:canada:

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Old 08-29-2019, 01:59 PM   #12
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Default Re: Problem areas to look for when buying an Astra

Quote:
Originally Posted by trottida View Post
Defective transmission oil cooler...does this relate to manual transmissions too? The car I was looking at has a manual transmission.
Sorry for the confusion - I forgot you were looking at the manual transmission.

No. oil cooler is an issue only with automatic transmissions.

Some of the manual transmission cars seem to have clutch wear or related issues around the 120k mile mark but that obviously varies by owner. You can read the threads here.

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Old 08-29-2019, 05:14 PM   #13
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Default Re: Problem areas to look for when buying an Astra

I've not seen anything in the way of head gasket issues on the 1.8 in general, nor the Astra in particular. This doesn't mean that one is immune but it is not common. Maybe it's (over)due for a flush? Dexcool is noted for sludging up a bit if left too long. Opinions abound about the stuff but it's not caused me any issues save for ones GM engineers should have planned for.

The AC on my 2008 was about on ounce low from allowing the compressor to turn on this spring. After hooking the gauge set up and filling to a proper level it has been performing quite well. I was prepared to replace the compressor, easy job on this car, but glad I didn't have to because I don't have a lot of shops nearby and didn't want to search one out that would evacuate and later refill without trying to upsell me.

I've not read much about the bearings being a common failure. I have noticed they can be pricey. Detroit Axle on Ebay offers them reasonably and fellows on another forum I belong to have been happy with the performance. If I remember right you're in Canada and I know the shipping skills you guys often but thought I'd throw it out there.

Best of luck with your venture if you decide to get it. It does sound like a dice roll in a couple areas but you seem to be a critical thinker so I'd wager you'll make the right call in the end.

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Old 08-30-2019, 03:31 PM   #14
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Default Re: Problem areas to look for when buying an Astra

Thanks eric08. You've given me something to consider.

Dexcool sludge seems to stick to the reservoir and is dull orange from the photos I've seen. What I saw was just a light skim of oil floating on the top; and it was not emulsified either. It didn't look like a milkshake at all.

I wish I would have take a photo for reference.

...
1999 SL2 MT (287,130 km @ 10/2019)
2012 Ford Focus SEL HB MT
2011 Suburban LT

Past Saturns
2001 SL1 MT (438,500 km 11y)
1993 SW2 AT (10y)
2001 LW200 MT (3.5y)
1992 SL2 MT (5y)

:canada:

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Old 09-19-2019, 07:45 AM   #15
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Default Re: Problem areas to look for when buying an Astra

Well I couldn't do it. Too many unknowns. I ended up buying a 2012 Ford Focus SEL with manual transmission. It's optioned up pretty well and so far I'm pretty happy with it.

I did look at a few other Astra's but I couldn't get the price down to where I thought it should be to take the risk on one.

...
1999 SL2 MT (287,130 km @ 10/2019)
2012 Ford Focus SEL HB MT
2011 Suburban LT

Past Saturns
2001 SL1 MT (438,500 km 11y)
1993 SW2 AT (10y)
2001 LW200 MT (3.5y)
1992 SL2 MT (5y)

:canada:

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Old 09-19-2019, 08:20 AM   #16
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Default Re: Problem areas to look for when buying an Astra

Quote:
Originally Posted by trottida View Post
I ended up buying a 2012 Ford Focus SEL with manual transmission.
That is a good car and 4 years newer. Thanks for the update.

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Old 09-19-2019, 08:53 AM   #17
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Default Re: Problem areas to look for when buying an Astra

Quote:
Originally Posted by AstraFasta View Post
That is a good car and 4 years newer. Thanks for the update.
I increased the budget and picked it up for $4200 CAD; private sale with safety included. I think I did well on the price as the wholesale value I had to pay taxes on was $6600. Here's a pic ....

Attached Images
File Type: jpg 2012 Ford Focus SEL.jpg (121.9 KB, 71 views)

...
1999 SL2 MT (287,130 km @ 10/2019)
2012 Ford Focus SEL HB MT
2011 Suburban LT

Past Saturns
2001 SL1 MT (438,500 km 11y)
1993 SW2 AT (10y)
2001 LW200 MT (3.5y)
1992 SL2 MT (5y)

:canada:

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