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Old 03-01-2006, 11:01 PM   #1
Myfins1
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Default 96 SL1 Starting-Engine Performance Problems/Issues

I have a 1996 Saturn SL1 5-speed manual with 110k miles

I have attempted looking through posts from the first 5 pages on the S series forum as well as searching and reading 100s more posts from those results and cannot seem to find my symptoms entirely. So I post my problem.

Recently here I have noticed that my saturn is driving pretty sluggish. When on the highway it is hard to pass any more as I have to build up power to over take others. Almost like it has little acceleration power. Whereas 6 months ago I didn't have these issues. And over the past 4 weeks I have begun noticing another issue with start ups.

When I start my vehicle (not always but more times than not) it starts real sluggish as if it weren't going to start but it manages to turn over with a putt putt puttering like it is starved for fuel. I sometimes need to pump the accelerator when turning key to get it to start. Once started I often have to give it gas to get it idling properly. This is for the first minute of it being started. I also notice substantial smoke coming from exhaust when this occurs.

I changed the fuel filter and repaired a vaccum leak about 1 year ago. This past week I have changed spark plugs and plug wires. Symptoms still persist. I thought it was just new plugs.

I am not sure if timing needs to be adjusted or what. Do saturns even have an adjustable timing or is it controlled by the computer? I haven't done much with this car aside from regular oil changes, and maintenance and tires. The car is my wifes, her mom bought it new. Previous history had the engine being replaced at about 3ok miles through warranty. Other than that, nothing major really.

The clutch also seems to not engage until almost completely releasing clutch pedal. It use to ease into the gears and could feel it engaging. Not any more. I have recently purchased an Actron CP9145 code scanning tool. It is not showing any codes, freeze frame data, and passes all the checks. Not sure what the readings should be on some of the other tests. But the ones that say OK I assume are good. So I am not finding anything on the DTCs or the PIDs.

I am at a loss on what else I should be looking for. From the reading I have done today, it looks like I might want to look at the ECTS. Though the coolant temp seems reasonable on the reading I am getting. It stated it was at 53 F prior to starting vehicle today. Once I started the vehicle it started climbing and was soon in 70-80 f range. So I am not confident that is the culprit.

I have also read a bit on coils. This is the thing that would be similar to a distributor cap though it is quite different if I am not mistaking. I did connect the new plug wires to this. Any other ideas on what to try for this. I really would like to get back to clean startups and a bit more power on the freeway as I drive it every day. Is it possible it is the fuel pump? I am trying to seek the cheaper fixes first but if it is likely the fuel pump we will go right to that.

FYI
I drive this vehicle daily, it does not sit more than a day or two at a time. I am located in Texas, so mild weather here. Mostly highway miles, 35 miles round trip to work each day. It is worth noting that sometimes this things starts fine each and every time.

Thanks in advance for all of your input and ideas. It is greatly appreciated.

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Old 03-01-2006, 11:50 PM   #2
Cat Fuzz
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Default Re: 96 SL1 Starting-Engine Performance Problems/Issues

To answer one of your questions: No, the timing is not manually adjustable.

The smoke at start-up is probably the main clue. What color is it? Describe the smell. Does it go away after warm-up?

If its white and smells sweet, like anti-freeze, you have a blown head gasket or crakced head. If its black, it might have something to do with you pumping the gas pedal. Not supposed to do that on computer controlled, fuel injected cars. If its more of a blue-ish color, your getting oil in the combustion chamber somehow. Maybe check the PCV system first. Eliminate the cheap stuff first.

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Old 03-01-2006, 11:55 PM   #3
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Default Re: 96 SL1 Starting-Engine Performance Problems/Issues

If the ECTS is orriginal (plastic tipped), replace it before you try anything else. (Even if it isn't cracked now, it will undoubtably fail soon.)

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Old 03-02-2006, 02:52 PM   #4
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Default Re: 96 SL1 Starting-Engine Performance Problems/Issues

The smoke is a hazy white. It is almost a gas smell, not sweet. I know you are not suppose to pump the pedal. I need to stop that. Though it usually doesn't come to that, its more of an occasional thing.

The smoke clears real quick. Within a few moments of starting, 10 seconds at most. It runs as if its going to die but keeps on chugging. After feeding her some gas at times she starts to run more smooth. That is why I changed the plugs thinking the plugs werent sparking. As well as the gas smell.

The ECTS: How can I tell if it is plastic tipped. The pictures I seen of the installation really hinder the view from where it is located on the vehicle. It doesn't cost too much, I could just replace it as a precaution. I am getting ready to do some more general maintenance on it. Like I said, it has had no major services to it. I recall a radiator flush a few years ago.

Any reccomendations of what to change on her? Any other thoughts on original symptoms are appreciated. I hope I am describing things good enough for you.

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Old 03-02-2006, 02:55 PM   #5
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Default Re: 96 SL1 Starting-Engine Performance Problems/Issues

Also about the possibility of blown head gasket or cracked head. Is there anything else I can look for that would support that thought? What can I do to check her out.

I am a pretty skilled do it your selfer, jack of all trades kind of person. Not much scares me. I like to do as much myself as I can. I am heading out today to buy the service manual for her, I am sure that will help as you folks guide me to possible reasons and solutions. If it is something I should take to the shop I can do that also. I just like to know what I am dealing with.

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Old 03-02-2006, 05:01 PM   #6
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Default Re: 96 SL1 Starting-Engine Performance Problems/Issues

As mentioned in an earlier post, get rid of that ECT sensor and also, if there is ANY CORROSION AT ALL on the connection to that sensor, replace that as well. Most of your problems could be coming from that. Also, get a spray can of throttle body cleaner and spray the whole throttle body area very well and into the IAC pintle area, etc. Here is a post that will explain more about this process.
http://www.saturnfans.com/forums/sho...=throttle+body

I'd begin with the above then get back with us for more help if needed. The car's performance should improve a lot with those fixes. Good luck,

Jerry

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Old 03-02-2006, 05:30 PM   #7
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Default Re: 96 SL1 Starting-Engine Performance Problems/Issues

Another thought I had besides the ECTS was maybe a clogged Cat. Conv. any thoughts on that?

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Old 03-02-2006, 06:28 PM   #8
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Default Re: 96 SL1 Starting-Engine Performance Problems/Issues

Quote:
Originally Posted by HJ92126
Another thought I had besides the ECTS was maybe a clogged Cat. Conv. any thoughts on that?
Yes, I think that would result in similar symptoms, but wouldn't it have a check engine light (and code)?
If the car has been idled a lot (more than 5-10 minutes) consistently, the catalytic converter would definitely be a suspect.
If the Saturn has the original ECTS, it is plastic tipped. Many aftermarket ones are also plastic, so be sure to get a replacement from the dealer (or, if you can't, specify a brass one in an auto store, and check it before you buy it). I expect that you can check to see if it's plastic by taking it out and looking, although I've never actually removed mine (I'm sure I'll have to replace it soon, though, seeing that it's a '95 with the OE ECTS). I'm sure someone else can tell you exactly what to look for to check. Good Luck!

...
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Old 03-03-2006, 02:28 AM   #9
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Default Re: 96 SL1 Starting-Engine Performance Problems/Issues

Well all those sound great. I would try each of them, seems easy enough to see if that is causing them. And the catalytic converter you may have hit something. The exhaust has suddenly gotten louder recently. I was gonna be putting in new pipes/muffler and if I am correct the Cat/Conv is right in line if memory serves me correctly.

But...

One BIG thing happened today that puts everything else to the side. I was driving home. I was shifting from 4th into 5th. Upon releasing the clutch once it was in 5th, the engined died. Or it is when I noticed it was gone. I thought that was odd. I tried to "push start" it with releasing the clutch. No GO!

Is my engine LOCKED up? I have been sensing my clutch was going out. It is the original I believe. As mentioned they replaced the engine in 99' with about 50k miles I was told this evening. Not sure if a new clutch was installed then or not. I am not sure if a clutch would cause that though.

I was around 2500-3000 rpm when I was going into 5th. Not exactly sure. When releasing the clutch when I put it into gear after realizing the engine was dead, you could feel like it was engaging with the engine but the engine didn't pop. So I don't believe it was the clutch. After safely getting her to the shoulder I attempted to start it. Nothing. Not even a whir. The lights dimmed as it tried to turn. Couldn't hear the starter or anything. The shifter was able to shift into gears but who knows.

When I left her, I did pop open the hood. It had some smell in there. It smelled similar to a clutch burning, from when one went out some years ago on another vehicle. Though I am really not sure what it is.

My thought is the engine locked up. Not sure why or how. It only has about 60k on the engine itself. Sad news. I was hoping this car would last 5 more years. I am now going to head to FL to get my ford contour which is at the mother in laws house. Stored there when we moved here last year. It has DOHC. That car needs some work as well. But less work now then the Saturn.

Anyone have any suggestions to tell if engine is locked up? My neighbor has a mechanic friend that I can have take a look at it. Not sure what he can diagnose from my house not being in a shop like environment.

I am having it towed to the house right now. It is just after midnight. Maybe I will get some sleep tonight. I now have to take the wife to work at 7am and play car tag for today.

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Old 03-03-2006, 08:53 AM   #10
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Default Re: 96 SL1 Starting-Engine Performance Problems/Issues

A new ECTS and connector might cost 20 bucks and is good to do anyway. It's also really easy. I'd suggest do that if not for the fact it should be done anyway, I had similar symptoms and it fixed it. If it doesn't fix it so what? You're out 20 bucks and a half an hour. At least you will prevent future failure and rule one thing out.

...
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Old 03-03-2006, 08:55 AM   #11
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Default Re: 96 SL1 Starting-Engine Performance Problems/Issues

Check the oil!

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Old 03-03-2006, 08:58 AM   #12
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Default Re: 96 SL1 Starting-Engine Performance Problems/Issues

Oops... I didn't read that last post (about siezed engine) untill I posted the first one. Boy, that must've earned me at least 50 idiot dumb talk foot in mouth points.

...
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Old 03-03-2006, 10:14 AM   #13
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Default Re: 96 SL1 Starting-Engine Performance Problems/Issues

To determine if the engine is locked up, remove all the spark plugs, put the tranny in neutral, and try to turn the engine by hand. You should just be able to grab the belt pulley on the crankshaft with both hands and turn it. If not, try a wrench on the pulley bolt.

Actually, cyphik, the ECTS connector is $40-ish at the dealer (more than the sensor itself!). Better bet is to cut an IAT sensor connector off a junker, and offer $5-ish for it.

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Old 03-03-2006, 10:41 AM   #14
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Default Re: 96 SL1 Starting-Engine Performance Problems/Issues

Have you looked at your injector o-rings?

I had some some similar issues on my '84 Jetta due to cracked/rotted o-rings... of course that car has a very crude continuous injection system (Bosch K-Jetronic CIS).

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Old 03-03-2006, 10:49 AM   #15
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Default Re: 96 SL1 Starting-Engine Performance Problems/Issues

Quote:
Originally Posted by madpogue
Actually, cyphik, the ECTS connector is $40-ish at the dealer (more than the sensor itself!). Better bet is to cut an IAT sensor connector off a junker, and offer $5-ish for it.
You're right about the price, but I'm not so sure an IAT is a better bet. White smoke, smells like gas indicates running rich. I suppose the IAT could do that, I've just never heard of one. Regardless, I fall into the camp that says a plastic tipped ECTS needs to be replaced whether it's causing a problem or not. sierrap615 posted some pics in this thread that show how to tell without pulling the ECTS. However, it's all a moot point, if the engine is locked up.

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Old 03-03-2006, 11:31 AM   #16
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Default Re: 96 SL1 Starting-Engine Performance Problems/Issues

Re-read. I suggested cutting an IATS connector off a junker, as an alternative to paying $40-ish for an ECTS connector at the dealer.

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Old 03-03-2006, 11:45 AM   #17
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Default Re: 96 SL1 Starting-Engine Performance Problems/Issues

Myfins1 - check your battery terminals. If one came loose or is too corroded it would cause all sorts of problems, including loss of all power without warning, hard starting, bad running (due to poor spark). Had it happen to me on the highway with almost the exact same symptoms.

Madpogue - the ECTS sensor, wiring plug, and PCV valve at my local Saturn dealership ran $45 (after tax). And I dont have to worry about age/quality/etc. Worth it to me, but its whatever you feel most comfortable with.

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