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Old 08-15-2010, 10:27 PM   #1
needanewcar
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1999 SL2
Default Looking to buy Saturn SL or SW

Hi everyone,

I'm new to the forum and want some insight and guidelines on a Saturn SL or SW. I need to buy a car within the next week before my next school semester begins. I will be driving an average of 50 to 70 miles for 4-5 days a week, and 20 miles a day for the other 2-3 days. I have $2000 cash and live in the LA area. I need a car that can handle this mileage (hwy mostly) and will be gas efficient and easy/cheap to maintain and repair. Should I be looking at Saturns or is this a bad idea?

After scouring craigslist for the past few days, I have a list of potential Saturns I would like to buy. I don't have a car right now (saved up through summer for enough money to buy one) so borrowing a car and driving around is going to be tough. I'd like to get a lot of my car shopping "homework" done before I get out to inspect the cars...

I asked the sellers over the phone for the usual suspects of an unreliable car, such as
Quote:
does the car leak or burn oil?
do you have to add a quart or two every few weeks?
what were some of the last maintenance or repairs done to the car?
does the car ever overheat?
how does the car idle?
If Saturns have good gas mileage and are easy/cheap to repair, what else should I be asking the seller and what other specifics should I be looking for when I inspect the vehicle?

What are the "good years" and the "bad years" and what models are the best from a reliability standpoint?

The ones I have found range from 1996 to 2001 and are all under or around $2000.

I appreciate everyone's input and help. Thanks!

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Old 08-15-2010, 11:43 PM   #2
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1999 SC1
Default Re: Looking to buy Saturn SL or SW

Avoid 91-92. Decide if you care about DOHC vs SOHC. DOHC models have good fuel economy, upgraded suspension, upgraded seats. SOHC models have slightly better fuel economy. Personally, I won't buy another SOHC unless it's a raging good deal. Also decide if you care about auto vs manual. The autos, if maintained, are reliable, but the manuals are more reliable.

Ultimately, what's going to determine if the Saturn you buy is reliable or not will mostly hinge on how it was treated and maintained by the previous owner(s).

...
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Old 08-16-2010, 12:06 AM   #3
needanewcar
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Default Re: Looking to buy Saturn SL or SW

Thank you PurdueGuy. I have read that these cars do not use a timing belt, but use a timing chain instead. I had a Nissan Maxima before and it had a chain, too. I like the idea of not having to worry about changing the belt.

If the timing chain on a Saturn SL or SW breaks, will the engine be done? Or will I just need a new chain?

Does anyone else have other input as far as things to look for? I am looking mostly at 96-2001 models.

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Old 08-17-2010, 12:46 AM   #4
needanewcar
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Default Re: Looking to buy Saturn SL or SW

Hey badger thanks a lot! You were a huge help. I bought a '99 SL today for $1650. It had 84k miles on it and it was in overall good shape. The engine has a very slight sound that is weird (coming from japanese cars, never owned an american!) that I feel like I want someone to take a look at. There is a small hose that needs to be replaced, which I will do tomorrow morning.

The engine runs very very well and I couldn't ask for a smoother transmission. The body and interior are very well kept, and the guy had tons of maintenance records. The car was very clean and tidy and all four tires matched. I feel like I got a pretty good deal.

I'll post pics tomorrow. I'm pretty excited about getting a gas efficient car with low mileage.. I didn't think it'd be possible. Thanks again guys.

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Old 08-17-2010, 09:07 AM   #5
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1997 SL
Default Re: Looking to buy Saturn SL or SW

Quote:
Originally Posted by badgerW View Post
84k for $1650 is pretty nice IMHO! Hope it ends up being a great car for you!
I agree. Sounds like a good deal. IMPORTANT! Watch the oil level very, very closely until you get a good idea of how much it's going to use! Saturns use a lot of oil and yours will too----period. (More oil is usually used when pushing the car on the highway.) The biggest factor with these cars ending up in the junk yard is because the owner let the oil level drop too far. If you keep the oil clean and full at all times, you will probably reach 200K with no major problem.

Things to do right away, if the past owner didn't, is to change the ECTS sensor and its connector. (Easy directions to that process is found in our "How To" section with videos by Richpin) You're probably due for many other things like the thermostat, gas filter, etc. but since you've got good records, they should all be listed if they were done by the last owner.

Another thing is gas mileage. Highway mileage with these cars is great. I have a 97 SL and got as much as 44 m.p.g. on the freeway---as long as I kept it close to 60 m.p.h. As soon as I get above that speed and do some more jack-rabbiting, the mileage drops way, way down. So a steady foot pedal and "slower" cruising speeds make a huge difference.

Again, check our "How To" section and you will find all sorts of information on how to fix many things on your Saturn. Oh, and welcome to the board!

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Old 08-17-2010, 10:44 AM   #6
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1996 SW2
Default Re: Looking to buy Saturn SL or SW

Presuming it's an automatic (useful thing to post with purchase info or opening post), if there isn't written documentation that the tranny fluid and filter have been changed within the last 30,000 miles, do it NOW. Instructions are in the owner's manual AFAIK; it's easier than an oil change.

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Old 08-17-2010, 11:24 AM   #7
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1997 SL2
Default Re: Looking to buy Saturn SL or SW

Quote:
Originally Posted by madpogue View Post
Instructions are in the owner's manual AFAIK; it's easier than an oil change.
Indeed they are - with pictures, even

In the next few years, when it comes time for a fuel filter, most folks here recommend only the OEM or the Wix (or the NAPA branded filter made by Wix). These units ($55~120) have an integrated fuel pressure regulator and a lot of the aftermarket units will fit but not provide the correct fuel pressure (it's a 100k mile maintenance item; some folks go longer).

...
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Old 08-17-2010, 02:29 PM   #8
needanewcar
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Default Re: Looking to buy Saturn SL or SW

Thanks a lot everyone. Yes I need to change a few parts as part of my preventive maintenance plan.

I went to Autozone today to get a replacement breather hose as the one on the car was cracked at the connections, but they didn't have it. A little google research found wwwtrademotiondotcom having one for $5 or so. I'll most likely buy that tomorrow. I did end up buying an air filter at Autozone as the one in the car was dirty.

The guy from Autozone also noticed the O2 sensor is new. How do I tell how new the ECTS is? Also, I did post this on another Saturn forum in order to get more responses. One guy said this:

Quote:
There is a sensor on the engine on the drivers side of the cylinder head that is prone to failure giving false indications of overheating or failure of the electric fan causing actual overheating. Read the forums for references. Depending on the years, there are one or two. Change them when you buy the car, try to find brass rather than non-brass (plastic?) for reliability purposes.
Is he talking about the ECTS too? If so, any comments on the brass vs. non-brass thing?

My initial goals are as follows:
  • Buy and change crankcase breather hose
  • Check ECTS (wait back for a reply from you guys on how to tell if its new or not)
  • Change the transmission fluid and filter
  • Recharge the A/C
  • Check and service the brakes (the car is a bit stuttery (don't know how to describe it) and does not brake smoothly, but doesn't make any noises whatsover as I hit the brakes.

Anything else I should put on my checklist? Should I rearrange the priority of these items? I'm going to be driving this little beast about 50 to 70 miles a day so I'm gonna really work her and need to make sure she doesn't leave me stranded.

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Old 08-17-2010, 04:35 PM   #9
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Default Re: Looking to buy Saturn SL or SW

When you go to buy a new ECTS you will have no choice----all the new ones are brass. Autozone should have them. I mentioned that you should also change the connection but that really depends on whether the old one is corroded by leakage or not. You can look inside the connection to see if it looks clean and just stick with that one but you can also just go ahead and change it out. Up to you but if there is any corrosion and you don't spot it, it's just better to get a new one and not have to wonder. (You only have one sensor there on your car)

As far as the brakes are concerned, in the past, Saturns have had a problem with warped rotors so that may be what you are feeling---don't know. But if the brakes are "spongy" and not very responsive, simply changing the brake fluid will help that. (Turkey baster method described in the "How To" section will give info on that.)

Maybe if you list what the former owner did to maintain the car, that would be helpful. And I don't think I'd even bother with checking another site for help. People here are great and will help you with everything.

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Old 08-17-2010, 06:11 PM   #10
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1996 SW2
Default Re: Looking to buy Saturn SL or SW

You can check the ECTS without removing it. It may require a mirror, however. Look at this photo: http://www.saturnfans.com/photos/sho...hp/photo/46177 . The left side shows the connector end of each sensor. Notice on the outer part, just "outboard" of the hex flats, the new, brass-tipped sensor (bottom) has a quarter-round "shoulder", but the old-style does not. If you can get a look at the sensor from the outside, look for that. Also, very commonly, if the sensor has been replaced, so has the connector. Look for splices on the wires going to the connector.

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Old 08-18-2010, 09:23 AM   #11
bobbyrae
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Default Re: Looking to buy Saturn SL or SW

You are asking some really good questions, but I would be cautious and not expect a lot of honesty out of sellers. The best thing is to check the car out like any other car and ask yourself if the seller is being straight with you.

I bought my '93 SL2 about 5 years ago. The seller was telling me what a great mechanic he had and how well maintained the car was. But then I did a compression test (which I now insist on doing before I buy ANY car) and one of the spark plugs broke when I was removing it! These plugs were unbelievably old- I could tell from their appearance and the way that one just broke in half. Now, what kind of mechanic leaves plugs in that long? Also, the brake fluid looked like it had never been flushed either. Terribly dark brown. Luckily, this kind of poor maintenace hadn't gone on too long and the rest of the car was in pretty good shape.

Moral of the story here is that the owner was so stupid when it came to cars he didn't realize that the mechanic was just blowing smoke up his ass! The owner really thought everything was just fine.

...
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1993 SL2 A/T, 80k miles, 22/33/43 mpg
1982 Accord 5-speed, 303k miles, 23/32/40 mpg

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