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Old 01-19-2018, 02:09 AM   #1
Raincitygears
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Wrench Potential project car

Hey guys! New member here.

My girlfriend is looking to junk her 1997 manual SL1, and I was considering buying it off her instead. Admittedly, I'm fairly entry level to the mechanic scene, but would like to learn. I've been looking for a first project car, and my limited experience has pretty much been general maintenance (oil/filter changes, brakes, spark plugs, etc.). Since you fine folks have more experience and knowledge, I humbly request some opinions as to whether or not this particular Saturn is a good first project car as well as what might need to be done to it.

One day at work, she went to start the car, and got no crank. Headlights worked, radio worked, but no engine. The codes I pulled were P1651, P1650, and P1599. I replaced the CKP sensor, and that did nothing. Based on my prior experiences with other cars, I suspected it was either the starter or the solenoid at that point. Before we went any further, she ultimately ended up investing in a new car instead for safety and reliability purposes, so the Saturn has been dead and rotting for about five months now.

Before it died, it already had a number of problems. She drove it for four years, put about 20 to 25k on the engine, and it's around 140k right now. During that time, by her accounts, it had these issues:

- Check engine light is permanently on
- Never changed the oil or filter since she owned it (20-25k no oil change)
- Burns 1 quart of oil every 400 or 500 miles
- Replaced the battery twice due to a bad battery screw
- Overheated in stop and start traffic (coolant would "explode" every summer, causing her to replace it a couple times during that season)
- Car will not shift into first gear unless it is stationary (manual transmission)
- Car pulls to the right
- Ignition cylinder and keys worn out
- Driver side window clips bad, window won't stay up without a wedge
- Driver side door can be opened with any random house key
- Tires are at about 50%

I recently attempted to re-diagnose the no-start problem, but she's lost the primary key and the copy is so bad that it won't turn the ignition cylinder. At the very least, to even begin to do anything, I need to get a new key made or preferably just replace the entire cylinder. Obviously the battery is dead, but I have a charger. Additionally, we live in the Pacific Northwest, which is... damp... to say the least. Because it's been sitting, it's accumulated quite a bit of moisture inside and mold is starting to grow. The body is in good shape with some small rust spots on the hood and a couple cosmetic interior issues, and it has a clean title.

What do you think, Saturn crew? Can it be given a second life?

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Old 01-19-2018, 05:00 AM   #2
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Default Re: Potential project car

I dunno.


If my girlfriend was that high of maintenance, I'd probably opt for a new girlfriend.

So I guess the car question would be easy.



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Old 01-19-2018, 07:20 AM   #3
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Default Re: Potential project car

I'd vote yes. Would be a great learning experience. Get it running, fix the little things, and decide if you have the budget and appetite for a proper rebuild​. If you do you could have the car for 20 years.

http://www.saturnfans.com/forums/sho...d.php?t=230898

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Old 01-19-2018, 09:30 AM   #4
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Default Re: Potential project car

I would hold onto it and first try some easy run-of-the-mill SaturnFans.com fixes.

What I would do

1) New ECTS could solve the overheating.

2) A Few short interval (1000 mile) oil changes using full synthetic oil to see if the oil consumption slows or disappears.

then re-evaluate

...
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Old 01-19-2018, 11:09 AM   #5
alordofchaos
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Default Re: Potential project car

It's a good car for learning how to fix things. Simple, cheap, and well-documented (as you can see from Waiex's thread).
Once it's in order, should return 40mpg hwy, easily, and go for several hundred thousand miles.
Quote:
- Never changed the oil or filter since she owned it (20-25k no oil change)
- Burns 1 quart of oil every 400 or 500 miles
As long as she's keeping it filled, should be OK.

What I would check - rust at the front subframe behind the driver side wheel (may need to pull back the plastic splash guard to see), and rust at both passenger door sills. Also check for frame damage for taht pull to the right

See if it can be push-started (woo-hoo, manual transmission! )
New starter is $40 at
https://www.dbelectrical.com/starter.../sl/1-9-liter/

There are a bunch of good videos on YT specifically for the Saturn S series, here's one on starter replacement - richpin has a good channel for that
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YRqE9cqnn7g

firemanCV and jungleking also have good Saturn videos

Quote:
- Overheated in stop and start traffic (coolant would "explode" every summer, causing her to replace it a couple times during that season)
ECTS as dummo mentioned is a good possibility. The giveaways are if the temp gauge doesn't get past 1/4 on the gauge, starts hard*, poor mpg, black smoke out exhaust. this $12 part has caused much frustration.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cucm7QGlsYs

*though, the '97 was also the one year where there was hard starting due to a fuel pump drainback problem, would not hold pressure after shutting down. You had to hold the key to ON for a few seconds, then start the car, otherwise would crank for a while before building up enough fuel pressure to start

more general documentation
http://www.differentracing.com/tech_articles/index.html
http://saturnseries.net/

You can get a new key cut at any GM dealer by providing the VIN and proof of ownership, cost varies considerably depending on the local dealer ($7~$30)

if it's the same window clip (plastic regulator) that usually breaks,
http://www.saturnfans.com/forums/sho...d.php?t=233412
http://www.saturnfans.com/forums/sho...d.php?t=223010

...
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11/2016 red 2002 5 spd SC2 124k DD
7/2010 Craigslist white 1997 SC2 project
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Last edited by alordofchaos; 01-19-2018 at 11:18 AM..

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Old 01-19-2018, 01:16 PM   #6
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Default Re: Potential project car

Forgot to mention, if you don't want to sand/paint the hood, it's easy to replace. Four bolts (two per side), probably $50 or so at a junkyard

Car is designed to be blocked from shifting into first unless you are stopped or nearly stopped (like, maybe a couple of miles per hour?)

Stripping out the interior and washing (to deal with mold) is relatively easy. A lot of parts are swappable. For example, you could install front seats from any S-series Saturn - may need to swap the buckle holder thing if getting a seat from an early one, but '95? '96-02 is a straight bolt in, and an upgrade if you get a seat from a DOHC model because those seats have more cushion. Driver seats from those cars also have adjustable lumbar support

If you need to install new headliner, that's probably the most difficult part. Can be done in a weekend (I redid my first headliner in my most recent Saturn)

I've applied a lot of the things I learned working on the Saturn to my other cars.

This will be an extra car for you so you can fix / rebuild at your leisure.

...
I'm not worthy to grovel in the shadow of Signmaster's wisdom

11/2016 red 2002 5 spd SC2 124k DD
7/2010 Craigslist white 1997 SC2 project
12/2008 eBay silver 1998 SL2 5 spd 102k, now 201k+ miles

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Old 01-20-2018, 11:44 PM   #7
Raincitygears
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Default Re: Potential project car

Quote:
Originally Posted by onlinebiker View Post
I dunno.


If my girlfriend was that high of maintenance, I'd probably opt for a new girlfriend.

So I guess the car question would be easy.


Hahahahaha, I know, I know. I was absolutely mortified when she was telling me all this. It was her first car, she was in college, we weren't dating at the time, and she told me she didn't understand why she should pay for an oil change when she kept having to add new oil to it anyway. But I'm teaching her right, she's learning. She recently just did her own first oil change on her new car. I was very proud.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Waiex191 View Post
I'd vote yes. Would be a great learning experience. Get it running, fix the little things, and decide if you have the budget and appetite for a proper rebuild​. If you do you could have the car for 20 years.
Thanks man. Your rebuild thread will be very helpful.

Quote:
Originally Posted by dummo View Post
I would hold onto it and first try some easy run-of-the-mill SaturnFans.com fixes.

What I would do

1) New ECTS could solve the overheating.

2) A Few short interval (1000 mile) oil changes using full synthetic oil to see if the oil consumption slows or disappears.

then re-evaluate
Sounds like a solid start. I took a look at the ECTS video that Chaos provided and that's definitely a doable fix. I think a couple cycles of Pennzoil Ultimate should probably do the trick for cleaning out the engine.

Quote:
Originally Posted by alordofchaos View Post
It's a good car for learning how to fix things. Simple, cheap, and well-documented (as you can see from Waiex's thread).
Once it's in order, should return 40mpg hwy, easily, and go for several hundred thousand miles.
As long as she's keeping it filled, should be OK.

What I would check - rust at the front subframe behind the driver side wheel (may need to pull back the plastic splash guard to see), and rust at both passenger door sills. Also check for frame damage for taht pull to the right

See if it can be push-started (woo-hoo, manual transmission! )
New starter is $40 at

There are a bunch of good videos on YT specifically for the Saturn S series, here's one on starter replacement - richpin has a good channel for that

firemanCV and jungleking also have good Saturn videos

ECTS as dummo mentioned is a good possibility. The giveaways are if the temp gauge doesn't get past 1/4 on the gauge, starts hard*, poor mpg, black smoke out exhaust. this $12 part has caused much frustration.

*though, the '97 was also the one year where there was hard starting due to a fuel pump drainback problem, would not hold pressure after shutting down. You had to hold the key to ON for a few seconds, then start the car, otherwise would crank for a while before building up enough fuel pressure to start

more general documentation

You can get a new key cut at any GM dealer by providing the VIN and proof of ownership, cost varies considerably depending on the local dealer ($7~$30)

if it's the same window clip (plastic regulator) that usually breaks,
Quote:
Originally Posted by alordofchaos View Post
Forgot to mention, if you don't want to sand/paint the hood, it's easy to replace. Four bolts (two per side), probably $50 or so at a junkyard

Car is designed to be blocked from shifting into first unless you are stopped or nearly stopped (like, maybe a couple of miles per hour?)

Stripping out the interior and washing (to deal with mold) is relatively easy. A lot of parts are swappable. For example, you could install front seats from any S-series Saturn - may need to swap the buckle holder thing if getting a seat from an early one, but '95? '96-02 is a straight bolt in, and an upgrade if you get a seat from a DOHC model because those seats have more cushion. Driver seats from those cars also have adjustable lumbar support

If you need to install new headliner, that's probably the most difficult part. Can be done in a weekend (I redid my first headliner in my most recent Saturn)

I've applied a lot of the things I learned working on the Saturn to my other cars.

This will be an extra car for you so you can fix / rebuild at your leisure.
Thanks man! This is a great breakdown and I really appreciate all the resources. I've looked into some of them and they have definitely pointed me in a good direction. I was going over some of this with my girlfriend and she agreed that it had a hard start problem sometimes. She always kept the oil filled. Apparently she had already replaced the window clips once, but because the clips were new and everything around it was worn, they didn't fit properly and broke again. Yes, the headliner is coming off, but I'll have to do that when the weather gets nicer. She tried gluing some colored felt squares to decorate it instead (hell no, those are definitely coming down). In the meantime, hopefully a little Damprid will keep the excess moisture under control.

I've never dealt with a car deliberately designed not to go into first while moving, but then again, I've only ever driven stick on an '80s Civic and a '91 Isuzu Trooper and I was taught to just shift into neutral to slow down or stop rather than downshift (which as I understand is bad for the clutch plates). But, it's kinda interesting that they would prevent you from doing that even if you wanted to.


Thanks for the responses guys! I'm gonna give it a shot, and I'll post my progress.

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Old 01-21-2018, 02:13 AM   #8
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Default Re: Potential project car

HO-LY SMOKES.

Decided to begin the process of bringing the SL1 back to life this evening, assuming I would have to start with the battery. I asked the girlfriend to try to find the primary key, fully intent on taking the battery out to trickle charge it over the next day or so and batting around the decision of whether or not to get a new key made or just replace the ignition cylinder wholesale. She finally found a random key in a jacket pocket which she was certain wasn't the correct one, but hey, why not give it a shot? We go to try the key. It works. Getting it to do so is a little jankey; apparently you have to wiggle the steering wheel to get the cylinder to turn. Lo and behold, all the electronics light up and the radio starts blasting music. The battery is still alive. I'm thinking, sweet, that's two barriers of entry already gone. I turn the radio off, turn the key off, and turn it back to the run position to check the status of the fuel pump. A few seconds go by, I hear a click, and turn the key all the way... and it starts. The car starts. Immediately. No struggle to catch. We were both absolutely floored. After trying a dozen times to get it to go before, and then letting it sit for months outside in the elements, the damn thing refused to die. If that's not an endorsement to keep the car, I don't know what is.

We moved the car forward and back, and then shut it off. Then we tried to start it again, and again it comes to life with ease. So, we drove it around the block and tested all the functions to give me an idea of the operating conditions. What I learned:

- Windshield wiper motor died almost immediately after being turned on
- Brakes are shot (knew that one already)
- Power steering is going out
- Squeaking noise when the wheel is cranked to the left
- Does indeed pull to the right when you let go of the wheel, and pretty sharply (it didn't do this when she first got the car; it started happening gradually over time and eventually got more severe)
- Temperature gauge needle went past 1/4 and hovered a little under the 1/2 mark
- Exhaust was normal, no black smoke or anything
- Car had 3/4 of a tank of gas
- Rodent droppings on the driver side floor

We parked it again and shut the engine off, and then to verify once more, tried to start it one last time. And then it wouldn't. Click, but no crank. I managed to catch a glimpse of the "Low Fuel" light trying to get the ignition going, which was odd, considering the tank was almost full and there was no problems during the first two starts with the combustion. My girlfriend said that in the past sometimes it would not start initially but if she let it sit for a minute or so and tried again, it would start up. This was what she had initially believed to be the problem when it "died," but no matter how many times we tried after the fact, there was absolutely no crank.

I didn't pull any codes this time as my OBDII was acting up (it just needed to be updated), but I feel this bodes well. At the very least, I know the car is at least one foot out of the grave.

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Old 01-21-2018, 09:31 AM   #9
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Post Re: Potential project car

No start condition may be due to starter heat soak after car is running for a while. Get a new starter from https://www.dbelectrical.com. If the starter won't respond when cold hit starter with 2x4 to shock into operation.

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Old 01-21-2018, 10:20 AM   #10
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Default Re: Potential project car

It's a manual - bump start it! Dead starters are a common S series issue.

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Old 01-21-2018, 10:34 AM   #11
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Default Re: Potential project car

Quote:
Originally Posted by Waiex191 View Post
It's a manual - bump start it! Dead starters are a common issue.
Fixed lol

Click but no engine cranking is usually the starter but can also indicate a battery with low charge or corroded cables. If you'd rather test parts to verify they're working/not-working then I'd get a 4ft wire with alligator clips on the end and run it from the purple wire up to the engine bay so you (or a buddy) can check for power on the purple wire without having to be under the car. If you get one of the proper gauge (12awg) it can also be used to bypass the ignition switch and all safety/security switch's (touch to battery positive terminal, don't stand in front of the car and verify it's in neutral with the drift handle engaged (I believe boring folk call it the parking brake...).

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Old 01-21-2018, 12:32 PM   #12
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Default Re: Potential project car

New Years eve, and New Years Day, Mine wouldn't start in the morning. Bum started it both times, but Help was hard to find in the freezing cold.
Same problem. Click, but no crank. Was fine after it warmed up
I got it in my buddy's shop, took both cables off the battery, took the cables off the starter, cleaned them up with a wire wheel, reconnected. Did the same with the battery cables, and walla, no more starter issues.

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