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Old 02-11-2009, 10:42 AM   #1
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Saturn Longevity?

Hi all,

It's been a while and I see a lot of posts on Saturns, but none specifically covering longevity.

Anyway, for me, my truck has been giving me a lot of issues lately and while I love the Festiva I have another baby on the way and need more than what's basically a two seater. I was thinking about it for a while and while I'd love the diesel variants of the BMW 335d or Audi A3 that I drove in Germany, I see they're not slated until 2010 for US and will be waaay too pricey to buy first year.

Anyway, so then I remembered the Saturns. I definately want a wagon for more space for more baby stuff but still want higher than 30MPG (the 50 in the Festy is spoiling me).

So my question is, looking around my area, I see SW2's going for anywhere from $500 to $2000. I definately want a manual because I just don't trust older automatics (or any automatics really) and thankfully most are.

The question is though, will a seemingly 'ok' cared for '96-'98 SW2 5speed for ~$1200-1600 with ~150k-180k seem like it will last me well for 2-3 years? At what milage do you start to worry? Like will 180k have a 50/50 shot of going 30k over 2-3 years? I know they have timing chains but interference engines worry me.

Also there's a '95 SW2 5speed with newer clutch and pretty ok looking for $500 and the cheapster in me really wants it, but it has 240k miles. Is this a major worry? Have people hit 300k with these? 200k seems more than doable, but where should I really really start to worry? Will the $500-1000 I save by getting the $500 be enough for most repairs/etc I run in to in 3 years or do you guys think I've got an 80% shot at catostrophic failure?

I know I could just replace the timing chain and remove most doubt, but that's a lot of work, I really want to try driving and forgetting about most maintance for 2-3 years.

Also what about mods? I know about the 5th gear swap and seems like good bang for buck, but will doing that and cruising in 5th at 35MPH put undo strain on the old engine? I mean I know how to not strain and engine and can tell when I am and the Festiva is an underpowered 200k+ something as well.

What about WAI? How much does this shorten life? I think I'm just leaning toward being happy with the 33MPG or whatever it'll get stock as long as it greatly decreases my chances of problems.

Thoughts, questions, joyous outbursts?

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Old 02-11-2009, 10:52 AM   #2
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We've got 3 saturns. '96, '97, '02. 2 autos, 1 manual.

The manual had 3 months of abuse at the dragstrip (30-50 runs, 1/4 mile) when I was in high school. Went through 3 transmission and 1 clutch.

That was about 75K miles - the clutch was replaced along with the 1st tranny, so the current one has over 70 passes on it plus the miles. I'm now at 135K miles and the engine's still going strong on 10W40 (bottom's a wee bit loose - started last year) and the clutch will slip if you hammer it up an onramp or go heavy on the gas in 4rth or 5th to get out of the way of a speeding semi.

I've replaced the front and rear O2 sensors, the coolant temp sensor, and routine maintnence. The automatics have had basic routine maintence.

I like 'em. Cheap, easy to work on, easy to get good highway mileage (SG is clocking me at 42mpg highway right now - DOHC "high performance" engine, manual, no cruise control) and very respectable city mileage. Replacement parts are easily found and cheap. Insurance is cheap, design is (mostly) well thought out on replacement of parts and systems.

I used to have a 94 automatic that was treating me great till I fell asleep at the wheel and totaled it in '02.

So, 4 saturns, 3 drivers. We don't seriously look at any other vehicles except the S series of cars now, specifically 96+ SL and SW series and 97+ SC series. The earlier years had very shabby rattling interiors and lacked gutter rails, so you'd get drenched when you opened your door and it was raining a little.

Democracy is two wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for dinner. Liberty is a well armed sheep contesting that decision.

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Old 02-11-2009, 11:17 AM   #3
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My sister in law has a 99 SC2 with the SOHC 1.9L. She got it a good deal on it a year ago because it had a cracked head (you could even see the crack under the valve cover near where the upper rad hose was attached). I put a good (machine shop checked) head on it and it cracked as I was torquing it down- in the exact same spot as the other one. It turned out that the block was warped so much that it would crack the heads that were put on it. I put a "certified" used engine in it and she gets 38-39 mpg on the highway in summer (auto trans- it has roller type hydraulic rockers).

It seems to be a great little car now- but stay away from anything with a frothy oil filler cap (this means head problems).
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Old 02-11-2009, 08:53 PM   #4
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my sister had a 96SC2, we think it blew a piston at 142,000 miles. was driving up a hill then heard a bang then oil spewing everywhere, did a compression test one cyl had zero comrepssion. took the head off and it seemed normal(no dropped valves) and it sounded OK when it was running but burned oil like mad (huge blue cloud following you)

but we bought it used so who knows what abuse it had before us and knowing my sisters driving (all or no pedal) it prolly couldnt have helped

weve put over 30K miles on a 86 celebrity thats rusted out beyond belief sounds like a weedwhacker, a popcorn maker and a 3year old with a frying pan when its running but its been like that for over 2 years and still drives and runs in all weather and still manages 25 for a 4 cyl 3speed auto...
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Old 02-12-2009, 05:31 AM   #5
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I have a '94 SL2 auto and I love it.

If my car was totaled today, I'd start looking for another of the same.

But these cars are notorious for burning oil! Check it regularly.

-Bob C.
Think you are saving gas? Prove it by starting a Gas Log, then conduct a proper experiment.
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Old 02-12-2009, 06:54 PM   #6
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Mostly because they don't have a lot of return holes for the oil under the oil control rings.

If you use a high quality oil and filter and keep up on regular changes, you won't burn much, if any oil. We have 3 of them - none burn oil.
Democracy is two wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for dinner. Liberty is a well armed sheep contesting that decision.

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Old 02-13-2009, 06:48 AM   #7
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Ok, so you don't think I should be too worried? I just looked again and close to me I have a '96, '97, 98 for $1500-2000 all with about 160k on them.

Or I aslo have two '95 SW2's, one for $500 with 240k and one for $700 with 160k on body, 30k on used engine and new clutch. This one sounds pretty well maintained to me, but he is a bit further away.

Are there any common problems like the timing chain or gears going? Should I replace these right away just to be safe?

How much will I really hate the '95? I mean for the price difference it'd be nice to put a new timing chain, oil, tires and some money aside for future issues and have spent $1000 rather than $1500 for similar milage (plus I'll know I just fixed some possible issues, etc).
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Old 02-13-2009, 06:59 AM   #8
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I personally would get a 96 or newer since you have choices since it has obd2 and you can use the scanguage.

also, I personally like the ones with lower mileage and that have original engine/drive train. you don't know if they put it in right or not on the one that has been changed. they may have done an awesome job....they may not have.

spend a little more money now to avoid a headach in the future.

there again, just my 2 cent.
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Old 05-31-2010, 08:45 PM   #9
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I own a '96 SC1 and really like the cars. We've owned three S cars so far and think the S series was the best cars Saturn built. I bought the current car inoperable for $300 and found that it had spun two bearings when I took it apart. I went through the whole engine(including putting drain holes in each piston by the oil rings for drainage)and have driven it about 10k miles since. I'm getting close to 44 mpg. with it without even trying and hope to get even better mileage when I get my new scangauge in a few days. Here in Minnesota we really appreciate the plastic panels because rust is always a problem. My car looks really nice yet. My only complaint is how tough it is to get into. I'm almost 6'4" and it's a chore to tuck myself in. Once I'm in I'm fine for my daily 22 mile commute. I don't see myself selling the car in the near future because of the terrific mileage and decent looks. Plus, it's all American!
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Old 06-01-2010, 04:55 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by jeep45238 View Post
...If you use a high quality oil and filter and keep up on regular changes, you won't burn much, if any oil. We have 3 of them - none burn oil.

I've tried everything in mine and the oil useage has wondered a bit, use more/use less, but eventually it just gets worse. I've ran most all the "good" suggested additives, done MMO soaks, kerosene soaks, Restore, BG44k, Seafoam.... no change. I've used full syn, high mileage, and SAE oil... no change. Maybe its just THIS particular car but would agree with me that most/all OEM Saturn 1.9L engines will burn oil.

I would be weary of a 150k+ S-series. Most people dump an s-series (or any old car) when they worry too much about it soon causing them major expense or when it has had a few recent big problems/costly repairs. All that being said, I wouldn't fear the timing chain at all. IMHO, an auto will have probably been driven easier/lower RPM, so if finances are very tight, I might considering that as a bonus for getting an auto over a manual... but really you just never know.

I've got two. The '01 SL1 is my future car, though I purchased it already and have it sitting in the garage waiting for the day my '96 SL2 dies or I decide to re-ring it.

I can't speak for WAI causing any issues. Only issue mine caused was keeping my wallet nice and heavy with all the money I was saving on gas after I installed it. It should be said however, that my oil consumption was on the rise before the installation of the WAI, and after the installation the oil useage did continue to get worse.... that doesn't mean the WAI caused more oil useage, but there's no evidence saying it didn't either. Take that how you will.

Your new hobby right now is to register at and read, learn, and ask questions.

My rear o2 sensor is dead right now and has been for a while, 7 or 8 months. I'm still averaging 29-30mpg on my gaslog 90 day average, other mods are simple and include 50psi in tires, HAI, and SGII that really serves me no purpose anymore other than to clear my SES light and watch IAT's.

As for repairs, the only thing I'd worry about is how bad the oil use is, motor mounts (cheap/easy fix), if the water pump is original at 150K miles ($30 and 3 hours of your time to replace), and if you get an auto - fear the reverse slam issue (but it does have lots of easy "fixes") but that can be fixed for $40-50 (new fluid, filter, additive) and a few hours usually. If you get a manual, don't pop the clutch or you'll snap diff pins.

I love my saturn(s) for how easy and cheap they are to repair. I bought the '01 SL1 just to sit and wait for when the time comes that my '96 can't be driven anymore I'll have a great car to replace it with... because its almost the same car.

'09 Saturn Aura 2.4L
'94 Chevy Camaro Z28 (5.7L 6sp)
'96 Chevy C1500 (5.0L 5sp)
'08 Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom
'01 KTM Duke 2
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