Well, better late than never. I did get my Saturn running again. Due to weather, parts delays and misdiagnosis I spent a lot more time and money than I planned or had to, but she does seem to be in good shape now. Although the timing chain was still in place and looked OK, I replaced it. I actually did the whole timing set replacement, which includes chain, crank sprocket, two cam sprockets, fixed guide, top guide, adjustable guide and chain tensioner.
The timing chain alone costs about 50 bucks and the whole set was 150. I briefly considered just getting the chain to cut down on costs that I had already put into this high mileage car, but then realized how stupid that would be. Closer inspection of the old timing set parts also revealed clearly that they were totally worn out and the reason for my jumping chain. The adjustable timing guide was made out of some kind of hard plastic and had deep grooves in it. The guide at the top of the timing loop which must control chain jump between the cam sprockets was also damaged. I thought it was just metal, but when installing the new one I realized there was supposed to be a hard plastic contact service that clipped on. This had worn so badly on the old one it had broken off. I had seen a piece of it early on in the job after I had removed the valve cover, but didn’t realize at the time what is was. Once I realized it had broken apart in the engine, I did as one of the commentators on your blog suggested and removed the oil pan to look for the rest. I did find some, but not enough to reconstruct the whole piece. I am hoping most of the rest of it had already left the car during previous oil changes.
I had a brief scare after putting the car mostly back together. I ran a preliminary compression check with the newly installed timing set and had expected/hoped to see vastly improved compression values. Although they were better than before and one cylinder was a bit above 100 psi…they were not good. After calming myself from a brief panic, I decided to put the rest of the car back together in the hopes my compressions were just bad, because the car had been sitting so long. That proved to be the case as it fired right up. Checking the compression again after the engine was warmed up gave me values for all four cylinders between 170 and 190 psi.
I am now in Calhoun, GA having driven the car from Maryland with no issues. I will be traveling onto my end goal of Texas in a few days. I anticipate no further difficulties on the journey, but if I have any, I’ll be sure to drop you a line.
Thanks for the help!
This website (and others) occasionally stuff our comments section with the notion that America is full of auto-wieners that wouldn’t know a master cylinder from a smog pump, and never did an oil change in their lives.
Dave and is Saturn L-series Wagon is proof to the contrary.
Too bad neither him nor I knew to ask Google the right keywords about the Saturn’s initial diagnostic failure. Sorry about that. I had no idea it has the same colossal timing chain failure of the Cadillac Catera. Thanks to the Best and Brightest, we (collectively) nailed it. A question remains: does Dave have any compensation/recourse because this was a recalled item?
Thanks Dave, your epic roadtrip to Texas gives me a lot of faith in automotive humanity. If Houston is in your travel plans, dinner is on me.
Send your queries to firstname.lastname@example.org . Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.