Here’s what I got: 2002 Saturn L200 156000 miles bought new. Excellent car no problems whatsoever, maintained precisely. Question about timing chain scuttlebutt. Should I change it preventatively , switch to synthetic oil, or just do not worry about?
NHSTA stats report only 7 incident per 1000 of the non-recalled vehicles. Also if chain busts does it just bend valves or can it cause piston damage. Appreciate any advice.
Much like our last reader with some admirable Saturn L-love, I wholly appreciate someone who can love a cool car that most will simply toss aside. And most Saturns (save for the ION) had a lot of family friendly cool going for them, and the L-series is high on my list. My fav is the original Saturn SC2 coupe in a delicious bronze, or brown (natch)!
Oooooh yeah, what a shape! So anyway…
I’m not thrilled with the idea of changing a recalled part on a non-recalled vehicle. While the repercussions are stiff (these are interference motors), finding a decent replacement engine from an automotive recycler is a great option. More on that later.
Switch to synthetic oil? Probably not a bad idea. At this age and mileage, gaskets might leak because of the switch to an oil with different molecular properties (for lack of a better phrase) but I don’t know. I suspect this car is a “keeper” so make the switch.
About interference engines: often the valves just bend, because the inertia (weight and velocity) of the pistons will literally slap the valves around like a little punk kid. That’s not to say that piston damage cannot occur, especially since a chunk of piston can fly out, and rip apart the cylinder wall. Ouch.
But most modern engines are “throwaways” because of the expense of machine shops and replacing the torque-to-yield bolts. And when you add the ease and affordability of modern on-line junkyards, it’s a done deal. I spotted several good replacement engines for under $1000 at car-part.com.
So don’t spend hundreds fixing the timing chain when you can get a lower mileage replacement, replace the timing chain/gaskets, and get it done for less than $2000.\
I am getting rightly slammed for my piss-poor advice, so I’m gonna flip-flop on the issue like (insert politician’s name here). Change the timing chain with the recalled part. It’s a big improvement over the original design, something I completely overlooked. While you’re in there, maybe throw a new water pump and fresh rubber hoses/vacuum lines or anything else you unbolt to get to the timing chain.
Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.