By on February 17, 2014

TTAC’s own Ronnie Schreiber writes:

My mom’s ’02 Saturn’s SL1 power locks freak out sometimes, sounds like solenoids are having spasms. I’ll go to lock or unlock them and they’ll start fluttering. Sometimes slamming a door will stop it.

My guess is that there’s a dirty switch somewhere, might be weather related too because it started happening in late autumn. It was easier to diagnose things when they didn’t use logic circuits for everything.

Sajeev answers:

Slamming the door will stop it?

Perhaps the sales pitch where a Saturn salesperson hits the door with a baseball bat wasn’t such a bright idea after all?

Just kidding.

After some googling on the Saturn forums, this is a common problem.  That said, this shockingly thorough post covers my two possible faults: a bad relay or a busted switch. Considering the door slam fix, the switch is bad.

Much like a well-worn record, the internal (copper) connections in switches can wear out over time. Or the springy action of the button can disappear, making it activate when least expected.  Considering the quality of GM interiors from this era, a worn out switch is also more likely than a bad relay.

So I’d disconnect the driver’s side power lock switch and see if the problem comes back.  If it does, attack the relays in the link above.  If not, there are plenty of new door lock switches on eBay for dirt cheap. I saw a brand new switch for $22…$27 shipped.  Nice.

Done and done: off to you, Best and Brightest.

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice. 

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22 Comments on “Piston Slap: Spastic Saturn’s Spacey Door Locks?...”


  • avatar
    fredtal

    Which brings up the point that everyone should be reading the forum for their car.

  • avatar

    Yep, replace the drivers side power door lock switch, or compare them to each other. My guess is one will feel ‘loose’ and the other will feel crisp(ish) and have a defninte feel to the action.

    Replaced lots of them on an ex-gf’s saturn. they are the same from side to side if you pop them out of their plastic bezel.

  • avatar
    jpolicke

    I read the procedure in the link..to fix a Saturn, you take off the OUTER door panel?? Wow, those cars really are weird. I also like the classy way the lock actuator is riveted to the door, saving GM untold millions over those pesky threaded fasteners.

    Saturn, gone and unlamented.

    • 0 avatar
      segfault

      I don’t see how it would be possible to take off the exterior door panel without removing the interior trim. Maybe they meant removing the outermost interior panel, rather than the vapor barrier or whatever is underneath it?

      Using rivets to mount the door lock actuator is hilarious, though.

      • 0 avatar
        fredtal

        Rivets are better than screws that come loose. Especially when used in a area that is not easy to access and does not have to be replaced often.

        • 0 avatar
          segfault

          (Sometimes) not easy to access, doesn’t have to be replaced often… Hey, they could just rivet the battery terminals to the battery! :P

        • 0 avatar
          Power6

          Typical old GM, they used rivets to mount window regulators in my G-body Grand National, to replace you drill them out, repair part comes with bolts/nuts. Same with ball joints on the J-Body too.

          • 0 avatar
            ajla

            Yep, rivets all over the place on my GM vehicles of that era.

          • 0 avatar
            MBella

            Unfortunately many manufacturers use rivets to hold on window regulators and door lock actuators. It’s not just a GM thing. Although I will say the one time I had to replace a window regulator on a Cavalier, the rivets were so unnecessarily hard. It’s like they spent all their money on the hardest rivets possible, and that left no money for the rest of the car.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      Plastic body panels means you can’t use them as a foundation point for anything, so it’s easier to design it as a removable skin. Smart car is the same way.

    • 0 avatar

      There’s a bunch of torq screws that hold the skin on, had to replace a window motor on a 98 SL1 and took the skin off it. you don’t need to remove the inner panel but I did anyway thinking that it was going to be easier.. turned out easier to skin the door.

      Rivets hold lots of door parts on not just GM, but Ford, Chrysler, Volvo, Toyota..etc… they hold up better than nuts and bolts that can rattle loose due to using the door as well a door rather than a jar.

      Aside from junky plastics inside, they are pretty well built cars, just not terribly comfortable cars, and they do have a penchant for burning oil, but keep them topped off with fluids and they will last forever. I see more of them still on the road than their contemporaries around here.

    • 0 avatar
      lon888

      Those darned Germans used the hell out of rivets. Everything in the door (window regulators, speakers, you name it) is riveted on my 2012 VW GTI. The only advantage I see is that it does prevent rattling due to loose threaded fasteners.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    I’ve read over the years SC/SL Saturns have issues with both power windows and power locks. These cars have an established online following, always check the forums when your 91-02 Saturn is acting up.

  • avatar
    vcficus

    Nice of GM to do the IMPOSSIBLE and set up a whole new brand which got import buyer conquests and set up a new pricing model… their owners were so loyal they had freakin’ picnics at the assembly plant!!!

    Oh, don’t bother spending any money on the content… you need to listen to all those Chevrolet dealers who hate Saturn and want you to spend your money convincing Toyota Celica owners to buy a new Cavalier!!!

    I don’t even blame Wagoner as much anymomre… it’s that potted plant GM Board of Directors who should have been taken out and beaten.

    Oh, let’s take that spare change we’re saving on Saturn new models and go buy SAAB… we’ll be able to manage that brand well too.

    Maybe Fiat needs a diesel partner… oh no they don’t, let’s pay them $2 billion to not talk to us anymore.

    Was ANYONE watching these clowns in action? I’m SO GLAD GMI changed their name to Kettering… Boss Kettering can’t at least come back to life and embarrass me the way the General has.

  • avatar
    healthy skeptic

    My buddy’s ’94 Acura Legend had spastic door locks. For the first couple of minutes after you turned on the car, the locks on all four doors would flutter relentlessly. I called them his “humping door locks”. But after a couple of minutes, they would finish up and stop, presumably to smoke a cigarette.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    Well, if some consider the word ‘retard’ as an offensive term. How do you define ‘spastic’.

    It doesn’t offend me. Just some of you blogger’s that forwarded a complaint about my use of language should not be so ‘selective’ or discriminatory.

    The difference between myself and yourself is I’m open minded, ie, more liberal and accepting of the world and what the world offers. This doesn’t discriminate as much.

    Maybe you aren’t so pure yourselves, just, maybe you consider yourself elitist and myself parvenu and not as superficial as you puritans.

  • avatar
    CompWizrd

    Sounds familiar.. GM had some really dodgy power lock and window switches back then and earlier. I got used to having to change them every couple years, even kept a spare unit in the glovebox.

  • avatar
    chicagoland

    Just junk that Saturn. Being 12 years old, and the last SL, parts will dry up sooner than later. With better, newer cars from mid 2000′s coming into the beater market, best to junk garbage that won’t sell.

  • avatar
    scottcom36

    Funny, my 16 year old Panasonic head unit died when the volume buttons lost their spring. I’d hit a bump and it would go to full blast.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    Well, if slamming the door fixes the problem (temporarily), why bother spending money until the switch is absolutely, positively broken? Just keep slamming until the switch has to be replaced, and keep your money in your insured savings account earning 0.004% interest.


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