The Truth About Cars » Saturn The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 17 Jul 2014 18:06:11 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Saturn Piston Slap: Eye On Ignition Safety Recalls? Mon, 16 Jun 2014 12:20:06 +0000 Don't take it to the Red Line! (photo courtesy:

Bruce writes:


A couple of years ago my son bought a 2004 Saturn Ion sedan from a friend of ours. It has about 90,000 miles on the clock and ran fine…until I insisted that he bring it in and get the ignition recall done. A few weeks after the recall work was completed, he was driving on 2 lane road at about 40 miles per hour and the car competely shut down…no power steering, weak power brakes. He was glad he wasn’t going faster & he wrestled the car into a parking lot, let it sit for a while, restarted it and drove home. He called the local GM dealership and they downplayed the incident and told him to bring it in at his convenience.

Now I’m really scared for him. Any advice?

Sajeev answers:

Oh dear. I guess this corner of TTAC couldn’t remain silent on the ignition recall debacle forever. That said, your letter makes me wonder if there’s another problem on this 10-ish year old machine: the Saturn had to “sit for a while” before starting back up?

Are you absolutely, positively sure the ignition switch is to blame?

Bruce replies:

Not sure yet. I’m wondering if they even replaced the switch in the first place. Poor 24 y.o. kid doesn’t have $ to buy another car so he’s stuck with this one. He called Saturn 800 number at my insistence and Saturn called his local Chevy dealer and the service mgr called him and scheduled an appt. The first ignition repair took 2 months and he enjoyed an Altima, which was fine with him, lol. According to Saturn, he’s eligible for another rental. The saga continues….Thanks Sajeev!

Sajeev concludes:

The worst thing you can do now is stress out: nothing good comes from stress when you’re detached from the repair process. That said, I am not a father: I couldn’t possibly understand your anguish. But I can say the problem isn’t hidden in some file cabinet, locked in a dark room in the RenCen. Everyone is watching and there’s a system in place to fix the problem.

Every company goes into super-customer-service-savvy crisis mode in times like these. And here’s the plan to mitigate the crisis:

And this is cold comfort to you, sadly. A high level infographic isn’t reassuring when you must go through the steps again.  Luckily GM is willing to put your son in another rental, just make sure your son does step #1 and #2 until he’s in that rental.

Then have the dealer report back with a diagnosis.  If you don’t like the diagnosis/resolution…well, perhaps we should just hope that the problem is found and fixed. Running through the plethora of scenarios only increases the stress level, it doesn’t help one iota.

How would you handle this, Best and Brightest?

]]> 29
Junkyard Find: 1997 Saturn SC2, With Rare Badass Flame Job Option Mon, 02 Jun 2014 13:00:19 +0000 10 - 1997 Saturn SC2 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinEven though the Saturn S-Series has been one of the most common vehicle types in American self-service wrecking yards for at least the past decade, I’ve always walked right past the SCs and SLs when I’m looking for vehicles to photograph for this series. The rise and fall of the Saturn marque is a fascinating story, and the S-Series spent much of the 1990s being driven by fanatically devoted owners who appreciated the distinctly un-GM-like experience of buying their cars. The SC2 has been one of the quicker and more reliable cars in 24 Hours of LeMons racing as well, but even that wasn’t enough to make me raise my camera when I passed a whole row of the things at U-Wrench-It. It took this red ’97, with its metalflake flame job peeking through the snow at a Denver yard this winter, to give us a Saturn Junkyard Find.
15 - 1997 Saturn SC2 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin
Someone loved this car, but then it got wrecked hard enough to render it not worth fixing.
16 - 1997 Saturn SC2 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinPerhaps King Credit has an in-house staff of flame painters, who apply flames to any vaguely sporty car that shows up in their inventory.
03 - 1997 Saturn SC2 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe flames are executed very nicely, with clean edges, gold pinstriping, and generous application of metalflake.
07 - 1997 Saturn SC2 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinI didn’t feel like freezing my fingers to lift the hood and verify that the twin-cam engine was there, but I’m assuming that nobody would bother to paint such beautiful flames on a lowly SC1.
13 - 1997 Saturn SC2 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThough I’d also say the same thing about an automatic car, and so perhaps I’m wrong and this car is a single-cam SC1. It has been crushed by now, so we’ll never know.
14 - 1997 Saturn SC2 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinAbout 10,000 miles per year during the course of its life, so this car’s owners got their money’s worth before the big crash.

01 - 1997 Saturn SC2 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 1997 Saturn SC2 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1997 Saturn SC2 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1997 Saturn SC2 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1997 Saturn SC2 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1997 Saturn SC2 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1997 Saturn SC2 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 1997 Saturn SC2 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1997 Saturn SC2 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1997 Saturn SC2 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1997 Saturn SC2 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 1997 Saturn SC2 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 1997 Saturn SC2 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 1997 Saturn SC2 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 1997 Saturn SC2 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 16 - 1997 Saturn SC2 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 17 - 1997 Saturn SC2 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 18 - 1997 Saturn SC2 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 19 - 1997 Saturn SC2 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin ]]> 27
Hammer Time: Batter Up! Fri, 16 May 2014 11:00:23 +0000 pitch

The bases are loaded and the score is tied. Two outs in the bottom of ninth. 3 balls. 1 strike.

You know this pitcher better than you know your brother. The last pitch had almost cleared the left field pole, and the entire stadium. Your swing was as beautiful as Mickey Mantle in his prime. Just a few inches to the right and you would have been on your way to a private party with friends instead of another walk back to the batter’s box.

The catcher signals, and you catch one finger out of the very corner of your eye. Fastball. The pitch comes, right down the middle. It’s almost like a dream and yet, you can’t do anything about it.

The stomach pangs in stress and anguish as the rest of your body remains still. You watch it go past. The thud in the catcher’s mitt. The umpire bellowing, “Stttaaarrriiikkeee!!!” Your manager had told you not to swing and now, you have 50,000 fans booing as you curse under the breath and step away from the batters box.

Will you get a pitch that good again? The pitcher grins as he now knows, his mistake ended up giving him an advantage.

This is how I felt yesterday afternoon. That manager who I wanted to fire was a neighbor who I had bought a car for nearly eight years ago. A four year old Cadillac Seville with only 26,000 miles, a CPO warranty still in effect, and the exact color they wanted for all of $12,600. It was nearly $4000 less than what the nearby dealer had offered for the same type of vehicle. Except his was a year older and had 10k miles with no warranty at all.

For 8 years they had been happy with it being their retirement vehicle. A lot of long-distance trabeling and one of my mechanics ensured that the vehicle would stay in good running order. No Northstar engine issues. A couple of oil leaks around the 100k mark. but nothing out of the ordinary given what it was. They were happy, and I was happy for them.

Then a Solara driven by an idiot decided to make a turn going against traffic and…. bam!…. hospital visit and totaled car.

The good news was that the folks were okay. Bad news? All the airbags did their job and a 12 year old Seville wasn’t a prime candidate for the replacement of this safety equipment and the surrounding sheetmetal. The car was totaled. There was some soreness. An honest apology from the bad driver, and another page for everyone would be turned.

I get the call that evening, “Steve, someone just totaled out the car. We’re at the hospital”

“Is everyone OK?”

“Kinda. Our friends are about 80 and they were shaken up a bit. A little sore. But no broken bones. Can you come up to the hospital and pick us up?”

“Sure. I’ll be right there.” I palmed the keys to a nearby 2003 Camry and made my way against rush-hour traffic to the hospital.

It took a couple of hours to get discharged. Since there was no bleeding or dying, there would be a lot of waiting. I parked at a nearby church where my wife teaches Sunday school and made the long trudge to the hospital.

“Is everything OK with ya’ll?”

An older lady was resting on a bed and my neighbors, along with an elderly stranger, were waiting for their turn.

“We’ll be fine. But chances are Manda will need a couple of days of rest before heading back to Ohio.”

I became a good listener for the next half hour. Eventually the subject came to their next car.

“Can you help us find a Malibu?”

Sure, what are you looking for?

“We thought we would get another silver car with leather. Two years old. Maybe around $10,000.”

“I hate to say it, but you’ll be waiting for another two years to get that type of car, if you’re lucky.”

“So what do you think we should get?”

A tricky question, and I had to wait a moment to formulate the right response. These people were conservative in tastes, and I knew that I would be dealing with folks who wanted a showhorse car at the same workhorse price I got eight years ago. That deal was a lightning strike, and the auction market is a lot more competitive in 2014 than it was in 2006.

“Go ahead and when you feel able, just go to a dealership and test drive a few vehicles. See what you like and let me know.”

This turned out to be a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that it shocked them back into the reality of modern day car prices. Everything cost a lot more these days. The curse came from them testing cars with cloth interiors they didn’t like, and leather interiors that they thought were the bee’s knees.

“Can you get us a 2010 Buick Lucerne or LaCrosse for around 10k?”

I sighed with my eyes, “Yes, but the reality is a one owner car that has been maintained at a dealership and has a perfect Carfax goes for a stiff premium at the auctions. If you want to buy a clean car, you have to pay a clean book price.”

I showed them the clean Manheim Market Report prices for those two vehicles.

“Well, we can handle a few dings here and there…”

Baloney! Folks who insist on leather for a late-model vehicle aren’t going to tolerate scratches and scuffs. They want the perfect car, and that’s perfectly fine. But there is a price for that.

It’s called the clean book value.

I decided to browse a bit as my neighbors were busy debating each other about the car when, I found it. The perfect car.


A 2007 Saturn Aura XE in the same color silver as their old Cadillac. It had half the miles of their totaled Seville (68k vs. 136k). The 07 Aura had also been reconditioned by two dealerships that I like to buy from because they don’t scrimp on getting their vehicles front-line ready.

One owner. No accidents. Extensive service history. This would very likely be the best car at the auction that day.

“Hmmm… well that’s interesting. Can you tell me about it?”


I showed them the Wikipedia listing. I explained to them that the 3.5 liter engine and four-speed automatic transmission were the same one used in my wife’s old Malibu Maxx that they had liked so much. I told them that Saturn was now an orphan brand, but any GM dealer can service these vehicles and that this vehicle would likely be at least a thousand or so cheaper than the Buick since Saturns are no longer bought by most of the major auto-finance dealerships.


Nobody shops around for a Saturn anymore.

“Yeah, but I’m not sure I want a Saturn.”

“Okay, well I’ll pull out the Carfax and let you read a few of the reviews from actual owners. I gotta eat with the family. Let me know what works.”

An hour later I got the news that I was anticipating…

“Barbara really wants to get the Buick. Just keep your eyes open, and if you find one, let us know.”

The next day the Saturn sold at the auction for $7500 plus a $200 auction fee. Throw in my $500 fee, and they could have bought the Saturn underneath the clean wholesale value. It would have been an easy slam dunk.


Instead, I wound up buying an 03 Volvo S80 in silver with 130k miles for just under $3000. A re-man transmission was put in it only 2,000 miles ago and the car just got the belt changed at 122k. The only reason why I was able to get it was because the alternator was weak, and only 1 of the other 108 dealers took the time to look at the history.


Most long-time dealers just assume these Volvos were traded-in for a bad transmission. Plus Volvos tend to be slow moving, but this one has the right color and recent maintenance history for a finance deal. I’ll take my chances.

I hated to see that Saturn go by though. It was the perfect car with the perfect everything else. Will I get another nice easy fastball down the middle? Eventually I will. Unfortunately, my chance to swing at it now depends on two managers who are probably still busy bickering with each other.


That Aura will now be showcased by a dealer in Alabama. So what about you though? Has there ever been a car that you knew would be the perfect fit? But someone, somewhere, decided otherwise?




]]> 86
Question Of The Day : What If You Could Resurrect A Dying Or Dead Brand? Tue, 06 May 2014 16:21:57 +0000 oldvolvo

I made my first small fortune in this business selling old Volvos.

I started way back in the mid-2000‘s when I got downright militant about outbidding anyone on an older rear-wheel drive Volvo. In one year, 2007 to be exact, I managed to buy at least one Volvo every year from 1983 all the way to 2004.

I loved the Volvo brand as their rear wheel drive cars represented the perfect mix of comfort, safety and functionality. The discontinued 240, 740 and 940 were insanely easy to sell and cheap to buy; especially the wagons.

These Volvos usually had a history of conservative owners who took their cars to the dealership or Volvo specialized shops for service. Repairs were easy and reasonable thanks to long model runs and parts that were as common as kudzu at any Georgia junkyard.

The used car side of the Volvo brand represented a big fat target where young families, hipsters, Camry-oriented shoppers, and the still common Brick enthusiast could all find a Volvo worth keeping. I followed that tune of demand and soon became a daily reader at Brickboard, Swedespeed, and several other well known sites for Volvo aficionados. I was hooked.

Then I became unhooked.

The seeds of Volvo’s destruction started out as an opportunity for me. Owners began to trade in Volvo S70′s and V70′s from 99′ upwards due to a malfunctioning electronic throttle module. At the sales I would see these vehicles being sold AS/IS, buy them ridiculously cheap, and then take them to the Volvo dealer to get their software upgrade. Eventually Volvo did the right thing by extending the coverage to 10 years and 200,000 miles. However, as Volvos began to develop other issues such as lifetime fluids that weren’t so, and parts failures that were as cheaply made as they were expensive to fix at the dealerships, the marketability of these vehicles nosedived to the point of near irrelevance.

The Volvo S40 was a world-class blunder. The Volvo S60 and S80 were left to rot on the vine of Ford’s neglect along with the V70 and C70. The Volvo XC90 may have represented the brand’s only solid hit for the entire decade as the MBA marketeers at the Premier Automotive Group decided to make Volvo into a downright ridiculous alternative to BMW.

Volvo wasn’t alone in the quixotic pursuit for a more ‘upscale’ brand identity. Oldsmobile was positioned as an import fighter. Mercury tried to become a premium brand as well, and marketed heavily towards women, while Lincoln redefined American luxury in a way that no one outside of Dearborn could quite understand.

The list of failed brands stretches long since the Y2K era. Plymouth. Isuzu. Saturn. Hummer. As proof of their deadness in the retail marketplace, most independent dealerships that specialize in financing won’t even buy these brands… along with Volvo, Mercury and Lincoln.

You can’t sell a dead brand, unless you were maybe a successful overseas manufacturer trying to crack the American market. Or maybe the CEO of Ford or GM. Let’s assume that the perfect world exists. A place where you could choose your brand and launch your products without worrying about money. Consider yourself old GM, a newbie at Tesla, whatever you like.

What brand would you choose to resurrect?

]]> 265
GM Divides Engineering Division, Faces More Recall Woes Wed, 23 Apr 2014 14:00:00 +0000 gm-headquarters-logo-opt

Automotive News reports General Motors has split its engineering division in two, with executives Ken Kezler and Kenneth Morris becoming vice presidents of global vehicle components and subsystems and global product integrity, respectively. The split also means vice president of (what was) global vehicle engineering, John Calabrese will retire, though the retirement is alleged to not be linked with the ongoing recall crisis. The immediate changes are the result of the ongoing review of the ignition switch issue affecting the company since early this year, with the aim of flagging potential safety problems within a product sooner than when the division was united. GM product chief Mark Reuss proclaimed the new divisions “would have expedited a whole bunch of things” had they been in place earlier.

The new divisions may have been established too late, however, as Bloomberg reports the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is readying a new investigation into the automaker, this time involving the brake systems in the 2014 Chevrolet Impala. The probe comes from a report by an owner who experienced several incidences linked to the car’s driver-assist technologies, including one where the collision-avoidance system brought the car to a halt despite no traffic ahead of the vehicle, leading to a rear-end collision instead. The investigation is expected to affect around 60,580 Impalas, and GM is cooperating with the agency in the probe.

In addition, both GM and the NHTSA may find themselves under the gun once more. According to CNN Money, the recall issued in late March affecting 1.3 million Saturn Ions between 2004 and 2007 regarding power-steering issues is the second recall to have taken over a decade to resolve. The agency first received word of the Ion’s problems in 2004, with an investigation opened in 2011 after 4,800 complaints and 30,000 warranty claims were filed, while the automaker didn’t include the Ions in a 2010 power-steering recall despite the Saturn sharing the same part as those affected.

Reuters reports Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut is interested in bringing in former GM CEOs before the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee over the main recall, especially Dan Akerson, who passed the torch to current CEO Mary Barra in late December of 2013, approximately a month before the recall began. Whether this happens will be up to Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, who is in charge of scheduling hearings and selecting who will testify before the committee.

Finally, GM itself filed a motion before the Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York earlier this week, asking the court to reinforce the liability protections established when the automaker left bankruptcy, forcing those whose lawsuits came prior to July 2009 to take their fight to “Old GM.” On the other side, the plaintiffs seeking to collect damages from “New GM” over “Old GM’s” negligence filed a proposed class action lawsuit that would prevent GM from using the protections. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Gerber issued an order for a procedural conference May 2 to determine course of action moving forward, proclaiming “no substantive matters will be decided” during the conference.

]]> 11
Dealers Still Waiting For Replacements, DeGiorgio Linked To Original Design And Upgrade Mon, 14 Apr 2014 14:00:51 +0000 GM ignition diagram

Automotive News reports dealers are still waiting for the ignition switches meant to replace the out-of-spec switch at the center of the ongoing recall crisis at General Motors. The switch was to have arrived at dealerships beginning this week, yet most dealers are in a “holding pattern” on deliveries. Once the parts do arrive, service bays will begin work on affected customer vehicles immediately before turning toward the used lot, where vehicles under the recall are currently parked until the customer vehicles are fixed.

As for GM seeking help from NASA with its woes, however, The Detroit Bureau learned from NASA Deputy Associate Administrator for Communications Bob Jacobs that his employer “is not working with General Motors on its ignition switch issue”; a separate source claimed “low-level” discussions between the two were taking place, but hasn’t gone any further thus far. He added that while NASA would be more than willing to help GM, a formal request would require some coordination between the agency and both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Justice Department so as to not interfere “with their own, ongoing investigations of the GM ignition switch recall.”

Speaking of the Justice Department, Reuters says five senators, including Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Barbara Boxer of California, penned a letter asking Attorney General Eric Holder to “intervene in pending civil actions to oppose any action by GM to deny responsibility for damages”:

We write to request your immediate intervention and assistance on behalf of victims of severe damage – financial harm, physical injury, and death – resulting from serious ignition switch defects in General Motors (‘GM’) cars.

The aforementioned actions may be in reference to the liability shield erected upon the automaker’s 2009 exit from Chapter 11 bankruptcy, where “New GM” is only responsible for the claims linked to the switch from June 2009 forward.

That division within the company may be more of a thin line than a 4-inch-thick steel plate, however, as Autoblog reports an investigation by the House Energy and Commerce Committee uncovered an email exchange between the NHTSA and GM last July to discuss the latter’s “indifferent attitude toward safety issues” face-to-face. The agency cited the automaker’s slow response to urgent matters and preference toward regional recalls over full recalls as two examples of GM not having changed much since leaving bankruptcy.

Bloomberg adds the agency itself didn’t do enough to take GM to task on its attitude toward safety, though, based on a memo unearthed by the committee regarding airbag failures on a number of Chevrolet Cobalts and Saturn Ions with warranty claims being four times’ higher than similar competitors. The decision to investigate those claims was rejected by a review group within the NHTSA, believing the airbag issue “did not stand out” among other incidences of failure.

Automotive News reports the committee also found an email chain that ties GM engineer Ray DeGiorgio — who denied having knowledge of the April 2006 change to the ignition without a change to the part number — with said change. In short: DeGiorgio signed-off on both changes to the spring and plunger to help prevent the slipping issue now linked to 13 fatalities and 33 accidents, as well as on the decision to retain the original number issued to the part he designed for the Saturn Ion as his first project for GM in 2001.

Regarding the Ion, Reuters says the troubled development of the compact vehicle — and the equally troubled relationship between GM and supplier Delphi — may have laid the groundwork for the current recall crisis. The supplier alerted the automaker about the out-of-spec switch, but fearing an embarrassing introduction, money issues, and the possible wrath of then-vice chairman of product development Bob Lutz, GM pressed ahead with the switch as-is.


]]> 21
GM Found Ignition Switch Issues In 2001 With Saturn, Updated Chronology, New Study Shows 303 No-Airbag Deaths [w/ Full Text] Fri, 14 Mar 2014 20:45:57 +0000 DSC_9022
General Motors released their updated chronology to the recall effecting the 2007 and earlier Chevrolet Cobalt and HHR; Pontiac G5 and Solstice; and Saturn Ion and Sky. Most of the new chronology works just to update the document with the expanded recall, but there’s a key update:

During the Saturn Ion development in 2001, a preproduction model had  an ignition cylinder problem that was caused by, you guessed it, “low detent plunger force,” the result being that it takes a low amount of effort to knock the key out of the “run” position.

The 2001 Saturn Ion pre-production report goes on to say that design changes to the ignition cylinder seemingly eliminated the issue. However, in 2003 a report documented an instance where an Ion was brought in for repair, and the technician servicing the car experienced a situation where the Ion stalled while driving, due to the key rotating “off.” The technician noted that “[t]he owner had several keys on the key ring,” and initially thought that “[t]he additional weight of the keys had worn out the ignition switch.” The technician replaced the ignition cylinder, and the report was closed.

As we discussed in previous posts, Technical Service Bulletins (known by GM as Information Service Bulletins, or ISP for short) is the result of several field reports on a common issue, and is eventually entered into a database known as the General Motors Vehicle Information System, or GMVIS for short. ISB’s are not found by a tech unless they are searching for a related issue. Thus, the 2003 example above is an early report that lead to ISB  #05-02-35-007.

Also outlined in the updated chronology deals with Saturn’s  sensing and diagnostic module (“SDM”), which differs from the Cobalt in that it is designed to stop recording once the engine of the car is no longer running. This means that crash data from a Saturn Ion SDM is not as conclusive as a Cobalt’s, which continues to record the ignition position during an accident in which the engine has been turned off.

Despite this, GM believes that the ignition cylinder issue has lead to eight accidents and four fatalities involving a Saturn Ion. At least three accidents involving the Chevrolet HHR can be linked; but no accidents involving a Pontiac Solstice or Saturn Sky have been found by GM. This brings the confirmed number of accidents to 31, and total number of deaths to 13.

The New York Times reports that in a study initiated by the Center for Automotive Safety (“CSA”), a private watchdog group, Friedman Research Corporation analyzed federal crash data and found 303 deaths linked to no airbag deployment in the recall-effected vehicles. The study does not link these no-airbag crashes to the ignition switch maladies, but questions why the NHTSA took so long to react to a mounting problem with the Cobalt and Ion.

In the letter to the NHTSA, CSA states the “NHTSA should have and could have initiated a defect investigation to determine why airbags are not deploying in Cobalts and Ions in increasing numbers.” And GM has began its own internal investigation, hiring former United States attorney for Northern Illinois, Anton Valukas to investigate.

“Research is underway at G.M. and the investigation of the ignition switch recall and the impact of the defective switch is ongoing,” Mr. Martin, the G.M. spokesman, said. “While this is happening, we are doing what we can now to ensure our customers’ safety and peace of mind. We want our customers to know that today’s G.M. is committed to fixing this problem in a manner that earns their trust.”

What have we learned through all of this? The engineers and technicians did their job, and GM had every piece of the puzzle; but as explained in the chronology, each piece was scattered about by an alphabet soup of committees. The review process let us down, both with Delphi’s quality control in the early switches and GM’s internal reaction to the situation. Further investigation will hopefully lead us to fully understanding the error in GM’s review process.

The full text of the updated chronology can be seen here.

]]> 49
GM Adds 588,000 Vehicles To Ignition Recall Wed, 26 Feb 2014 14:41:06 +0000 2007 Saturn Ion Red Line

Originally affecting 780,000 2005 – 2007 Chevrolet Cobalts and Pontiac G5s, General Motors has now added another 588,000 vehicle in a recall to fix ignition switches that can lead to the engine being shut off. So far, 31 crashes and 13 front-seat deaths have been linked to the issue.

Automotive News reports the newly affected models include 2003 through 2007 Saturn Ions and 2006 through 2007 Chevrolet HHRs, Saturn Skys and Pontiac Solstices, bringing the total affected by the recall to 1.37 million.

The problem was first discovered in 2004 as the 2005 Cobalt entered showrooms, though GM took no action until December 2005, when the automaker issued a service bulletin advising dealers to advise their customers to not use heavy or large key chains. GM also offered an insert that would prevent keys from hanging too low or swinging too freely, thus preventing unintended ignition cut-offs.

By MY 2007, supplier Delphi began shipments of an approved replacement switch, followed in February 2009 by a redesign of the key to further reduce the risk of accidental shutdowns from an ill-timed bump. By the time the Cobalt left production in 2010, however, the damage was already done: a cluster of crashes where the ignition switch was bumped from “run” to “accessory” or “off,” disabling the airbag and other power systems (like the steering and vacuum assist for the brakes) prior to each crash. It wasn’t until the end of January of this year — after internal investigations were concluded — that a safety recall was finally issued.

GM North America President Alan Batey said in a statement that though his employer may not have been quick enough in issuing the recall, an issue the National Highway and Traffic Safety Association plans to examine, GM will take “an unflinching look at what happened” regarding the ignition recall, adding that customer safety was No. 1 on their list.

In the meantime, owners are advised to use the ignition with nothing adorning the key until their nearest dealer has a chance to inspect and replace the faulty switch. GM is also working with their suppliers to increase parts output in order to quickly introduce replacements into the chain.

]]> 20
Piston Slap: Spastic Saturn’s Spacey Door Locks? Mon, 17 Feb 2014 13:00:33 +0000

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 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. 

]]> 22
Piston Slap: Bennie Bucks on the Winter Beater? Wed, 27 Nov 2013 13:16:41 +0000

TTAC Commentator 28-Cars-Later writes:


I’ve got a small conundrum for Piston Slap.  Winter is fast approaching and for those of us in the mid-Atlantic states this is a serious affair. My winter beater has been my trusty (but not rusty) ’98 Saturn SL/auto/164K, which in the spring started showing its age and developed transmission issues after seven years (and roughly 80K) of ownership. I’ve let her sit most of the summer save starting her up and driving her around the parking lot every 7-12 days but I’ve been trying to put off the inevitable investment of Bennie bucks. This evening I was offered an ’00 Subaru Outback/auto/186K to replace it for $2500 inc four new cheap tires and inspection.

The prospects of an actual [built in Japan] Japanese wagon are intriguing, the Subaru is 7/10 in terms of condition with some dings and several rust spots, it had no issue starting up and is throwing no codes. The catch is I have zero documentation on the car (was a recent trade) and personally I am leery of all AWD systems regardless of make and model, especially without documentation/receipts. Panning over the engine bay I noticed a newer alternator and a battery stickered 3/12 (with old acid all over the cradle) so somebody (sort of) attempted to take care of the car. Oil was a down 1/4 a quart, coolant was dirty but not caked on or anything, but the kicker was the trans fluid is getting to be brown. I figure whomever recently owned this attempted to take care of it to some degree, but neglected all of the fluid changes, which leads to me to suspect none of the Subie specific maint (diff fluid, sensors, etc) has been done either by this owner (and who knows about the head gaskets). I have two days to make up my mind on the Subie before he sends it to auction.

(NOTE: because of my time delay in publishing, this car is already bought or auctioned off – SM)

So I figure my choices are as such:

  1. Spend $1200-1400 to install a used transmission in my Saturn and risk more expensive stuff breaking down the line.
  2. Spend $2500 and buy the Subaru, which for my purposes will probably get me through at least this winter without fireworks, but risk later expensive Subie specific repairs, or total loss if something big breaks.
  3. Not spend any money, junk my Saturn, and just drive one of my other two cars in the winter that I currently baby to some degree.

Sajeev answers:

Well…I guess it kinda depends on your other two vehicles.

#2 is not a sure thing: with zero service history and tired fluids, expecting this Subaru to work all winter is a rather huge leap of faith.  Perhaps if it was something more robust (truck) with less unique parts that are painfully hard to reach, perhaps if it wasn’t a vehicle known for its fragility (bad head gaskets) especially when neglected/abused…

Install a junkyard transmission in the Saturn, coming from a yard that offers a warranty.  Or research to see if a local shop rebuilds these units with quality parts and labor (not always easy to find) for a fair price.  Why?  Because it’s almost always easier to keep the problems you know, not the gigantic rolling question mark that could be even more of a horrid money pit.


Send your queries to 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.

]]> 64
Auction Day: Seconds! Mon, 11 Mar 2013 19:36:42 +0000

There comes a time when the prices for used cars at the auto auctions go the way of an exuberant bubble.

A small army of consumers get their tax refunds. The car lots wake up from their winter slumber, and values for vehicles go the netheregions of the human imagination.

I sell cars during this time, not buy them. In the last three months of every year I will usually buy a lot to avoid the tax time market prices. Sometimes as many as 12 vehicles in a day. But when tax season comes, I buy a chosen few and sell them by the dozen.

Then, after the buying frenzy begins to ever slowly ebb, there will be a welcome break in those hedonistic valuations. Where instead of winding up $1000 to $1500 behind the selling price, I wind up second to another bidder. Almost always to a guy who has been buying cars for a long time. Today was that day.

My first second was this 1991 Acura Integra. Now a lot of you folks will quickly realize that this vehicle is old enough to buy itself a drink, and you would be right. But age in a rust free climate that offers smooth roads is not that big of a deal.

The exterior? $260 paint job. The interior was presentable. A/C was fine. However the clutch was not shifting right, the big fartcan back muffler was a bit of a negative ding, and the hatch area had barely no semblance of the ultra-thin Acura fabric. The odometer showed 164k miles… which was probably inaccurate. I only bid up to $700 and watched a wholesaler outbid me at $750.

These sell quite well once they’re cleaned up. But I’m sure this one would have needed to be shucked to a paint shop, a mechanic shop, and an upholstery shop between the auction and the retail lot. Such time issues have a big hidden cost in our business and if you find another nasty surprise in that process, you can wind up ‘polishing a turd’. So this one simply went down the pipe.

Then we have the most heavily depreciate midsized car of the modern day. A Mitsubishi Galant. This 2009 model had 123,791 miles, and although the trunklid mentioned an ES trim level, apparently an ES in the rental happy Galant world only means alloy wheels as an option.

These lower trim vehicles usually sit at my lot for a bit. Cloth interiors. More than 120k… but an 09 model. I stopped bidding at $4900 for the sole reason that I usually can’t get the same margins with a higher cost vehicle with lower feature content. The final bid was $5000, and given that I already have several Tauruses and 3.5 Liter Intrepids that fit this bill at a far lower acquisiton cost, I can’t say I regret this decision.

Now this one was a gritting of the teeth moment. A 2007 GMC Canyon Work Truck with 111k and nothing too special about it. Except for the automatic. Late model, compact, automatic pickups are insanely easy to finance and this one had the added benefit of some paint transfer on the fenders that a less experienced buyer would falsely see as a permanent issue.

I bid up to $4500, and a friend of mine who buys up trucks was standing near me and bid $4600. I had to invoke King’s Rule and give him the favor of bowing out. In exchange for him looking out for me during the next go around. Hopefully that happens and I don’t wind up in a dogfight.

Finally we had the transportation equivalent of dog food go through the block. A 1999 Saturn SL. Based out. 5-speed. Perfect 35+ highway miles per gallon transportation for those folks who subscribe to the common practices of penny pinching and personal parsimony. I always have several of these on the road. Although the 5-speed is often a more challenging sale here in the Atlanta ex-urbs.

I showed a fist and held the bid at $1000. Waited for a few seconds. Then. Damn! Someone jumped in and I bid it up two more times before letting it go to some other nearby shadow for $1500. Typically I try to keep my costs under $2000 for a stickshift equipped basic vehicle, and this one would have likely cut it close once you added the buyers fee and the need for new rubber all the way around.

There was a ton of other stuff today. Fewer buyers came to the sale. But those who did show up bid all the money in the world. So if you’re in the market for a 1999 Lexus LS400 in clean condition and only 117k miles, you are looking at nearly $8000. Wholesale. If that sounds insane to you, just think about the financing terms that will be applied towards that vehicle. I’m seeing $1500 down. $80 a week for at least 36 months. Maybe even 48 months.


]]> 43
Monday Mileage Champion: Saturnalia Mon, 18 Feb 2013 14:00:43 +0000

I told you that I would report back to the TTAC faithful when something new came up.

Well, for quite a few weeks there has been the usual distribution of dominance when it comes to high mileage cars that are curbed by their owners. 70% to 80% of the vehicles in the Top 25 of trade-ins mileage wise (out of 6000+ a week) were either Ford and Chevy trucks, Honda cars, or Toyota anything.

This week the streak is broken. Thanks to two Saturns which managed to cross the 400k mark.

Both of them are second generation SL models which carried the one car torch for Saturn throughout the 1990′s.

Imagine one cheap car having to hold up an entire mainstream car line and an extensive dealer network. What thought process on the 14th floor justified these types of hare brained decisions is beyond me. But thankfully these Saturns are the perfect beater bait for those folks who are willing to get religion off an asset that has cheap written all over it.

The androgynous rear end of this 2000 Saturn managed to occupy the road side scenery of North Carolina for 432,984 miles. It had zero announcements on the block. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that these cars are historically rather strong on the rattles and vibrations. Not to mention a plasticized interior that helped give rise to the $9995 Saturn deals of which, this Saturn likely qualified for back in the day. Although I would never argue with a new car purchase that yielded just over two cents a mile, it’s hard to understand why GM would let the powertrains on these models amortize for 13 model years.

The R&D rotting of Saturn was a shame because the non-rusting polymer panels on these models coupled with the MC Hammer era engines yielded a low ownership cost equation that was highly competitive for the time. If you looked at a car as a refrigerator like appliance and lived in the rust belt, these models were worthy of consideration. Speaking of which, this 1997 SL2 model from Illinois has managed to rack up 405,766 miles.

It does have a transmission needs service announcement and the gaps in a few places are nearly fist deep. Yep, the panels were resistant to rust. But give them a nice side kick or a 10 mph bump and you could be sure to have the polymer shatter design remain with the car until the very moment it became crusher fodder.

Trying to find an intact replacement fender at a pull-a-part on these vehicles is quite a task. It once took me four months to find one for a 96′ model coupe that I called the Purple People Eater. There is also more than a fair share of powertrain weirdness. The trannies on these models shift hard when they’re older. So hard in fact that any Saturn that isn’t a manual will almost always automatically get the ‘transmission needs service’ or ‘as/is’ announcement.

Such negativity has helped me get a few stellar deals over the years. There was a Saturn sedan, automatic, with only 37k that I managed to buy for only $1500 a few years back. It was only about 10 years old. Then there was another automatic model with 69k that went for only $1800. Both of them had transmission announcements and turned out to be perfectly fine. For a long time you could buy a decade old Saturn with less than 100k miles for only around $2000 wholesale.

When gas shot up over $3.00 a gallon for the first time these vehicles enjoyed a brief resurgence in popularity. Then the sub-prime mortgage crisis made these cheap cars even more coveted. Now that gas is closing in at $4.00, and it’s only February, I can no longer buy them on the cheap. Yesterday’s $2000 wholesale car is now a $3500 plus auction fee purchase that may not even be worth a flip.

These Saturns were never that bad. Nowadays though they’re not really that good for the price at the auctions. Yesterday’s $3000 retail car has become today’s $5500 piece of finance fodder. So if you want boring transportation and find one for a song, do it. Otherwise, if you do very little driving, buy a V8 domestic instead. Those cars are damn cheap these days at the auctions and jaw dropping affordable at the retail lots.





]]> 51
Piston Slap: The Young Lady and the Key Thu, 10 Jan 2013 19:12:54 +0000

Hi Steve and Sajeev:

My daughter has been driving the Saturn Astra recommended by Steve for a few months now and we can all say that it is a nice car — screwed together well, efficient and kinda sporty.  I consider it to be a win. Except for a minor key issue.

The original owner had a remote start installed (nice).  I have one in my Chrysler T&C and that vehicle does not require a key to be hidden in the car; the Saturn does (a GM thing, I hear). So, they buried the other ignition key inside the steering column box.

Thing is, though, is that they never got another key, so there is only one.  Not smart, IMO.  So, rather than drive 20 miles to the nearest GM dealer to buy an overpriced key, I ordered an OEM one from Fob Keyless, and they even cut it.  The key arrived and it unlocked to door and turned in the ignition fine, but it did not start the car — it needed to be programmed.

Here is the rub.  This car does not follow the typical GM procedure for key programming than most of their other cars.  I am told I have to bring it to the dealer and that I will have to present all of the keys — so that means I have to fish out the key that is buried in the dash. My question for you is this:  is that correct?  Is there a workaround that you know of? Thanks again, and keep up the good work.

Sajeev Says:

A workaround for German car electrics? Surely you jest, my good man!

This website gives a quick yet comprehensive explanation of why that’ll never work. Bite the bullet, get it programmed properly either by a respected locksmith or the dealership. But either way, a trip to a GM dealership is in order.  Perhaps a phone call to make sure they can do it…might need to make multiple calls. Maybe start with a Cadillac dealer, you know, for the best customer service and knowledge of German-ish General Motors Iron.

And since you emailed Steve on a Piston Slap related topic, let’s see what insights The Man has to offer.
Steve Says:

Let me tell you a little story about an old friend and his Mercedes.

Once upon a time I knew a fellow who would buy and sell cars on the side while managing an auto repair shop. Well, one evening he decides to buy a late-80′s Mercedes E-Class at a public auction for a decent price. He gets one key for it.

Only one key. The next day he goes to pick up the vehicle. Dead battery. As soon as they put a jumper on the car the alarm blares, “BWAH!!! BWAH!!!” He tries to start it up with the key. Nothing. Not even a click. Meanwhile the alarm system is blaring like Andy Kaufman at a professional wrestling match. After 20 minutes of fiddling around he has it towed to his shop and directs one of his techs to circumvent the alarm system.

A few too many wires were cut. So for the next three months, the vehicle becomes a statue at the front of his place. Eventually it is brought back to the auction where my friend receives an expensive lesson in cutting corners.

When it comes to the Saturn, your friend is 100% right. You can go to any GM dealer. But they will need all the keys to make it work. I would do that and perhaps get a second duplicate made so you never have to do it again.

Sometimes the cheap way out is a dead end. Just pay “the man”, and let your daughter enjoy one less stress in her ownership experience.

]]> 71
Monday Mileage Champion: The Year In Review Mon, 31 Dec 2012 17:43:10 +0000

It’s time to make a confession to the good folks at TTAC.

The mileage game is rigged.

How so? Well, approximately two-thirds of the vehicles that reach the 300k+ mark  at an auction I attend will usually belong in one of four categories.

Ford truck or SUV.  Chevy truck or SUV. Honda car. Toyota everything.

There you have it. Nearly two thirds of the vehicles that I see with serious high mileage credentials will belong in one of those four categories.

Yes I do see the occasional V8, rear-wheel-drive Ford car. Nissan seems to do well with their mostly -90′s Altimas, 10+ year old Maximas,  and their wonderful small trucks. A few Jeeps and Cummins diesel trucks also fly into the high mileage radar.

But everyone else? Just little glimpses every now and then.

The old school German machinery will sometimes score a 300k+ model with a level of maintenance receipts that could do damage to your next door neighbor’s window.

VW does well with the TDI, the too slow 2.0, and nothing else. Audi, Jaguar, Land Rover, SAAB, and Volvo have become a big fuhgeddaboudit for our weekly mileage contest. Volvo would probably field a few 300k vehicles if the odometers on all their 1990′s models didn’t break with a near 100% level of consistency.

In my experiences, Subarus can get close to 300k, But they will often  have massive oil leaks and repair records that will rival the Germans.

Mitsubishi makes some decent cars as does Mazda. But the former are almost always eventually skirted away to the abuse oriented rental fleets and buy-here pay-here lots. While Mazda suffers from a nasty long era where many of their automatic transmissions simply did not hold up.

Then we have Chrysler. The 2.7 Liter engines rarely makes it past 120k miles and are virtually non-existent at the auto recycling centers. Even though they made millions of them, you may as well be asking the guy at the junkyard counter for a 20 year old Peugeot with a dancing unicorn on top of it.

The 3.7 Liter and 4.7 Liter engines are also becoming increasingly expensive due to sludge issues and the fact that they’re difficult to rebuild. Chrysler transmissions for their minivans are also becoming a rarer sight. Although they are far easier to rebuild.

Finally, it seems that Chrysler could never design certain basic parts that were worth a flip throughout the last two decades.

For a while at the auctions, I began to think that Chrysler engineered a whining noise into all the power steering pumps in their minivans and differentials in their luxury Jeeps. Chrysler wouldn’t even arbitrate certain Jeeps for differential noise back in the mid-2000′s.

However, a Dodge truck with a Cummins diesel remains a recipe for success, and the Hemi engine seems to be long lasting along with the old 5.2 Liter 318 engine and the 4.0 Liter inline-six.

Finally we are back at GM and Ford, again. I will give special kudos to the GM 3.8 Liter V6 and the Ford Vulcan V6. The former was a marvel for the time. While the later represents the ultimate in amortization costs and continuous improvement. Everything else ranges from above average (GM 2.2 Liter engines and early non-plastic intake 3.1 Liter engines), to problematic (Ford 3.8 Liter engines, GM 3.4 Liter V6 models, Northstar V8′s.)

Sometimes these issues had to do with the overuse of cheap plastic in the engine bay and coolants that gel up. While other times it has more to do with basic bad design (Saturn and Freestar CVT transmissions) and planned obsolescence (Aveos, Neons, PT Cruisers, last-gen Festivas, last-gen Metros).

I expect that the Koreans will likely join the fray of 300k+ in the coming years. But a lot of just plain bad Hyundais and Kias were made until recent times. I can’t recall a single model from either brand with a notably high mileage at the auctions.

As for the Honda Accord with 403,817 miles? It was followed by a Toyota Tacoma, an Acura TL, and a Ford Explorer. All with over 390,000 miles. The durability quartet took 8 of the top 10 spots and 22 of the first 30.

Not bad… and not unusual at all.


]]> 133
Question Of The Day: What Is The Best Orphan Car In History? Mon, 12 Nov 2012 14:00:58 +0000

Are you talkin’ to me???


There was the Cadillac of minivans. A different kind of company selling a different kind of car. A Swede with no compromises, and a Frenchman that went from strength to strength.

Daihatsus that were perhaps, a bit too modest, by skinny dipping their unknown name in a slogan-less lake. And then we had that crazy distant Yugoslavian cousin who bragged about a ‘road back to sanity’ while his neighbors blew up his plant.

They are gone now from these shores, for now. As is Opel, Hummer, Mercury, Plymouth, and in due time, Suzuki. An amazing variety of brands that offered their own interesting contributions to the mosaic of the American automotive experience.

Rockys and Rodeos were rugged for too short of a while. While Hummer alternated between playing the role of the military bad-ass and the fashionista poseur. Eventually style won, followed by bankruptcy.

Europeans always offered a more sophisticated level of style while battling Gremlins on every level. While weaker Japanese marques, plainly, contributed varying levels of utility and engineering excellence to a marketplace that expected far more.

Then there is Oldsmobile.

Oldsmobile, the rocket division, was the power and the glory.  From their 300+ horsepower cruisers of the late-60′s to the best selling Cutlass Supremes of the mid-80′s. It’s hard to find fault with a popular brand like Oldsmobile that was torturously mis-marketed and blandified into irrelevance.

All defunct brands have their unique qualities. But which vintage offered the very best? Which model among them all provided that level of power and prestige that begs for a resurrection of the brand?

Any constraints on choices? Well… no outright luxury or exotic brands. Vectors, Deusenbergs, Cords and Tuckers may have their place in museuems the world over. But for this particular exercise I want special attention to be given to those models that served the everyday Joe.

Choose your car wisely, and defend it well.  Hell hath no Fury like a Plymouth.


]]> 69
The Time My Girlfriend Almost Bought An Aveo Mon, 30 Jul 2012 15:44:03 +0000

Back in April, Sajeev and Steve found some time to reply to my letter where I posed the impossible question. As gearheads, we all want something fun, fast, efficient, and cheap (well, most of us want cheap). Much like a traction circle, all these needs are in competition and in order to make good on one you need to sacrifice another. The ultimate gearhead car, unfortunately, does not exist and it never will.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t good, affordable vehicles out there which are fun to drive while ticking most of the boxes. And, this time, I actually followed the advice of someone else and couldn’t be happier.

For a number of weeks, my girlfriend and I scoured the classifieds, made calls, and generated lists of cars we wanted to check out. Initially, a Mazda Protege5 seemed to fit the bill. The interiors are still great to look at to this day, the engines torquey and fun, and the Protege5 is halfway between a proper wagon and a hatchback. She had laid down the law saying she wouldn’t be caught driving a wagon, so for me this was a solid win.

Once we started looking around to see what Protege5s were available, we were promptly disappointed. All were in various states of disrepair, from simple electronic accessories being broken to full on rust infestation and everything in between, the east coast climate was claiming Protege5s at a steady, rapid rate. Our dream econobox choice turned out not to be a valid choice at all.

After a few Mazdisasters, a personal friend of mine invited us to one of Canada’s largest GM dealerships to check out their used inventory. This particular dealership doesn’t keep any wholesale stock sitting around, so the price of entry is relatively steep on the used lot. “Just show me the cheapest cars you have,” I said, hoping there would be some unloved goldmine hidden behind the service bays, waiting for a new owner to care for and cherish her.

“Well, our most affordable option on the lot is a 2006 Chevy Aveo 5-door hatchback,” replied my friend who is relatively new to the car hawking business.

At this point, my internal monologue was unleashing a series of expletives cursing the Aveo’s existence, but on the outside I am telling my girlfriend to take it for a drive, hoping she will come to the realization the Aveo is the automotive equivalent of a polished turd. Even worse, this is someone else’s former polished turd.

I drove the first half of the predefined test route, bemoaned the underpowered 1.6L four-pot smushed together with the lazy 4-speed automatic, and tried to think happier thoughts,  such as getting repeatedly kicked in the groin by someone with a size 15 shoe. I felt dirty, like I had done something completely forbidden and totally frowned upon if anyone found out. I’d driven an Aveo.

Shortly, it was time for us to switch seats and for my significant other to take over for the rest of the journey back to the dealership. Though she didn’t show love or heaping praise for the Korean tin can, she didn’t hate it either. I found this strange. The engine to her was adequately powerful, amenities were few but simple and easy to use, and the steering was fairly light in her hands. On arrival back to the dealership she uttered three words which could have laid waste to my automotive reputation: “I like it.”

If I hadn’t have been there, I am sure the Aveo would have been sold that day.

Over the course of the next couple of hours, the salesperson and my girlfriend exchanged text messages about the red little Chevy while I frantically went dealership to dealership looking for an affordable alternative. And, out of nowhere, an oasis appeared. At a used car dealership sat a vehicle suggested by TTAC’s own Steve Lang, a 2008 Saturn Astra 5-door hatchback with a proper manual transmission.

Two years newer, slightly more mileage, and a hell of a lot more car than the Aveo, the Astra was priced slightly above our budget . When my girlfriend saw the price displayed on the other side of the windshield she winced at the thought of paying more than our budgeted allotment, but I was determined to show her this was the better choice.

The Astra was a victim of being in North America wearing the wrong badge at the wrong time. Saturn was about to get cut from the team and with the economic crisis commencing nobody wanted to pay the premium Saturn dealers were asking for the European built hatch. Fortunately for us, prices for Saturns have tanked since then and the parts and service network still exists. We took the Belgian C-car for a drive around the neighbourhood, my girlfriend fell in love with the car, and the rest is automotive history I can be proud of.

If there is a lesson in this, other than listening to your two knowledgeable TTAC suggestion machines, it’s there is always a better option to “settling”. Nobody deserves to drive an Aveo.

]]> 62
Piston Slap: A Saturn Wagon’s Bad Timing (Update) Mon, 19 Dec 2011 12:10:24 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

Dave writes:

Hello Sajeev,

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!

Sajeev Answers:

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 . Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

]]> 14
Piston Slap: I’m on tonight, you know my Gauge don’t Lie! Mon, 05 Dec 2011 21:07:51 +0000


Dave writes:

Hello Sajeev,

I just bought a 2000 Saturn LW1 6 weeks ago.  It has a L4 2.2 Liter engine with 200,000 miles on it.  After 3 weeks out of the country I came back and started it up.  Was a little rough then smoothed out.  I just changed parking spots.  Did this one more time.  The third time starting it up it would not fire.  No strange noises, just no running engine.  I suspected bad ignition coil.  I had just changed the spark plugs before my trip and they had about 50 miles on them.  Ignition coil was fine at all four points using a ignition tester.  I even put new plugs in again.  Fuel rail has the specified 60 PSI.  Theorizing that may the fuel injectors were shut down i tried starter spray in the air intake.  The motor will not fire.  A compression test with a gauge picked up at advance gave me less than 10 PSI on the two outer cylinders and about 24 on the two inner.  The Haynes manual is very unhelpful and only states for compression specs. that the lowest compression cylinder value should be no less that 70% of the highest compression cylinder value.

I read on-line (  the same but that no cylinder should be less than 100 PSI.  While cranking the engine there was some light smoke visible behind the engine above the exhaust manifold, but unable to determine the source.

My question is: are you aware of catastrophic head gasket failures on these engines?  I am surprised that the engine will not fire at all even if the head gasket does have a problem.  I have removed the valve cover and see that the timing chain is still there and working.

When I changed the plugs last month I applied anti-seize thread sealant to the plugs as instructed in the manual.  I am now having wild imaginings that the anti-seize thread sealant got into the cylinders and impregnated the gasket and is somehow responsible for this catastrophic failure.   I am going to tear into the engine tomorrow and try to replace the head gasket, because i need to get this car running again ASAP.  I am being hopeful and unrealistically optimistic that I cold get some input/ thoughts from you before morning when I start this laborious task…


Sajeev Answers:

You are in a tough spot: a seemingly severe mechanical failure. This is when we tend to trust everything we see or read, even if we shouldn’t.  It’s not your fault, but you need to verify what you are seeing.  It’s like getting a second opinion when a doctor tells you that you have 6 months to live. Because the lack of compression has sent you down a path of diagnostic madness. Which truly sucks.

So try another compression gauge.  I don’t know why, but these things are terribly unreliable and not durable. Bang it around in a toolbox in your garage (or the rental counter at your local parts store) and the needle won’t move nearly as much as before. The odds of you losing that much compression on all cylinders that quickly just doesn’t add up: so I think the tester is bad.

I think you need to check for spark the old-fashioned way…put a screwdriver in the end of a spark plug wire and lay it near a piece of metal…you should see a spark when you crank, and it should be pretty strong.  Google this for more information.

Good luck.  I suspect the ignition module finally crapped out.  Did yours ever get the recall?

Send your queries to . Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

]]> 43
GM’s Orphaned Brand Buyers Have Moved On Wed, 22 Jun 2011 11:53:11 +0000

How many former Saturn buyers do you figure have come back to GM for their next car? What about consumers who last purchased a Pontiac? How about HUMMER? Since we’re not bound to a strict inverted pyramid around here, why don’t you think of an answer (in terms of percentage of customers retained) for each brand and then hit the jump to see how close you were.

OK, pencils down. According to the Detroit News:

In 2010, GM retained 36 percent of Pontiac owners who bought new vehicles, as well as 26 percent of Saturn and 39 percent from Hummer, according to California-based research firm J.D. Power & Associates.

That’s far below the 55 percent retention rate for GM’s Chevrolet brand, as well as under the industry average of 48 percent.

Considering that GM has been tackling this retention challenge for two years now, using the term “free agents”  to describe buyers of its defunct brands and dealers and throwing all manner of free oil changes, maintenance packages, and deals on new cars at them, this is not a great result. The way former US sales boss Susan Docherty described the “free agent” retention effort a short year-and-a-half ago, focus groups, direct mail and email marketing, as well as “establishing credibility with a service relationship.” Speaking of which, dealers have been making their own efforts to reach out to GM’s “free agents” as well, so The General’s corporate retentino efforts can’t even take all the credit for this underwhelming result.

But why did GM’s “free agents” jump ship in such large numbers? One theory, from JD Power analyst Steve Witten, is that it comes down to product and branding, not dealers and outreach:

The truth of the matter is they didn’t have many options for people to stay in the GM family… When they decided to pull the plug on [Saturn], there wasn’t really another GM brand similar enough from an image standpoint

But c’mon… really? The differences between a Saturn Aura, a Pontiac G6 and a Chevy Malibu were that big? Methinks Mr Witten is looking at the past with rose-colored glasses. A more plausible theory comes from a dealer who used to sell Saturns, and has switched to selling Kias since the brand cull, who notes:

I would say the majority of people who had Saturns were very unhappy they got left holding the bag on this one. A lot of them took a hit on the value of their cars and that turned them off to Saturn and GM

Remember, a big hit on resale can be as much of a financial burden as a grenaded engine, or faulty transmission. And though GM is arguably making progress in erasing memories of its bad old days of product ignominy, things like the resale hit on culled brand vehicles could create a whole new generation of mistrust between GM and its once-loyal customers. But hey, at least there were only 6.8m of these “free agents” as of early 2010…

]]> 104
The Spring Hill Saga: Put A Corker In It Mon, 20 Sep 2010 14:47:25 +0000

USA Today reports that Tennessee’s 2 Republican Senators, Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander and GOP congresswoman Marsha Blackburn received a rather frosty reception when they went to Spring Hill on Friday to toast GM bringing jobs back to the Ex-Saturn plant. They got booed and heckled. Why the frosty reception? Well, if you remember, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker (along with the unnamed Congresswoman) were very vocal opponents against the bailout of GM and Chrysler. So, for 3 politicians to come back to their state and welcome back the very jobs which they would have been quite happy to see lost in the name of free market economics, probably stuck in the craw of the electorate. Namely, the UAW.

As USA Today reports it, “Sen. Bob Corker, was heartily booed by the largely United Auto Worker members on hand and a UAW official told them members won’t forget who supported them at election time.” Ouch! The USA Today article then goes on to quote our friends over at Jalopnik about a small comparison Jalopnik did with Sen. Corker’s comments before and after the bailout:

“Then: ‘This administration has decided they know better than our courts and our free market process, how to deal with these companies…This is a major power grab’ – March 30, 2009.

Now: ‘At the end of the day we all have to feel good about what we did,’ said Corker, who did attempt to negotiate the failed 2008 aid package. “I contributed to strengthening the auto industry in this country.’”

Maybe Senators Corker and Alexander shouldn’t get too attached to their jobs, eh…?

]]> 19
Saturn Factory Coming Back In Orbit? Thu, 12 Aug 2010 09:30:38 +0000

When GM went into bankruptcy, people had their money on  Saturn going to die. The odds changed a bit when Roger Penske was in talks to buy Saturn. But, in a cruel twist of fate, Saturn was condemned to death by a bunch of executives in France. They vetoed Carlos Ghosn’s idea of supplying Penske with Renault cars for the Saturn brand. The death of Saturn meant that its manufacturing plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee, would join Saturn in the grave. And so it did, along with 800 people who lost their jobs. Suddenly, there is the proverbial glimmer of hope for those 800 workers and the economy of Spring Hill.

WSMV-TV of Nashville reports that Ed Whitacre, CEO of General Motors, has been making noises that idled plants may be brought back online. One out of two, possibly. One is in Janesville, Wisc., and the other Spring Hill. So will Spring Hill be resuscitated? Most certainly, if you believe Mr Mike Herron, chairman of the UAW Local 1853. “We are doing everything we can to get our members back to work here very quickly,” he said, “Spring Hill, by far, is the plant that is ready to go the quickest. It has the newest equipment and it has a work force that is trained and ready to build product.”

The plant manager in Spring Hill issued a more sanguine statement about the prospects for a Spring Hill revive y’all: “At the end of the day, it really comes down to what the market does and if more capacity is needed.”

Oh more capacity is needed, definitely. After all, Hertz, Avis et al can’t buy your cars quick enough!

Yes, yes! It WAS a cheap shot, but the prospect of a double-dip recession means “cheap” is all I can afford! Why do you think I’m working here?

]]> 12
GM Launching Dead Brand Fire Sale Tue, 29 Dec 2009 15:47:22 +0000 You're getting a rebate, and you're getting a rebate....

According to Reuters, GM has sent a letter to its dealers offering $7,000 for every new Saturn or Pontiac they can move to a rental or service fleet between now and January 4. The plan would essentially make dealers the first buyer of the remaining Pontiacs and Saturns, which would then be operated as fleet vehicles or be sold as low-mileage used cars. In any case, the single objective is clear: get those dead brands off the books at all costs. With 7,900 vehicles left at Pontiac as of the 14th of December and upward of 5,000 left at Saturn as of the beginning of the month, the cost to GM could easily approach $100m. But as they say in the advertisements, their loss is your gain…. as long as you’re interested in one of the G6s or Auras that dominate the dead-brand straggler inventory. Where’s Oprah when you need her?

On a happier note, Automotive News [sub]‘s data shows 1,000 new G8s left in America as of the beginning of December. If you’re in a haggling mood, this might just be the time to get a screaming deal on the best Pontiac in decades.

]]> 39
GM Sales Fall 2 Percent In November Tue, 01 Dec 2009 21:39:48 +0000 Yawn.

GM’s sales fell by only two percent in November, showing that, unlike Chrysler, its sales are fairly well tied to the overall health of the market. All four of GM’s “core brands” posted month-on-month increases, with Buick up 14.8 percent, Cadillac up 10.3 percent, Chevrolet up 4.5 percent and GMC up 5.4 percent. Non-core brands including Hummer, Pontiac, Saab and Saturn combined for a 47.9 percent decline, to 11,755 units. Cars fell by 1.3 percent, while Trucks were down by 2.8 percent, leaving GM with total deliveries of 151,427 units.

Buick was a mixed bag in November, with LaCrosse improving 63 percent on last November’s numbers for its moribund predecessor, to 3,400 units, while Lucerne fell 30 percent to 2,171 units. Enclave saw a decent 33 percent increase over last November, with 3,056 units sold. Despite growing the most in month-on-month sales, Buick is still GM’s weakest “core brand” by volume with only 8,627 sales, and it barely beat Pontiac’s 7,426 unit performance.

Cadillac saw a troubling 6.8 percent decline in its best-selling model, the CTS, despite the alleged success of last month’s V-Series Challenge PR stunt. DTS improved by 9.4 percent, with 1,408 units, while STS declined over 55 percent to a mere 279 units. XLR (yup, they’re still selling ‘em) was down only five units, with 55 sold, while the Escalade triplets combined for 2,270 units. The new SRX blew out all comparisons to last November’s performance by its aged predecessor, posting a 207 percent increase to a respectable 3,004 units.

Chevrolet’s cars posted a combined 16.9 percent increase, but the news wasn’t all good. Aveo posted a 33 percent drop to 2,212 units, Cobalt fell by 19 percent to 5,112 and Impala slid 3.7 percent to 12,375. Malibu and Camaro combined to bring up the brand’s car average though, with the ‘bu rising 17.5 percent to 11,113 and the Camaro posting a solid 6,867 units.

Chevy’s trucks, utes and CUVs didn’t fare quite as well, posting a 2 percent combined drop. Colorado kept dropping off the radar, falling 47.4 percent to 1,316 units, as did Trailblazer (-94 percent to 165 units). Bright points were the HHR (+38 percent, 4,720 units), Equinox (+273 percent, 9,587 units), Traverse (+140 percent, 7,054 units), Tahoe (+57 percent, 6,528) and Suburban (+20 percent, 4,678 units). Fullsize trucks were hard hit though, with Avalanche (-31 percent, 1,373 units) and Silverado C/K (-25 percent,  22,101 units) posting significant losses.

GMC’s sales mirrored Chevy’s, where declines in aging models were barely edged out by more successful newer models for a 5.4 percent increase. GMC’s big winner was the Acadia, which posted a 47 percent increase to 3,877 units. The new Terrain came a close second, with 3,683 units sold, and the Yukon had a surprisingly solid month, nearly flat at 2,253 units. Sierra sales fell below 10,000 units, to 8,371, while Yukon XL held relatively steady with only a 10.7 percent loss to 1,543 units.

Meanwhile, on the non-core brand front, Hummer posted another monstrous decline, dropping 84 percent to 221 units. With sales that bad, don’t be surprised if the deal to sell the ute brand to China’s Sichuan Tengzhong falls through any day now. Saab sold fewer than 300 cars, with every model falling by at least 50 percent. Pontiac sold 5,852 G6s (coming soon to a rental lot near you), which made up nearly all of its 7,300-unit car volume. Saturn sold 1,794 cars and 1,943 crossovers, including 1,362 VUEs.

]]> 29
The Island Of Lost Brands Wed, 25 Nov 2009 00:23:00 +0000 The pioneering exercise in auto branding (

The Saab deal’s death today marked the third attempted brand sale by GM to go down in flames since exiting bankruptcy. Whether the decision not to sell Opel was a good one remains to be seen (big time!), but at Saturn’s Spring Hill, Tennessee plant, which goes on standby this week, there’s less ambiguity about the situation. Meanwhile, Wild-Ass Rumors that Brilliance will rescue the Saturn brand have been chased by MSM scaremongering about a Chinese-owned GM, lending special irony to the fact that GM’s only brand-divestment success is the $150m Hummer-to-Tengzhong deal which is still pending approval by the Chinese government. Volvo nearly found a home in the Middle Kingdom with Geely, but things are crumbling and new bids are expected. Which means all of Detroit’s orphaned brands are still up in the air, at best. Long-term worries about the strength of the US market may be to blame, although the advanced state of the Hummer deal works against that theory (as Hummer’s viability lives and dies in the US market). Maybe the Chinese mandate for auto sector consolidation has potential Chinese buyers focusing on shoring up their domestic status. Or maybe the Chinese realize that brand equity must be earned, not bought. That appears to be the lesson to be learned from the rise of Hyundai and Kia. Fueled by mainstream design a true compact-to-luxury product range, and a relentless focus on product, they may well herald a decline in the importance of brand strategy. For an industry that practically invented the idea of selling a product without actually mentioning the product, this could be an interesting adjustment.

]]> 24
Wild-Ass Rumor Of The Day: Brilliance Buying Dealers, Saturn Brand For US Launch? Fri, 20 Nov 2009 17:40:03 +0000 Brilliant!

The long-rumored Chinese invasion may be coming sooner than we expected. Automotive World reports that Chinese automaker Brilliance has signed letters of intent with 36 US dealers in preparation for a US market launch. According to the report, Brilliance intends to launch products in the US as soon as it acquires 100 dealers. Apparently Brilliance’s US distributor is targeting former Saturn dealers, Roger Penske’s US network, Hummer dealers and the Galpin group. Rumors are even swirling that Brilliance could buy the Saturn name to re-brand its US-market products.

Brilliance M3 Coupe Brilliant! Brilliance FSV sedan Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Brilliance FRV hatch Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail brilliance-stand-thumb ]]> 14