Piston Slap: Saturn's Lights Foiled by Blowing Fuses

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

Scott in Tampa writes:

Hey Guys, this problem (in my 2001 Saturn) occurred first when I was driving at night and and my dash illumination went dark! I had probably blown a fuse. Yes, it was a 10AMP mini fuse labeled BRAKE LP in the engine fuse compartment. Does LP stand for “Lamp”? I believe the dash illumination went out as a warning for what was really wrong – the running tail lights (constant lights) on the back of my car were out!! Now, when I press on the brake, the bright brake/tail lights still respond. It is only when I turn on my running lights that I get NO lights in the back of my vehicle.

Another observation: When this originally happened, I replaced the fuse. It lasted about a week before it tripped again. Replaced that fuse, it lasted a few days. Now, the fuse blows within seconds of inserting a new one. Sounds to me like a wire may be short circuiting somewhere?? What is the likelihood that this wiring is bad near the engine opposed to back trunk location?? Any insight or help would be greatly appreciated.

Sajeev replies:

You’re on the right track, but you’re also over thinking the situation. The Saturn L-series has a recall related to your problem. (If you have an L-series, that is.) While we may never know why recalls/TSBs always come in ALL CAPS, here’s the unfiltered advice:

“ON CERTAIN SEDANS AND WAGONS, THE PLASTIC HOUSING IN THE REAR TAIL LAMP ASSEMBLY CAN BECOME DISTORTED IF THE BRAKE LAMPS REMAIN ON FOR AN EXTENDED TIME.

“THIS CAN CAUSE (1) AN INTERMITTENTLY INOPERATIVE BRAKE/TAIL LAMP BULB OR (2) A SHORT CIRCUIT THAT OPENS A FUSE CAUSING INOPERATIVE BRAKE LAMPS (INCLUDING THE CENTER HIGH-MOUNTED STOP LAMP) OR TAIL LAMPS. A FOLLOWING DRIVER MAY NOT KNOW WHEN THE BRAKES HAVE BEEN APPLIED, AND A REAR-END CRASH COULD OCCUR WITHOUT PRIOR WARNING.”

Bonus! A Piston Slap Nugget of Wisdom:

The lesson learned is twofold: always find recalls or TSBs that answer your problem and get them fixed before your Saturn dealer bites the dust. And if you live in Canada, you’d better get moving sooner than later.

[Send your queries to mehta@ttac.com]

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

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  • Nick Nick on Sep 09, 2009

    The Neons were great at getting water in the tail lights. When they were first launched I used to see it all the time. Kind of funny actually...my wife and I always joked about putting goldfish in them. BTW the same thing happens to the headlight assemblies of Mitsubishi Outlander front headlamp assemblies. Funny, my first company car was a 90 Cutlass Ciera. Good car actually, but it had one vexing problem...when I pressed the button to release the trunk lid, a fuse blew. The interesting part was it was a fuse that had NOTHING to do with the trunk lid. It was quite a mystery.

  • Cdotson Cdotson on Sep 10, 2009

    I had the same problem as this Saturn in my 1988 Dodge Ramcharger. Road debris/salt had built up on the 4-pin trailer wiring harness and moisture shorted out the electricals, causing the fuse for the tail/dash lights to blow. Contact cleaner and a plug housing under the bumper fixed it. Only other time I had it happen was on an empty trailer I pulled that about exceeded the truck's tow rating just by itself. I think the long trailer light wires had enough resistance to blow the fuse out also. Towing at night required dialing the IP lights off so that brake lights could work.

  • Varezhka I have still yet to see a Malibu on the road that didn't have a rental sticker. So yeah, GM probably lost money on every one they sold but kept it to boost their CAFE numbers.I'm personally happy that I no longer have to dread being "upgraded" to a Maxima or a Malibu anymore. And thankfully Altima is also on its way out.
  • Tassos Under incompetent, affirmative action hire Mary Barra, GM has been shooting itself in the foot on a daily basis.Whether the Malibu cancellation has been one of these shootings is NOT obvious at all.GM should be run as a PROFITABLE BUSINESS and NOT as an outfit that satisfies everybody and his mother in law's pet preferences.IF the Malibu was UNPROFITABLE, it SHOULD be canceled.More generally, if its SEGMENT is Unprofitable, and HALF the makers cancel their midsize sedans, not only will it lead to the SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST ones, but the survivors will obviously be more profitable if the LOSERS were kept being produced and the SMALL PIE of midsize sedans would yield slim pickings for every participant.SO NO, I APPROVE of the demise of the unprofitable Malibu, and hope Nissan does the same to the Altima, Hyundai with the SOnata, Mazda with the Mazda 6, and as many others as it takes to make the REMAINING players, like the Excellent, sporty Accord and the Bulletproof Reliable, cheap to maintain CAMRY, more profitable and affordable.
  • GregLocock Car companies can only really sell cars that people who are new car buyers will pay a profitable price for. As it turns out fewer and fewer new car buyers want sedans. Large sedans can be nice to drive, certainly, but the number of new car buyers (the only ones that matter in this discussion) are prepared to sacrifice steering and handling for more obvious things like passenger and cargo space, or even some attempt at off roading. We know US new car buyers don't really care about handling because they fell for FWD in large cars.
  • Slavuta Why is everybody sweating? Like sedans? - go buy one. Better - 2. Let CRV/RAV rust on the dealer lot. I have 3 sedans on the driveway. My neighbor - 2. Neighbors on each of our other side - 8 SUVs.
  • Theflyersfan With sedans, especially, I wonder how many of those sales are to rental fleets. With the exception of the Civic and Accord, there are still rows of sedans mixed in with the RAV4s at every airport rental lot. I doubt the breakdown in sales is publicly published, so who knows... GM isn't out of the sedan business - Cadillac exists and I can't believe I'm typing this but they are actually decent - and I think they are making a huge mistake, especially if there's an extended oil price hike (cough...Iran...cough) and people want smaller and hybrids. But if one is only tied to the quarterly shareholder reports and not trends and the big picture, bad decisions like this get made.
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