Piston Slap: How to Save a Saturn
Hey Sajeev – as a TTAC reader, and a consummate “I’m an enthusiast, but my wallet says otherwise” tinkerer, I’m currently in a dilemma that could use your opinion and the reader’s.
I have a 2001 Saturn L200 2.2 liter that blew a head gasket. Strangest blown head gasket I’ve ever seen: no loss of power, no other signs than an intermediate low coolant light. This eventually culminated in my adding 2 gallons of (idiotic) dex-cool and then driving it 2 miles, and looking for leaks, only to discover the low coolant light was on again. That the point at which I discovered the dex-cool oil mixture that had inundated my crankcase. I had been putting off diagnosing and fixing what I thought was a minor and intermittent coolant leak (sure is cold in Minnesota this time of year, heated shop or no) but now I have no choice. The car has 190k on it. I had become determined around 160k that I was simply going to drive it into the ground.
Yes it’s a blah car; a 4 cylinder automatic, with unexciting styling, but it still gets 32 mpg and is 10 years old and just keeps going. The Saturn polymer body is in excellent shape, and the leather interior has worn VERY well when compared to Saturn’s with cloth interiors. I just put new tires on it this fall, struts all the way around last summer, I replaced a bad air-con compressor last spring, it also had the factory recalled “redesigned” timing chain compliments of Saturn at around 140k – I’ve been through this car end to end and I can tell you what I have and haven’t replaced. Before “cash for clunkers” the 2.2 l ecotec could be had for $300 on craigslist with around 70k miles, but now they’re fewer and farther in between.
My quandry is this: Do I DARE do a head gasket job on this motor, possibly have the head rebuilt or find a used one, and then risk the chance of a spun bearing in my near future thanks to dex-cool hell?
Or if I can find a motor (for less than the car is presumably worth) to live out 200k Saturn dreams with a transplant?
The sheer volume of new parts on this Saturn makes it a fine candidate for a replacement engine. And, well, I do like this car on it’s front-end styling and Saturn-honest plastic panels. While it isn’t the uber-sleek, perception-altering, Saturn SC with covered headlights and two-tone paint, nothing really is!
So fix it, but forget the head swap: the time/labor involved in sending the head to a machine shop to ensure it’s straight and true isn’t worth it. Such is the life of an aluminum cylinder head with (shockingly pricey) torque-to-yield bolts. Most modern engines are considered throwaway motors for this reason.
Witness the reason: less than 1 minute on www.car-part.com netted suitable replacement engines ranging from $500-1400. And, like the old sales pitch went, you can’t beat that Saturn with a baseball bat on a plastic fender.
Send your queries to firstname.lastname@example.org. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.
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