'96 Saturn SL1 114K Miles: Reliability?

Discussion in 'Saturn S-series' started by Bob Shuman, Jul 4, 2003.

  1. Bob Shuman

    Bob Shuman Guest

    Looking at a used, one owner, 1996 Saturn SL1 (1.9L, 4 Speed Automatic
    w/Air) for my nearly 17-year old middle son (he is buying it and it will be
    his first car). Appears to have been well maintained and in reasonable
    shape for the 114K mileage and 7 years of age. We are looking for a good,
    safe, economy vehicle that will get him around town reliably with low cost
    of ownership/operation (I do pretty much all of my own maintenance on my
    three other vehicles).

    Since I have no experience with Saturn vehicles, I'd appreciate some experts
    letting me know where these usually fail. Thanks in advance for the input.

    Bob Shuman, Jul 4, 2003
  2. If maintained right, they last a long time, if not abused. The
    alternator's a popular 'renewal' item, though. No idea on the automagic
    tranny, but check the fluids and such and it should be fine - GM
    trannies are generally nice. The TCC solinoid will go bad on it
    eventually, though. You can probbably just unplug it and forget about
    it though*. Parts aren't always easy to find, and are more expensive
    than regular GM parts. They can be 'fun' to work on, but not horrid,
    and it won't rust away on you.

    The radiator might eventually go, but it's easy to replace. The
    alternator's less so, and the water pump looks tricky too.

    *Yes the EPA says you need this, yes it theoretically cuts mileage and
    increases tranny heat, but both of those are theoretical anyway, my
    wagon went for years without it and was fine....
    Philip Nasadowski, Jul 5, 2003
  3. Bob Shuman

    Bob Shuman Guest


    Thanks for the response. We went ahead and purchased the used vehicle.
    Turns out that the alternator has already been replaced at about 80K miles
    and the head was re-worked under some kind of recall/warranty at about 60K
    miles. They appear to have replaced the water pump at that time along with
    all the hoses as well. Otherwise, the vehicle has seen routine maintenance.

    I replaced the rear brake shoes and hardware at 114.6K miles this afternoon.
    They were still the original equipment! I also rotated the tires, changed
    the oil, filter, trans filter, trans fluid, spark plugs, ignition wires,
    fuel and air filters, and cleaned the throttle body. I was surprised that
    the front pads still looked like they have another 20K miles despite the 40K
    they have on them already. I also could not believe the general tires were
    still in pretty good shape despite having about 45K on them. (The owner
    provided receipts/records showing that the originals went 69K miles!)

    All in all, most of the stuff we did today was fairly easy to do, with the
    exception of the fuel filter which was located in a difficult location. I
    also was surprised that the oil filter was located in a pretty tough spot to
    get to considering it needs to be changed every 3K miles... Lastly, I was
    impressed with the ease of draining the transmission and changing the
    filter. I've never seen a spin on (oil type) filter on a transmission
    before. Seemed to be a good design for serviceability and it makes a lot of
    sense to go this route.)

    Any one else have any other thoughts on weak points to keep on the watch for
    in the future?

    Bob Shuman, Jul 6, 2003
  4. No problem :)
    Intersting. The manual version doesn't have a filter. The oil and and
    tranny oil changes are quite easy on the car, though yes, the oil filter
    isn't. Then again, my '99 Harley needs a funky little tool and spills
    oil everywhere (they haven't put the filter in the oil tank in
    ages....). Then again, my neighbor when I was living in CT had a GSX-R
    that used to puke oil out when you tried to add any with the motor
    running*, not to mention a sight glass that required an upright and
    level reading >:)

    The car is generally decently serviceable, though GM needs a swift kick
    in the ass with a few boneheaded things they did (like making the water
    pump a royal pain to remove....)

    *or off, the add oil hole was about 8mm wide...
    Philip Nasadowski, Jul 6, 2003
  5. Bob Shuman

    Bob Shuman Guest


    Thanks. Unfortunately, the thread you referenced is no longer available in
    this newsgroup on my server. I will try to do a google search to see if I
    can find anything there.

    On the head cracking, it turns out that this vehicle already had this
    problem at 60+K miles and this is why the head assembly, water pump,
    thermostat, coolant and all the hoses were replaced under warranty. This
    was in 2000. Does anyone know if the defect that caused the head to crack
    in the first place was fixed in the replacement head assembly by this time?
    What are the typical symptoms? (discolored engine coolant? lower coolant
    level in the recovery reservoir? etc)

    Bob Shuman, Jul 7, 2003
  6. Probably means that the original owner was a gentle driver (probably
    a lot of straight highway cruising, as opposed to lots of start, stop,
    and turn city driving), and/or the tires are long life tires (that may
    not necessarily be very "sticky" in terms of handling and braking traction).
    Of course, on a FWD cars, rotating tires is necessary to have them all
    wear out at the same time so that you can replace with a matched set.
    Timothy J. Lee, Jul 14, 2003
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