Hard to diagnose electrical (or electronic) problem.

Discussion in 'General Motoring' started by Dave, Nov 23, 2003.

  1. Dave

    Dave Guest

    A couple of weekends ago I took my 1999 SL2 in for regular service and
    state inspection. Shortly after getting it back I started it up one
    morning and noticed that the radio had lost the time and all of the
    station presets. I reentered everything and the next couple of starts
    all of the presets were still there. This happened a couple more times
    intermittently with no apparent pattern. I had no difficulties
    starting the car and no other apparent problems. Then one night I came
    out from work and my remote would not unlock the door. I used the key
    to open it instead. I got in the car and attempted to start it. This
    set off the alarm since it hadn't been deactivated by the remote. At
    this point I pressed the unlock button on the remote. This time it
    worked and the door locks clicked and the alarm stopped. I was then
    able to start the engine and drive away but the radio had once again
    lost everything. This happened intermittently a couple of more times.
    Each time I was able to start it by going through the same actions
    (trigger the alarm then hit unlock) and each time the radio lost the
    time and presets. I took it in to the dealer and explained what was
    happening. They checked the battery and the alternator and couldn't
    find anything wrong. The computer had not stored any error codes. They
    said that they couldn't reproduce the problem and therefore couldn't
    diagnose it and that I should contact them if it happened again. For
    about a day and a half nothing happened and I was hoping that maybe
    they had inadvertently fixed a loose connection or something. Then it
    happened again this evening only it was worse. My remote wouldn't open
    the door. I used the key and when I opened the door the dome light did
    not go on. I was also not able to lock the doors using the lock button
    on the driver's door. The headlights and horn worked and seemed to
    have plenty of juice. When I tried to start it the dashboard lights
    all came on but it didn't try to start and the alarm was not
    triggered. Hitting the remote unlock button did not cause the
    doorlocks to click and didn't enable me to start the engine. I tried
    for several minutes to start it with no luck so I locked it and went
    back inside. About half an hour later I went out to try again. I hit
    the remote unlock button, the horn beeped 3 times and the door
    unlocked. I opened the door and the dome light came on. I was able to
    lock the doors, easily start the engine, and drive home. I obviously
    can't go on like this but the service people aren't able to diagnose
    the problem. Have any of you experienced anything similar and found
    the cause?
    Dave, Nov 23, 2003
  2. Dave

    Dan Hicks Guest

    You've got some good clues there, based on what does and doesn't
    work when you're having a problem. (Be sure to make detailed notes
    of this next time.) The various circuits are double-fused: There
    are several master fuses and each master fuse has eight or so
    smaller fuses (each a separate circuit) under it.

    First thing to check is if everything failing is on the same master
    fuse. (I think the circuits on each fuse may even be listed in the
    owner's manual.) If it's a single fuse then the first thing to do
    is to replace the fuse. If the fuse doesn't seem to fit tightly
    then someone will need to disassemble the fuse box (pull all the
    fuses and remove some screws) and tighten the little widgets that
    hold each fuse in place. (I've tried buying new little widgets but
    can't convince Saturn to sell them to me.)

    If it doesn't all trace down to a fuse then a ground is suspect.
    First off, both battery cables should be removed AT BOTH ENDS, the
    connections cleaned, and reinstalled. The ground strap between
    engine and body should similarly be removed, connections cleaned,
    and reinstalled.

    There are also some ground straps in the instrument panel that might
    be at fault. The circuits that go out might give a clue here as well.
    Dan Hicks, Nov 23, 2003
  3. Dave

    BANDIT2941 Guest

    First thing to check is if everything failing is on the same master
    What makes me think that its not a fuse is its intermittency. If a fuse went,
    it should just simply have an open circuit and that would be it until the fuse
    was replaced.
    BANDIT2941, Nov 23, 2003
  4. Dave

    Dave Guest

    I agree with this but I might try jiggling the fuses the next time
    this happens. I'll also look in the manual and see if the various
    failures all lead to the same fuse. I should mention that the 3 short
    horn beeps that occurred when I unlocked it is not normal behaviour.
    The normal behaviour is simply to unlock. I'm thinking that the beeps
    may be some kind of error code from the computer, maybe indicating
    that it rebooted or something. So the computer may be losing power or
    there may be some kind of electronic failure.
    Dave, Nov 23, 2003
  5. Dave

    Dan Hicks Guest

    You can have a bad contact with the fuse, especially if the "little
    widget" is sprung and not gripping tightly.
    Dan Hicks, Nov 23, 2003
  6. Dave

    Dan Hicks Guest

    But an electronic failure wouldn't cause the radio to lose it's
    presets -- the radio should be wired directly to an "always hot"
    Dan Hicks, Nov 23, 2003
  7. You could have a failing alternator. You should get yourself a multimeter
    ( They are very inexpensive at an automotive store) and when you are having
    the problem measure the voltage across the battery and it should be 13Volts
    or more if it is less then that then the rectifier-regulator could be
    failing inside the alternator. A common failure in Saturns.
    Alex Marcuzzi, Nov 23, 2003
  8. Dave

    BANDIT2941 Guest

    You can have a bad contact with the fuse, especially if the "little
    That could happen........in that case you would have to pull the fuses though
    instead of just checking for a blown one.

    Best bet would be to see if all problem circuits are on the same maxi
    BANDIT2941, Nov 24, 2003
  9. Dave

    Dan Hicks Guest

    A failing alternator wouldn't cause the problems described. With
    the engine not running you'd either have a dead battery or not, and
    it wouldn't just "come to life" as the OP describes.
    Dan Hicks, Nov 24, 2003
  10. Dave

    Dan Hicks Guest

    Yep. But if the fuse contacts are the problem then just "futzing
    with" the fuse will probably clear up the problem temporarily.
    Dan Hicks, Nov 24, 2003
  11. Dave

    Dave Guest

    Makes sense. Maybe the radio and the computer are both losing power.
    Dave, Nov 24, 2003
  12. Dave

    Bob Shuman Guest

    My two cents:

    Sounds to me like the battery voltage fell below the computer and radio's
    minimum threshold to retain their volatile memory so they got reset. This
    could be caused by a bad battery (how old is it? If original, it's 5 years
    old... and should be replaced) or a charging system/electrical problem (bad
    alternator/voltage regulator?)

    With all of the electronics and computers used these days, you can get some
    strange behavior when the battery isn't putting out the nominal (13.8V)
    voltage. If it falls below 12V, you can see some funny things happen.

    Good luck.

    Bob Shuman, Nov 24, 2003
  13. Dave

    Dave Guest

    That's correct. Even when it wouldn't start, the horn and headlights
    had plenty of power. Half an hour later, everything was working fine
    and it started with no difficulty.
    I'm taking it back to the dealer today. It's started happening
    frequently enough that they should be able to reproduce the problem.
    Hopefully they can then figure out what's wrong.
    Dave, Nov 24, 2003
  14. Dave

    Dan Hicks Guest

    Yeah, usually when a battery goes bad it stays bad, so you won't
    have it fail to work and then work 10 minutes later. But
    occasionally you get a bad inter-cell connection or some such in the
    battery and it acts just like a bad ground or bad battery terminal
    connection -- bad one minute and then seemingly fine 10 minutes later.

    However, I believe the radio and computer are probably designed to
    hold their memory down to 10V or so. They have to in order to
    handle the worst-case scenario of starting in cold weather.
    Dan Hicks, Nov 25, 2003
  15. Dave

    Dave Guest

    Well, they had it for several days and told me that they hadn't been
    able to exactly reproduce the problem but that weird things did happen
    when they wiggled the battery connections. They tightened the
    connections and gave me the car back. The first thing I noticed was
    that the radio still had all of my presets. That made me skeptical
    since EVERY time it acted weird for me it lost all of the presets. It
    started acting weird again after a day. Two times it wouldn't start
    for me, the locks didn't work, the dome light didn't work, and the
    remote didn't work. Both times I wiggled all of the passenger
    compartment fuses and everything started working (It's possible that
    this was coincidental to playing with the fuses). Saturday evening the
    remote wouldn't unlock the doors. Wiggling the fuses didn't fix this.
    When I tried to start it, it cranked without starting for several
    tries, then for several more tries it started ran (very roughly) for a
    few seconds, then stopped. Then finally it started and continued
    running. I've only tried it a couple of times since then and it starts
    and runs but the remote no longer functions at all. I'm calling the
    dealer Monday morning. I don't recall if I've ever replaced the car's
    battery so I will ask them about that.
    Dave, Dec 1, 2003
  16. Dave

    Elector Guest

    Well I don't have any problems now, but in Colonie NY (Saturn of
    Albany) there has never been an occasion that when we brought the 99
    SL1 in for a problem that the service department stated they could
    find nothing wrong. It seems to be they just want to sell the vehicles
    to you but not really service them.

    On the other hand a friend of mine is a service manager at another
    place and he finds the problems and fixes them. And he had to go out
    and purchase tools to just analyze the car since they normally don't
    see many Saturn's. It is a shame that service has degraded to this

    But they want you to have oil changes and inspections done at their
    dealerships. Why bother when they cannot fix the product they sell.

    Elector, Dec 1, 2003
  17. Dave

    Dave Guest

    I thought that I should post a follow up to this in case anyone is
    following it or has similar problems. They replaced the fuse box and
    all of the problems vanished. It's worked perfectly ever since. The
    only issue is that the remotes no longer work at all. This is probably
    because the electrical problems caused the computer to get out of sync
    with the remotes. I'm taking it in this Saturday to have them
    reprogrammed. Once that's fixed it should be 100%. Everything was
    covered by my extended warranty so, other than the repeated
    inconvenience, I'm not too unhappy about the incident.
    Dave, Dec 8, 2003
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