'06 Saturn Ion Cold Start Problems



Hope this helps. The heat gun and the lock de-icer are good ideas too!!!

So here is the real deal with the starting problem. I own a Saturn Ion2 2004. I researched it and asked Saturn and they confirmed it. This is only for Saturn Ion 1 and 2 for the years 2003 to 2006.

The ignition switch has a fluid in it to ease startup. Unfortunately that fluid starts to freeze around 35 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit and takes about 12 hours to become viscous (slushy) enough to cause problems. So if you start the car again within about 8 hours of the last start it will start up again easily and warm up the ignition switch enough. But that is very inconvenient thing to do overnight, which is why most problems arise on the first startup of the day. Once the startup fails you have to wait at least 10 minutes to try again. Saturn Ions have a failsafe that prevents theft. The car basically intreprets the failed start as a hotwire job and locks out another startup for 10 minutes (PassLock and may show a “service vehicle light”). After 10 minutes the thief should be annoyed and leave or get caught, at least that’s the idea.

Removing the fluid causes even worse startup problems and replacing the ignition switch means replacing with a part that has the exact same fluid in it. Saturn will not recall this part and change it because they say that a recall is not warranted due to that fact that this part does not cause a hazardous situation (like Ford Explorer exploding tires in the late 90’s for example). I disagree on that point. Not being able to start in cold weather could put someone in a position to be stranded in the middle of nowhere and possibly die if it is cold enough or they are not found for long enough.

The only solutions I have found are these (solution 2, 3, and 5 work best together):

1)get ready early on cold days and expect a problem.
2)keeping the car in a garage helps alot because it is not exposed to any wind that might lower the temperature around the car. also some garages are slightly heated.
3)wrap a heavy scarf around the steering column to insulate the ignition switch. i found this one works pretty good.
4)if you have a heating pad and can run a cord to the car,when you first get up place the heating pad on the steering column and set it on the lowest heat setting. leave it there until you are ready to leave and the ignition switch (and the steering wheel) should be warm
5)if you can’t do 2,3,and 4, then try to start the car once, will probably fail. remove the key for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes put the key in the ignition switch and turn it only enough to get the electricity going (!!! don’t start it yet or you will have to start all over again!!!) leave the key in the switch with the car off and let the heat run at its highest setting. it won?t seems hot because the air is not running through the engine to heat it but it will be enough to normalize the temperature in the car. after 5 or so minutes of running the heat, try to start the car again. keep doing this until the car starts.

Have not try these two yet:

6)i have heard of cordless hair dryers, can’t find one to buy yet though. but i read about someone in canada using it to heat up the ignition switch before the first start and it working
7)try heating the key. i heard this may work also.


I’ve got an 03 Saturn Ion with the same problem. After I found dozens of forums about this issue on the internet and finding out that replacing the ignition switch does not solve the problem, I found this video on YouTube, titled “Cutting the White Wire on Saturn Ion”

This video shows you how to disengage the PassLock system so your car can start on cold days. It has worked for my Ion, but since this solution makes the car easier to steal, so instead of using wire nuts like the video, I installed a $5 Toggle Switch in the wire to engage the PassLock system during the summer.


HERE IS THE REAL SOLUTION!!! I had this problem and after a year of trying the heat-the-key method and others that didn’t work, I found the real solution on-line (but don’t have the link to post). What the steps below do is disable the passlock system and it worked on my 2004 Saturn Ion-2:

  1. Remove the steering wheel column cover (not the piece where you honk the horn, remove the part with the soft rubber piece where the wheel meets the dash) to expose the wiring to the ignition switch and unwrap the tape or wire ties so that you can access the WHITE wire.
  2. Start the car normally. If you have the problem with the 10-minute wait at this point, you’ll just have to wait and try again until you can get the car started normally. The rest of the steps require the car to be running and having been started with a valid key code.
  3. Once started, CUT THE WHITE WIRE (all white, no stripes. There may be other white wires with stripes, so of the 6 or so wires, inspect well first). The passlock system will beep a few times and the passlock light in the dash will come on. Also, in the mileage display window it’ll say “Service Vehicle.” Hit the mileage/change oil reset button once to see normal mileage display.
  4. Tape ends of white wires with electrical tape making sure the two ends will never touch again!
  5. Retape/retie the ignition wires and put the cover back on.

You’re done! Now you can shut the car off and it’ll start again every time in all weather. You’ll never have it fail to start and make you wait 10 minutes again. The nuisance of this is that every time you start the car, it’ll say “Service Vehicle” in the mileage display and the passlock light in the dash will stay on all the time. But so what? Just hit the mileage/change oil reset button and drive on. I’m never stuck and it cost me NOTHING to fix this.


I too have purchased a 2006 Saturn Ion 3. It has 43K miles on it. I bought it in August, so I haven’t experienced the cold start issue yet, but I anticipate it happening. I plan to buy a box of the hand warmers that hunters use (You know the kind: you take it out of the package and put it in you pocket or shoe) and place it on the ignition switch over night. I hope that works. If so, I will keep a couple of the hand warmers in my purse for use when I am away from home.

I have had the passkey problem. We followed the instructions on how to cut the “white wire”. Sadly, it did not work, so we spliced it back together. I then went to the owner’s manual to re-read the info re: the passlock system. It mentioned that if the light came on while driving the car, there was a problem & to check the fuses. I got my hopes up thinking that MAYBE there was a dedicated fuse for just the passlock. No such luck; however, I read that the car may not recognize the key.

When I bought the car, the dealer only had one key. I took the key to a locksmith & had extras made. I used one of the copies for a couple of weeks before this problem came up, so I switched back to the original key, and SO FAR, have not had any more starting problems. If the original key continues to work for another 2 to 3 weeks, then I will bite the bullet & go to Saturn repair shop and pay $25 for a new key.