1989 SAAB 900 Hesitation and Starting Difficulties

I’m looking at buying an '89 SAAB 900 that has a history of being properly serviced by the first owner. Unfortunately, the second owner brought it to Wal-Mart to “have the injectors cleaned.” In the process they busted what I assume is the CCV or PCV valve and some vacuum hosing.

When I test drove it, I noticed a hesitation when shifting into second gear. Sometimes it upshifted from first okay, sometimes you would have to almost floor it or it would start bogging out. The other thing I noticed is that you have to give it a lot of gas in a specific way when starting it, or it just keeps on cranking but doesn’t start. Are these symptoms related to a possible vacuum leak or loss of compression? More importantly, would it possibly be a fix that’s as simple as replacing the culprit valve and terrible jerry-rigged vacuum hose on it?

SAABs are pretty touchy about vacuum leaks and every one of those symptoms you mention could very well be caused by a vacuum leak.

Sounds like WM broke an aged, brittle plastic fitting while trying to feed some injector cleaner into the intake manifold. (Which brings up the point; how does this clean the injectors?)
Is this by chance the fitting on the valve cover with a small hose and a large one or the one on top of the manifold near the throttle body, etc.?

About all I can suggest is see if the seller will allow you to jury rig things by pinching off lines, duct taping damage, etc. in an attempt to see if that cures it. At least on a short test drive basis.

If you need odd parts they can generally be found pretty cheaply on eBay, through some SAAB forum parts vendors, and I’ve even got a small stash of SAAB stuff myself.

You didn’t say if this was a turbo motor or a normally aspirated motor. Both are solid motors but do rely on vacuum lines for anti-pollution controls. The problem is likely an easy fix for a mechanic knowledgeable of old Saabs. That certainly isn’t what you are going to find at Wal Mart.

The Wal Mart folks took a good running car and screwed it up. But they are too clueless to fix it properly. If you want the car take it to a Saab knowledgeable mechanic (Saabs are very different in many respects from American and even most European cars) for an inspection. Part of the inspection can be to resolve the vacuum issues so he can render a verdict on the condition of the motor.

First, the engine in this car is the naturally aspirated motor. I’ve found a picture and circled the connections that were jury-rigged by the WM techs:


The guy did offer to let me test drive it for a day or two, so maybe this weekend I’ll take him up on that and see if I can try to get it running better by creating a better vacuum seal on it.

Yes, that’s a critical fitting as to making it leak proof when it comes to vacuum. I took a quick look at a complete '89 engine/transmission assembly I have sitting around and the fitting on that one is also broken.

I’d take them up on the offer to keep the car for a few days, cobble something together to stop the leak, and see how it does.

It looks like I can buy a PCV valve online for between $5 and $20. Would I just have to replace that part and give it some proper vacuum hose and it’ll be good as new? Or are there additional fittings that I’d require to get it up to snuff? In the mean time I’m sure I can put something together that’ll hopefully improve the seal around what’s there right now.

Finally, maybe of less concern, but if this was serviced at a Saab dealer for most of its life, has a new fuel filter, master cylinder, new rotor and battery, this would probably be a good buy for $500 at 187k miles? My concern is that this guy, for whatever reason, thinks this car is German and from the BMW family since it was originally from a Saab-BMW dealership. As a result he “drives it like a sports car” since that’s what he thinks it is, and probably has been shifting between 5-6k RPMs. This has the potential to be a good buy but I’d hate to have to dump money into an otherwise good car because some guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Keep it in mind your car uses the dreaded CIS type fuel injection. It sounds like the visit to Wal-Mart was a attempt to fix a CIS illness and it didn’t work out.

I would not take this car on unless the driveability issues were resolved. Buying this car for $500.00 sets you up to be in a position to keep putting money into it, not only for normal maintiance (which all cars need) but for the quirky unreliable CIS injection.

If the car was running fine (as determined by a SAAB mechanic) I would feel different about offering $500.00. I am a fan of this era SAAB and I have CIS training so I know the cars can run right but problems come to that CIS injection and unless you can fix it yourself the cost to keep these cars running is prohibitive.

Saab’s are great cars from that era, but this is an old car now. If you like working on cars yourself and can get a good repair manual this may work. Getting the right fitting and getting the vacuum lines sorted out shouldn’t be too hard for an experienced Saab mechanic.

Fuel pumps and the fuel injection systems are weakness of this era Saab. If it is a stick the hard driving of the current owner may not be doing any good for the transmission either. $500 bucks isn’t bad, but you need to have some money for repairs too. This car can give you good service but $1,000 to $2,000 a year in repairs is what you need to figure on if you have to have to take it to a mechanic for repairs.

Since this car has the naturally aspirated 16v 2.0, is it pretty much a given that this car has the CIS type fuel injection? Also, what are the problems commonly associated with this type of fuel injection? In any case, it seems foolish to pay $500 for a car that might possibly nickle and dime myself for as much as 2 to 4 times as much as I paid for it. As much as I like this, there may be too many drawbacks to buying it. I’d be willing to learn how to work on CIS, but seems a bit unrealistic. Anyway, I think the only real scenario in which I’d buy the car is if the current owner would have it checked out by a SAAB mechanic for either a clean bill of health or what problems I need to be aware of. Thanks for the input, everyone.

If the car looks half decent and runs well after the vacuum problem is repaired I would say it’s easily worth 500 bucks even with the mileage on it.
Being a non-turbo is actually a plus because many of the turbocharged ones really get flogged by their owners.

On a positive note, these cars have near bullet-proof engines and transmissions and can go forever. Do a net search and you will find a guy who put a million miles on an '89 model 900. SAAB gave him a brand new car in exchange for that one.

You would also be lucky because this model did not use CIS injection. It has a “normal” fuel injection system on it.
CIS is wonderful when it’s working and a royal pain in the tail when it’s not but you don’t have that worry with this car.

Wished my current SAAB had the “normal” system instead of the CIS. I’ve seriously considered doing some machine work on the intake manifold and converting it to a normal system.

Well, that’s a bit of a relief, particulary on the non-CIS injection. Does that mean that the model I’m looking at should have either the Bosch LH 2.2 or 2.4 or the Lucas fuel injection?