1997 Saturn rough start



I recently purchased a 1997 Saturn SL2 1.9L 4 door with 133k miles. It is the first Saturn I have ever owned so I do not have experience with this make of car.

Initially I knew that it sounded a little loud and that it had more vibration (from the engine) when running than I would consider normal far any car. I have checked the mileage and I am getting about 27 mpg with an even mix of city/hiway. From listening to other Saturn SL2 owners I was expecting it to be around 35mpg

Anyway, my real issue is that I have put about 400 miles on it and have begun to experience the following problem. It is getting more difficult to start after it has set and is at ambient temperature, maybe 40 F. It just turns over and over. In order to get it to start I have to hold the gas pedal down and turn the key, It will then start but I have to work the pedal just right and rev it just to get it to stay running. After that it will run ok when driving but when I idle at the first few stop lights then press the gas to go it wants to hesitate and (so far) almost die.

Some other information: After I bought the car it did set for about 4 months with very little driving, but it always would start up when I did occasionally drive it. I then recently filled the tank and drove it until the low fuel light came on in order to verify the light worked and to see what kind of mileage it was getting.

To help this issue I just put in a new air filter and spark plugs but that did not help at all. After changing the spark plugs I started it (had to fight it to get running) and it ran in idle for about 10 minutes and there was more than normal amount of exhaust smoke the entire time (idle around 1K rpm). I then took it for a 15 minute test drive and parked it again and ran it at idle (still 1K rpm) but there was no visible smoke. I stopped and started the engine 2 or 3 times and it starts with no issue when warmed up.

So my question is…

1) What can I do to make it start reliably when at ambient temp

2) What will stop it from hesitating and almost dying at stop lights (when hit gas) before it is fully warmed up?

3) Why would it have so much vibration from the engine?


Is the check engine light on?

Honestly - it sounds to me like you need to just take it somewhere - preferably a reputable, local mechanic who does general repairs. On the face of it, it just sounds like you bought a car that may have been somewhat neglected.

If you really do want a list of things:

  • get new plug wires to go with those plugs
  • replace the fuel filter
  • check you fuel pressure and check your fuel pressure regulator for leaks
  • pull and clean the idle air control valve, and check its wiring
  • clean the mass airflow sensor and throttle body
  • run some heavy duty injector cleaner through it - Techron & Seafoam are often recommended
  • check you motor/transmission mounts for deterioration/breaks
  • check for vacuum leaks
  • ummmm…I’m sure a few other things will come to me (or someone else)

In essence, someone really just needs to go over all of the basics and make sure things are in order.


These kinds of symptoms often show up on Saturns when an intake gasket starts to leak. The excess air going into the engine, unmonitored and unaccounted for, can cause it to do all sorts of strange things. Based on the description of your problem, I would check it for a bad intake gasket, and any other vacuum leaks.