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2000 Saturn SW Won't Turn Off

I drive a 2000 Saturn S-series (SW) that has a lot of miles on it, and has been giving me consistent trouble lately–replaced the catalytic converter, transmission work, belts, coolant issues, you name it. That said, up until recently I would have referred to it as an extremely reliable car. The piles of money I’ve now put into it make me less likely to call it this. So, my question is twofold: a specific question and a general is-this-the-end question.

As of last night, my car has been having trouble shutting completely off. I am able to turn the key and take it out of the ignition, and the car shuts off–mostly. Something is still on (a fan, part of the engine?) and I have to turn the car on and off many times until it shuts off completely. Last night I had to drive it around the block before it would shut off. I took it to the mechanic today for a separate issue–hemorrhaging coolant–and asked them to look at the shutting off issue. Of course, when they looked at it, my car suddenly shut off fine. They said that it probably has to do with the ignition switch, and that I’ll need to take it to the dealer because my key is so old they can’t recreate it from my old beaten up key from 14 years ago. (I’m not exactly sure what they have to recreate, or how an ignition switch works.)

Has anyone heard of this problem? Saturns aren’t made anymore–are there dealers? Is it time to chuck this car? Or is an ignition switch not a big deal?

Well - what is odd on their comments about the ignition switch is that the switch itself doesn’t have a thing to do with reproducing a key. You should be able to install a new switch and keep using the same key. (If its your only one though, then you really need a spare!) The key is for the ignition lock cylinder which is different from the ignition switch. But even if whatever they diagnosed did involve the key, a good locksmith should also be able to take care of things. Most are now well-versed in the weirdness of auto computer chip keys. It still wouldn’t be cheap but its another avenue to explore.

As for something remaining running after you shut down - I guess you’ve been driving the car so long that you’d notice something new and abnormal. But on many vehicles the cooling fans will run anytime they need to whether the car is on or not - in other words it is normal. Perhaps you ended up with low coolant from the impending gusher, the coolant temp sensor was seeing hotter temps and this kept the cooling fans running even after you shut the car down. So maybe it isn’t a separate issue. The next time you turn off the car and you hear this noise pop the hood and see if the cooling fan is running - you know, without sticking your fingers or any other thing in there. Just be careful, in other words.

The radiator fan will come on if the coolant temperature is above a certain temperature anytime within ten minutes of shutting down the engine. Its programmed to do this. It has probably done this a lot in the past but you never noticed it.

The reason you didn’t notice it is that typically, when you shut down the engine, the heat from the very interior of the engine migrates outward to the coolant, so the coolant temperature in the block and head actually rises. About two minutes after shutdown, after you are in the house or office or store, the fan starts up, runs for a minute or two and then shuts down. You never know it happened.

Now you are having a cooling system problem and the engine may be overheated when you shut it down. You need to solve the cooling system issue first. Based on my experience, I’d check for a little hose that goes to the bottom of the intake manifold or the bleed hose. If not that, then the water pump would be my next suspect.

If you are getting oil in the coolant reservoir, then you may have an issue with the cooling tube inside the radiator and if that is the case, you need to replace the radiator ASAP or you will have more transmission problems.

You can get a new key cut from the VIN number from any GM dealer, but that is not your problem.

Here is another site for you.

The worn key shouldn’t be an issue in my way of thinking anway. You can always just buy an ignition switch with a new cylinder and that comes with a new key. The only problem is that you have to keep two keys on your key chain if the original ignition key is used to open the trunk for example.

As for the other problem, the first thing to determine is what is actually making that noise. Once that is determined, the solution will probably be fairly simple. It may be normal as per the above comments, or it may be that a relay somewhere is sticking. Your mechanic could use a mechanic’s stethoscope to tell what is making the noise.

Edit: I’ll add I had a similar problem on my Corolla come to think about it. The radiator fan would keep running when it shouldn’t. The problem was the coolant temperature switch which controlled the fan relay was sticking.

If you have the security system in your Saturn, then replacing the ignition lock cylinder is a BIG deal. Just pulling the old cylinder out trips something in the BCM and that means two hours of programming at a GM dealer. If its just a regular key, then you can remove and replace the lock cylinder with no problem.

But the key is not the problem here. Nor is the lock cylinder.

BTW SW1 or SW2? SW1 has another issue you need to know about.

I’m not buying the ignition switch claim.
First thing to do is figure out what is still running. If it’s not the engine (I assume you would recognize that) then it is probably the cooling fan, as others mentioned above. That is not a sign of failure; it’s supposed to run as long as is needed to cool down the engine.
The fact that the mechanic working on the cooling system is blaming the ignition switch doesn’t give me much confidence in him.
I’d get a diagnosis on the coolant belching problem ,then decide if the car is a keeper or not.

just a fyi … The cooling fan won’t run with the ignition in the “off” position on some cars. My early 90’s Corolla for example, no matter how hot the coolant, the ignition must be in “on” for the radiator fan to run. The power source for the radiator fan circuit comes from the main engine relay, and that isn’t powered up unless the key is in “on”.