2002 Saturn SL2: Not Starting (Sometimes)

I’m at my wit’s end. I own a Saturn SL2, 150,000 miles on it. Since July, I’ve had 5-6 instances of the car not starting. Lights and radio and wipers work, but the car doesn’t turn over. No clicking sounds. Nothing. I think I can hear the fuel pump going, too, but the engine doesn’t so much as sputter, and there are no other audible clues because there isn’t any noise.

I’ve had two mechanics look at the car; the battery (new, bought in February of this year), starter and alternator all check out. They’ve also been unable to replicate the problem in the shop; it literally starts for them every time.

I only have a couple of clues - and these aren’t consistent behaviors, but there seems to be a general pattern. One is that when I drive the car short distances (say under 5 miles) after not driving for a while, that seems to be the most likely time for the car to not start. And it usually starts up again after a half hour or so of not starting. (Today, those rules will broken: I drove the car a short distance this morning, came back to it after an hour, and it wouldn’t start. It took 9 hours of waiting (with a try in the middle) to get it to start again. Also, when I’m turning the key and it doesn’t start, the odometer (digital) goes to all 8s - 888888. I don’t know if that’s normal or not, as I don’t usually look at the odometer when turning the key.

I’ve done some Googling, and while it seems to be a problem other Saturn owners have had, there doesn’t seem to be a common cure. I don’t know what to do - it’s wreaking havoc with my life, never knowing if the car will start or not. What do I have the mechanics look at/do? I’m horrible at mechanical repairs, so fixing it or figuring it on my own isn’t an option. But I’d like to be able to give the mechanic SOMETHING to look at beyond the usual suspects, which all seem to be working fine.

Can someone help/suggest something?

Automatic or manual transmission? Its a very simple system. There are two red wires on the + battery post. the big one goes directly to the starter solenoid contacts. The smaller one goes to the underhood fuse box, thru a 30 amp fuse (IGN 3), to the ignition switch, then to either the clutch safety switch, then underhood fuse block again (no fuses this time) (manual transmission) or to the underhood fuse block again and then the Transaxle range switch (automatic transmission) and finally to the small terminal on the starter.

The first pass thru the underhood fuse block (UHFB) it goes in on a red wire and out on a red wire. The second pass thru, it goes in on a yellow wire and out on a purple.

All 8’s is normal.

Automatic transmission. And I’m sorry for missing the obvious - what do I do with the info you give? Check the cable connections?

Hello, I bought A Saturn too, and its doing the same thing. This year in Feb., and Today. I hope Someone out there can help Us, with this issue. I’m afraid to drive the car now, cause of this problem, I’m Disable, and I need My car for Dr. appointments. Your Suggestions are Welcomed. Thank you.

Read the previous posts.

Starter, neutral safety switch and I’d suggest the ignition switch. I assume you won’t be fixing yourself?

Take it to a trusted independent mechanic, not a big chain store like Pep Boys or Firestone. You might pay a little more initially but the car will more likely get fixed. Tell them what you experience and exactly what you are doing when it happens and let them diagnose the problem. The diagnosis will cost a little bit but it is well worth the time and money to get it fixed correctly to not just have someone throw parts at it hoping to fix the problem. Good Luck.

For no-cranks (you don’t hear that rrr rr rrr sound when you turn the key to start, probably the most common complaint we get here) first step is to clean the battery connections. Has your shop done that @Belinda_Maclean ?

Beyond that, the problem is usually one of these

  • battery
  • alternator
  • transmission safety switch
  • starter motor

Which one? That’s what your local inde shop knows how to determine. Many diy’ers are able to clean the battery terminals themselves and try starting in N rather than P, or try wiggling the shifter a little, so if you can do that, worth a shot. In really stubborn cases when I’ve had this problem I hook up a volt meter inside the passenger compartment so when it happens I can monitor the voltages coming from the two starter motor terminals referenced to the starter’s case. If both are 10.5 volts or higher with the key in “start” and it doesn’t crank the engine, I replace the starter motor.

Awesome… Thank you. I will Check all these possibilities. I like My
Car…She drives, like a Charm, and Drives smoothly once she goes.:smirk:

My post above came directly from the factory service manual for the 2000-2002 Saturn SL series.