2004 Saturn Ion has problems no one can identify

Okay, here is a tough one for you…I had a lot of work done to my car in mid December. I have a 2004 Saturn Ion with 125K miles on it. Apparently the radiator fan assembly went which burnt out the plastic water pump propeller. I had those replaced and a new water pump with a metal propeller was put in its place. In addition to that I was hearing an awful banging sounds which turned out to be a broken strut, so my struts were replaced. Because an inspection was needed at the time, we replaced the front and back brakes and I got new shocks. So all this work was done and went I picked up the car I noticed it just wasn’t running the same. My husband noticed it too. The “pickup” wasn’t there and it is running at 1000 RPMs faster then it did before the work was done. I have also noticed a dramatic loss in miles used in a tank of gas. I was getting around 230 miles a tank, it is closer to 200 now. Just yesterday I got gas, the needle touched the Full line and after 45 miles I had dropped to ¾ of a tank.
On Friday Jan. 27th, I took the car into my normal shop that did the work in December; I explained that I thought that the car wasn’t shifting into gear or maybe not going into overdrive (my car has no external control over overdrive). They took it for a test drive and said that I must have been on something cause there was nothing wrong with the car. I went to the shop and the owner and I took the car out for a drive. I explained to him that once the car got to 40 mph it might drop below 2000 rpms, but once we hit 50 it stayed above the 2000 mark when it used to drop to around 1500. At 70 mph on the Expressway he said he noticed it racing a little bit, the rpms were 2000-2500, when even at 70 it was UNDER 2000. He hooked it up to the computer at his shop, but the computer didn’t read my car at all. So my guy took it to the guy who does his transmission work. This second guy hooked it up to 2 computers and used different programs and took it for test drive after test drive and he said that there was nothing wrong with the car. So I asked, if there is nothing wrong why am I losing fuel, why is the car racing when it never did before. He said the computer shows it’s working like it should, I said “So you are telling me that my car was running wrong for the last 7 years?” They said they didn’t know. So I took it to a third guy that my landlord recommended. Again, he took it for a test drive and hooked it up to the computer and nothing showed up as wrong. He told me they checked the fuel filter which was changed in June, they checked the mass air flow sensor which according to the computer worked fine. The torque convertor was checked and came back ok. Every shop I have been to keep saying nothing is wrong, but I know there is something. The only other cause they we could suggest is maybe the pulley on the water pump is the wrong size, but we were told that the computer would compensate for that, so it shouldn’t be an issue. I was told it’s a guessing game now and to really find out they would have to tear apart the car and the closed transmission. He suggested that we use the Motorvac system to clean the engine and possibly gain a couple of miles per gallon back, but I don’t think that will solve the underlying issue and I would be wasting money. I can’t continue to waste fuel and letting the engine run at high rpms which will eventually burn out the transmission, I know that much. I am hoping you can help me figure out why my fuel is burning off so fast and what could be causing the rpms to stay higher. I am at a loss and utterly confused and frustrated that no one can find out what is wrong.

Other than paragraphs being a great help in figuring out this problem, I would ask the following. You stated there was a problem with the engine cooling system which necessitated a water pump replacement.
Was there any overheating involved with this problem and what were the circumstances behind it? (Driven 20 miles while running hot, towed to a shop, etc, etc,)

Have someone connect a scanner to the vehicle and monitor the coolant temperature sensor for the computer. If the reading from the sensor doesn’t go above 150 degrees F, the computer won’t go into the closed loop mode. This will then not allow the transmission to shift into overdrive and will cause the engine to use more fuel.


I would think cause and effect. Start simple. Look for any electrical plugs that may not be fully seated, vacuum hoses not connected or split, going through gas at that rate a catalytic converter could clog in no time. Check for any engine codes, check for leaks, do you smell gas or see puddles?

@ok–I went to the bank heard a loud banging, looked down into the front driver wheel well and it was soaked. I drive it straight to the shop about 20 miles and yes it was overheating at that time. I was told that my radiator fan assembly died.
@tester-I will have to ask if that was done, but 3 different shops hooked it up to their computers, I am assuming that is something that would come up on that.
@barkydog There are no leaks, I don’t smell gas and no puddles. It just smells like a warm engine. I haven’t noticed anything out of place when I looked. No engine lights are on, as far as I was told no fuses blown or anything like that.

If the existing suggestions don’t get you where you need to be and you want to edit that post so that it has some breaks in it, and isn’t just a huge block of text I’ll have a look as well. Right now it just makes my eyes swim.

Suggest to have the shop check the compression in all cylinders and and head gasket viability. If those are ok, and the scan codes are ok, that’s proabably about the best you are going to be able to do.

One clue: When you say you notice a “dramatic” change in fuel use, you used to get 230 miles to the tank and now 200 miles. That doesn’t seem very dramatic. It’s difficult to measure fuel use to much closer than 10% anyway as it varies by where and how you are driving and how close to fully full the tank is being filled. I don’t think you can count on this 230/200 measurement as being an indication something is wrong.

Consider the possibility that the idle speed somehow got altered, and that is what you noticed. Fixing that hopefully will return the car to the same condition as prior to the work, but you may be overly sensitive to the noises & performance now that you think something is wrong, when it really isn’t. I’ve done this too, done work on the car, and decided performance or some noise had changed unexpectedly, when it really hadn’t.

Let us start at he beginning. When is the last time the air filter, fuel filter and spark plugs were replaced, I know it gets a little personal but how often have you had oil changes done? Any other maintenance info would be apprecieated.

Your water pump is external to the engine, the new one did not come with the pulley (it would have been switched over from the old pump), and it’s pulley size is irrelevant to your mileage or the speed your engine turns, Forget the pulley. It isn’t the pulley.

Your radiator incorporates into it your transmission cooler. If the cooling fan assembly and/or water pump self-destructed, and it sounds like it did, it could easily have damaged the transmission cooling portion of the radiator or even the connecting lines. You could be driving around with your tranny fluid lost and will very shortly burn up your tranny. Check your tranny fluid level per your owner’s manual before driving the vehicle again. Your tranny could also be overheating due to damage to the cooling system components. If the fluid smells burnt…

You had lots of brake work done. If you have a dragging brake pad, even a parking brake shoe, this could manifest itself as your symptoms. Have the shop check for a dragging brake.

Vacuum hoses shoudl also be checked as already suggested.

I like Tester’s suggestion, but would suggest that if the engine doesn’t warm up properly the cause will probably be a thermostat that got damaged in the overheating and is staying open.

Lastly, have it checked for headgasket damage. Headgaskt damage won;t generally manifest itself as your symptoms, but one never knows.

You did have a lot of work done. Is the car pulling to one side at all when driving? That could be a brake dragging. I would suspect though, that an electrical connector was knocked off somewhere. If I read your monologue right, it’s running at higher RPMs than normal at highway speeds? I wonder if the electrical connector for your torque converter lockup wasn’t knocked off. You would think the diagnostics you had done would find this, but I suppose it depends on the ability of the mechanic.