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2005 Saturn Ion Passive Alarm

My 2005 ion has been acting up a lot more recently. I believe all 2005 ions, if not other years too, have a passive alarm factory installed. If the car is being stolen (or in my case THINKS it’s being stolen) it will not start. You are then required to wait 15 minutes, do nothing in the meantime, then restart the vehicle. The key will turn, there will be a click, then the ignition doesn’t turn over but all of the electronics work, like the windows, radio, and fan. I’ve taken it to 2 dealerships now, one back in 2008 when I first purchased the car and that as at a Saturn dealership, and back in June of 2013 to a GM dealership. They both “fixed” the problem yet it is still acting up. The car was fine until about 2011 so it is a much more recent problem.

Each time the dealership runs a diagnostic test it comes up with a different error code. I took it to a the same GM dealership I did before yesterday and the error code said that the problem was with the remote starter that I’ve since 2009.

I know it’s the passive alarm, but each time it gets “fixed” nothing changes. Before, it wouldn’t start once then after 15 minutes it would start and I would be fine. But recently, I could go through that process 3-4 times before the car will even start. Last night I tried starting the car with the remote starter button and that seems to work fine. I just want this whole problem gone FOR GOOD!!! Any help would be greatly appreciated!

Is the remote start after market? Have you had a battery test done?

Jill, funny you should post this last night: I had exactly the same problem (again) with my 2003 Ion the night before. The problem is not your remote starter or the battery: it’s a well known issue with the Passlock system, and I get it occasionally when the weather is damp and hovering just above the freezing point.

Part of the ignition lock is a special switch that the key activates when you push it in; it connects a certain value resistor to the computer. The computer checks to see if the value matches what it’s programmed to expect, and if it’s within a certain range, it decides you’re okay and lets the car start. If the value is out of range – say, someone cut the wires or shorted them in an attempt to hot-wire the car – the car will crank for about half a second and quit. The Passlock light (it looks like a padlock) will generally come on, and the display will usually scroll the “SERVICE VEHICLE” message. Further attempts to start the car will either give the starter a half-second blip, or won’t even try at all. You have to wait about ten minutes until the system resets, then try again. If you sit quietly in the car, you’ll hear the relay click, and usually the dome light will go out when the system resets.

The root cause of this is supposedly a grease that GM used in the locks, that gets cranky in cold weather. This keeps the Passlock switch from activating properly, disabling the car.

I imagine that replacing the lock / switch assembly would solve the problem, but I am disinclined to install a part worth more than the rest of the car. There are also “solutions” that involve cutting a certain white wire; I have not pursued this – yet. If I do, I will spend a bit more time to analyze exactly how the circuit behaves so that I can simulate proper operation better than just cutting the wire.

At any rate, don’t get tricked into expensive non-fixes like replacing the battery, replacing the starter, and so on. Been there, done that, got the empty wallet to show for it.

Best of luck!

– Jeff

Well, I would like to agree with you about the weather but I live in Arizona and we haven’t hit temps below 60 yet this season. It has a tendency to act up when it gets very hot out, but it’s been in the 80s lately. When we took it to the dealership back in June, they made a new key that was supposed to be the original length. They said there was a button in the ignition that they key would hit but since the key was so worn, it wasn’t reaching it, thus causing the issue.

I’m just so frustrated with the car and I don’t want to pay the dealership another $500 to fix the problem they claimed to have fixed 5 months ago. It’s not worth the money honestly! You will have the passlock light when you cut the wire, but it’s a FREE fix. The engine must be RUNNING when you cut the wire.


Many shops guarantee their parts and labor for 12 months

I would say you might be entitled to a free repair this time, provided you go back to that same shop that worked on it 5 months ago.

This may sound unkind to the shop, but it’s possible they misdiagnosed it at the time.

Have you tried that approach?

@db4690 I did actually. They said the car was producing a different error code and that it would cost another $500 to fix it. After at least an hour of arguing with the dealership, they refused to fix the original problem saying they already did and that we had to pay for the diagnostic test. It was infuriating! So I don’t plan on going back there again! That’s why I want to fix this myself!!

It must be possible to diagnose this problem and fix it. After all the engineers at Saturn figured it out when they designed and manufactured the cars on the ass’y line. They built a lot of them, right? And they must have worked, at first at least.

But fixing it may not be economical. Like with most electronics problems, say your DVD player won’t skip to the next track for some reason, maybe the button is broke, well, if it breaks you just buy another DVD player. Or ignore the function that’s not working.

With a car that’s not a good solution of course. You can’t junk an entire car b/c a button doesn’t work. But I think you need to think along these same lines. If some optional electronic gadget isn’t working on the car, just get rid of or ignore that feature. I’ll bet there is a way to totally disable the security system. You may have to get some black tape to put over the indicator light on the dashboard is all. Forget that dealer. Be done with them. Have you checked at any local inde shops that specialize in Saturns? You’re going to need someone with auto-electric training and expertise w/ reading Saturn schematics to fix this I expect.


Thank you for the information

I feel for you. In spite of the error code, I feel the dealer should have done something. Even if they are not obligated to help you, it would have been good customer relations.

Good luck, in any case