2009 Saturn Outlook Stuck out of town

This is a daily/work commute vehicle with about 165,xxx miles on it. After getting out of work the car cranked and started fine but the check engine light came on and it idled rough (no flashing CEL). When the gas pedal was pressed there was almost no power and the engine would surge up and down and the fuel gauge was acting erratically. The fuel gauge was moving up and down rapidly when pressing the gas. The fuel gauge was the only one acting weird in the cluster. There is also a longrunning intermittent limp mode issue with this vehicle, I have a feeling it probably isn’t related but I felt it good to include that just in case. This vehicle has been for a long time also getting bad gas milage. Maybe it’s just because I’m used to smaller cars though. It barely wanted to leave the parking lot so it was left out of town. Do you think it’s safe to try and drive about 40 miles back into town with a friend tailing me or is there a likelihood it quits completely? I really have no choice, I can’t afford a tow or anything right now. It’s the only car we have. I’d really love to tackle this myself but I no longer have my scantool or a fuel pressure tester, also it’s not in my driveway so it’s a dream. I’m most likely going to end up taking it to a mechanic, but I wonder is there anything I can check with it that’s really simple when I go to try and fetch it with simple hand tools and a multimeter? (probably not)

If you have a CEL, the tool you need is a code reader. Sounds like you’ve used one before. I would not attempt to drive 40 miles.

Agreed with not driving it.

A flashing check engine light means something is seriously wrong, serious enough to cause damage to vital parts of the engine, etc.

Meaning…the $100 or whatever it costs to have it towed to a mechanic is a lot cheaper than potentially having to buy a new engine, catalytic converter, or even new car.

Good luck.

its not flashing. I agree trying to drive it back in town is a bad idea.

As long as the light isn’t flashing, I’d try driving it.

But if the light starts flashing, stop the vehicle and call for a tow,

Tester

My mistake.

I still would have the vehicle towed, to be safe.

Could be an intermittent problem with the electronic throttle control, restart the engine and see if the throttle control is restored.

Made it all the way home without the “surging” or fuel gauge weirdness (maybe that was a separate issue, wild guess sending unit?).

It seems to be stuck in limp mode this time though where before it would be very intermittent (it would go back to normal after turning the car off and waiting a few mins). It did use a lot of gas on the trip back but I guess that’s to be expected given I had to keep it up around 3k rpm to maintain a decent speed.
Nevada mentioning the throttle control is kind of interesting. There were a couple times in the past where I was driving the truck (ran and drove fine) and I could have sworn that for a very brief moment the accelerator cut out as I was pulling away from a stop, almost like if your foot slipped off the pedal. I don’t know if I was imagining things but I took a quick gander under the hood.
I pulled the duct off between the throttle and air box and did see quite a bit of oil pooled in the low part of the duct. There seemed to be quite a bit of black carbon buildup on the inside of the throttle body, not necessarily on the edge of the plate itself but where it rests on the walls. I gave the plastic housing on the back where the TPS is a few gentle love taps with the soft side of the screwdriver then unplugged the six wireTAC connector then plugged it back in for shits and giggles. Of course this made no difference. I had my meter with me and thought about maybe checking for a 5v reference and signal or something but I wasn’t too sure of the pinout and I haven’t even read any codes yet so I decided not to mess with it. I’m gonna take it to a mechanic. Out of curiosity a dirty throttle wouldn’t cause this right?

When I left the driveway the gauge was a little over sixteenth of a tank, about twenty seconds later when driving it started moving up and down on it’s own between that and half a tank. It kept dancing around all the way until I got to the mechanic. I’m guessing sending unit is responsible for that but I dunno.

Maybe a ground connection failed and the behavior of the fuel gauge is due to that.

Shop called yesterday (I just returned the call today)

They say it needs a sending unit (no surprise there), transmission control solenoid and TCM quoted at $2200. Their lot was very full yesterday and they looked really busy. Lady started reading off codes to me over the phone, makes me wonder if they just looked at codes or they found the time to do anything. What do you guys think?

I think you have to give serious thought as to whether it is worthwhile to spend more than $2k on repairing a 13 year old car.

If the engine doesn’t consume a significant amount of oil, if you (and all of the possible previous owners) have given it consistently excellent maintenance, and if it doesn’t have significant rust damage, it might be worth repairing, but only you can make that decision.

So all of those problems just happened to start at the same time. Dubious at best. And yes, I think they just read the codes. Something electrical like the ground as suggested by @TheWonderful90s can generate all sorts of bogus problems.

For $2200, I’d definitively take it for a second opinion. If there is a transmission issue, the next place I’d take it would be a transmission shop.

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@ledhed75
This was my next instinct. I called two local transmission shops and they’re all booked out for weeks out. This was my only working vehicle so time is important to me now and I really wanted to get a transmission shop to check it out but I ended up scheduling another general full service mechanic.

@TheWonderful90s Valid concern and easy to overlook.

@tomlinkusa_158931
Well the limp mode has been happening before but it was intermittent and short lived, now it’s permanent. But I agree with what you’re saying it seems a bit strange. I could see how easy something like that could be to overlook, especially if you’re just making calls based on codes. (assuming that’s what they did) I’d really hate to pay that kind of money and it seem “fixed” because they jostled stuff around when replacing the TCM only for the problem to reappear a month or two down the road. To my knowledge there are too many things that can trigger this mode, I wouldn’t even begin to know where to look. All I can possibly deduce are two or three very random and rare anomalies in the past where it seemed like the accelerator cut out VERY briefly pulling from a stop (as if your foot slipped off the pedal). Also the engine would start in clear flood mode, I noticed that at the gas station when I was having issues with the purge valve. This made me wonder about the electronic throttle control.

EDIT:
https://www.veed.io/view/40008ce6-d2a0-47d3-9df0-b041028fa1be
https://www.veed.io/view/18ce22b7-044c-4b13-9f49-33c271de470a
Shop pulled a P0658 – Actuator Supply Voltage – Circuit Low

If it needs a replacement transmission solenoid, then most likely that shop work is what is required if you want to ever get it out of limp mode. If you doubt the diagnosis, ask several inde shops in your area which is the best inde transmission shop nearby, and take your Outlook there for a second opinion. Be sure to tell them which shop gave you the recommendation.

All this vehicle uncertainty can’t be making your life any easier. If you had the equipment, tools, space, & time to effect diy’er diagnosis & repairs, that would be an option, but … hmmm … given your situation, might be a good time to think about buying a replacement vehicle with excellent reliable ratings, and follow the manufacturer’s maintenance regime to the letter. If your replacement is manual transmission equipped, very unlikely you’ll ever have to replace a transmission solenoid.

No, but he’d need to change an expensive clutch on a regular basis.

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