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Fuel gauge working intermittently on my 2002 Saturn L300

I have a 2002 Saturn L300, 6 cyl (Saab 95 engine), that just turned 100k miles. Love my car, bought it new in 2001, however, my fuel gauge now works intermittently. It’s the only mechanical issue with the car. Usually it is pinned at empty and I am dealing with it buy filling up whenever I hit 200 miles on my trip odometer. But I would really like to fix it. It can start working at any time – right after filling the tank, when I first start up in the morning, in the middle of a drive. No discernable pattern or rationale. Sometimes when it works it seems to be accurate, other times it seems to be lower than it should be (based on my trip odometer estimate). Thoughts on possible problem? Mechanical (e.g., float) or electrical (e.g., sensor)? Worth repairing or just deal with it?

If you get an actual repair estimate then you can decide if you want to spend the money.

GM has issued a Technical Service Bulletin that addresses the problem you’re having with your Saturn.


It is possible your fuel sending unit contacts are dirty

I had a very similar problem on our spare car

I started filling up top tier fuel at Costco, and the problem immediately ended

This seems to be a common problem with some GM vehicles in the early to mid 2000s. I had the same problem with my 2006 Chevrolet Uplander. The repair was done under warranty. I think the sending unit was reolaced, but it has been too long ago for me to remember the exact problem.

Tiny metal “fingers” on the “wiper” portion of the float operated arm on the sender (fuel level sensor) get dissolved by sulfur in the gasoline. Then when the fingers move across a printed potentiometer on the sender, the signal becomes hit or miss… one, two, skip a few.

Sometimes they hit and send the proper signal and sometimes they miss and won’t write home.

I put in just the piece with the fingers in my Bonneville.
I was not supposed to be able to do that (Everybody says it needs an entire fuel pump module a$$embly), but I found a nice Youtube video. I had to buy a GM sender and use the part from it. It was cheap because GM was replacing them under warranty at the time.

The Bonneville was a cake walk to do in the driveway because the clever designers provided an access panel in the trunk through which I could withdraw the fuel pump module/level sensor. The part (sensor kit) was cheap, too.

Looks to me like a similar repair on that Saturn is going to require a tank removal, though. Then the person doing it will say to replace the whole fuel pump module! Sorry.

Concur w/the advice above, most likely the sender unit, which does in fact contain a float. But the float isn’t usually theh problem. The way it usually works, there’s a resistor inside the tank who’s resistance changes depending on the float angle, and those contracts corrode over time and become intermittent. Definitley should be fixed, otherwise you’ll find yourself running out of gas. And you know when that happens it will be the most miserable weather of the year. And you’ll have forgotten to bring your coat. So yes, get it fixed. It’s not an uncommon problem to develop on many older cars.

Thanks, all, for the quick responses. I’ll try the low cost/low effort options first – GM fuel treatment + premium gas. Will report back with results. Stay tuned!

Note, the suggestion above by @db4690 was for Top Tier Fuel, not for premium grade gasoline

No need to use premium gas (more expensive) if your car calls for regular.

However, use Top Tier gasoline sold at a variety of gas stations. Online is list of companies that comply with Top Tier. A blend of additives (to keep engines cleaner inside) are added to this gas at the loading depot. It shouldn’t cost more or a very little difference. Chance are you’re already using it.

Thanks for the clarification. I’ll look for a participating station near me.

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I will say that on the car I mentioned . . . when the fuel sender was acting up, I was NOT using top tier fuel. I know for a fact that particular filling station was not top-tier rated. And if somehow they were, they were doing an absolutely lousy job of getting the message out. If I were a station owner selling top-tier fuel, I would want the world to know it, and would make sure there were signs which a blind man couldn’t miss

And then I switched to Costo fuel, which WAS top-tier rated, and my problems went away, and haven’t returned

I went to Speed Way for years because of the reward points. Then they cheapened them up. Best I can tell they’re not Top Tier.

Now I go mainly to Shell. They are Top Tier and I get a 10 cent per gallon discount using my Shell Rewards cards.

Check your car’s owner’s manual. I can’t say for sure if any money changes hands for advertising or not, but my GM cars recommend Top Tier gasoline in the manual.

Also, I have seen Technical Service Bulletins advising technicians to recommend Top Tier. I believe Volkswagen has published some. There are several car manufacturers recommending it.

I called a local company that runs several gas stations and inquired about Top Tier gas and the idea that the gas arrives in a “No Name” generic tanker, rather than a Shell truck, etcetera. How does that work?

That’s when I was told that the gas being shipped to Top Tier gasoline retailers receives a dose of special additives at the fuelling depot prior to fuel delivery.

Does anybody have information on that?

I have been using gas from Safeway. They are not listed at a Top Tier Fuel merchant, so I’ll be switching to one that does.

db4690: How long did it take for you to see the results? I don’t put many miles on my car and only fill up every few weeks.

Immediately :blush:

Quick Update: Better, gradual improvement? It has been about 3 weeks since I switched to Top Tier fuel and put a bottle of the GM fuel treatment. The gauge no longer stays fixed on “E”. I am getting sporadic/inaccurate readings from the fuel gauge. Like I said earlier, I don’t drive many miles and actually just came back from vacation so the car sat for about a week. Hoping that eventually the contacts will get cleaned and I’ll get back to a consistent/accurate fuel level reading.