Manual Shifting Problem on Saab



On my '90 900 Saab w/168K miles I’m experiencing problems shifting, mainly from 1st to 2nd, but on occasion at a stop from neutral to 1st. Diagosis is elusive as the problem doesn’t happen when the ‘Saab experienced’ mechanic drives it. Question is whether to replace master cylinder at low cost or transmission at mega cost. Problem started 09/07 with one incident, then not again until this winter, with frequency practically every time driving. I prefer to keep the car as it potentially has another 100K miles on it, but the ‘proper’ fix is uncertain. Appreciate anyone’s similar experience or knowledge of this. Time of the essence, please.


It’s more than likely a clutch master cylinder failure. The car is going on 19 years old and if the MC has never been replaced then it’s well overdue. Age does them all in eventually and cold weather is usually the final straw.

SAAB builds pretty much bulletproof transmissions so I would not worry about that.
After doing the clutch master cylinder and if problems continue then the clutch slave cylinder should be replaced. This is kind of a quirky job and requires a few special tools or someone familiar enough with the process who knows how to improvise their way around those tools.

I’m somewhat surprised your SAAB experienced mechanic has not pinpointed this to a hydraulic problem. It’s not a rare thing at all. Hope this helps you out anyway.


I much appreciate your input. Spent the day reading other '90 900 owner’s comments looking for clues and came away with intent to repair and stand by my car! Review of repair records shows overhaul of the clutch M.C. at 80K, which mechanic had informed me. Will go forward with this versus the transmission. Thank you again.


Eighty-eight thousands miles and ? years is a long time on a rebuilt cylinder. Technically speaking, rebuilding an aluminum master or slave cylinder can be iffy anyway because it is recommended that a hone not be used on aluminum.
It CAN be done but extreme care must be used.

If this gets into the slave cylinder end of things, and considering the vehicle’s mileage, I would strongly suggest a new clutch assembly, or at least a disc, if you’re going to keep the car. Removal of the slave cylinder already puts the mechanic at 90% there so do it while you’re close is my opinion.


Have you noticed if the pick up point of the clutch pedal is lower than it was previously? If so you may have a problem with the master cylinder or slave cylinder as mentioned previously.

How recently has the clutch been serviced? Other areas of concern are problems with the pressure plate or disc. Also it could be the pilot shaft bearing in the crankshaft or dry splines on the transmission input shaft. If the pilot bearing is dragging you will get shift blockage until the resistance is overcome. If the disc or pressure plate have too much runout, it/they will drag even though the pressure plate is adequately released. If the input shaft splines don’t allow the disc to move when the pressure plate is pulled back, the disc will drag causing the same problem.

About the only way to make sure is to disassemble; look at the clutch components; and possibly just replace them plus the pilot bearing and the crankshaft seal if warranted. Of course, clean and grease the input shaft splines.

Hope that helps – let us know what develops.


I know you would like to keep the car but 100,000 miles of misery could be yours if you try to keep it going. Despite my thoughts, changing the clutch master and slave could be the solution. It could be more of a clutch problem than a transmission one. I bet they checked the trans oil.


The cylinder was rebuilt at 80K in 10/98, hopefully this is the problem. Mechanic will be replacing the clutch M.C. on Thursday and I’ll share your comments. Driving today in less wintry conditions the shifting behaved better with only one incident. Thank you.


Guess I’m going to gamble on the next miles as I want to wait 1-3 years before buying, to see what new hybrid options present. This car has had very good maintenance all along. Will be my last Saab as the styling of newer models disappoints, and possibly mechanics (?) of lesser quality than that of these older models, I’ve been told, so I’m not anxious to lose it. Service of a new clutch M.C. on 3/13 will tell if the problem is fixed. Yes, trans oil was changed in attempt to remedy, but didn’t. Thanks for your comments.


Worry not. Your SAAB will go for many more miles.
Some examples. (900 series only here - couple minutes to load)

For what it’s worth I’m on my 3rd SAAB 900 and worked quite a while as a SAAB tech. The only manual transmission problem I’ve ever seen on a SAAB was on a new near 900 that met a bridge abutment at 80+ miles per hour.

The car was wiped out but was repaired (that was a VERY ? move) and the transmission problem caused by the wreck was comparatively minor in nature. So yes, my SAAB manual transmission experience is pretty limited; they just don’t break unless they have been flogged to death by their owners.
Now those Subarus are another thing altogether… :slight_smile:


Thank you for the site which I’ll look at, also for the affirmation on, quality. Hopefully I’ve not been guilty of flogging my trans as during the years of driving I’ve, on occasion (not daily…maybe every few months), probably through sloppy clutching have heard the trans make a grinding sound so I hope this hasn’t caused damage. Have always wondered and maybe I’ll pay the price now if the clutch M.C. doesn’t correct the problem. My mechanic has always spoken extremely well of this model’s quality. Unlike the usual repairs I’m really looking forward to this one and results. Will report after driving it a few days. Being a Swede, I don’t want to lose it…:slight_smile:


I would also hold on to the car, I put over 300K miles on a '89 900 turbo without any significant issues. I also would avoid the newer GM/Subarus models. You have pretty low miles on your car, you should be OK for quite a while once you get the clutch/tranny issue sorted out.


Thanks also for the encouragement. Realize I mistakenly noted the mileage as 168K; rather it is 148K, so as the mechanic said some time ago, “is still in it’s infancy”. I noted minor rusting in a couple areas over the wheels and got a quote for approx $800 (one of two) last summer, which wasn’t done. Wondering if advisable to have this fixed up this season to maintain it. Otherwise the mechanic says it’s in good shape, underneath, etc. And the seat heaters still work, with considerable use!


Five problem free days of driving following installation of the clutch master cylinder leaves me hopeful the problem is remedied. The temp has been warmer (30s) than previous winter weather when most of the trouble took place, but I’m feeling confident of the fix. Thank you again to all for your helpful responses.


Thanks for getting back to us, we usually don’t hear how things work out. Good luck.


Final word, no further shift problems since the repair…:slight_smile: