My Saab is in and out of the shop!

starting
saab
900

#1

I have a 1995 Saab 900S that has been in and out of the shop since Nov 2009. It has days when it won’t start in the mornings, but the worst was when I was driving it and it felt like it lost power in the gas pedal. I pulled off the road and let it sit, and then it would be fine and go a little further, but then lost power again. I’ve had it towed 3 times to the shop. My mechanic could never get the car to replicate the problems, but over several visits replaced the igition coil, spark plugs, and fuel pump relay. It then died on me at home again and I had it towed to the dealership in Albuquerque where they couldn’t get it to act up either, but they replaced the mass air flower sensor, as it seemed to have stopped cleaning itself. They were not convinced that was the problem, and sure enough, it wasn’t. When I got it home (after driving it about 400 miles over a few days) it did not start on Friday morning. It was cold and frosty then, but it did start around noon. I am afraid to drive it even though it is starting now because of it’s history of not starting. Help!


#2

I would say junk the SAAB. I have never known anyone who didn’t regret buying one.

having said that, do you notice the problem at certain temperatures or after a certain amount of time driving? How many miles are on this 15 year old car?

and also, mass airflow sensors do not “clean themselves”. sounds like the local shop is just throwing parts at the problem and hoping something sticks. Wecall that the “shotgun approach” and it is what bad mechanics do when they have no real idea what the problem is.

sounds to me like a sensor issues…maybe either the coolant temp sensor, or maybe even a throttle position sensor. Heck, it could be a problem with the evaporative emissions system. Good news is, all of these things can be checked by a shop with the proper equipment, and mentality.


#3

Not knowing if the problem is spark or fuel related makes it very tough to diagnose a problem like this.

Replacing spark plugs to cure a problem like this smacks of guesswork, fuel pump relays seldom fail, and the MAF sensor does not clean itself.
My first suspect would be the fuel pump assembly; especially if the fuel filter has not been changed on a regular basis.

Your SAAB should use 2 fuel pumps. One is the main high pressure pump and the other is a small low pressure pump that keeps the so-called “bathtub” filled with gasoline, along with help from the fuel return line. This tub is what the main pump pulls gasoline from.
These pumps really take a beating anyway and if they’ve never been replaced that’s what I would put my money on; and I’m not a gambling man either.

Another possibility could be the electrical part of the ignition switch.

Just my opinion, but as a SAAB tech and a SAAB owner I don’t have a problem with the cars. The vast majority of owners are very happy with their cars and the fact you have a problem with a 16 year old car does not mean that it’s a bad vehicle.
The possibility of misdiagnosis or throwing parts at a problem does not denote a bad vehicle either.

(If the car were mine I would use an ammeter and check the current draw of the main pump while the engine is running. An abnormally high (10-15 amps) current draw could mean the main fuel pump is worn out and these can be an on one minute, off the next type of thing. This will not determine the small low pressure pump condition.) Hope that helps.


#4

Some fuel pumps quit outright, but sometimes before the fail they work one day but not another. Not cheap to replace a fuel pump, but I suspect it is part of the problem. Not unexpected for a fuel pump to fail in a 15 year old car.


#5

Agree with others that a Saab may not be the car for you. I have a friend who is a reliability engineer!! (mechanical) and even he admits that the Saab is a challenging car to own.

If you buy a Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, or Mazda 3, you will think you’ve gone to heaven since you will be free from daily worries about your car.

My wife has a Nissan Sentra with 125,000 miles on it and it never acts up; she has complete faith that it will start and run every day.


#6

If SAABs are such bad cars then I wonder why I heard very few complaints involving the “never buy one again” phrase when I worked for SAAB?

And what in the hxxx is a reliability engineer? Is this person degreed in automotive engineering or what is the extent of their automotive engineering?
Do this person even own a SAAB?


#7

A reliability engineer (mechanical) does not need to be a mechanic, but he has to understand how equipment performs, hold up and what the failure frequency is. The gentleman in question deals mostly with large mobile equipment (trucks, etc), and also designs software for reliability tracking.

He solves performance problems and provides solutions to eliminates weak ares in design and construction.

Early Saabs were real Saabs and were likely simpler and more reliable. Later ones certainly are not in that category, probably because of the lack of funds and the GM influence and neglect.

And yes, he OWNS a Saab, but unlke many dedicated Saab owners, he is completely frank about its shortcomings.


#8

I had a couple of early SAABs and found them having some of the most innovative engineering on the market at the time…but, my two stroke continually fouled plugs till it blew the end of one and seized the engine; going through two motors in 90k, was woofully underpowered above 50 mph. My SAAB 99 needed a point change/adjustment every month and had to travel with an extra set. It blew a head gasket at less than 70k which I was told was normal for British Leyland motors.

I could go on mechanically but the bodies were outstanding for their time and they handled snow well with their wide stance and narrow tires. My Granada actually seemed trouble free after that. So I’d say as an early SAAB owner, I didn’t know any differently. When I found out, I moved on and friends that have them today are more enamored with the logo than their bank account. SAAB got what it deserved, as all unreliable vehicles do, in spite of it’s early heritage.

My only regret though, was when shopping for my SAAB 99, I should have bought the BMW instead.


#9

You are confirming that in the hands of a profesional, such as a mehanic, a Saab might give good service. Over the last 30 years I have looked at Saabs and Volvos every time I shopped for a car and the pedicted maintenance, repairs and downtime did not compute, especially in view of the purchase price.

So far only OK appears to have been a happy Saab owner.

I once also almost bought a 1964 Jaguar XKE, but after reading the maintenance manual and doing a pro-forma cash flow of upkeep with the Jag service manager, I quickly backed out.


#10

The problem is that having a degree in mechanical engineering does not mean for one second that an engineer has a clue about how things work in the real world. Wrench trumps slide rule many times.
If engineers were even mildly infallible the ordinary line mechanics out there would not be wrestling day in and day out with engineer designed problems and many times those mechanics are the ones who come up with the solution; followed by corporate issuing a TSB about “their fix”.

Get mad if you want but I feel that you’re speaking about something you know little about.
As a long time SAAB tech for a large multi-line dealer and the main SAAB tech besides, we seldom heard from anyone about “never buying another one”.

You state that “early Saabs were real Saabs…” and refer to “GM influence and neglect”.
Apparently you’re not aware that GM has had a stake in SAAB dating back to the 70s so where does the “new” come from?

Do SAABs have problems? They certainly do; just like every car on Earth including the Nissan Sentra you refer to. If you think I’m BSing you then simply go to ALLDATA, pull up the service bulletin titles, and read through them; or even browse something like this.
http://www.autobuyguide.com/2001/12-aut/nissan/sentra/recalls/index.html

Not too long ago you also stated that VWs have bad timing belts that are prone to premature breakage. You still want to stand behind that statement?


#11

Reliability engineers are versed in the analysis of product designs and testing of product with a goal of ensuring reliability. Using mathematical modeling, they predict Mean Time between Failure, analyze the critical paths and overall impact of various types of failures, devise administer and perform accelerated life tests, environmental tests, and countless other design integrity related tasks.

But they won’t necessarily know cars unless cars are their area of specialty. And they aren’t necessarly mechanical.


#12

My brother reported the following conversation with his trusted foreign car mechanic one day when he was picking up the Saab after yet another mechanical breakdown.

Mechanic: There’s just one thing that I don’t understand about Saabs.
Brother: Really? What’s that?
Mechanic: Why they make the damn things.


#13

Okay folks, let’s get back to trying to help the OP.

SAABs, like all other gas engines, require the basics. Fuel, spark, and compression. OK4450 is highly knowledgable on SAABs in particular and I’d be inclined to take his suggestion seriously.

Often when an engine is losing power while driving fuel pressure loss is the culprit. In some cases ignition system failure when hot is the culprit, but you had the problem also on a frosty morning and have changed the usual ignition system suspects.

I’m not a SAAB guy, but just from reading the post I thought of a weak fuel pump.


#14

Another possibility is the “unique” ignition switch located on the floor.

Despite Saab’s belief that this is a good design, the lock mechanism tends to collect dirt and grit, and a spilled soda can cause gunk on the contacts of the ignition switch, leading to an “iffy” electrical path.


#15

I probably shouldn’t get so frustrated over this stuff but a simple request for help from someone with a 16 year old SAAB turned into yet another SAAB bashing instead of help being offered.

My feeling is that the problem is still likely to be the fuel pump (or pumps, plural) because these heavy duty high pressure Bosch pumps they use really take a beating. I’ve cut open more than one used pump that worked and found the armatures all badly worn. In some cases they were worn clean down to the bottom of the undercutting.
However, the low pressure pump is the one that keeps the resevoir full of gasoline and if the L.P. pump is getting weak you can safely bet the H.P. pump is near worn out.

The ignition switch is also a distinct possibility. Just my opinion, but I’ve never been a fan of the switch between the seats as too much dirt, soda pop, and cookie crumbs wind up in that cubby hole. They also tie the switch into the gearshift on the manuals and more than one SAAB has come in on the tow truck locked in reverse. (the only position in which the key can be removed)

My complaint about the VW timing belt thing is the assertion that VWs have inferior belts which break prematurely. I worked for 2 large VW dealers and this alleged problem is breaking news to me. It was stated that the belt should be replaced with a Gates.
The thing is that VW timing belts are actually made by Gates or Continental and both are reputable sources of belts.


#16

Perhaps the switch location is a result of SAABs being “designed by jet airplane designers”. In B52 bombers, the automatic flight control (autpilot) switch panel is located horizontally between the pilot and copilot seats. It has elevated bars between the switch rows to allow it to be stepped on to get in and out of the seats. It also makes a great platform to place drinks, in a cockpit extremely limited for space. You cannot imagine how often those switch panes have to be removed and repaired.

I don’t really believe my thesis, but it does seem an odd coincidence…