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My Saturn doesn't like extreme temps

2004 Saturn Ion

104,400 miles

AC runs ok as long as I’m moving at a decent speed (around 30mph or higher). If I hit stop and go traffic/areas, the car tends to overheat.

Also, in the winter, if the temp drops to 20 Fahrenheit or lower, the car doesn’t want to start. I have to run accessories for about 10 minutes, let it sit all off for a minute, then it might start.

I’ve asked a couple car shops what it could be, and they suggested a few cells in my battery may be dead, but battery tests show no problems.

I can live with it right now, since I live somewhere warm and don’t mind driving with the windows down, but I’m a military wife and could end up in just about any climate. Not starting in cold is the hardest to deal with. Any clue what my problem could be?

Final note, my parents have an '03 Ion and haven’t had any of these problems.

Regarding the AC, I would suspect it is low on “freon” and it should be verified by and AC shop.

The starting problem in cold weather, and that kind of milage, I would look into having the starter checked. This is if the starter will either not turn over at all or very slowly. Have it checked.

Check the operation of the radiator cooling fan(s). If the AC stops working when you slow down and the engine overheats in stop-and-go traffic the fan(s) might not be coming on when they should.

This car probably has two fans. One should come on when the coolant temperature in the radiator reaches a set temperature. The other, or both, should come on whenever the AC is turned on. The fans may cycle on and off with the compressor, but they should run as soon as you the AC is turned on.

You say the “battery tests show no problems.” What tests were done? The starting symptoms you describe in cold weather sound like a battery problem. Now is the time to figure this out. Cold weather will be here before you know it.

I don’t know what the test is called, but the guy hooked a little hand-held machine to the battery and it printed out some readings. The guy told me that if only one or two cells in the battery are dead, it could read fine on tests and just show problems when I try to start in cold weather.

Would I be able to hear if the fans stop when running AC? I will see if I can hear anything.

Also, would you recommend I take it into the saturn dealer, or an independent mechanic?

If you open the hood you can watch the fans. Don’t try to touch them or get too close, they can start up any time, but you can see whether or not they come on when the AC is switched on. You should also be able to hear them if you’re outside the vehicle, but I like visual confirmation of which fan is running under what conditions.

I prefer independent mechanics to dealers under most circumstances. Check with friends, relatives, coworkers, etc. for recommendations.

There’s also a link on the CarTalk home page to the “Mechanics Files” where you can search for a recommended mechanic by zip code, brand of car, etc.

Thanks! I will check it out and post what I find!

Agree with mcparadise on the fans.

I think you need a new battery. It sounds like the cells are freezing up. By running a few accessories, the current flow through the battery heats it up, unfreezing the electolite, then it has enough juice to crank the engine. This should have showed up with a load test.

The accessory trick is used in extreme cold climates. Another trick to warming up a battery is to short the terminals with a crowbar for a second or two. Heats up a lot quicker that way but it can be a bit dangerous.