Need Help! Unsure of whether to take Saturn to dealer or local mechanic

Saturn Ion 2003…need help and tons of advice!! This past weekend I have had an issue with my vehicle thinking that I am trying to steal it…ugh! Whenever I park the car and proceed to turn it off, all of the indicator needle lock into place and the entire car goes dead. Unable to use remote and when I attempt to place the key back into the cylinder to ‘start’ the vehicle, nothing occurs. Key is then stuck as it will not turn back past ACC. I have done tons of research and found a way to manually release the key but this doesn’t resolve the lockdown. After a moment, the security light will display on the dashboard. I have tried just about everything including jumping the battery, only works until car is turned off, and making sure gear shift fully in ‘park’. Have completed all recall notices from GM regarding ignition cylinder and the likes as well as a new alternator, twice. During the last jump, mechanic ran full diagnostics for battery, electrical, alternator and output.

I assume the car is equipped with a GM passlock system.

I think you have a few options:

  1. I’m not certain, but in most cases a remote starter will bypass passlock and this can be cheaper than paying for the repair. Go to a good remote starter installer and inquire. You fix the issue and get a remote start.

  2. There are “methods” to bypass passlock by cutting wires/adding resistors if you are inclined.

  3. Search online for a new “ignition lock cylinder” equipped with passlock. I did a quick search, but I didn’t see any listed for your particular vehicle. I know some good ones can be had for other GMs for about $50 and are easy to install.

  4. You want to search for a shop that specializes in auto electrical systems. They will often be called something “auto electric” like “Joe’s auto electric” or “main street auto electric.” These shops specialize in such work and often do it for a fraction of the cost. I have a good auto electric shop by me that will fix passlock problems for a few 20 dollar bills; sometimes free if it just needs re-seating or contacts cleaned.

Actually if it is sticking and locking up then the cylinder is probably bad. I would still go to an auto electric shop first.

The thing that catches my eye is that it starts with a jump start. How did the mechanic test the battery? Did he do a load test? I suspect the battery may have an intermittent open cell.

I’m thinking the jump is coincidence after the cylinder loosened up or passlock reset.

@Demo_Beta. That could very well be but in his last sentence he states “during the last jump” which infers it worked more than once.

A dealer can run a program on their scanner that will reprogram the passlock. It should fix your problem for a little while, but there is no guarantee that it will last all that long. Google passlock and you will find some options to bypass the system as well as a site that shows you how to modify the key for a few dollars that will fix the issue.

Check out this page. There is a sticky dedicated to this issue for Saturn Ions.

BTW, I go to this site a lot so I trust it.

It has worked during the last two times the battery was jumped. Should I take the vehicle back to the dealer for the ignition switch replaced??

I think still there is a problem with the battery. How old is it?

3-4 years old, battery tested as ‘good’.

“My 2 Cents” - the battery was tested as the vehicle was on. What is a ‘load test’?

If he tested it while it was running he just tested the voltage with no load on the battery. The alternator makes up for any load the electrical system would place on the battery. About all that tells you is that the alternator is working.

A load test draws high currant (amperage) from the battery while the engine is off.

How is this done as I will need to jump start the vehicle in order to get the car to the dealer??

How long after car is off would I test the battery?

The tester is just a hand held device with a big resistor inside with cables that connect directly to your battery. When connected it puts a heavy load on the battery (about 100 amps) for about 15 seconds. The voltage drop is measured to determine the capacity of the battery.

The battery doesn’t even have to be in the car.

If it were my car, considering it always starts with jumpers, and that the battery is 4 years old and the alternator tests OK I would just replace the battery.

You say you had GM ignition switch recall work done? Three was a poster here recently who reported a problem with the key jamming in some way or another after they had that recall work done. I forget the details, maybe you can find that post using the search feature on this website. But on that complaint at least, it sure seemed at the time like the recall work was a likely suspect. Did your car’s symptom begin very soon after the ignition switch recall work was done?

No way the recall could cause a switch to jam.

The ignition switch recall simply involves putting a plastic plug into the formerly oblong hole in each key. That way the hole can no longer act as a lever to turn off the switch. In fact, your car doesn’t even have to be at the dealership to have the work done. They need to know your VIN, and the mileage on the car for their records. I drove another car and left my keys to be picked up a few hours later.

Good luck finding a Saturn dealer. Have you not heard the news?

MG McAnick—wasn’t looking for a Saturn dealership, used a GM certified.


So…it has been over a month since the drama began but I was able to locate a GM dealership to have my car towed to and inspected. After 1-2 weeks of calls between dealer and corporate GM, diagnostics ran and found that the shifter needing replacing. All covered by recall but am still waiting for parts and repair. At least I was able to get a loaner. Thanks for the information. Thought this may help others as well.