Rough Idle/Acceleration Hesitation

Car: 2009 Saturn Astra XE

Issues from oldest to newest:

  1. Hesitation upon acceleration, “sputtering” spells. After a few seconds and removing/adding gas car accelerates normally without issue
  2. “Choking” sound on acceleration. Here is a video I took: the initial choke car revs normally.
  3. Rough Idle/low rpm “roughness” - check engine line on


Unfortunately, I feel like I’ve caused most of the recent issues with my car. Points 1 and 2 above were noticed after my first intervention, and point 3 after a second intervention:

Issues 1/2:

Took my car to the manual car wash after a long winter. Decided to clean my engine and spray it down with the engine clean setting and then rinsing. This may have not caused the issues but the issues started happening not long after this. Oops.

Issue 3:

Decided to do a tune up on my car:

  1. Replaced the engine air filter
  2. Cleaned the mass air flow sensor with mass air flow cleaner
  3. Performed a seafoam treatment
  4. Did an oil change/replaced the oil filter

Check engine light was not on after I replaced the air filter, cleaned the sensor and did the seafoam treatment. Took the car out for a 20 min cruise to burn off the seafoam - no check engine light but the car was still showing issue 1 and 2.

After I did my oil change is when the check engine light came on after 30 seconds of driving. Idle was rough as well. Turned back and checked my oil level and realized I put about a liter more oil in than I should have. Drained about a liter of oil but the check engine light stayed on and was idling rough. Please note that when the car is at high RPM’s it runs great.

I’m just learning about cars and can’t afford a mechanic these days, so I’m doing the best I can - I know I made a lot of mistakes above.

What steps can I take to diagnose my issues? Do mechanic shops usually give free diagnostic of issues/quotes? Any help is greatly appreciated!

You’ve got an electronic fuel injected engine. Those aren’t like cars from the 60’s and early 70’s, and are like all modern cars, really difficult to diagnose by the seat of your pants. Saturn/GM knows this, and put diagnostic software in the car to help you figure out what is wrong. Your best bet is to find out a way to read the computer’s diagnostic codes. That means either buying a scan tool, or borrow somebody’s . Many auto part stores will read the codes gratis, as a customer service. If you plan to fix your own car as a diy’er, good idea to buy your own scan tool eventually. If you post the codes, folks here will help explain what they mean and what to do next.

Washing the engine using a pressurized wand, not a good idea btw. I have done that on my 70’s truck, but it doesn’t have all the complex computer connections that modern cars have. Water intrusion into any of those connectors will flummox the computer.

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Great advice. Do you recommend a code reader? They seem to go for different prices. Is there one on amazon you’d recommend?

As @George_San_Jose1 said many auto parts stores will read the codes for free. Get the codes read, post them here and I imagine you will be pleasantly surprised at the responses.

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I would say that a code reader is a non optional tool for anyone to have who is going to own and drive a vehicle. It is absolutely something to have and can help you repair and diagnose all sorts of things and it will save you money in ways you never thought of…it is invaluable and they go for very little money these days. Get one.

Something I wanted to mention also is that when you sprayed your engine down you almost surely fully wet your ignition system…which is right on top of your engine under the “Ecotec” badge. This particular system is notorious for ignition components failing and they DO NOT like to get wet… When you wet that item down you essentially put your ignition under water as it is all concentrated in that location…the ignition control module, the “wires” are also integrated into that and are very prone to cracks in that assy which would be bad when mixed with water, the coils, everything…you will understand in fine detail once you see what I am talking about.

I would remove the Ecotec cover, this is your ignition system…make certain that it clean and dry… make sure the spark plug wells are not currently full of water also…this is VERY important…very important indeed and you may find that your plug wells are full of water at this very moment. You need to ensure this is not the case and remedy it if it is. That is the very first thing I would do in this instance…remove that ignition system…once you do you will realize what in fact you hosed down with water.

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Hi Honda_Blackbird,

Thanks so much for your reply. I feel like such an idiot but the more you know! I’ll check the ignition system tonight and report back.