Saab 9-3 Battery Warning Light

I have a 2004 Saab 9-3. Currently the Batter Warning Light has come on. It came on while the car was being driven. The car’s performance seemed to suffer and it was hard to turn the steering wheel. We were about two miles away from home and we somehow managed to get home but we simply couldn’t get the car to turn on to our driveway because of loss of power for steering.

We checked the Saab manual and it reads
Warning Charging - This light comes on together with ‘triangle/exclamation’ light if the battery is not charging. If it comes on while you are driving, stop the car as soon as possible and switch off the engine.
Check the alternator drive belt. If the belt has broken, the engine may overheat (cooling system will not function properly), the battery will not be charged, the A/C compressor will not run and power assistance for steering will be lost.

Our observation:

  • We experienced the a/c not working too well
  • We had problem with steering - It was almost as if the steering wheel was locked. It was extremely hard to turn.

Is this an alternator belt or a battery issue? If so, how do we figure out?
If it is an alternator belt issue, how much would it cost to fix it?
Please help us identify the cause and fix the issue. Thank you.

This is one instance where diagnosis from afar is pretty easy, namely because there is one common root of all of those problems (a/c performance, power steering problems, charging system problems), and the common cause of that combination of symptoms is the belt that drives the a/c compressor, the power steering pump, and the alternator). The belt (usually referred to as a serpentine belt) is most likely slipping, and as a result, it is not turning those components as it should.

If the belt is the original one, then it almost surely needs to be replaced. Depending on where you live, parts and labor for the belt replacement could total anywhere $100-$200. However, there is also a possibility that the belt’s tensioner will also need to be replaced. That, of course, would add to the repair bill, most likely an additional $80-$100.

This repair is something that needs to be done immediately, because continuing to drive the car will likely kill the battery, and that will add another $100 or so to the repair bill. If you are not very near a mechanic’s shop, you may need to have the car towed.

@VDCdriver is right, the serpentine belt is at fault. That one belt drives everything, the A/C the power steering, and the alternator. It also drive the water pump. Since you didn’t say you got an overheating engine warning, likely the belt is still there more or less turning the water pump.

There is a reason the belt started slipping suddenly. It may be a broken belt tensioner or there is oil on the belt from some leak. Be prepared to fix the root cause as well as getting the belt replaced. Belt’s run $100-$200, the root cause adds to that. If you need “Saab specific” help, try this link to find a Saab service place near you;

You should not drive the car. If you do you risk over heating the motor. Now your problem is just a broken belt, pretty minor and easy fix. Have a mobile mechanic fix it where it sits, or tow it to a shop.

Thank you @VDCdriver @Mustangman and @UncleTurbo for your suggestions and advice.

Here are some questions:

  1. How do I check if the serpentine belt has slipped - Is it easy to check, where is the belt located?

  2. @Mustangman , there is an oil leak. During my last oil change, I was told that there is an oil leak. About two weeks back, I went to a mechanic who checked under the hood and confirmed the oil leak. I was told that the oil leak is from the Timing cover.

They said they need to remove the timing cover, check shaft balance chain & chain guides and replace them if they need to be changed. They told me I’d have to leave my car with them for about 5 days for this work.

Due to an upcoming out of town travel, I was unable to leave the car for repair right away. In the meantime this new problem of “warning charging” has come up.

Based on Mustangman’s comment I am guessing that the ‘oil leak from the Timing cover’ and the ‘warning charging’ issue are related. Do you have an estimate for how much it should cost to remove the timing cover and check the shaft chain, chain guides, etc?

  1. What does an overheating engine warning look like - is it a warning light in the main instrument panel or is it a message in the Saab Information Display (SID)?

SID has now started displaying the message “Fill Coolant Fluid”. Does this indicate overheating in any way?

  1. Would changing the serpentine belt also require the alternator to be changed? If so, how can I determine and how much would it cost?

The car issue has occurred at a very inconvenient time for me. Yet I’m not driving the car till it’s fixed. I would like to get a better understanding of the issue and the cost to fix it, before I do anything with the car.

Thank you for all your guidance. I really appreciate your promptness and suggestions.

The OP needs to open his/her Owner’s Manual, and give it a good read-through–at least regarding the section of the manual that deals with the instrument panel and its warning lights. Driving a car without knowing what type of warning will be displayed when the engine overheats is a sure way to destroy an engine. Not knowing what “Fill Engine Coolant” implies can also lead to engine destruction. Both questions are covered in that manual, in easy-to-understand wording.

If the engine coolant is currently low, the engine can overheat.
Will it actually overheat?
That depends on just how low the coolant level is, and under what conditions the engine is operated. Then, of course, there is also the question of why the coolant level is low. There may be leak in the radiator or one of the cooling system’s hoses, or perhaps this car is just the victim of lax maintenance, and from afar we can’t determine the exact cause of a low coolant level. The bottom line is that this car needs to have the radiator refilled with the proper specification coolant (and checked for coolant leaks), and the coolant specification can also be found in the Owner’s Manual.

Yes, the serpentine belt could certainly be slipping as a result of oil leakage getting onto the belt, but nobody can tell you from afar if this is the actual cause of the belt slippage. Or, it is possible that leaking coolant has glazed the belt.

It is good that the OP is not driving the car currently, but a competent mechanic really needs to visually/physically examine the engine in order to provide a diagnosis that can be fully trusted.

@ ccmcar

  1. The belt is on the front of the engine, on the passenger side of the car, barely visible. Runs perpendicular with the ground around all the pulleys. Get a flashlight point it straight down, it is black (like everything else there) and flat. If it is all twisty and greasy/oily, it has flopped off the pulleys because of the leak.

  2. The oil leak likely covered the belt with oil causing it to slip. The leak may come from the timing cover, OR may come from a timing chain tensioner seal which is easy and cheap to fix. They can also leak from the oil pressure sender and from excessive crankcase pressure.

If the timing cover seal IS at leaking AND the engine has over 100,000 miles, it would be silly not to to check the timing chain and guides for replacement. The timing chain kit itself is $350 but the labor just to GET to the timing chain is at least that much and more to replace it and put it all back together. I’m not sure if the engine has to be removed for this job or not. Given the 5 days repair time, I’d say Yes, the engine must come out. I’d suggest using the link I supplied to contact the nearest Saab service center to ask them what they’d recommend and what it might cost. They are Saab experts and your mechanic is likely not.

  1. If the car is overheating, the water temperature gauge would have been in the red, a red warning would appear on the instrument panel and depending on which model 9-3 you have other messages may appear on the driver info center. Check your manual but given the coolant level is low, you probably got the car a bit hot. If a volcano of green fluid didn’t erupt from under the hood, you are probably OK.

  2. No, the alternator doesn’t have to be replaced (good thing, they are about $450)