Saturn Ion transmissions...when do they die?

My 2004 Saturn Ion is starting to near the 70,000 mile mark; it was at 58,000 when I bought it in 2013, and I do a decent amount of driving with it. As I get closer and closer to 100,000, I’m beginning to wonder if the transmission will konk out anytime soon. I’ve gotten the impression that Saturn Ion transmissions are unreliable, is that true? Will it be long before mine bites the dust?

If someone was able to answer that kind of question they would win every lottery in the country. Some people here might recommend a fluid and filter exchange.

I don’t have that impression myself. Why do you think that? Automatic transmissions are common failure items reported here, but in general, not on any particular car. Partly b/c the majority of cars are equipped with them, their complexity, and that the owner’s tend to defer routine service until they develop symptoms. Common sense approach is to schedule a proper service on a 50-60K miles interval, and keep the fluid level topped off at the full mark in between. By proper service, that usually means dropping and cleaning the pan, sieving the used fluid for metal particles, replacing the filter, and refilling with fresh fluid. A proper service properly done will only help, never hurt.


With proper maintenance and normal driving, you’re not even close to assuming transmission death. Follow the recommended maintenance, save a little each month for the repairs that will be needed at some point, and don’t spend a lot of energy worrying about this issue.

100,000 miles used to be a break point for rapidly decreasing reliability, but that was 20-30 years ago. It’s not unreasonable to expect 150,000, 200,000, or more from vehicles, again assuming you keep up with recommended maintenance.

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Some Ion’s have a CVT transmission, I believe in the coupe only. These were troublesome, and had a warranty extension at one point. The regular automatic is shared with several other GM vehicles, and is not know to be problematic.

Good point if it has a CVT. Nissan’s CVT’s are said here to be a little problematic too.

I have kept up with general maintenance and the like, but the transmission itself I have been wary of. The gear changes are strange; sometimes while accelerating it will not shift up, even if I floor it (this has happened to me twice within the past six months while entering a highway. I’ve actually had to pull off and come to a complete stop in order to bring the car back down to first gear. Afterwards, once I get back up to speed, it shifts gears normally). That’s probably not normal for a car transmission, so more and more I’m beginning to wonder if it’s going to die.


When you floor the accelerator in an automatic transmission car, you cause it to downshift and to “hold” that lower gear until you release the gas pedal.

In any event, because you probably don’t know the maintenance history of this car, the transmission is almost surely overdue for maintenance. I suggest that you take it to an independent trans shop (NOT a chain-run place like Lee Myles, Cottman, Mr. Transmission, or–God forbid–AAMCO) for a fluid and filter change, as that will help to ensure that you get as many miles as possible from that trans.

Edited to add:
Following the fluid & filter change, they should be able to tell you if there are any functional problems with the trans.

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You’re averaging less than 2400 miles a year. Seems like you’re doing next to no driving with it.

If you have the automatic, you have the 4T45E , it’s a very common transmission shared with about half a dozen other GM vehicles. It’s not known for being particularly trouble-prone.

By the mid 2004’s Saturns stopped being bespoke cars. They started using corporate GM powertrains and chassis. They were badge engineered like everything else GM made at the time. When Saturns first came out they had Saturn exclusive engines,transmissions, and platforms. No other GM products used their mechanical bits, this changed in the early 2000’s and the things that made Saturn special went away, and the company went away few years later. With that said, as mentioned before your transmission isn’t known for being exceptionally unreliable or anything.

When you have your foot the floor it’s not supposed to upshift until redline (or close to it). Some transmissions have grade-logic where the transmission will hold a gear longer if you’re accelerating whilst going uphill.

Have you tried manually moving the selector to “1”, or “2” to try to get the transmission to downshift? Sounds like there’s something going on, but if you can get it to downshift that way, then at least you won’t have to pull over and stop. You should probably get it looked at though.

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“General maintenance” includes checking the fluid level if you can and changing the transmission fluid and filter at the recommended intervals. If you haven’t done this at all and don’t know if it has been done, do this first as @VDCdriver recommended. It’s no guarantee that it’ll correct any problems, but it’s an absolute necessity for it to function normally.

I say “even if I floor it” since on those occasions, I accelerate like I normally do in order to get up to speed on the highway. I actually try my best to make sure I don’t drive aggressively. But I noticed during both those times that revs went well over 3000 at 60 m.p.h. (normally it will stay around 2300 RPM at 60) even though I wasn’t doing anything different. I figured, “oh, maybe I’m not going fast enough for it to recognize that it needs to change gears?”, so I gradually push my foot to the floor, only to see that it makes no difference.
I also wanted to mention that on a rare occasion, it does this to me with local driving as well, but it’s VERY rare. But it shouldn’t be happening in the first place, should it?

Ah, one more note - I have had general maintenance done at a local auto place that’s not a chain, for the fluid and filter change a couple years back.

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My 2004 Saturn Ion has almost 150,000 miles and is still going strong. This is probably due to the fact that I always have routine maintenance done when due.