Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Saturn: Out of This World, really.

It was advertised as, “A new kind of car, a new kind of car company”, in the days of the launch of GM’s newest and now-defunct line of cars.

I'll say!

I think there are numerous reasons for the demise of this formerly-esteemed car company and their proffered products. Chief of these reasons is that in attempting to be innovative and different, they made “innovations” that made no “sense”.

The hallmark of this line is a confounding penchant for making things difficult or impossible to work on by the regular guy on the street.

Let me back up for a moment, if you will. Last January, we became the owners of a 2000 model Saturn LS whose primary driver would be our middle daughter. Seemed like a solid car, four-door, air conditioning, good tires and a CD player; the essentials for any young driver.

Not too long afterward, things started going wrong. Now, I know buying a used car, there is the inherent gamble that you are buying someone else’s problems and this was no different. Except that we soon found that Saturn means “special” when it comes to many of the parts and configurations. The engine, much like any other car maker’s offerings, is wedged in a space only an inch or two larger than the outside dimensions of the engine and associated exterior parts.

It started with an annoying habit of dying for no reason, leaving a 19 year-old girl stranded and scared. Tried the easiest approach first; took it to Uncle Russell. We were going to check the spark plug wires and all that stuff. Upon opening the hood, we found the plug wires leading into a vault of an engine cover with proprietary bolts and a maze of covering shrouds and shields preventing any entry by the unwashed masses. So we tried the ol’ fuel treatment, because the symptoms pointed to fuel supply, and because that was the cheapest test.

Purchased, poured, drove it, and it seemed like it was OK. For a day. I googled “Saturn troubles dying” in the meantime, and was met with an encyclopedic list of strange little problems that were apparently still unresolved with this car line. One thing that struck me in most of the comments posted in various places was the generally negative tone in which the company’s service departments were painted. Nobody would help.

Well, it turns out that it was some strange, expensive-but-simple sensor that registers transmission speed that apparently will not allow the car to run if the conditions are not precisely precise.

There were radiator problems and most lately the inevitable (105,000 miles) timing belt and associated kit of idlers and pulleys, which were compounded by the name “SATURN” stamped thereupon. At least the water pump was a regular Delco part.

Of course, there remains the suspense about when the next shoe is to drop.

The most recent example of Saturn’s nonsensical, unnecessarily complex design concept was evidenced when I had to remove a tire to repair a leak in the radial.

After removing the hubcap held in place by faux lug nuts, I found the real lug nuts. Fortunately (and surprisingly) they were not Torx or some other unusual interface; they were standard 19mm lug nuts. When I removed them, however, I saw the insanity perpetuated on the simple “holding-a-wheel-on-the-hub” model. These things were actual bolts that went through the wheel holes and threaded into the hub itself! Not the standard “nut-on-a-stud” system that has worked for a hundred years; these fools had designed a system where you have to hold the tire up, matching holes in the wheel to holes in the hub, and then you’re required to thread the lug/stud in through the one hole into the other. At night, this could easily be a two-man job; one to hold the light, and the other poor schmo that gets to lay on the deck and balance the whole thing up and juggle the luggle. I guess it could be expanded to a three-man job, if you include cussing the "designers" at GM.

I really don’t want my daughter to have to lay on the ground, inches from speeding traffic, to hold a full size tire up with one hand and fish for the proper hole alignment with the other, possibly in the dark, likely in the rain (when most flats happen for some reason).

This has me more worried than the next mechanical problem on the horizon, or outer space, which is where the Saturn belongs.


Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear your bad luck Big Daddy - we ran into similar situations when we bought a used Lumina - I dubbed it a "Lemona"! - bd

innominatus said...

Bummers! My mom had one of about that vintage and loved it. The dealership used to call on the anniversary of her purchase and sing happy birthday to the car.

invigilator_tex said...

I have one suggestion, aA.


Stepsistah said...

Don't forget that I work at Houston Auto Auction in case you want to sell the "Lemona" and buy one that is easier for Uncle Russell to work on.

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