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Saab 9-3 Coupe (2002 and earlier)



  • jchan2jchan2 Posts: 4,956
    I would simply be a little more careful when shopping for that perfect 9-3 hatchback. Or get one certified. A certified 2001 model has the 6 year 100K Certified warranty on it, which should cover everything.
  • The 9-3 hatch is one the most durable car ever build, especially the engine for as long as it has been maintained by the book. The sludge problem is virtually unknown in Europe where Saabs last virtually forever, rustfree, with their original engine, often tweaked to get a lot more horsepower.It seems that the problem is a North America one, where drivers are unwilling to maintain their car as they should.
    Like every turbo engine, Saab engines require a minimum a maintenance, that is regular oil change and high quality oil.
    If not, expect trouble, again, like every other turbo cars.

    Saabs are build to last, anyone familiar with engineering will be able to see it immediately.
    The mechanical parts are extremely durable, the electrical ones are as reliable as any European cars, that is .....below japanese standards IMO.
  • I concur completely with Stephan Belgium, and would expand his recommendation to any car. I always change the oil and filter twice as often as the manufacturer's recommendation. The expense is minimal, the peace of mind priceless. In 45 years of motoring I have never had any significant engine problem, and have driven everything from econoboxes to an exotic Maserati.

    And to continue Stephan Belgium's "only in America" comment, the infamous unintended acceleration of some Audi models only occurred here. Apparently Europeans were able to distinguish between an accelerator and a brake pedal.
  • Stephan, Stephan, Stephan. Your Belgian arrogance speaks for itself. As a pilot and ex-motorcycle racer, I believe in always using recommended maintenance schedules as the minimum maintenance standards and I always have used Mobile 1 oil and filters in my 2002 Saab 9-3. Nonetheless, my Saab failed at 65,000 miles due to engine sludge. I doubt that of the 40 other listings I found with sludged engine failure, everyone failed to maintain their cars appropriately. After all, they purchased a premium priced car. Scrimping on service intervals just doesn't make sense. Perhaps if everywhere in the US were as cold as Sweden, there would be fewer sludge problems here, but you can find Saabs in New England (comparable to northern Europe) to Arizona (more like Morocco). I think the Saab is out of it's element in the warmer climates.
  • Your comment, Flyndrive1, caused me to do some web research, and what I found shocked and alarmed me. I had always assumed that sludge was a maintenance issue (and, certainly, poor maintenance can be one of the causes) but the articles below really gave me cause for thought. view/index.htm

    In summary, the design of certain engines (and specifically the very fine oil screen on the 9-3 oil pump) can mean sludge can form very rapidly and be very damaging, especially if the oil pump screen becomes blocked. High-quality synthetic oil, frequent oil/filter changes, ideal ambient temperatures and ideal operating characteristics may not prevent the occurrence and reoccurrence of the problem.

    Saab supposedly will repair sludged engines for eight years and unlimited miles. My 2002 9-3 is five years old and has 41K miles, so I will run out of the extended warranty at about 65K miles – which is when many 9-3’s start giving trouble because of mechanical wear. Saab themselves admit that 4% of European 9-3’s have engine failure due to sludge, and one wonders what the true figure is.

    I’m going to get the oil pan removed at my local service station, and the oil pump screen inspected. If I’m lucky (our Saab has spent much of its life in moderate climes and has been treated to “severe service” oil changes when its actual use is relatively benign) I will find little or no sludge, but Flyndrive1 has dealt a blow to my complacency!
  • The sad thing is that you are completely at the mercy of Saab on warranty coverage, even with the "8 year warranty". If you engine fails, you must then pay the dealer (in my case $744) to have them open the engine up and see if it was a sludge problem. The dealer stated there was sludge in the engine (this was after having the engine flushed and refilled with Mobil 1 only 500 miles earlier. He stated that one of pistons had failed "probably due to bad gas" and as a result it is not a sludge problem. First, this car has NEVER had anything less than premium gas in it. How many tanks of "bad gas" would it take to destroy a piston? Wouldn't there be knocking? Since he never pulled the piston, just the pan and heads, how do they know there were no plugged oil galleys in the rings? Also, wouldn't sludge result in increased piston heat, causing possible piston failure? Of course, now I have to find my own expert to inspect this engine again, at an additional expense, and then decide whether to sue Saab in court. Saab never even asked to see the service records, so don't think your "extended warranty" is worth any more than the paper it's written on.

    As an aside, I just talked to a dealer friend of mine who says Saabs are very cheap for him to buy right now, so it looks like the famed Saab resale value is also going into the tank! So now I have a late model car without an engine that is declining ever faster in value. I'm not sure whether to cut my losses or gear up for a fight. Either way, it's going to cost 6-10 grand. Best of luck to you, I hope you have one of the 250,000 mile Saabs. :cry:
  • To this date my 40,000 mile 9-3 has been faultless in all respects, including engine performance. Because I do not (yet) have engine failure, my service at a local repair shop will involve only the removal of the oilpan and visual inspection of the pan and oil pump screen per the practices of the Minnesota dealer (

    My subsequent actions will depend solely on the extent of sludge that I find. Lots of sludge -- hello trade in! Minimal sludge -- change to 100% synthetic oil every 3500 miles, check again in 4 years, and keep for ever.

    I'll keep my loyal readers posted. Should have the car in the shop within a couple of weeks.
  • Full of vim and vigor I dropped off the 9-3 at my local (non-Saab) service station, and awaited the call to come and start taking photos. Instead I received news that removing the oil pan was a major undertaking (and expensive), so I decided not to proceed.

    On the web, Steve Crowe, a master Saab technician, states
    "You will need to do a little more than just unbolt the pan. 1. remove the front pipe from the turbo to the cat. 2. Drop the right side of the subframe down to get the pan out. This is not too bad on a lift, but I bet it will be a blast on jack stands. If the car has a 5 speed removing the bottom trans cover will help. 3. Clean and dry the gasket area. Use Locktite 518 as the gasket (This is the factory stuff). 4. Make sure the oil cross over pipe does not fall out and the o-ring on it is not pinched to the side. If the tube stayed in place justleave it alone."

    So I guess I'm back to square one. Do I have a ticking time bomb, or not?
  • A local machine shop checked out the inside of my 9-3's camshaft cover using a borescope. Access was via the hose that exhausts the valve cover. The view was very limited, given that the borescope could not navigate past the camshaft, but there appeared to be an absence of sludge deposits - good news indeed.

    In two months, at the next oil change, he will use the borescope to access the interior of the oil pan via the drain hole. The screen for the oil pump pickup may be inaccessible, but I should at least know whether sludge is present in the pan. At present things are looking up! :blush:
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