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Saab 9-3 Coupe (2002 and earlier)



  • Hi gang!

    I test drove a 5-speed 2002 SE (4 dr.) hatch yesterday and was disappointed with the folddown rear seats.

    What puzzled me is that neither the seller nor I could figure out how to have both rear seats folded down all the way (for maximum cargo volume) AND have the driver's seat be in a confortable driving position.

    When we slid the seat backwards to accomodate my legs (I'm only 5'10"), the driver's seatback would crush the left rear seat cushion that's flipped vertically to allow the rear seatbacks to come all the way down.

    Conversely, when we slid the driver's seat forward to unsquish the rear seat cushion, that of course left me in an overly cramped driving position.

    So...were the seller and I just spacing out and missing something painfully obvious about how to fold those rear seats down without the driver's seat mashing the left rear seat bottom? Have any hatchback owners out there had a similar issue? If I'm correct about this, do I just live with rear seats that fold down only partially?

    I just can't believe that a design feature this inelegant could make it's way into an otherwise fantastic car. Or do I chalk this one up to Saab "quirkiness", and just live with it?

    Herb :-)
  • revkarevka Posts: 1,750
    From Edmunds' coverage of the 2003 Franfurt International Motor show: Saab 9-3 Sport-Hatch concept. For those that missed, see more information in Post #496 of this discussion.

    Also, if you know anyone that would interested in discussing this subject, please send them here. Here' the url to this discussion that you can copy/paste: /direct/view/.eea6849/495

    Thanks for your participation!

    Host of Hatchbacks & Wagons
  • jchan2jchan2 Posts: 4,956
    I searched the certified used 9-3 listings and found that there wasn't a lot of 9-3s in the area. Is that just low sales of the 9-3, or are more owners keeping the hatches?
  • jchan2...

    I live in San Jose, CA.

    I've been looking for "my" 9-3 since Sept/Oct '03, and if all goes well, will be in my shiny, laser red/charcoal gray 2001 9-3 SE (5 spd) within two weeks. (Can't wait!)

    The Saab specialist who found the car for me says that the 9-3 hatches are in relatively higher demand nowadays. Reason being (no surprise here): Saab no longer makes'em.

    In fact, he can sell a used 9-3 for close to (if not even more than) the price of a comparable level 9-5.

    As far as your "low sales" query, it felt like it took forever for me to even find the exact car I wanted. Part of that, though, was my desire for the particular red/charcoal color combo in the SE level.

    Apparently, it's a very low demand color. Few new car buyers ordered it originally. And few used car buyers want it. It took me close to four months to even find one car that fit the description, and that's the one I hope to be driving soon.

    Hope that helps...

    Herb :-)
  • jajjaj Posts: 55
    Has anyone heard of or had experience with some "kit" to solve the so-called "weeping" of fluids? A local mechanic mentioned such a thing for about $120. I have a 2000 9-3 HOT w/ 5-speed and it's just starting to show spotting on my garage floor (my '95 900 did the same thing and never got cured).
  • sastrybsastryb Posts: 6
    My 1999 Saab 9-3 is almost up on the extended warranty. I have 80,000km (50,000 miles) and have had minimal problems. In the past month, though, the head gasket needed replacing as well as the PCM. Thankfully, both repairs were covered under warranty, saving my a few thousand dollars. So now I am at the crossroads - do I get rid of the car, or should I hang on to it. Perhaps I am over-reacting based on my past month experience. Are Saabs good cars to own for the mid-to-long term (6-10 years)??
  • beamer12beamer12 Posts: 2
    Once they get up in the 70k - 80k miles they start to get real expensive to maintain. Great cars in their early years, but I would dump it for a newby. I was told that from an ex-internal inspector for Saab. He inspected my car as I was returning a lease with high mileage. I was in the shop once a month on something that needed to be fixed with the final blow having to rebuild the engine.
  • ligartligart Posts: 109
    I'm assuming your extended warranty was thru Saab. You can also purchase extended warranties thru other companies, like Warranty Direct (though I don't think they do business in Canada?).
  • ligartligart Posts: 109
    Yah, but there's no newby like my Viggen!
  • sastrybsastryb Posts: 6
    Well, I have 80,000km on my 1999 Saab 9-3 and it's time to change the tires. Any reccomendations on what I should replace them with? I currently have Michelin Pilots 205 50 R16 (stock). I appreciate the feedback.
  • Sastryb, there will be many opinions regarding replacement tires, so I can only give you the benefit of my experience. My 2002 9-3 came with Pirelli tires that, after 20,000 miles (or approx 30K kilometers) became extremely noisy, and the rough, bouncy ride unacceptable.

    I elected to purchase a slightly lower-profile, quiet-running tire, a Goodyear Assurance P205 55 R16 with an H speed rating (I believe the original equipment tire had a higher V rating). I have been very pleased. I have also been surprised at the roadholding, being unable to detect any deterioration in cornering or braking -- in fact the lack of uncontrolled bouncing has improved these. I live in snowy Chicago, and the snow performance has been very acceptable, not as fantastic as the Blizzaks on my Avalon, but certainly very good for a high-mileage rated, all season tire.

    The Saab is, unfortunately, not a well-insulated car. Anything that reduces tire noise is a plus. By the way, the Assurance tires have a built-in permanent shine on the sidewalls, a very useful appearance attribute.
  • r34r34 Posts: 178
    Shouldn't the Pirelli have the same spec (except speeding rating & Max Load rating) as the Good year ? I thought Saab changed the OEM tires for 2002 9-3 to 205/55/R16.

    I am living in the Chicago area too. I bought my 2002 as CPO and found that the dealer put some cheap Cooper tires on it. It may due to my heavy steering and longer stopping distance problems. I am looking for a good all-season tires (at least it will do ok on light snow). I heard good things about Kuhmo ASX but they don't have 205/55/16. I am thinking among Michelin Energy, Yokohama, and the Goodyear you mentioned. I am trying to stay away from directional tires.

    How's the Goodyear tires perform on Dry and wet surface ? Do they provide good handling ? Thanks.
  • I must admit I don't have a clear recollection of the exact Pirelli tire that came standard on the 2002 SE, so you may well be right.

    As I get older my driving has become more conservative, so I rarely take my tires to the performance edge. Nevertheless, I have great confidence in the Goodyear Assurance dry road performance. Since you live in Chicago you will know that our summer has been remarkably dry, but my recollection of early Spring driving in the wet was very positive. Of course, my tires are relatively new, which always helps wet traction. We also received only moderate snow during the winter, but the Goodyear Assurance performed most satisfactorily.

    On our Toyota Avalon, however, I installed Bridgestone Blizzaks on steel rims for the winter -- and I can change back to regular tires/wheels in my garage if no snow is forecast. During a very difficult winter in northern Kentucky (we moved to Chicago from Louisville) the Blizzaks were superb. I cannot speak too highly of them. Swopping for genuine winter tires is always a better choice than all-season, but I have not done this for the Saab. Maybe this coming winter will be a test ?!
  • jchan2jchan2 Posts: 4,956
    My son wants a 9-3, but he won't be driving for another few years. (he's 13) :D

    It'll be tough to find one. :(
  • r34r34 Posts: 178
    I had a 2001 Saab 9-3. I used Michelin Alpin in the winter time. I like them. That car was hit by a truck but it saved my wife's life. That's why we keep buying Saabs.

    The ContiExtreme I used were good on snow but they were a liittle bit noisy.
  • I've heard very good reports on the latest version of the Michelin Alpin, but high price always seems to be a problem. The ContiExtreme are actually a performance tire -- I've never understood why performance should be a priority when all one wants to do is get home safely in a blizzard or freezing rain :)
  • r34r34 Posts: 178
    people like me who do not have enough storage space to store extra tires or the wife "forced" them to give up winter tires may but good all-seasons instead.
  • kylep86kylep86 Posts: 41
    Hey, i was wondering if anyone can give me some insight about the 9-3 Se's around the year 99-01 ( i would like a 2000) reliablility, safety, maintence, ownership, common problems? etc. Thanks! I have a 04 Jetta now fully loaded, leather, heated seats, mulitfuntion steeringwheel, etc. When i was looking around at cars my parents edge me more towards the Jetta, but i still have a soft spot for the 9-3's. So i would like to find a saab with all those features as well. Thanks to all who post. -Kyle.
  • jchan2jchan2 Posts: 4,956
    Well, in 2000 CR recommended the 9-3 because its reliability was passing.

    It got an "Average" grade, which isn't too shabby.

    But I think that after 100K miles Saabs tend to bring trouble. So try to get one with low miles.

    The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the car an Acceptable rating in the Frontal Offset test. I have an odd feeling the 9-3 can do better than that, but test results are test results...

    I'd go for it. Buy what you like, as long as you know what you're getting when you write that check.

    My own son wants a 2002 9-3 SE (either hatchback or convertible) when he begins driving.
  • Recently there was a news item about how Saabs from around 99 and newer are suffering from the dreaded engine sludge problem. Since ultraheavy depreciation costs on new Saabs have always forced value-minded buyers to only consider Saabs once they are about 3 years or more older, the engine sludge potential problem (engines are not cheap) may be enough to avoid Saabs altogether.
    Some ask the question, which brand disappears first, Saab or Mitsubishi?
  • 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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