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Saab 9-3 Coupe (2002 and earlier)



  • I recently traded in my '94 Saab 900S on a new Hyundai Elantra GT... I liked the Saab very much. With 165K miles, though, repair bills were huge (If I hadn't traded it in, my yearly bill would've been $3400--not much less than the car was worth). On a whim, I checked out the GT, a very similar looking car. It stickers for $14500. A few less unique features, but my Saab had been a very basic Saab, while the Hyundai comes standard with side airbags, CD, alloys, leather seats (and cup holders). And performance is equal--the Saab's 2.3 was 150 HP compared to 140, but weighs 400 lbs. more. Seems about the same on the freeway, nearly as good of handling (same as the Tiburon).
    And of course, a 10 year warranty clinched the deal. As a grad student, with a 60 mile commute, I needed something more reliable, but can still flip the seats down and toss my bike in the back.
    Yeah, I guess I'm Benedict Arnold, but I drive 5 doors for their practicality and not for their originality.
  • I'm looking at trading in my Jeep Wrangler (too many problems) for a 97 Saab 900. I wanted 3 door with leather and stick, but I have found a deal I can't pass up on a 900s 5 dr., cloth, auto with 36k. The car drives great, and I would be getting a warranty that would cover it for 4 years/48k more miles. I've heard to stay away from turbos because of too many problems. Can someone please give me advice as to how good of a car this is going to be. I appreciate it, thanks.
  • ghuletghulet Posts: 2,628
    Cebst--I've had a Saab turbo, and the actual turbo is hardly ever a problem. They're fun to drive and fast. Saabs in general are unique (great hatchback room, fun to drive, classy, interesting design in an era of bland styling). It's just all the other things. I can't imagine wanting a Saab if your main goal is to get a car with fewer problems than a Jeep Wrangler, IMHO. The deals on used Saabs are great (you get a nice, fancy European car for not much money) but upkeep can be a chore. They're unique, in good ways and bad. If you have a warranty, that's a big help, but make sure you have a dealer close by (this is a big problem in some areas, see earlier posts). Check the bulletin boards on, this is a great forum for anyone new to Saab ownership. Good luck, whatever you decide!

    ealtizer, I would just try the usual routes to sell the car if that's what you want to do: put it in the paper at a fair price, or try to trade it at a dealer. I know what you mean, once you've had a Saab, other cars seem bland and no fun to drive by comparison. Try out a few, I definitely would look at Volkswagens; I don't know what you want to spend, but even a base Golf at like $15k is a pretty nice car.
    If you're in a higher range (say 25-30k), look at an Acura CL or TL or a Passat. Jettas are also nice, the Hyundai Elantra GT is nice (4 door hatch), though admittedly people might think it's strange to go from a Saab to a Hyundai. If you can deal with a smallish car, check out the Mazda Protege ES, nice car for the $. I'd say see what you can afford and test drive lots of cars, you will undoubtedly find some pleasant surprises.
  • I'm the current owner of a 95 900s that's had a partial engine rebuild and it now on its 3rd clutch. It currently has ~54K miles.

    I love it when it runs, but it is by far the least reliable car I've owned for the past 20 years.

    My advice is to absolutely take the warranty. But here's the important part: the fine print says that "wear items" are excluded and are only covered for 1 year. Demand an *exact* list, by part number, in writing, of each and every one of these excluded parts.

    Pay particular attention to the manual transmission. My repair records show different part#'s on each of my rebuilds, which indicate running Engineering design changes.

    IMO, the design flaw apparently is in the bearing/bushing system that the clutch cable mechanism activates through inside the housing -over time, it begins to bind until it causes another failure, such as the clutch cable.

    Pre-failure symptoms include: a slowly increasing clutch pedal force, a non-smooth feel, and/or a feel that changes figuratively every 10 minutes.

    It is as if the self-lubricating bushing isn't self-lubricated and sometimes corrodes, or creates burrs that then cause binding.

    Also note that this mechanical failure is **NOT** something that can be caused by the customer's driving habits. Don't even accept that excuse.

    The good news is that Saab will sometimes cough up and pay for clutch repairs after the warranty has technically expired. But you'll have to lean on them to do so.

    On my engine rebuild, the cause was believing the manual that the oil only needs to be changed every 10K miles. Do it every 5K, use pure synthetic, and find the aftermarket oil filter that's an inch larger in diameter than the Saab OEM filter. Finally, don't rely on the internal display to remind you when to do it...they're notoriously unreliable.

  • gbriankgbriank Posts: 220
    Hey fellow Saabers!

    I just traded out my 1999 9-3 SE auto for a silver 2001 9-3 SE manual...What a difference!!! I never really appreciated manual until now! The power difference is amazing not to mention the increase in fuel economy.... I should have gotten manual before, but I guess I needed to learn from my mistake.

    I was also how amazed at how much the dealer got for my car. I thought I was going to eat the trade-in, but instead I was a little above break even. Not bad!

    Anyone else out there in Saab land driving a manual? Any advice? Hills are still my achilles heel, but I am getting better...

    If any one is looking to get a Saab, I definitely recommend my local dealer (Sewell 800-352-2002) and sales guy (Mike Larkin). They are definitely the best!

  • ghuletghulet Posts: 2,628
    I couldn't exactly tell from your post, but am I to infer that you're currently learning to drive stick on your new Saab? If so, do yourself and your new car a favor: buy an old, cheap *beater* (Hondas and Toyotas are the easiest) to learn stick. I would never want anyone to learn stick on a brand new car. You might, I don't know, burn out two clutches in 54k miles or something. BTW, I've had two older Saabs with manual transmissions, both original clutches lasted over 100k.
  • gbriankgbriank Posts: 220
    Actually, I learned how to drive manual several months ago but haven't been driving one on a daily basis until now. I have been relatively careful these last few days and haven't stalled. My shifting could use a little more refinement, but my best friend and the salesguy both concurred that it takes time. Since my driving habits have changed (no full throttle starts) and most of my time is spent on the highway, I do not believe that I will burn the clutch out.

  • jonw2jonw2 Posts: 49
    I couldn't help butting into the conversation to say that our 1987 Saab 900 has the original clutch at 180K miles. After owning two Saabs over the last 16 years, I've never been thrilled with Saab's notchy shifting, but the rest of the car's positive points make up for it. With proper care and maintenance you should get a lot of mileage out of the clutch and transmission. Good luck.
    Jon W.
  • ghuletghulet Posts: 2,628 take a bit of getting used to, but they were better than VWs of the day (though the reverse up and to the left is nice on VW). I don't know if this is still the case. I've always liked the way Saab clutches engage anyway.
  • I am new to the Saab experience and am wondering about reliability. I am interested in replacing my Honda Accord EX with something fun to drive. I had a great test drive and am seriously considering a purchase of a used (1999) 9-3 with manual transmission. The Honda had bullet proof reliability, but boy was it boring! Loved the feel of the 9-3 and all of its great engineering. Our other car is a 98 Volvo V70 AWD and its reliability has been spotty (just purchased extended warranty) I am a back yard mechanic and enjoy like to do the basics my self. Any and all advice would be much appreciated.
  • gbriankgbriank Posts: 220
    Yeah, I traded in my Honda Accord for my first Saab. What a difference! Honda's are definitely reliable, but sure are boring. For the duration of ownership of my 1999 Saab 9-3, I had only two problems with the car (both of which were not defects, but damage caused by external variables).

    First, my antenna was bent by the car wash attendant. He was poking along listening to Tejano music while cleaning the car and left the radio on when the car went through the wash. I watched from the viewing window in agony as the antenna was bent back.

    Second, the right rear door's control rod (rod that connects the external handle to the lock mechanism) was disloged from its housing. This was done by my friend slamming the door as hard as he possibly could.

    Other than that, the car was a gem!
  • IMO, the '87 clutch system is apparently a more robust design than what's in the 94- NG's.

    But note that I said "system".

    In neither of my Saab clutch failures was the problem attributable to the clutch's pressure plate. Nor to User habits/driving styles. Both times, it was a binding and seizing in the actuation system, most likely attributable to a defective bearing or bushing design.

    I believe that I mentioned that my 3rd clutch had different part#'s than the 2nd, which had been done in 1999. This says that Saab has running Engineering design changes coming through their logistics support system between 1999 and 2000.

    Logically, its expensive to obsolete and supersede parts. These running changes signal a recognized shortcoming...the old designs weren't good enough...that needed correction. It is also not hard to put 2+2 together and realize that this redesign infers that all pre-2000 Saab NG's are technically suspect for the reliability of this particular subsystem. I suspect it is more time based than mileage, so IMO, don't be at all surprised when we hear of 9-3's hitting the same failure mode when they turn 3-4 years old.

    Please understand that if I had only had one isolated repair incident, I would accept it as "bad luck" and get on with life. But it hasn't been just one...there have been three, summing to an outlay of $4600 before I even got to 50K miles. Now explain to me why I should even consider buying another one.

  • jonw2jonw2 Posts: 49
    HH, Sorry I broke in on this subject thread without reading your experience with Saab clutches etc.I can understand your despair with your Saab. Yes, I believe the 1987 Saab was an unusually good year. Unfortunately, in the 1990s Saab reliability was spotty, at least by Consumer Reports ratings from the years 1993 through 1997.

    As I mentioned, I have never been enamored with the "throw" of the Saab stick. Someone equated it to driving a school bus. And I agree the problem must be in the design that necessitates a fairly long cable run. However,I am surprised that Saab hasn't improved the ease of shifting markedly over the years. Last year I test drove several new cars, including a Passat and a Saab 9-3, and the Passat won hands down in driveability. As it turned out, we ended up buying a Subaru L station wagon, largely from financial considerations, and it has been an excellent car.

    Sometimes the only thing left to do with a trouble-plagued car is to cut your losses and trade it in on something more reliable. Last year we did just that with a troublesome '93 Ford Taurus. If you are looking for a sporty car and space isn't a problem,I would recommend taking a look at the Subaru WRX that just received rave reviews in Car and Driver. In any event, best of luck. -- Jon W.
  • I have a 98 9-3 turbo 2-dr. Throttle cable has been binding some lately. Have taken it apart and lubed it up and that worked for a couple of weeks but the problem has returned. Seems to be worse when engine is warm. Any ideas?
  • Have heard the following noises in my new saab.......(now w/1700 miles

    a) a clicking/pusling sound when I apply the brakes...
    b) doesn't take bumps well.......rattles in the back.......(dealer originally installed a few wahsers in the back seat to help the noise.but returned)
    c) brakes squeak when applied only in reverse.......

    Anybody have something similar????????

  • Greetings again Dstrau....I have noticed some similar things with my SE some of which I might be able to help you with.
    a)Clicking when applying the brake....I think this is the interlock with the transmission...You hear the noise coming from the shifter (auto) when you brake...not sure that this can be fixed but try raising the volume on the stereo...its pretty good in the SE
    b)Rattle in the back....first make sure the headrests are completely stable...if they are not locked then they tend to rattle....if this does not work try placing foam under the seat hinges.....if this helps then you can have your dealer fix the may also be coming from the hatch area which they found on mine and I thought it was coming from the seat. Try looking on for fixes for rattles by doing a search under the bulliten boards...lots of useful info on there.
    c)Brakes sqeaking...1st I would try blasting the wheels with a garden hose to clean out the brake dust...most of the time its just due to the dust accumulating
    Hope you are enjoying your 9-3 SE as much as I am..6700 miles right now and no problems.
  • gbriankgbriank Posts: 220
    2002's should be here anytime now....
  • gbriankgbriank Posts: 220
    Yup, to Keep America Rolling.... One thing they don't tell you about the 0% financing is that you have to put 20% down to get it.
  • dmf000dmf000 Posts: 2
    Hi, Saab-owners. I understand that for 2002, Saab will no longer be offering the Base 9-3 models. Maybe that's why I found a price online from that seems incredibly low - $22.7 for a 2001 Base 3-dr with auto. Is this a good deal? I test drove one and it drove great. I'm partial to hatchbacks, but I noticed, compared to my lowly Ford Probe, that the Saab had very limited cubbyhole storage spaces (where do u put CD's?), that the "armrest" isn't one at all (unless you're under 4' tall) and that the gas cap door does not lock. Picky, but I know the Saab's got a reputation for being different, so I can live with this. Should I take the plunge? The offer expires 10/31. Feedback appreciated.
  • Hey dmf000...You are correct the base models have been discontinued and the 2dr hatchback is only available as the viggen for 2002. The 4dr SE has be decontented and the price has been lowered. Some standard items for 2001 are options on the SE for 2002...still after adding all the options back on the list price on my loaded SE will be $2555 lower for 2002. I am guessing the factory to dealer incentives will be lowered because of this. If you want a 2dr you have to get a 2001. I originally wanted a 2dr hatchback (none were available at the time) but test drove both the base and SE models..SE has better handling, more horsepower and more options.. I would at least test drive the SE before you buy if you can afford the additional money.
    As for the gas is locked when the doors are locked...but opens along with the doors. An armrest can be ordered for the dealer or Saab catalog online...Two are available...get the sliding armrest....the other one is useless..I know I bought that one first. The price of $22700 seems fair may even be able to get the dealer to go lower on your own. Let me know if you do decide to take the plunge and feel free to ask any more questions
  • dmf000dmf000 Posts: 2
    Very helpful, thanks for the quick response. Is the sliding armrest difficult to install?
  • The sliding armrest is $85 and available only in grey or beige leather. Took me about 1 minute to install...don't pay the dealer a penny for installation....just need to pull off the cupholder cover...pull at one of the hinges while sitting in the back seat and its off. Just as easy to install the new one...any other questions just ask
  • Ed,

    Sorry for the delay...was on vacation.

    I believe that there's a TSB for reconfiguring the clutch cable linkage, as some binding is a known problem on some 199x should be under warranty, so I'd have the dealer check it out.

    The bad news is that it sounds like the same problem I've had (twice). But the good news is that it appears that you can make it go away by re-lubing your system, so I would presume that you could choose to do isolated rennovations so as to narrow down just which part of the linkage is the problem (so that future re-lubes are more focused & faster).

    Something else you can try is to sit in one in the showroom floor and compare its pedal push as a way to define "normal". Its not foolproof, but its easy, fast & free. If there's a big difference, speak up and get someone to look at it...and clarify ahead of time that you don't accept any claim that its a "wear item" that is only warrantied for a single year: wear items are high mortality items like brake pads and wiper blades, not stuff like shift linkages and bushings.
  • Jon,

    Sorry for the delayed response...

    Re: Saab reliability - - I agree that in the 1990s Saab reliability was spotty, as per Consumer's Reports (CU), but at the time of my purchase, the problem in the New Gen 900 model hadn't really cropped up yet. I recall reviewing CU and they didn't look that "bad" or "different" from other Euro-makes. Today, though, the trend for those years is pretty obvious. Oh well.

    Re: gearbox feel & throws - - - Yeah, its "imprecise". Virtually every time I'd put my Saab in for service when it was under warranty, I'd put poor shifting on the checklist. A good mechanic who is conciencious about it can do a pretty good job to minimize its aggravating aspects and make it tolerable. But it will never be slick.

    Overall, I'm afraid that slick, well-engineered solid gearbox linkages are a victim of the demands of the economics of manufacturing. Cable-based shifters are far cheaper to design, install & adjust and are thus all too common today.

    Re: dumping lemons - - - So how much you going to offer me for my wonderful car? ;-)

    I do have to admit that I'm a bit aggravated that I am going to have to dump this car, roughly 3 years and 50K miles earlier than what I'd normally consider to be acceptable. Its running fine (although it needs YA muffler), but I simply don't feel that I can completely trust it. BTW, is anyone interested in four mounted snow tires?

    Re: Subaru WRX? - - - I saw it at the NYC car show this spring and I'm thinking about thinking about it. I used to drive a Subaru (a "FF-1G") many years ago, and while I haven't tried any of them recently, the general trend I've seen through coworkers and rental cars is that Japanese auto's still often mimic US cars in their control system rates and suspension setups, which I personally loathe. I believe that AutoWeek reported that the WRX has been configured significantly "softer" for the US market than its ROW configuration, which I feel is a shame (dammit, at least offer the tight setup as a BTO option!). nevertheless, I figure I'll be stopping in the local dealer for a look-over and test drive, if for no other reason than to complain to them that its not tight enough ;-)

  • ryman2ryman2 Posts: 7
    Bought a base 9-3, auto, w/ everything you can get on the base in May. Now have 9000 miles on it which is split probably 50/50 between city driving and highway driving. And when I say city, I am talking D.C.- anyone who has ever driven in D.C. will know just how bad the roads are and how hard they are on your car. Not a problem yet. Everything still works great, car feels as tight as when new, and no squeeks or rattles. There is only one bump in the whole city that causes the CD player to skip, which is pretty impressive. Only down side is the stereo is a little weak, although I noticed this after test drive. Maybe I'll ask Santa for an upgrade!

    I have to say I no longer have car envy. Not only is it a car that turns heads (why couldn't I have had this when I was 18 and single) but it is immensly practical with the huge trunk/hatchback. And we have had no problems with three adults on long (4 hours plus) trips and five on shorter jaunts (1 hour or so). Best part of all is that at the end of long trips I feel utterly fresh- almost as good as when I left. The car is a dream to drive- the seats are just the best seats my rear has ever had the pleasure to grace, and the acceleration is excellent. I actually use the speed warning feature because I find myself easily doing 85-90 on Route 95 without knowing it. If you need to pass some idiot doing 65 in the fast lane you are around them in a matter of seconds. This, combined with the pinpoint steering, is to me the most important safety feature on the car. After all, best safety feature is being able to avoid an accident.

    To anyone who has read prior posts about problems and is scared- I've had a great experience so far, although I do follow the maintenance schedule. Why not when the dealer gives you a loaner car for anyhting that will take more than an hour. If looking to buy in DC area, check out International Saab in Falls Church- very happpy with them. I feel like I own something special the way I'm treated there.
  • I was close to getting a Saab, but was scared off from all the horrors stories re reliability.
  • eman5eman5 Posts: 110
    Can we get the 2002 Saab 9-3SE data posted in the "New" section? The 2002s are in stock, and it'd certainly be a help to have invoice and other data before the 0% financing ends October 31... I'd never want to buy a car without being armed with Edmund's info.
  • dstraudstrau Posts: 17
    Tosay, when I got out of my 2001 SE, I heard a "snap" under the seat. After looking around, I realized that the plastic memory seat piece was loose????????? Wasn't able to "snap it back!" It is not hanging, just loose? happen to anyone else?

    P.S.- Just broke 2200 miles.Otherwise, besides the brakes squeaking in reverse and a "ticking sound" the car is great!!!!!!!!!!!

    Dealer said that they will take care of the ticking and brakes at 10k checkup
This discussion has been closed.