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Saturn Ion Starting Problems



  • Thank you all for all of your postings....I own a 2003 Saturn Ion and am having the same kind of problems as everyone else. The car intermitenly won't start for about two years. At first it was very it happens several times a week. I've had the Ignition Switch replaced by the local Saturn Dealership who of course told us they knew just what it was and acted very confident they could fix it...and I'm sure you're not suprised that $200 later, it didn't fix it...but now they want us to replace the Body Control Module for $600. Hmmm.... We are ready to try the "White Wire Trick" however....the car hasn't started at all for 4 days. So I have read in earlier posts that there might be a way to get it started as a temporary fix, (we had the battery tested and it is fine) so does anyone know a way to get the car running so we can get the White Wire cut?

    Thank you sincerely for any advice you may have!
  • Okay, so I've seen a few variations of the problem and think it would be helpful to first state what my issues were. I have an '03 Ion and like most people, my problem was with the passlock. The car wouldn't turn over every once in a while but after ten minutes it would always start. It went from happening every 6 months or so, to every few months, to every few weeks, to every week. At first I thought it was a winter thing but summer came around and it would happen when it was 75 degree. I should note though that every time the car started after ten minutes. I've seen some messages on here from people that seem to have much more serious problems.

    After reading through this thread I considered cutting the white wire but thought that would hurt the resale value, plus I didn't feel incredibly comfortable cutting wires in my car. I went to my dealer who I have a good relationship with and he claimed he knew what the problem was and could fix it for $170. Despite my concern after reading everything on here I decided to take the chance. Nearly three months later, it's started every time since. Just so there's no confusion, this is exactly what it says on my service invoice:

    Line 1: C/R ignition switch replacement $170
    Tech Comm: Technician replaced ignition switch and reprogrammed

    Repair 1: Ignition and start switch replacement
    OPCODE: N2320

    Labor: $135
    Parts: $31.84
    Tax: $1.59
    Total: $168.43

    Hope this helps.
  • I searched high and low to solve this ongoing problem when our mechanic told us it needed to go to the dealership. I know that always means $$$, and since we're out of warranty (it's a 2003), I wanted to see if I could solve this on my own.

    So, a couple of things that seem worth trying:

    1. Cut the white wire that disables the security system. I'm not crazy about the light being on all the time, but it does seem the most successful solution.

    2. Install a remote starter. Seems to work for some, and it does sound like fun in the wintertime! :)

    3. Replace the ignition switch. Also seems to work for some, at least for a time, and is a cheap fix.

    For now, since the weather's turning cold, I'm going to think on this and decide what to do. In the meantime I'm taking someone's advice and heating up my key with a lighter before starting it, and I'll see how that goes.

    Once I decide I hope to come back and report my success! Thank you to EVERYONE for a long but very informative thread!
  • I live in warm southern new mexico and have same intermittent starting problems. I have an 04 Saturn ION. I guess it is the ION 3 as it has full power and sun roof, etc. I have not been able to ever get the the 10 minute suggestion to work. I jump the car and it eventually starts. Last night I cut the white wire with car running (but I had to get it running by jumping) ; I turned car off and restarted and it started just fine. I waited another hour or so and I went outside to start the car and It would not start. Got up this morning and car would not start. I then jumped again and it started. Am I missing something? Do I need to check something else? What is the battery in the trunk actually attached to in the engine compartment?

    Thanks for all your help,

  • I cut the white wire last night. Car would not start this morning; jumped car; it started. 6:30: Drove 30 miles to work; waited two hours; went outside to restart; it started but was a bit hesitant. 9:10: Drove 30 miles; turned car off; immediately turned car back on; it started. 9:45: Got out of car; used key fob to lock car; immediately unlocked car with key fob; started car; turned car off; tried to start car and it would not start. That was 7 minutes ago. I will go out in another 5 minutes and attempt to restart. It is now 9:57 and I went to restart and car would not restart; I turn on ignition and it clicks. Any suggestions?

    Thanks for your help,

  • I did the 3 ten minute leave on accessory wait 10 second and at the end turn off and wait 30 seconds and finally start. It didn't start. I jumped the car and it started. So would this indicate that possibly the battery is dying?

    Thanks for your help,

  • It is now 6:30 AM and I go to start the car, which I drove last night after it was jumped, and it won't start. It just clicks when I turn it over. Again, I have clipped the white wire, done the 3 ten minute thing and it wouldn't start. I jumped the car and then it starts. Any suggestions? Any advice would be very, very, welcomed.

    Thank you,

  • Jerry,

    This sounds a little more serious than the anti-theft device issue, especially considering you've already cut the white wire. Have you taken it to a mechanic to see if it's something else, like your starter or electrical system?
  • Thanks for your reply. No I haven't taken it in to a mechanic yet as I really wanted to exhaust any other issues which seem to have plagued other owners. I did not want to act prematurely in taking to mechanic. It does appear as if something could be draining the battery. I am going to take the battery in and have it checked? It doesn't appear to be the ignition switch since the car will start after being jumped. It doesn't appear to be the starter since the care will start after being jumped. Weird.

    Any further advice?

    Thank you,

  • I know how you feel about wanting to do everything you can before taking it in. Good luck!
  • Definitely sounds like a dead battery -- the 'clicking' is the giveaway. either you didn't charge it enough after you jumped it or it is incapable of taking a charge. If you have a trickle charger, give it a full charge. If it takes the charge and starts the car your battery may be good. If it won't take enough of a chage to start the car, probably dead. If it takes a charge but discharges overnight, then you probably have a short or something draining it. Alternatively, you can just take it to Autozone or Advance auto (either jump the car or take in just the battery) They can test it in five minutes (for free) and see if all cells are good. DOA is forever -- if the battery is bad, you need to replace it. How old is the battery?? If battery is good, jump the car, recharge it fully, then find out what is causing it to discharge. Good luck.
  • I took the battery in to Sears this morning before I got this reply. The battery registered that it could not hold a charge. Is it imperative to get a vented battery?

    Thanks again,

  • Ordinarily the parameters are power and fit -- the battery has to fit in the space and it has to have the CCA to start/run the vehicle. But the Saturn battery may be strange due to its location, e.g., vented/non-vented. And you may have some problems getting the right battery and it will almost certainly be more expensive than a Walmart battery (which would otherwise be fine for any other car). Do NOT let someone stuff just any battery in there. Make sure that it is specific to the car/model. I just did a quick check and Advance auto doesn't list one, but Autozone does. Maybe Sears. Get a battery and you will have treated the symptom. Ascertain the cause -- it might just be old age that caused the battery to fail. After five years it is not out the question that heat and cold and wear and tear just took their toll. But make sure you don't have a problem that killed the last one or it will kill this one as well.
  • What is the most effective way to determine whether or not something may be draining the battery? Is there a particular test which Saturn mechanics run?
  • They hook up a gizmo and see if there is a flow of current when everything is shut down. Someone else mentioned that the fuse box under the hood sometimes has a bad contact -- good example. I am by no means an electrician. If the battery simply expired of old age -- quite possible -- then you are OK by just replacing it. If you have another problem, it will show up before too long. That's what I usually do -- if the new battery goes dead in a few weeks (or days) it can be because something is draining it ( a short circuit, as above) or because the charging system is not functioning properly. checking to see if it is charging is relatively easy -- the idiot lights/guages in the car may or may not be telling you thr truth. Just pop in a new battery and see what happens. The place that sells you the battery can very easily (and for free) run a check on the charging system..
  • I don't know if this is really related, but I had the cold start problem...I did the white wire mod and that worked for me great. However a short time later I started getting my "CHECK ENGINE" light on intermittently becoming more constant. Then my car would totally loose all power and shut down. It would take about 5 to 10 min before it would restart. So I decided it was time to take the car to the dreaded dealer. I reconnected the white so they didn't try to blame the problem on my wire modification. I took it in, they very quickly found a wire harness that had been rubbing on the motor and had exposed bare wires. Got it replaced and was on my way...until the problem reoccurred the very next morning. After my second visit, and a more thorough inspection they decided that the Powertrain Module was bad and needed replaced. I have been lucky ever since then. I never disconnected the white wire after that either. The best part about that was it was under a federal emissions warranty! I will keep everyone updated but that was 6/16/2009.
  • Many thanks for taking time to provide advice. I did change out the battery 3 days ago. No problems since. It will be interesting to watch what occurs. All seems good to go for now.

    Have a great day!

  • Hello, I cut the white wire about a year ago, everthing works fine since then, but 1 note.

    Last summer after the car was parked for about a week it would not start.
    I found the problem was a poor connection to ground at the battery. I took the battery ground connection off at the frame, not far from the battery and it was corroded. Cleaned the corrosion of tightned the cable, end of trouble.

    Just for the record, I originally changed the battery, changed the starter. These were not he trouble. I then cut the white wire, this really worked.

    This is a difficult trouble to find as it really looks like a bad battery. Then it really looks like a bad starter. Then you learn to wait 10 min. This is a hard one as it takes 10 min to arrange a boost or get help. it really fools you into thinking it is a bad battery or starter.

    To make matters even more confusing it could be a bad ground or connection, as I found.

    I have been a mechanic, and aircraft mechanic all my life and I have never seen anything so difficult to troubleshoot.

    Try the bad ground first.
    Cut the white wire if your car starts after 10 min.waiting period.
    Do not change the battery.
    Do not change the starter.

    The really hard part of this is what if you really do have a bad battery or starter?

    Hope this can help. Good luck

    PS I have not read the other posts since last year.
  • I have also been having problems with starting my 04 ion 2. Seems to only happen at this point when it's cold. Leave it in the driveway in the fall and it won't start. Leave it in the garage and it starts no problem. I'd like to try the white wire modification. Where is it and is there any damage possibly to any of the components in the engine??
  • Perfect. Couldn't have been helpful. Will let you know how I make out.
  • I have read all the posts about how to do it, but still cant figure it out. I bought the switch already. I removed the plastic casing on top of the steering column that covers all the wires and things, I also used a 7mm wrench to get the screws off the lower casings as well. I can see the ignition switch on the left but I cant figure what to do next. I see two gold rounded off bolts,one on the left and one on the right. Do I need to take the whole steering wheel off just to replace the ignition switch? Please help me with this...if someone could post an example video of them doing this it would help alot of people...thanks
  • esprixesprix Posts: 11
    Well, today I got out and made the white wire fix on our Ion before the weather got too cold.

    First, BIG THANK YOU to oblio9 for his VERY HELPFUL step-by-step video:

    My two cents:

    * I didn't have any wire nuts, so I just covered the ends with electrical tape, and then tape everything together.
    * The video was helpful in carefully popping off the plastic cover of the steering column, although it doesn't include how to put it back on (which was the part I was most worried about). Just put in on in the reverse order of how he took it off - right hand side first, left hand side snaps into it, and then the top slides in the back and snaps into the bottom two halves. It'll make sense once you try it.
    * Not only does the yellow indicator light now stay on on your dashboard, but every time you start the engine the odometer will give you the "service engine" display, so you'll have to hit your trip button to get rid of it.
    * I knew the yellow light would bother me, so while I had the black electrical tape out I put a small piece over the light on my dashboard (I can still see any other lights that might light up, though).

    Between this VERY informative thread, and that video, I can't thank everyone enough. Once we get into the winter months I'll report back with any problems, but after reading everyone's experiences, I'm not expecting any!
  • :sick: HELP!
    My daughter has a 2003 Saturn Ion and we are trying to determine if it is worth shipping from Hawaii to Las Vegas. She is having that 10 minute wait start problem. I changed the plastic initiation switch, then went through the 30-minute learn procedure found in Programming Theft Deterrent System Components, it still would not start. I took off the new ignition switch and put the old one back on and it started up fine. The next morning it would not start. We waited for 10 minutes and it started. But now the problem is more definite, it is not starting more often.

    My questions are:
    If I disconnect the white wire will it affect the airbags or any other part of the car?
    Is it required that the airbag fuse be pulled before you cut the white wire?
    Can a remote starter unit be installed on a standard shift where you have to press the clutch to start?

    Thanks everyone this forum has been an enormous help for me and my daughter. And yes, we have filed a complaint!

  • esprixesprix Posts: 11
    Oh, I also wanted to mention that in the YouTube video comments someone mentions that disconnecting your battery for an hour will turn off the indicator light on the dashboard at least until the next time it tells you you need an oil change. Might be worth a shot if the light annoys you.
  • zx2vtzx2vt Posts: 1
    what does the cold and wet weather have to do w/ this problem? i think i may have the same problem as everyone else here. just a few questions though. If i hook my white wire up to a switch. will i be able to just flip the switch when my car don't start or will i still have to wait the 10 min.? Also i am usually able to jump start my car when i don't start.
  • oblio9oblio9 Posts: 19
    No idea though at one point I think someone mentioned that the wire was smaller than it should be (?). For me it was always a combination of cold and wet. On a sub-zero day it started, no problem. On a damp 40 degree morning I was screwed. With Saturn going belly up, no point in asking why as I don't think this will ever get fixed without employing some kind of hack.

    What you could do, and I have contemplated but not tried, is cut the wire while it is running and then when it is powered of install a switch. then I would just keep the switch of during the cold months and turn it on for cool weather or vehicle inspections. I am curious if anyone has tried this yet and how it worked.
  • After nearly a year of not being able to start the car during the winter, and colder, moist weather, I finally decided to cut the white wire, beneath the steering column. The entire process took a half-hour, and was very easy to do, after watching the Youtube video. After snipping the wire, the passlock light came on, but that was all. This morning, the car started right up. I'll keep everyone posted, but free sure beats spending $150 for a new ignition switch. :D
  • I bought a used 2004 Saturn Ion 6 months ago. I have had no real problems until it started getting cold. Now, most mornings I have the common ignition problem that everybody else has.

    I turn the key, everything lights up, the engine cranks once, then nothing. I have to keep turning the key all the way off, wait 10 seconds, and try again. Eventually, after 10-30 minutes of doing this repeatedly, the car starts. Every once in a while, the car does start after only a few tries.

    I have read about this problem on many different forums, and I am angered and dismayed that GM will do nothing about this. Good thing my employer is understanding, and has not fired me yet for being late every time this happens.

    If you own an Ion in a cold climate, you will have this problem. There are several simple fixes, but I think GM should do something about it.

    Please complain to BBB at and the NHTSA at
  • Mr nice guy, just go ahead and cut the white wire under the ignition. Make sure you watch the video on how to cut the white first. I cut the wire shortly after my posting and ship the car to California then drove it to Las Vegas and my daughter has been driving it and it has not failed to start. Everything else is working just fine. Good Luck!
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