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Old 05-12-2009, 07:41 PM
Join Date: Jun 2005
Posts: 14,292
Any advice or experience regarding used 2002 Saab 9-3?

Tomorrow I am going to Indianapolis to look at this 2002 Saab 9-3. The price seems good, and it has relatively low miles for a used car in that price range. Externally and internally the thing looks stylish and in pretty good condition.

I've been reading up on this model and year of 9-3 - it seems to be pretty evenly divided between those who hate them and those who love them. Some have had good experiences with them - others have had very bad ones, involving many parts failures and needing to get things fixed constantly. One thing that was mentioned was oil sludge problems. Most of the people complaining about problems said that these things generally happened at the 45/50-K mile range, so I'm not sure what to think about a 9-3 with almost 90,000 miles.

The car does have a Carfax report available from the dealership - and we do intend to have it checked out by the Saab dealership in Indianapolis.

Does anyone have any experience with the Saab 9-3 of the 1998-2002 model years? Good or bad, I want to hear it all.
Old 05-13-2009, 03:17 AM
Join Date: Apr 2008
Posts: 4,066
A friend of mine had the 2000 model which he sold two years ago, with approx. 110k miles on it. He loved it and didn't have any issues beyond the regular servicing. Anecdotal, I know, but I drove it once and it had a nice feel.

I've read all your car threads and this looks like one of the more sensible options. I hope you've abandoned the 7-series BMW. In the late 90's I bought a 92 Audi V8, and the guy who fixed my copiers bought a 7-series of similar age. We spent a lot of time commiserating over the repair bills. The cars were sublime, amazing highway machines but just the price of the damn parts was enough to make you cry. And if you took them to an independent shop to save some bucks, chances are you would only make things worse.

We've had two Hondas in the family. I had a Prelude, which I loved, a great car that lasted forever (235k, original engine and transmission.) My wife had an Accord and that also never gave us any problems. They're just great cars and the maintenance is reasonable.

If you still want a coupe, keep your eyes open for an Acura CL. If you can find one made after 2000, in your price range and in the 75k range, snag it.
Old 05-13-2009, 10:41 AM
Join Date: Mar 1999
Location: NC
Posts: 1,652
See if there are good service records.

General consensus on saabnet is that this car REQUIRES Mobil One synthetic oil, changed every 5k to prevent sludge.

The "direct ignition cassette" is a part that fails on this car and will leave you stranded. It is good to keep a spare. Anyway, check to see whether it has been replaced lately (within 30k).

When test driving, check to see whether the AC controls work. Does the air blow out the floor vents, dash vents, and defrost when desired? This is a very common issue.

If it's a convertible, make sure the top goes down OK. I understand that motor failures are common.

I like my 1999 9-3 a lot, but parts and service are expensive. I do most of my own repairs, which keeps things more affordable.
Old 05-13-2009, 01:34 PM
Join Date: May 2003
Location: Bellevue, Wa
Posts: 323
Not a lot of input about a 9-3 but we recently got a 2002 9-5 with 90k miles as a second car. The thing that we were told to look for was presence of sludge in the oil pan so make sure you have that looked at. Also factor in the price of the impending 90k service which is around $500.

Our car also has the nagging 'Service Theft Alarm' warning that comes up everytime we start the car, it is because the car theft alarm module batteries have failed and you can replace the module for $400 or clear the code out of the memory for $100. A DIY solution costs around $20 but it is a hit or miss. When I checked out some Saab forums it seemed that it is a common problem at this time for Saab's of this vintage.

The price seems slightly high, I got the 9-5 with similar mileage and trim for $4500. All said, I am sure you will enjoy the car, it is lovely. And coming to think of it, it has pretty much all the features present in my 2006 Infiniti G36 Coupe.
Old 05-13-2009, 02:45 PM
Join Date: Mar 2001
Location: Somewhere cold 'n squishy
Posts: 5,195
I have a 2002 9-5 (6 cyl). I'm only up to 50k miles, but it has been a regular for repairs (mostly electronics/sensors, but also had to replace the cooling system for chronic leaks). I'm planning on dumping it as soon as the extended warranty is up.

It's an amazing car to drive, when it's working, but reliability and repairs have been terrible.
Old 05-13-2009, 03:33 PM
Join Date: May 2003
Location: Manor Farm
Posts: 16,605
I had a Saab 900 Turbo back in the day (the predecessor to this car) and while it drove well the maintenance was expensive. I didn't have any of the described sludge problems from 75k to ~90k that I owned it, but it did require full synthetic oil, and parts were expensive as described by others, which seems to be a common problem with nearly all European imports.

I looked at a 9-3 of approximately this era (1999-2000) and while the features were nice the (limited) poor reliability data and unwillingness of dealers to negotiate drove me to buy a different vehicle that ended up being a lot better value. If you want a Saab in particular I'd look at the Subaru-manufactured 9-2X, which is the same powertrain and chassis as the Subaru Impreza/WRX but different body, suspension components, and upgraded interior and options (although personally I think that the faux-walnut trim Saab sticks all over their interior looks even cheaper than vinyl plastic).

Old 05-13-2009, 07:34 PM
Join Date: Jun 2005
Posts: 14,292
Well, I test drove the Saab today. It was even nicer in person than it looked in the pictures - the interior is extremely comfortable. It drove smooth, handled great, really good brakes, A+ acceleration. We took it to a very skilled import mechanic for inspection. He said there was a minor leak from a hose clamp and a very small oil leak from the engine, and that the oil pressure switch wasn't connected. Aside from that, the most significant problem was that the air conditioner was not blowing cold air. It was blowing air - the air just wasn't cold.

We went back to the dealership, and got them to knock off 500 from the price. They also said they would fix the air conditioner (guy at the dealership - a pretty small independent one - said something to the effect of the compressor needed to be connected, and said he would fix it and it would be ready for us to pick up tomorrow.)

So I was extremely pleased with the car when I drove it, and the mechanic said that everything was in excellent shape with the transmission and the engine (apart from the small oil leak.) No problems whatsoever with oil sludge. So we put a deposit on the car. Tomorrow we'll be back to pick it up. All told I think it was a good deal, with the lowered price they agreed on (and a 4500 mile warranty, also, which covers engine, transmission, and electrical system.) The Indy mechanic and my dad's own mechanic concurred that it was a good deal, so if all goes as it should, I will be driving this car back from Indy tomorrow afternoon.

Last edited by Argent Towers; 05-13-2009 at 07:34 PM.
Old 05-13-2009, 10:06 PM
Join Date: Jun 2005
Posts: 14,292
Considering I do get this vehicle, what should I do to ensure that it is kept in top condition and that its parts do not degrade? Is there anything I should do, specific to this model of SAAB? What's the best oil to change it with? I'm already under the impression that these models take synthetic oil only and that anything else causes engine sludge (which the mechanic assured me this car didn't have.) Should I go ahead and get the oil changed anyway as soon as I have the car in my possession?
Old 05-13-2009, 11:19 PM
Join Date: May 2003
Location: Manor Farm
Posts: 16,605
Originally Posted by Argent Towers View Post
Considering I do get this vehicle, what should I do to ensure that it is kept in top condition and that its parts do not degrade? Is there anything I should do, specific to this model of SAAB? What's the best oil to change it with? I'm already under the impression that these models take synthetic oil only and that anything else causes engine sludge (which the mechanic assured me this car didn't have.) Should I go ahead and get the oil changed anyway as soon as I have the car in my possession?
Regular maintenance is important with any vehicle. You should use the oil recommended by the owner's manual (full synthetic if it calls for it, dinoblood or a synthetic blend if not). "Engine sludge" is usually due to inadequate filtration, improper material selection in bearings and piston rings, or irregular maintenance. Usually a dealer will change the oil on a car before putting it on the lot (if for no other reason than to conceal sludgy oil) but if it hasn't started sludging up by this point, following the scheduled maintenance and using the recommended oil is the best thing you can do.

Other than that, reliability with a high mileage car is always a bit of a crap shoot; if the manufacturer didn't do a good job reliability testing components then you might have a component on one car survive for several hundred thousand miles while it fails on three other vehicles, and there is no manufacturer that is immune to this (though some are notably better than others in this regard).

It sounds like you've already decided to buy the car, and everything you can reasonably do to verify that it is in good functioning condition and maintenance has been done. You might as well pull the pin and charge over the wall.

Good luck to you in your driving endeavors.

Old 05-13-2009, 11:46 PM
Join Date: Jun 2005
Posts: 14,292
I'm getting it IF they fix the air conditioner to my satisfaction.

The vast majority of the reports of this particular year and model of SAAB having parts failures, that I've read, the failure happened far earlier than 84,000 miles. Usually between the 25,000 to 50,000 mile mark. As far as I (or the mechanics) know, no part of the transmission or the engine failed, or if it did, it was fixed properly. They didn't notice any problem with any serious parts when they checked it out.

In any case it's under a 4500 mile warranty from the dealership which covers everything including electric.
Old 05-17-2009, 02:16 PM
Join Date: May 2003
Location: Manor Farm
Posts: 16,605
So did you end up getting the Saab?


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