This page is to provide what I hope is helpful information to anyone considering replacing their heater core in their Saab 9000.
My car is a 1988 Saab 9000 Turbo 5 Door.
This page is intended to supplement information provided by Barry and includes his text with my comments.
If you have any questions on this page or the heater core replacement that I did, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please note my photo page is quite large, but I believe the photos will help you if you're not familiar with some of these components.
Barry's original text is in black. My comments are in bold blue.
Read everything before you start! I replaced my heater core in February of 1998. I didn't replace the blower motor at the same time,but should have. I had to do most of this over again in May of 1999. Tasks marked with a * can be skipped for the blower motor. Tasks marked with a # can be skipped for the heater core.
I purchased my new heater core kit from Lititz Auto Service in Lititz, Pennsylvania for $125 (www.saablititzauto.com , 1-717-626-5264). Kevin and Tim are very knowledgeable and nice. They will provide free advice if you ask.
I purchased my core from>sobstory.com for $98.
I purchased my replacement blower motor from Import Parts Specialists (www.importpartsspec.com) for about $95. This was just the motor, and did not include the fan or the housing.
I did not replace the blower motor. Hopefully I won't regret this....
Special tools needed: A very long needle nose pliers or hemostats. Otherwise, the normal assortment of metrics sockets, Torx drivers, pliers, screwdrivers and so forth should work.
What NOT to do: No need to remove the bonnet (hood), or disconnect the battery. It's probably wise to disconnect the battery from a safety standpoint, but make sure you have your radio code if you do this. I didn't disconnect it and didn't hurt anything.
I agree. I did not remove the hood.
1. Mark the positions of the wiper arms with masking tape or a marker for later assembly. Lift up the plastic covers and remove the nuts holding on the wiper arms. Remove the wiper arms and the large rubber grommet (for lack of a better word) under each wiper. My passenger side wiper was very stubborn, and took a lot of careful prying to get it off.
My wiper blades did not have plastic covers on the end - just the nut holding the blades on.
2. Remove the three grills next to the fire wall (5 clips and 4 Torx screws).
3. Remove two bolts holding in the fake firewall (or bulkhead). Remove the bulkhead. Again, mine was very stubborn, and took a lot of yanking and prying, but eventually broke loose. Just don't force anything.
I must have been lucky - mine lifted right out with hardly any effort at all.
4. "Carefully remove the plastic drainage molding from just below the windscreen." -Haynes. There are a bunch of little plastic retaining stubs that need to be pried out. Then lift up the rubber windshield molding and pull out the plastic molding. Again, not difficult, but be careful.
These dopey little clips are a horrible idea - what a joke. You have to carefully pry them up as Barry said. After that I used a needle nosed pliers and put the tip of the pliers under the head, then pulled up. Any type of an actual threaded fastener constructed of any material other than soft plastic would have made so much more sense here!
5. Remove the wiper motor. Carefully mark the position of the rotating arm so that it can be reconnected in the exact same place. There is a circlip on top of the center bolt that needs to be removed, and then the center bolt and arm can be removed. Then remove the three remaining bolts. Disconnect the two wiper motor electrical connectors. These were very stubborn on mine, and I broke off both little retaining clips.
6. Haynes says to unbolt and move the electronic control unit (ECU) at this time. I didn't and don't see any reason to do so.
Neither did I. You don't need to move it to get the wiper motor out.
*7. Drain the radiator. Sounds easy but it's not. You have to first remove a plastic cover underneath the radiator. Loosen two bolts (but don't remove) near the front of the car, and then pry out the back end of the plastic cover. The whole thing slides out. The drain plug is on the passenger side, and is made of plastic with a single blade sticking down. Don't force it! I just used a pliers and unscrewed it.
My God what a stupid arrangement this plastic panel is. I found four bolts holding mine in - two under the front spoiler piece and one on each end. I had to remove them all completely and pull the panel off. I understand Saab's intention in wanting to protect the radiator and the underside, but as usual, they used a complicated arrangement instead of doing something simple.
*8. Disconnect the plastic matrix coolant supply "manifold". This thing plugs into the heater core and has a plastic release clip in the middle that must be pushed in (towards the passenger side). Again, this may be stubborn, but keep working at it and eventually it will release, and the hoses with the manifold will pull off (out).
For the life of me I could not figure this out. The release clip on my manifold did not move and I couldn't see down in there well enough, so I just left the manifold on. BUT, it would have made getting the blower motor out quite a bit easier had I gotten the manifold off.
*9. Label both heater hoses carefully, and remove them from the matrix manifold (2 hose clamps). (Note: no need to do this if you buy an original Saab heater core. My after market one did not require the manifold.)
Neither did mine.
10. Remove the throttle housing. Three bolts, plus the throttle linkage and cruise control linkage and possibly some vacuum hoses. You also need to remove the big tube from the intercooler (turbo only). Just move the throttle housing to the side.
I'm not sure if I took the right stuff off or not, but I removed both throttle linkages and the thingie I think is the dashpot. I don't know what the big tube from the intercooler is so I know I didn't remove it :)
11. Unbolt the front bolt for the throttle dashpot, loosen the back bolt, and rotate the dashpot up out of the way. Re-tighten the rear bolt. You will need every mm of space!
12. Disconnect the vacuum line for the cruise control, which is near where the heater matrix was, and move it out of the way. Unbolt the cruise control system vacuum pump (two Torx screws, and move it to one side.
Mine was mounted differently. It had three rubber feet that I assume were for shock / vibration dampening. I had to pull up on the pump until the bushings came out. Putting these back in was a real pain in the neck. One of myphotos shows the feet pretty well.
13. Unbolt the evaporator housing (on passenger side). Two bolts, one in front and one in rear. Free the rigid refrigerant pipes. I unbolted the bracket on the top of the wheel well to give me more movement. Move the evaporator to the right (passenger side) as far as you can. It doesn't move much, but you'll need to lift and yank on it a bit later.
The bracket holding down my rigid pipes had no bolts; it was a plastic clip type bracket that was very easy to open up with a screwdriver. One of myphotos shows it open.
14. Disconnect the inner control cable for the temperature control valve on the passenger side of the blower motor. This is where you use the very long needle nose pliers. It's a little round clip, it's hard to get to, and a bugger to get off! You may ruin it, but you should be able to pick up replacements at the hardware store for pennies (so make sure you do this when the hardware store is open!). But just be careful not to break the rod itself. Again, patience is a virtue with this one.
This was extremely easy on mine. There was no clip; just a rigid wire coming from inside the car that had a circular end. This simply fit right onto the blower control arm and was very easy to pull off and put back on with long needle nose pliers.
15. Disconnect the two electrical connectors for the blower motor (don't mix them up with the wiper motor!). Again, these were very stubborn to pry apart. Be patient.
16. There is a metal slot bolted the firewall with four bolts than the false bulkhead sits in on the driver's side. You can try getting the blower out without removing this, but I couldn't. Just sliding this away from the blower motor should give you the couple extra centimeters you may need.
This metal slot thingie is a major pain in the neck and I don't understand why this couldn't be part of the lower (non-removeable) part of the false firewall that it bolts to. One strong recommendation I can make is to have a universal joint for your socket wrench set. I could not get a socket & driver onto the left-most bolt and I could not get an open ended wrench onto it either because it is so tight in there. I ended up leaving this bolt in and just prying the metal slot thingie up - it would have been much, much better if I could have removed it. One of myphotos shows this slot thingie sticking up.
17. There are two plastic clips integral to the fire wall which hold on the blower motor. I used two very long handled screwdrivers to pry the clips out. These must be moved out in order to get the @$#*($ blower motor out. Once you break the motor free from the firewall, you must wiggle, turn and contort the blower and your body in order to get it out. A helping hand to move the evaporator up and away would be nice here (I didn't have one). I probably wrestled with the #^%%!& blower motor for 15 minutes before I got the sucker out.
I did not have to remove any clips. There was one clip only and it was on the right (passenger) side. The blower did not actually attach to this clip though; more or less it just sat on top of it. Getting this blower motor assembly out (and then back in) proved to be the most time consuming, frustrating and painful part of this process. This is a horrible, horrible design. If the blower were just a half inch or so smaller it would come right out without having to take half the engine compartment apart. I can't even tell you how I got it out and back in - I don't know - it just sort of happened. I can tell you there was alot of turning, wiggling, scraping and pulling (of the blower and of me and my assistant - my wife).
#18. If you are replacing the blower motor, you must separate the housing to gain access. There are four platic clips that need to be removed. There is also a plastic piece that runs the length of the vent area that snaps off. There is one Torx screw recessed in the middle of the housing that also needs to be removed. After this, the housing should separate with careful prying.
#19. Next you will need to remove the motor from the housing. There is one phillips screw on the backside of the motor that must be removed. My motor did not want to come out. I used a larger phillips screwdriver placed in the opening where the screw was, and while a someone held the housing upside down, I tapped with a small hammer. Eventually, it broke loose and came out of the housing. You will also have to remove the plastic clip from the ends of the green and black wires, and work the wires throught the housing, including the strain relief boot. Be careful to not drop it when it eventually falls out!
#20. You must now remove the fan from the old motor. It is simply pressed on to a splined shaft. I used a small drift, and again had a helper support the fan while I tapped on the motor shaft. A few taps, and it broke loose and was easily removed from the fan.
#21. Reinstall the new fan into the housing making sure the screw hole lines up properly. You may have to tap it in. Reinstall the fan onto the motor, again tapping gently with a hammer. Connect the two halves of the housing, and reattach all clips (careful, I broke one). Replace the Torx screw and the front plastic piece on the front.
*22. You are now (nearly) home free! The heater core should be easily visible. It slides straight out from it's little compartment. Again, you will need to hold the evaporator up in the air a ways for clearance. It took me about two hours to get to this point (not that it's a race or anything).
23. I then vacuumed out the whole cavity with my shop vacuum. I first felt around for any pieces that may have dropped in there that might come in handy! There were a lot of leaves and debris in there.
*24. My replacement heater core did not require the little matrix manifold thing, but came with short hoses that you must splice into the existing hoses (that's why you marked them earlier!). It's not that bad, but you want to be very careful how you orient the hose clamps so that you can tighten/remove them in the future. You may want to connect the hoses before inserting the new core. I didn't and it was tight clearance putting on the new hoses (that's why Saab uses the manifold thingy I guess.)
25. Next put the blower motor back in. Did you remember exactly how it came out? I didn't, and wrestled another 30 to 40 minutes trying to get the sob back in. Again, don't force it. I had to lift the evaporator way up high in order to get it back in the way it needs to go. Once it's in, snap it back onto the clips. (I broke one off when I removed it, so I only had one to snap back on. Seems to work fine like this, and there's no way I could have replaced the broken clip without replacing the car!)
Once again, I had no clips. On my car the blower appears to be 90% held in place by the evaporator.
26. Reattach the heater control cable to the temperature control value. Put the little stinking clip back on with your long needle nose. This is really fun.
This was very easy on my car; as described in #14.
27. Refit everything else you removed. *You may want to start the car back up after re-installing the throttle housing and dash pot and refilling the radiator, and make sure your new heater works and there are no leaks. I did this, and my car proceeded to overheat, and no heat from the heater! Frustrated, I called it a day, and started in on it again the next morning (Sunday). It turns out I think I just had air in the system and needed to bleed it off, and add a little more antifreeze. This was the only real glitch I ran into.
I had no over temperature situation, but my heat did not get warm for quite some time. I believe this was probably because air had to be purged from the new core...and the car was probably in a state of shock now that there was no coolant leak.
28. Re-install all of the trim pieces and everything else. The plastic windshield molding was a little tough, but start at the middle work your way around to the corners. This is why they probably suggest removing the hood, but it's really not worth it. For my broken tabs on the electrical connectors, I just used cable ties to hold the connectors together.
29. You may want to replace the filter inside the evaporator while you're at it. Mine was grotesque. There's a little panel that unsnaps and flips up. You can then pull the filter straight out. It's about 12" x 9". Saab wants about $30 for a new one. This thing actually comes apart, so I split it, and made a new filter out of a furnace filter for $.49. I used electrical tape to help hold the two halves together.
Boy, do I agree. Mine was equally disgusting and I did the same thing - used a piece of furnace filter.
Most people recommend to replace the blower motor at the same time. Mine was working fine and made no noises, so I left it and ended up up replacing it 15 months later. You may want to consider doing this, otherwise, you have to do the whole job over again when the blower goes out. I've heard you can just put new brushes in the motor, but if you plan on keeping the car, I would go with a new motor.
All told, I probably spent between five and six hours to replace the heater core. My local Saab dealer wanted between $500 and $600 to do this. I did just the blower motor in under four hours. I did this for the price of the core and fan and my time. But if you're mechanically inclined and have at least a whole weekend to work on it, you should be able to pull it off. I would also try to enlist the help of someone who is car knowledgeable, if possible.
Everyone raves about Saab engineering, but I'm definitely not impressed with the design of the heater core and it's location. If they are going to bury it where they did, they should have at least made it out of stainless steel so that it last 20 years or more. As it turns out, this sounds like a pretty common problem, and they only last 80 - 100k on average..
My summary & commentary
Barry's instructions proved to be much more helpful than the Haynes manual I purchased a week ago. With the exceptions I noted above, this repair went pretty much the way Barry described it. For sure the blower motor assembly is the most frustrating part. The way it "fits" (and I use that term loosely) into the engine compartment is, in my humble opinion, a very poor design. I agree with Barry that if these cores are not mean to last very long they should at least be reasonably accessible for replacement. There's no reason it should take 8 hours like it did for me. Arguably I'm not a mechanic and only have basic tools, but I am very mechanically inclined and used to work on all of my prior Saabs myself when I was younger. I spent about $1,700 on repairs to this car since I bought it 4 months ago and wasn't willing to drop another $500 for parts/labor on a heater core replacement which is why I did this myself.
My one regret is not having the ability (because of my lack of facilities and the fact that it is winter time) to properly flush the entire system. I drained the radiator, removed the expansion tank and used a squeeze bottle to inject water into the radiator. I got alot of brown gunk out of it by doing this (see the picture) but I know it needs to be properly flushed. I will have my mechanic do this the next time the car goes in to see him.
If you haven't already seen them, here are mypictures.