9000 Survey Part 1

Survey compiled by Brett F. Martin (martinb@nosc.mil)

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The happiest group of 9000 owners are attracted primarily to
high-performance European sports sedans; enjoy an occasional enthusiastic
drive (especially with a turbocharged engine;) and require the
practicalities of comfortable seats, a large back seat, ! and a great deal
of cargo room.  The least happy group of 9000 owners are attracted primarily
to high-end European and Japanese luxury sedans and enjoy a ride that is
quiet, smooth, and carefree.  Many owners who bought their new 9000 on the
basis of "va! lue" have been disappointed by the high cost of repairs and
depreciation.  Family men who bought their 9000 as a compromise between an
impractical sports car and a sedan still want their pure sports car back.
Serious winter drivers who bought their 9000! as a compromise to an
all-wheel drive vehicle have also been disappointed.  The overall level of
satisfaction is related more to the "fit" of the owner and the car than to
any other factor.

This survey has borne out the much heralded safety characteristics of the
9000.  22 of the 87 owners surveyed were involved in traffic accidents; only
3 reported injuries -- back and neck.  2 owners were involved in serious
accidents; although their 9000! s were "totaled" they were unharmed.
Consequently, they bought another one.

Most owners praise the handling characteristics of their 9000, and most
owners of the turbo models with manual transmission are very pleased with
the power and feel of the engine - especially with the 2.3L engine in the
late-'90-'97 models.  The ability ! to carry appliances, furniture, ladders,
and Christmas trees gives unending pleasure to many 9000 owners.

Unfortunately, the '86 through early '90 automatic transmission models
provide poor starting acceleration -- even with the turbo engine.  In
addition, the auto transmission has an average life span of 100k miles/160k
km and is very expensive to replace (! typically more than $3000 US).  The
automatic transmission on the late-'90-'97 models provides much better
performance due to the larger 2.3L engine, but the specimens in this survey
are too young to determine if the life span has been improved.

Many potential 9000 Turbo owners are concerned about the reliability of the
turbocharger and the increased stress on the drivetrain.  As it turns out,
the turbocharger, engine, and manual transmission are among the more
reliable aspects of the vehicle.  ! The engine accessories and chassis
components typically represent the majority of the failures and repair cost
- and these have little to do with the effects of the turbocharger.  The
engine mounts are the only components that are consistently failing ea!
rlier on the turbocharged models.

Owners who buy their 9000s as new cars enjoy good reliability for the first
3-4 years of ownership -- an average of one repair per 15k miles/24k km.
After 4 years of age, an average of one repair per 10k miles /16k km is
required for the remainder of th! e car's life.  The average annual cost of
repairs and maintenance over the first five years of the car's life is $620
US.  The majority of these repairs are carried out by authorized

Owners who buy their 9000s as used cars typically need to repair the
problems left unresolved by the prior owner over the last year (or years) of
ownership.  An average of 16 repairs is required over the first 60k m/96k km
after the purchase of a used 90! 00 that is over 5 years old.  The average
annual cost for repairs and maintenance of 9000s over five years old is
$1100 US.  The majority of these repairs are carried out by independent auto
repair shops or the owners themselves.

Although owners frequently tout "maintenance" as a remedy to avoid
mechanical failures, this survey does not support that claim.  Higher than
normal failure rates occur in the following conditions (listed in order of
effect):  unusually cold weather (suc! h as the northern parts of North
America); high quantities of aggressive/enthusiastic driving; unusually hot
weather (such as the desert or Gulf regions in North America); and high
quantities of very short trips.  The most reliable used 9000s are gently-!
driven specimens residing in benign climates.  The knowledge of the driving
habits of the owner are more important than service records.

Most of the owners of older 9000s think that the owners of the newer models
will enjoy much better reliability; this survey does not support that
conclusion.  Although brand new 9000s are much more reliable than older
ones, they are settling into the sam! e failure patterns within five years.
Another surprise is that the 200HP 2.3L turbo engines have excellent highway
fuel economy:  28.3 mpg or 10.0l/100km.

Half of the respondents in the survey own or have owned a "classic" Saab 900
('79 - '93).  They agree overwhelmingly that their 9000 has better driving
performance.  The '85-'90 9000s have had a similar level of reliability to
the 900, but have been less! expensive to fix.  The '91-97 9000s have had
better reliability than the 900, but the repair costs are comparable.

If you are a potential first-time Saab buyer, I hope that you find this
analysis informative but not discouraging.  Keep in mind that the overall
satisfaction rate of 1st time Saab buyers is high:  95% for older used 2.0L
9000s and 100% for new and used ! 2.3L 9000s.  Clearly, there is something
special about these cars.



Two categories of problems were reported in the survey responses:  random
and endemic.  Most vehicles do have some random failures - most of which are
fixed during the warranty period.  The problems reflected in the survey are
those due to design or long! -term production deficiencies.  In other words,
if the problem applies to your year and style of 9000, the failure will
happen to you if you keep your vehicle long enough.  This class of problem
exists with every model of car ever produced, but most auto! mobile owners
are not aware that the majority of their problems are had by the majority of
their fellow owners as well.

If you have access to the service records of your used vehicle before you
buy it, check to see that the following problems have been repaired.  If
not, keep in mind that you will probably need to do them in the future - at
your expense.  Do not assume th! at a car with fewer repairs is necessarily
a better buy than one with many; the one with many repairs may prove to be
more reliable in the future.

The statistics presented below are derived from the survey responses.
However, I have added descriptive detail based on Saab Network postings and
personal experiences.  Although it is impossible to give a precise account
of replacement costs, I will att! empt to provide reasonably accurate
guidance using the following terms:

* inexpensive (under $100 US)
* moderate ($100-300 US)
* expensive ($300-1000 US)
* very expensive (more than $1000 US)


2.0 L ENGINE:  '85 through early '90

cold idle and stalling: 100% of the '85-early '88 owners report an unstable
idle.  The infamous "cold idle" problem occurs when starting a "cold" engine
during temperate or hot weather:  the engine RPM oscillates around the
proper idle speed (around 850 RPM) by reving up as hig! h as 1500 RPM;
coming down so low as to almost cause a stall; then reving up again.
Usually this extreme behavior disappears within 30 seconds.  This behavior
is symptomatic of an air/fuel mixture that is actually leaner than the
sensors think it is.  T! he cause of the problem could be as simple as a
pinhole leak in an air hose or as expensive as an aging sensor that is too
far out of calibration.  Rarely is the engine computer itself at fault.
Unfortunately, it is very difficult to diagnose the exact ! cause, since
one's mechanic can make an "attempt" only once per 12 hour (or so) period.

After the explicit "cold idle" behavior disappears, it may be difficult to
drive the car without stalling.  If it isn't too bad, the driver can
compensate by adjusting his usage of the accelerator and clutch; most owners
with a manual transmission don't ! fix the problem.  However, the car may be
undriveable if it has an automatic transmission.

Note that during cold weather, the mixture is made rich enough that this
problem doesn't occur.  The magnitude of the idle instability is also
sensitive to the octane of fuel used - the idle gets more erratic with
increasing octane.  Also note that even ! when the engine is warmed up, the
idle is a bit unsteady.  This issue has been discussed at great length in
The Saab Network and NINES magazine.

The next generation of Bosch fuel injection was incorporated starting in
late '88.  From late'88 - '90, the 2.0L engines do not have this problem.

Stalling: Most 2.0 L engine owners experience, at some point, stalling
during deceleration.  The cause can be as simple as a gummed-up throttle
plate or idle-control valve (solved with a can of spray cleaner), a failed
turbo-bypass value (inexpensive),  or as comp! licated as a bad sensor or
failed idle control valve (moderate to expensive).

Engine mounts: The lower engine mounts are hydraulic in construction and
have an average life of 100k miles/160k km.  The one located under the oil
filter typically fails first, since hot oil spills on it at each oil change.
If not replaced when needed, the other lowe! r engine mount will take an
additional load, and it too will fail.  The replacement cost is expensive,
although it is a reasonable do-it-yourself job.  The upper engine mount
(moderate) is rubber and it typically lasts much longer than the lower
mounts -! as long as they are replaced promptly.

Shift coupler: A rubber coupler links the manual transmission with the shift
lever; it is located on the firewall side of the transmission.  Eventually
the rubber breaks and it is impossible to shift into gears other than 3rd
and 4th.  While the part is deteriorating, ! the driver usually notices
additional difficulty when shifting into 1st or 5th gear.  If it does break
while in route, a clamp or "Vise-Grip" tool will hold the assembly together
until you get it repaired.  The average life of this part is 80k miles/128k!
km and the replacement cost is moderate.

Oil leaks: 56% report minor leaks; the others have probably grown accustomed
to them and don't notice them anymore.  Small "oozes" are normal.
Occasionally one should replace the valve cover gasket, oil pump seal,
crankshaft seal, and so forth.  However, one shoul! d do this when
convenient; it is not worth the effort or money to fix a minor leak.

Water pump: The average water pump life is 120k miles/192k km.  Unusually
cold and hot climates can shorten the life to under 40k miles.  Under these
conditions, the water pump gasket may fail before the water pump.  Many
mechanics recommend against using Asian afte! rmarket replacements.  The
water pump usually leaks or rattles for a considerable period of time before
catastrophic failure.  The replacement cost is moderate.

Alternator: The average alternator life is 110k miles/176k km.  In unusually
cold climates, the bearings fail first.  In moderate climates, the
electrical parts fail first.  Rebuilt units tend to be expensive, and the
replacement is fairly labor intensive.

Head gasket: 23% of owners reported head gasket failures - a very expensive
and nightmarish repair.  89% of the head gasket failures occurred in
unusually cold winter climates.

Timing chain: The timing chain tensioner on 85-87 models has a life span of
about 145 k miles in moderate climates and less in cold ones.  From '88 on,
all of the reported timing chain tensioner replacements have occurred in
cold winter climates.  The three owners who! have had to replace the timing
chain itself were either from unusually cold climates, or else had cars with
very high mileage.  The tensioner replacement is moderate in cost, but the
timing chain replacement is expensive.  The first sign of a timing cha! in
tensioner is a rattling sound.  If the timing chain comes loose from the
gears, you are likely to damage valves and pistons (very expensive).

Turbochargers: Three owners (9%) reported a turbocharger failure.  All three
described their driving style as aggressive.  If the bearings fail first,
the owner usually has some warning before catastrophic failure.  However,
seal failures usually occur without a great ! deal of advance warning.
Replacement cost is expensive, but you can save a good deal of money if you
do it yourself.

Direct Ignition: 100% of engines equipped with direct ignition (primarily
European spec models) have had a direct ignition cassette failure.  The
replacement part is expensive, and the driver is typically stranded when
this occurs.

Engine Computer: The 85 and 86 models had engine computer failures.
Apparently, this was a production problem that was fixed on later models.
Expensive unless junkyard replacement available.

Crankshaft pulley life: The crankshaft pulley/"harmonic balancer" assembly
is made of rubber; it hardens with time, starts making loud squealing noises
and eventually fails catastrophically.  If you have this problem, fix it -
it could damage something.  The average life for th! ese is 85k miles/136k
km, but the replacement parts have been redesigned, and they hopefully will
have a longer life.  The part and labor are expensive.

Manual transmission: '85-'87 manual transmissions have a defect that causes
5th gear to "disappear."  Some of them failed under warranty while others
did not.  This is an expensive repair.

The only other reported manual transmission failures (2) occurred in
climates with unusually cold winters.  An installed rebuilt manual
transmission is very expensive.

Clutch Master Cylinder: The clutch master cylinder has an average life of
90k miles/144k km.  These failure earlier in hot climates at an average of
70k miles/112k km.  This is the typical cause of clutch slippage or
malfunction.  If it starts happening, get it fixed quickly, b! efore you
damage your clutch.  Replacement cost is moderate.

Clutch: Average clutch life is 110k miles/176k km.  Aggressive drivers
report a clutch life of 95k miles/152k km.

Automatic Transmissions: 83% of owners report having an automatic
transmission failure.  The average life is 100k miles/160k km.  In very cold
climates, the average life is around 75k miles/120k km.  Typically, shifting
gradually deteriorates until the car can no longer be drive! n.  The
replacement cost is very expensive.  Some owners have reported horror
stories about rebuilt units which have failed after another 30k miles!

Wheel bearing assemblies: 15% of owners report the replacement of a wheel
bearing assembly; 86% of them are from an unusually hot or cold climate.  At
failure, these assemblies have an average of 140k miles/224k km on them.  It
seems that the overwhelming majority of these assemb! lies have a life span
well beyond this.  These are sealed assemblies than cannot be "repacked."
The replacement cost is moderate.

Ball joints: 10% of owners report ball joint failures at an average mileage
of 120k miles/192k km.  75% of these owners live in unusually cold climates.
Replacement cost with aftermarket parts is inexpensive.

CV joint boot: The average constant-velocity joint boot failure occurs at
100k miles/160k km, although the average life span is longer.  The CV joints
themselves do not appear to wear out unless they have been used for an
extended period of time with a broken boot.

Brake life: The front brake pads have an average life of 55k miles/88k km.
The rotors are replaced with the pads about 35% of the time.  Rear brake
pads have an average life of 125k miles/200k km.  13% of the owners report
caliper rebuilding at some point, but 80% ! of these are from unusually cold

Exhaust system life: It is difficult to evaluate the life of the exhaust
system, since the part that fails is not consistent from owner to owner. The
average interval between the times that something needs to be replaced on
the exhaust system is 70k miles/ 112k km.  Cars wit! h low mileage seem to
require more exhaust repairs; based upon the other types of parts that fail
on these cars, it seem likely that these owners are making a high number of
short trips.

Ignition Switch: Electrical contacts fail in the ignition switch with owners
who appear to be making numerous short trips or living in an unusually cold
climate.  13% of owners report this failure.

Blower fans: 23% of owners reported blower fan failures.  These failures
seem to parallel the age of the vehicle more than the actual mileage of the
vehicle.  It is usually a good idea to replace the heater core at the same
time to minimize the overall labor.

ACC: 23% of owners report automatic climate control failures.  These seem to
occur in proportion with the age of the vehicle rather than the mileage.
The most common failures are flapper motor failures, a dirty temperature
sensor, or a wire or hose that has ! fallen off.

Heater core: 28% of owners report heater core failures.  Heater core
failures occur in greater frequency with age and without any relationship to
the climate.  Typically it is wise to replace the blower when replacing the
heater core.

Cruise control: 36% of owners report cruise control malfunctions.  The
majority of these are caused by a vacuum hose failure, the chain falling
off, or a clutch/brake pedal switch failure.  Repairs are usually

Power Window Switches: 36% of owners report problems with the power window
switches.  If the light burns out, it can be replaced with a similar bulb
that can be purchased at an electronics store; Saab only sells replacement
switches.  If the electrical contacts are functioning! intermittently, they
can usually be cleaned successfully.

Power window regulators/mechanism: 10% of owners report problems with power
window regulators or mechanism.  Not surprisingly, 75% are from unusually
hot or moderate-all-year climates.

Door hinges: Owners of 85-88 models report defects with their door hinges.
Some were repaired under warranty; other failed afterward.  A body shop is
required to fix the broken welds.

Sunroofs: 15% of owners report sunroof water leakage.  Sometimes the problem
is as simple as clogged drain hoses; the drains should be blown open with
high (but not too high!) pressure air.

Dash lights: 100% of owners report burned out light bulbs on the dashboard.
It is best to wait until a great many go out before you put any effort into
replacing them.  There is a wide variance in the length of time the bulbs
last; I suspect that the position of the! dimmer switch is a factor.

Light bulb warning system: 26% of owners report that their exterior light
bulb warning system gives them false "light burned out" messages.  Sometimes
this is due to dirty electrical contacts at the light sockets; sometimes it
is due to the usage of different brands of light bulbs! in places where the
circuitry checks for current balance; and sometimes there isn't anything you
can do about it.

Sunvisors: 23% report sunvisor hinge failures.  When this occurs, the
sunvisor swings down constantly.  Some creative owners have found ways to
fix these by increasing the friction in the hinge.

Alarms: Owners with factory alarm systems complain about the excessive
sensitivity of the shock sensor; it isn't adjustable.  The result is
frequent false alarms.  In the opinion of many, the factory alarm is
essentially useless.

Courtesy door lights: Owners of '85-'88 models report breakage of the
door-mounted courtesy lights.  The mounting of these plastic assemblies is
not very robust, and the sheet metal screw is likely to come loose
eventually - especially if anyone has had cause to remove the do! or panel.
When the screw comes loose, the lens creeps out and gets caught between the
door and the frame.  (With any luck, you see sparks and a fuse blows as
well.)  Many owners try to glue them together.  They are inexpensive to
replace, but be sure th! at you use Lock-tite on the screw.

Cruise control lever handle rattle: Some owners of 88 and 89 models complain
of a rattle in the cruise control lever handle.  It is especially annoying.
It seems to be immune to cure except by replacing the handle.

Center Vent Closes: 26% report that the center ventilation vent closes
itself whenever the blower is at high speed.  This happens because a
friction-inducing clip has broken, so that the vent flap is free to turn.
Saab sells a replacement clip for a reasonable price, but o! ne must remove
the top of the dash to perform the repair.  Many owners have had success
with black masking tape:  close the vent; feed the end of a strip of masking
tape into the vent and aim it between the gears behind the knob; slowly open
the vent to ! wind the tape around the gears.  This additional friction is
usually enough to solve the problem.

Creaks and rattles: 38% of owners report creaks and rattles.  I suspect that
the other 62% have better stereos.

Rust: Owners who live in snowy climates complain of rust on the edges of the
doors.  In most cases, this is apparently only surface deep.

Paint deterioration: 20% of owners report noticeable paint fading or clear
coat peeling.  These owners live in a variety of climates.

A/C compressor: 10% of owners report an air conditioner compressor failure
before 100k miles/160k km.  These owners live in either unusually hot or
cold climates.  This compressor is a standard Japanese assembly, so the
replacement cost is typical.

Headliner droop: For years "classic" 900 owners have been arguing about
whether or not the 9000 is a "true" Saab; the argument is settled now.
Headliners droop in 9000s which spend a lot of time in the sun.  For this
problem, an upholstery shop is a better bet than an auto mechanic.

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