PART I SUMMARY 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 dealerships. 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. --------------------------------------------------------------------- COMMON PROBLEMS 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 climates. 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 inexpensive. 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.