Huge win for car owners! All TSBs to be made public. The Center for Auto Safety just made the NHTSA (US Government) make public the full text of all TSBs from now on. They are the same organization that has petitioned the NHTSA & filed lawsuits to protect car owners over exploding gas tanks & other major safety issues. Whenever you drive in your car, you are safer thanks in part to a lot of work over the years by this small but very effective consumer advocacy group.

Please take a moment & say thank you by donating $5 or whatever you can to the Center for Auto Safety. Notes: The Saturn Ion was a compact bundle of hurt wrapped up in a cheap, plastic shell. With so many defective components and a safety rating that a bicycle would be ashamed of, it’s a blessing this car only lasted five model years.

The 2003 (and 2004) Ion was cursed with GM’s flawed attempt at a continuously variable transmission, known as the VTi. It had such a high failure rate that a class-action lawsuit was filed against GM, eventually prompting a settlement and a warranty extension. GM discontinued the VTi for the 2005 model year – surprise, surprise.

The 2003 Ion was also part of one of the largest and most controversial recalls of all-time. A defective ignition switch in millions of GM vehicles could accidentally turn the car off and disable important safety components like the power steering and airbags. The problem resulted in at least 13 deaths, but what made it worse was that GM knew about the issue for 10 years before doing anything about it.

So was the transmission warranty extended? Yeah. Was the ignition switch recalled? Eventually. Is this car safe to drive? Not really. Honestly, you’re better off looking elsewhere.


really awful
Crashes / Fires:
8 / 3
Injuries / Deaths:
2 / 0
Average Mileage:
56,368 miles

About These NHTSA Complaints:

This data is from the NHTSA — the US gov't agency tasked with vehicle safety. Complaints are spread across multiple & redundant categories, & are not organized by problem.

So how do you find out what problems are occurring? For this NHTSA complaint data, the only way is to read through the comments below. Any duplicates or errors? It's not us.

2003 Saturn Ion electrical problems

electrical problem

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2003 Saturn Ion Owner Comments (Page 10 of 11)

« Read the previous 20 complaints

problem #37

Nov 172008


  • miles


My Saturn 2003 Ion continues to have intermittent starting problems(not related to the battery), and problems with the key getting stuck in the ignition cylinder, even after the ignition cylinder was replaced. They cannot detect a problem yet it still keeps happening!

- Glendale, AZ, USA

problem #36

Dec 232008


  • miles
Car will not start in temperatures near 32 degrees or less. Ignition switch and battery have already been replaced. Car starts to crank then stalls out and service light comes on. Must wait 10-15 minutes to try again. If lucky it will start on 2nd try, otherwise 3rd. This has been going on for past 3 weeks when temps dropped.

- Manassas, VA, USA

problem #35

Dec 292005


  • 12,030 miles
Bought vehicle in Apr. 05, Dec 06 problem starting car in cold weather late for work, dealer replaced passlock2 system Dec 06, vehicle fine until Dec 07, problem came about again, Jan 08 called dealer said to bring in for diagnostic, did so dealer said it's the body control module (BCM for short), prior to finding that out replaced starter and battery to try and fix problem. Called Saturn customer support Jan or Feb, they said the electronic failing was my fault and I had to fix problem. Sitting in the cold waiting to start my car has resulted in lose of dexterity and feeling in finger tips due to prolonged exposure to sub-zero temps trying to start car. Saturn has a bulletin #1787659 saying that if owners come in referring to their car not starting in cold weather "no crank, no start with complete power". Saturn knows of the problem and wont fix it cause they deem it "a non-safety issue".

- Wiscasset, ME, USA

problem #34

Dec 182008


  • miles


I want to file a complaint about my Saturn Ion 2003 in hopes that we can recall the car. My car is outside uncovered all night. Right now it is 27.1 degrees outside. My Saturn Ion 2003 has a hard time starting when it is below 32 degrees. I read on this website that I am not the only one that is having this issue. It seems to be an issue with the ignition switch. This has happened to me 2 times this week, 3 times this year, a total of 6 to 8 times in the 5 years that I've had it. It sounds like the ignition revs, but then it dies and my car has a message "service soon". if I give it a few minutes to sit, then I try it again, sometimes it does the exact same thing, sometimes it gets a little better, but the engine won't turn over completely. Then, when the ignition switch is a little warmer, it will actually start. I usually stay in my car for an average of 15 minutes. Longest I've waited for my car to start was an hour. I have talked to Saturn once about this, but they stated that they will have to reproduce the issue before they can find out what is wrong. If I can get my car to Saturn, obviously they will not be able to reproduce the issue. This is something that Saturn really needs to acknowledge since it is more of a safety issue. We don't want to be stranded in the cold with no phone service waiting for the grease or ignition switch to warm up. It's ridiculous. Thank you for your attention.

- Sandy, UT, USA

problem #33

Dec 162008


  • 48,000 miles
2003 Saturn Ion ignition switch problem. Car won't start, then interlock prevents car from being started for 8-10 minutes. This has occurred approximately a dozen times at various temperatures.

- Newtown, CT, USA

problem #32

Dec 162008


  • miles
My 2003 Saturn Ion 2 will not start in the winter when the temperature is below 32 degrees. This can happen at least once a week all winter long. It can take anywhere from 10 minutes to one hour for my car to start again. I took it to a mechanic who could not find what the problem was and charged me $80 for nothing. This has been happening for three winters and has gotten worse each winter. It has caused me to miss work and be late for work several times.

- Lakewood, OH, USA

problem #31

Dec 122008


  • 86,000 miles


Faulty ignition switch. Car will not start for 10-15 minutes when its cold outside. Battery replaced and it did not help.

- Derby, KS, USA

problem #30

Dec 122008


  • 50,000 miles
2003 Saturn Ion fails to start. This is leaving my wife and kids stranded in the cold a couple of times a day now. Details can be found at this website as well as many others. This is the perfect description.

- Elk Grove, CA, USA

problem #29

Dec 102008


  • 30,000 miles
Faulty design in the ignition switch. The switch leaks lubricant onto the wires of the ignition system. In cold temperatures this lubricant freezes and prevents the electrical signal needed by the passlock anti-theft system from being received by the BCM (body control module). When this signal isn't received the anti-theft system kicks in. It then shuts off the fuel delivery system for a default period of 10 minutes or sometimes longer for up to an hour. This has caused numerous failures with the driver being stranded in cold temperatures. There's numerous documentation in regards to this problem online for several years and Saturn is taking no responsibility to try and remedy this problem, except to charge unreasonable prices to fix. In addition, according to many reviews online this problem resurfaces at a later date...

- Mount Shasta, CA, USA

problem #28

Dec 052008


  • miles
If the Saturn vehicle is exposed to temperatures at or approaching 32 degrees F for several hours when the engine is not running (usually 6-10 hours), then when you attempt to start the vehicle, the ignition switch clicks and the car stalls. The security system kicks in. The security light blinks and the odometer screen reads: 'service engine soon.┐ fuel will not be sent to the engine. The vehicle will now not start for about 8-10 minutes as the security system resets. After 8-10 minutes, the security light will stop blinking and then go out. ┐the service engine soon┐ scroll light will stop and also go out. Now, you may attempt to start the vehicle again..however, if the ignition switch grease has not adequately warmed, then the process will begin again. A signal that the vehicle will likely start after the present ┐lock-out┐ will be when the ignition seems to crank a bit more than just a click, before locking out again. Remedy:1. the grease in the ignition switch is freezing and/or hardening so that the ignition switch can not engage. The dealer must recall all of these vehicles and replace the ignition switch and grease. They apparently have a redesigned switch, which certainly can be construed as an admission to the faulty design. Of course, this type of remedial measure cannot be used in court, but is certainly helpful to those of us consumers who are the victims of the faulty design. Saturn must openly acknowledge the mistake and fix it, before someone is stranded in the cold, in an area with no cell phone service. Service bulletin:040845005 NHTSA item number:10007431 mfg bulletin date: 20060301 component: Electrical system:ignition:switch bulletin summary: No crank, no start when ambient temperatures is cold - diagnostic trouble codes (dtcs) B2960 and or B3033 are set.

- Shreveport, LA, USA

problem #27

Dec 052008


  • 58,000 miles


I just bought a 2003 Saturn Ion 2 about 2 weeks ago. My wife woke up this morning to start her car and it would not start. I tried jumping the car and still no luck. The passlock light came on and said service vehicle. So I told my wife to get in the car and shift it to neutral so we could push it into a different spot so she could take my truck to work. She decided to try and start it one last time and it then started. Frustrated, I went on to the internet and search for Ion problems and have found about 200 complaints about the same problem. This is a problem that Saturn needs to address and take care!!

- Mandan, ND, USA

problem #26

Jan 052008


  • 26,235 miles
We own a 2003 Saturn Ion and the key gets stuck in the ignition. You have to press a release button in the steering column to get the key out. In addition, this appears to create an electrical issue as sometimes the car won't start. We purchased this vehicle used and took it back to the dealership within the 30 day warranty period. They said they were "unable to replicate" problem, unbeknownst to us this was an ongoing issue with Saturn Ions. The "temporary fix" is even in the owners manual. That's just wrong! how can a company get away with selling such a defective product -- and especially a car!!! I feel ripped off and Saturn should stand behind such a defective vehicle issue. This does create a safety issue because sometimes the car won't start leaving you stranded. The dealership won't even offer to give a "free estimate" -- and now they tell me there are various possible fixes -- it depends on which part is broken. So I have to give them $85 for them to tell me how much it will cost to fix. I am a single parent, I purchased this vehicle because it was affordable and I certainly don't see why I have to pay for a manufacturing defect. Saturn needs to step up and fix the problem!!! there are hundreds of stories like mine online. I hope you can help!

- Miami, FL, USA

problem #25

Nov 252007


  • 89,000 miles
Failure occurs only when it is cold outside. The car starts then dies or sometimes doesn't start at all. It usually takes between 20 min to several hours in the freezing cold to get the car started. So far this week it has refused to start 4 times 2 of those times when I was away from home or friends leaving me stranded in the cold. I was once for 2 days at a coworkers house because I was unable to get the car to start in the freezing cold last winter and I lived 30 miles away. I have researched this and it is an extremely common problem for my car that Saturn refuses to recall. One day someone like me is going to get stranded in the middle of nowhere and possibly freeze if they don't have a cell phone. I've taken my car several different repair places and the problem persists.

- Guthrie, OK, USA

problem #24

Nov 292008


  • 96,000 miles
My 2003 Saturn Ion will not start in cold weather. It just makes a clicking noise. I have had a new ignition installed last year for a lot of money last year. This fixed the problem for the rest of the winter, but as soon as it got cold this winter the problem is back. It will occur about 1/4 of the times it is parked outside in very cold weather (under 25 F). I just wait 8 minutes and try again. I can't keep fixing this when Saturn is aware that this is a wide spread problem. At least the money I spent last year should have fixed the issue for good. It's really frustrating and if caught in the severe cold could result in a serious injury to someone.

- Okeana, OH, USA

problem #23

Nov 172008


  • 72,000 miles
I own a Saturn Ion 2 2003 and it takes spells where it won't start. Today I had trouble. When it won't start the lights and radio, etc work, a light comes on on the message center that says to service vehicle but it won't turn over. Today I let it sit for about 10 to 15 min and it started.

- Clarksville, OH, USA

problem #22

Nov 112008


  • 65,000 miles
My 2003 Saturn Ion has had trouble starting. If it is cold outside, it will not start, but if I wait 10-15 minutes it will start. The Saturn dealership refused to do anything stating, "we can't fix it if it is not doing it at the time we are looking at it." Now the car will not start at all.

- Wichita, KS, USA

problem #21

Nov 072003


  • 105,788 miles
1. my 2003 Saturn Ion it would not start again. This is happening more often. I have had it hooked up a scan tool at our repair shop it said it was the safety switch, something about it had been tampered with. Which it had not, because I was right there all the time. If I wait a few minutes it will start I have been going through this for about 2 yrs now, it has worked every time. However it is becoming more often and that is why I was able to get it hooked up to a scan tool. 2. the first 2 yrs it may have happened 4 times. Within the last 3 weeks it has happened 6 times. 3. you just need to wait, when it decides to start it will. It is almost like the computer thinks that someone is breaking into the car, so shorts off the fuel to the carburetor and it will not start. It will turn over, will not start. If your try right away nothing happens, so you need to wait.... try it again, it turns over, fires up will not start, the engine will not go.

- Bangor, WI, USA

problem #20

Oct 042008


  • 80,000 miles
The biggest issue is that on cold days (and sometimes not so cold) my car will just click and not start, or will start and die out. But if I keep trying to start it and let it sit for awhile and come back, it will start right up. When it does this, they check engine light usually comes on when trying to start it, but when I get it started it immediately goes off. I've had the battery, alternator and starter checked and they are fine. It only happens usually in the mornings or late at night when it's been cold.

- West Memphis, AR, USA

problem #19

Oct 152006


  • 54,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Saturn Ion. Sporadically, while driving various speeds, the vehicle would stall without warning. The contact would also experience a no start condition. He took the vehicle to the dealer and they replaced the ignition switch at the cost of several hundred dollars. Two years later, the failure recurred, but the dealer would not assume any responsibility. Lastly, the windshield wipers would repeatedly hop around the windshield. On one occasion, the wiper fractured and had to be replaced. The failure mileage was 54,000 and current mileage was 99,000.

- Danville, PA, USA

problem #18

Aug 012004


  • 30,000 miles
The biggest issue is that on cold days (and sometimes not so cold) my car will just click and not start, or will start and die out, resulting in my having to wait 9-10 minutes for the passlock to reset and hopefully allow my car to start on a second attempt. On some rare occasions I will have to wait through this 9-10 minute cycle 2 or 3 times before it will start properly so I can drive. The key sticks in the ignition. While I am able to turn the engine off, I can't turn the car off completely. I have to resolve this on an almost daily basis by using a screwdriver in the small panel hole in my steering column and moving a small switch to release the key. Since purchasing the vehicle in 2003 I have had more trouble with this car than any used car I possessed. My hood latch would not catch and was repaired 4 times. The heating control knob was replaced 7 times before it finally functioned properly without problem.

- Royal Oak, MI, USA

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