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 7 of 11)

« Read the previous 20 complaints

problem #97

Sep 232010


  • 85,000 miles


2003 Saturn ion3 wont start wait 10min and it will start.... I was at a children's hospital and was there with my child when we went to leave the car was in the garage for 4 days. We got in turned the car over and nothing but service engine. @ hours away from home with a sick child that just got released called my husband to come help he traveled 2 hrs to come to me when we went back to the car after sitting at the hospital waiting it started just fine. First time it had every done that to me. But now it has done it several times. I have been at the grocery store at the drs. Trying to leave home to get to work and at work when it has done it. I will try to start it and it tells me service engine and then 10min -20 min I go back to the car and it starts. I shouldn't have to deal with this nor should I have to pay to fix this when I see so many other people with the problem. This is a defect from the company that needs fixed. What happens if someone is on the side of the highway fixing a flat or something and this happens to them.

- Linneus, MO, USA

problem #96

Aug 102010

Ion 4-cyl

  • 67,000 miles
I have a 2003 Saturn Ion. The key "jammed" in the "on" position leaving the car running. To shut it off you have to raise the hood, pull a fuse, then go to the trunk and disconnect the battery. This is a major issue for me because the car is driven by a college, female. Gas stations, convenience stores and small children left in car, etc... are a problem, because the car is running. I have replaced the shifter, and now the ignition ($463) plus tax for a lock cylinder !

- East Palestine, OH, USA

problem #95

Aug 232010


  • 60,000 miles
The car wont start and I changed the battery and had the alternator tested and starter both passed I attempt to start the car the ignition switch clicks then stalls, security system kicks in reads "service engine soon" after about 20minutes the car starts, hear rattling noise in front suspension this is happening all the time for the past year since I bought the car.

- Turlock, CA, USA

problem #94

Jun 192010


  • 70,000 miles


Bought a 2003 Saturn Ion 2 and it will periodically lock out the ignition system so you have to wait 8-10 minutes to start the car. We have replaced, the ignition switch, starter, battery, and a few other parts to no avail. It was once in Jan. Of 2010 and then again in March, but now in June it has happened 3 times in 2 days. I read on a forum that people were having this problem in cold weather climates during winter, but Hawaii is a moderate climate year round, no excuse.

- Wahiawa, HI, USA

problem #93

Sep 082009

Ion 4-cyl

  • 80,000 miles
2003 Saturn Ion. September 09. Drove car. Parked. Could not get key out of ignition. Waited 10 minutes. Key came out. Had ignition switch replaced at Saturn dealer. Next week the same thing happened. Had ignition switch replaced again.(at my expense). Key continues to intermittently stick in the ignition. I can not get out of my car until I get the key out. Look at the website and read all the complaints about this problem. no wonder GM closed out the Saturn line. Just as bad as Toyota. The mechanics at the Saturn dealership knew about this problem, but they offered no permanent fix. This is why I don't trust american made cars.

- Park City, KS, USA

problem #92

Mar 102010


  • miles
2003 Saturn Ion coupe will not start in cold humid weather.

- The Villages, FL, USA

problem #91

Feb 012010


  • 30,000 miles


I have a 2003 Saturn Ion and it has the same starting problems reported extensively on this website. On cold days, the car will not start at times. It always seems to happen at the most importune times and locations. When this happens, there is no noise and no cranking sound when I turn the ignition key on. However, when I try to start the car about 5 to 15 minutes later, it starts without any problem. I replaced the battery, but it did not make any difference. The alternator checks out fine. I believe the problem is a faulty ignition module, but that is a guess on my part based on the numerous online complaints by other Saturn owners. There is only one authorized Saturn dealer/service facility left in the houston. The technician there told me he has serviced numerous Saturn with the same exact problem and that replacing the ignition module seems to fix the problem, although not in every case. He said that GM has not issued a bulletin or recalled Saturn to repair the units. GM's denial of a potentially lethal problem is not unlike that of Toyota in addressing stuck accelerators and braking problems. Maybe GM does not care because it is closing down its Saturn division. I can see where Saturn owners, who are unaware of the extent of the starting problem, wind up having their batteries, alternators and other components replaced at enormous cost and inconvenience before Saturn suggests replacing the ignition unit. This is a situation that is ripe for exploitation because the problem is intermittent. The national transportation safety board needs to weigh in on this safety issue and not wait for people to get hurt.

- Houston, TX, USA

problem #90

Nov 152009


  • 65,000 miles
I've been having cold starting problems with my 2003 Saturn Ion. I've had this problem fix by dealer 3 times in the past. At $620 a pop that's hard. Now after talking to a technician that used to work for Saturn before they closed, that the problem is caused by oil that releases from the part when cold and leaks down from the ignition to the pass lock switch this should have a recall before this burns someone up and kills them. They should have to fix all these it right and stop charging people for something that really cant be fixed simply by replacing a part that will continue leaking oil when cold. I am really surprised this hasn't already been recalled. I can only wait to see if this happens they need to pay, I cant afford to go buy a car with work slow so Saturn and GM should be held responsible. All this is in the ignition switch inside the car and if a fire starts with you in it at the wheel you lose a car and possible a life or more if in heavy traffic and this locks down your car. It's not only me its my kids and others on the road at danger it's all who drive a Saturn Ion 2003.

- Tuckasegee, NC, USA

problem #89

Feb 072010


  • miles
Car has frequent intermittent starting problems (about one in 4 starting attempts is a no-go). Internet research brings up many complaints of the ignition switch sending the wrong signal to the computer which in turn activates the security system (passlock, in GM speak) and prevents the car from starting. GM recognizes the issue in tsb #3493A which recommends replacing the ignition switch. Since this is a known failure to GM, I believe the switch replacement should be done at the manufacturer's cost, not the consumer's cost. It is an expensive procedure and consumers are forced to go to the dealer for the repair because the car's computer (BCM) has to be reprogrammed after the switch replacement.

- Oakland, CA, USA

problem #88

Sep 052005


  • miles
Car will not start in the cold weather. When attempting to start security light turn on and won't start for at least 15 minutes. I have replaced the battery but that's not the solution. This happens at least three times a week. Its horrible being stranded out in the cold when is below zero for at least 15 minutes. Saturn needs to do something out this problem.

- Lebanon, IN, USA

problem #87

Jan 202010


  • 77,230 miles


Car will not start in cold weather. This began 3 months ago at the beginning of the winter season, unfortunately the first day of a new job. This happened a number of times until I was let go for showing up late to work (apparently, a car that problematic was inconceivable). I had the battery replaced, but that didn't help. This happens sporadically, but mostly in the early morning or late evening when it's coldest outside. This past week alone, my car wouldn't start 3 times. I've done some research on the internet and have found hundreds of complaints of the same problem in Saturn Ion's (2003-2006 models). Some complaints have suggested it's the ignition, the passlock key, or an electrical issue, and my mechanic is looking into the fuel pump. The problem is that the diagnostic doesn't read a problem if the car is starting, which seems to be the case by the time the mechanic's shop opens (weather conditions are fairly good in southern California on most days). The other day, my car had stalled while driving in heavy rain conditions, thankfully on a small residential street, because it did not want to restart. It took 10 minutes to get the car going again. You can imagine how disastrous this situation could have been while driving on the freeway or busy city road. This is an extremely dangerous issue that must be taken seriously by GM. I have also made complaints to the ftc & to Saturn. From what I've read online, replacing the part doesn't even help because all of these Ion parts are faulty. Please see to it that consumers are protected. Thank you.

- Long Beach, CA, USA

problem #86

Jan 102010


  • 45,000 miles
My 2003 Saturn Ion refuses to start when it is cold but after 10 mins it will decide it wants to start. I have been stranded and put hundreds of dollars into this problem with the mechanic not seeing the problem. Put a new ignition switch in the car and still has the problem. After doing some research on the web many Saturn owners are having the same problems. This needs to be a recall and Saturn is refusing to do so.

- Waterford, MI, USA

problem #85

Jan 132010


  • miles
Car won't start when the temp is below 20 F, have to wait 10 min for anti theft to reset and then try again. Some times have to try 3 or 4 times. Dealer say it's a know problem and I have to replace the ignition switch at my expense.

- Old Orchard Beach, ME, USA

problem #84

Jan 122010


  • 122,000 miles
2003 Saturn Ion will not start due to the passlock timing me out. It has left me stranded too many times and yesterday I had to wait 3 hrs for my car to start. I have read reports of other consumers having the same issue and wanted to file a written complaint.

- Pflugerville, TX, USA

problem #83

Jan 112010


  • miles
2003 Saturn Ion. This car will not start in the cold weather. If the temperature is below 32 degrees F for an extended period of time, the car will stall. I have read that the difficultly may have to do with a type of lubricant on the starter, which hardens in the cold weather. The car stalls as a result, and then the pass-lock kicks in. After 8 minutes, the car may start, or one may have to wait an additional 8 minutes (or more) for the ignition switch to loosen up enough to start the engine. However, the car may stall yet again---and set off the passlock system yet again.

- Milford, MI, USA

problem #82

Jan 062010


  • 65,000 miles
2003 Ion, will not start when the weather is cold, the error noted on the display notes theft interlock, if you wait 10 minutes, the car will start. At times the key will stick in the ignition and will not come out, at times the car will not shut off. This interlock needs to be a Saturn recall.

- Decatur, IL, USA

problem #81

Dec 292009


  • 65,000 miles
For the past several years I have had an issue with my 2003 Saturn Ion starting in the cold weather. I have had my starter checked along with several battery replacements, yet there has not yet been a stop to this issue. I've looked online for solutions to this issue and unfortunately no one has a solution only complaints. This seems to be an issue with thousands of Saturn Ion's and GM does not seem to feel the need to recall the vehicle. This is a safety issue as far as I am concerned. I have read about mothers and children being stranded because they are unable to start their Saturn in the cold weather and they do not have anyone in the vicinity to help them out. The car usually takes about a half hour to start after initially trying - which no car should have to do. Please get on GM/Saturn to do something about this issue.

- Boston, MA, USA

problem #80

Dec 252009


  • 35,000 miles
Passlock system fails on an intermittent basis (generally cold conditions) preventing vehicle from starting for ten (10) minutes prior to next attempt. This could pose a safety hazard/risk to an individual in need of immediate transportation due to the need for medical treatment (ie., woman in labor) or an individual fleeing a dangerous situation (ie., mandatory evacuations). This is a security feature and not required for safe operation of the vehicle, as such; in lieu of the number of malfunctions with said system, the owner of said vehicle should have the option of having said system disabled at their discretion incurring little or no cost by the manufacturer/dealer.

- Columbus, GA, USA

problem #79

Nov 282008


  • miles
I have been having an issue with my 2003 Saturn Ion quad coupe and after research I have concluded that these people( have been having the same problem. This started Nov. 2008 when I would go to start my car and it wouldn't start. It would make no noise what so ever or it would start and stall...after 10 to 20 minutes it would start like nothing was wrong. Then it didn't do it for another 2 weeks...then it was 2 days...then 3 weeks...there was no pattern. In Dec. 2008 I took it to my mechanic who replaced the battery. Then two days later they replaced the starter...I still had the problem but because the car didn't have the issue with the mechanic and I had no way of knowing when it would happen they couldn't help. This stopped in April and I had no trouble until Nov. 27, 2009 and it's been happening every few days since. I haven't called Saturn B/C I'm afraid they will be like my mechanic and either not be able to fix it or charge me an arm and a leg to get it fix...I was laid off twice this year and am currently unemployed so paying a lot for this issue when Saturn should recall the vehicle for the mass amount of people having issues with this car!

- Voorhees, NJ, USA

problem #78

Dec 182009


  • 50,000 miles
I'm having the same issues that a lot of Ion owners are having. Car will not start when it is cold and the passlock system kicks in. Once this kicks in you have to leave the key in the accessories position for 10 minutes, passlock will then shut off and you can retry.if it does not start you have to wait another 10 minutes to try and start. Supposedly this is because of grease that is in the ignition switch. This grease freezes up when cold. It does seem to help if you warm up the ignition switch with a hair dryer or lighter.I don't know why GM does not recall this. They are passing their screw up onto the consumer. This problem has left many people stranded. It is just a matter of time till some one is in a really bad situation because of this. 'sorry your having a heart attack maybe I can start the car in another 10 minutes'. I wouldn't be surprised if someone froze to death because of this. At the very least I know people have missed many hours of work. Anyways, I am going to replace the ignition switch to see if this works. I already bought a remote start which bypasses the passlock when remote start but no one will install this on a manual car.

- Hummelstown, PA, USA

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