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2004 Saturn Ion transmission NHTSA complaints: Power Train:Automatic Transmission

NHTSA — Power Train: Automatic Transmission Problems

CarComplaints.com Seal Of This Might Hurt

CarComplaints.com Notes: Ahh, the 2004 Saturn Ion: defective transmission, deadly ignition switch, temperamental power steering and a cheap plastic exterior that won’t protect you in a crash. What more could you want?

The 2004 Ion was part of GM’s massive ignition switch recall where it was revealed they waited 10 years – and let 13 people die – before doing anything about it. It also features GM’s now infamous VTi continuously variable transmission. Let me tell you, the only thing the VTi did continuously was fail on its owners. GM scrapped it after only two model years.


fairly significant
Crashes / Fires:
0 / 0
Injuries / Deaths:
0 / 0
Average Mileage:
13,439 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.

2004 Saturn Ion transmission problems

transmission problem

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2004 Saturn Ion Owner Comments

problem #17

Aug 252005


  • miles


My Saturn 2004 Ion has been breaking down since I purchased it used in 2005. They have put in 2-3 transmissions and everytime it is cold it won't start. A couple times the would start but not shift into gear! the tech's could not figure out what was wrong so my dad (who does not work on cars ) figured out it was a loose wire! they have replaced the stabilizer bar bushings at least 3 times! the cars heat and radio would just shut off and turn back on they also fixed that a couple times. My car will be paid off shortly but I will not be able to know what it is like to not have a car payment because at any moments notice my 2004 Saturn Ion might fall apart!!!!!

- Middleburg Hts., OH, USA

problem #16

Jan 182008


  • Automatic transmission
  • 70,000 miles
I have a 2004 Saturn Ion 2 automatic transmission. Any day that the temperature is less than 20 degrees it will not start. Sometimes after about half an hour of trying it will start, but not very often. Also it often idles at an extremely high RPM. It sounds terrible when it does this. Also when it idles high it seems to have trouble shifting gears. It's very twitchy and jerky.

- Wyoming, MN, USA

problem #15

Jun 252007

Ion 4-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • miles
On June 25, 2007 the 2004 Saturn Ion quad coupe came to a dead stop in the middle of an intersection. After numerous attempts to start the car I was forced to have the car towed to a Saturn dealership in fort lauderdale. I was told that there was a possibility that it was the transmission and that Saturn had extended the warranty on certain transmissions mine included. When I asked if there had been a recall was told no. Also, I was told I should have the car back by Friday 6/29/07. Later that day I was informed that it was the vti trnsmission and parts needed to be ordered. I should have my car back on Friday, 6/29/07. On Friday I was told that the transmision was going to need to be completely replaced and the part had been ordered. I would get the car back on 7/2/07, week since it had been brought in I was told that the parts had not arrived, and that I would have the car back on Thursday since Wednesday. Today Thursday 7/5/07 I have now been told the car was not ready, and that it may not be ready tomorrow. Why not recall cars affected.

- Amityville, NY, USA

problem #14

Oct 092005


  • Automatic transmission
  • 56,000 miles


Saturn Ion 2004. Two major defects. I purchased the car new in October 2004. In October 2005, the transmission failed, and required complete replacement. Saturn stated there had been many concerns about the transmission, so replaced it for free. (minus my incurred costs of travel). Second major defect: May 2006, a cylinder head cracked. Saturn has agreed to "replace" the cylinder head, but I have to pay for $800 of the repairs. A 2 year old vehicle should not have these two major defects. The car currently has 79K miles. I know that "replacing" the cylinder head will get the car running again, but it will never be the same...and I still owe 10,000 dollars on the car. Thank you for your consideration.

- Hayward, WI, USA

problem #13

Sep 012004


  • Automatic transmission
  • miles
Multiple episodes with this car of sudden acceleration especially when putting car into drive or reverse. Roadside assistance has had to start car for me 2 times. Another time the car stalled while idling 4 times within 30 minute drive. Tonight the car lost power completely while I was driving. I see multiple complaints on this page for the same problem. Saturn has not been able to find any problems on their computer. I would like to fight this with the lemon law but I am so afraid to drive this car now that I want to just get rid of it as soon as possible.

- Fishkill, NY, USA

problem #12

Nov 232005

Ion 4-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • miles
2004 Ion 3 quad purchased new in 2004 currently have 18K miles on it. So far we have had to replace front stabilizer bushing, heater blower motor and windshield wipers. All have been under warranty. The electric steering still doesn't seem correct. Sometimes the car pulls when you rapidly accelerate and is very touchy. I did read that GM made some changes to the electric steering for 2005 Ion, but dealership will not (says can not) make the changes to the 2004. Now we have the loss of power problem. Has done it when car is cold and hot, usually when accelerating, but once just driving 35 mph. It's not a stall just like a loss of power. Car doesn't shake or jerk. Almost like you took your foot off the gas for a second. I've taken it back to the dealer once for this and the dealer response is the same as others have reported "no computer codes, could not reproduce, no problem found". it's at the shop now because the check engine light came on 12/2 and we again complained that the car lost power after picking it up the last time. The last time it failed my wife was taking off from a red light and the guy behind almost hit her when the Saturn lost power. Loosing faith in Saturn's engineering.

- North Ridgeville, OH, USA

problem #11

Jun 072005

Ion 4-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 27,539 miles


I first took my 2004 Saturn 3 Ion quad coupe to the dealer with a transmission problem. As I would accelerate the car would lose speed. I never knew when this was going to happen. It happens at any speed. At the time of my first complaint there was 27,539. I now have 33,020 and finally after 3 months and 12 trips to the dealer they are putting in a new transmission. Every trip to the dealer resulted in my being told that the computer said nothing was wrong with my car. They kept the car for a week while their manager drove it to work and home everyday and he said the car never acted up on him. I left the dealership and 2 miles down the road it started acting up. I had to call the Saturn customer service numerous times about the problem. I wrote them 2 letters and finally when I sent them lemon law papers and told them they could buy it back they decided that I needed a new transmission. In the 3 months trying to get this problem fixed Saturn replaced the cruise control switch, the input/output speed sensor and cover gasket, then they replaced the cover assembly, variable drive and driven pulley a and now the whole transmission is being replace. It is now in the shop for who knows how long and then it will be for sale.

- Beebe, AR, USA

problem #10

Mar 262005


  • Automatic transmission
  • 3,400 miles
Consumer states that vehicle does not accelerate from a stopped position. At different times it could take approximately 10-15 seconds to go. This occurs mostly while the vehicle is stopped, and happened once when vehicle was going. Consumer took vehicle to Saturn dealer, and was told nothing they could do unless they could duplicate the action.

- Torrance, CA, USA

problem #9

May 132005

Ion 4-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 35,700 miles
During braking, when gears should be downshifting, my automatic Saturn Ion 3 rpms would seem to be racing upwards by several 1000's. I complained on 2 prior occassions to dealer who could not "duplicate the problem". on 05/13/05 I was backing out of my garage, car seemed to lurch backwards. When I put it in drive it the rpms raced above 3000. It lurched me out of my driveway and into the road. Put in reverse and was able to stop and park. Turned ignition off and restarted. In park car was idling at 3500 rpms. Restarted several times with same result. Called roadside assistance B/C car is still under warranty. Tow guy had to brake entire time he was loading car onto steep incline of truck bed B/C he said car was quickly moving forward and up on it's own. Waited w/ service people at Saturn to make sure they could "duplicate the problem". they did. Replaced the throttle position sensor. Complained harshly B/C this was 3rd time in. Car had to be towed in March B/C it wouldn't start in the a.M. tow guy couldn't start either. Of course Saturn could not duplicate that problem either and stated that it was probably the cold weather. Don't live in Alaska... March in South Carolina does not warrant a 1 yr old, garage kept car not starting. Dealership stated they could not duplicate problem of not starting or of rpms and they did nothing. Saturn made efforts, after the may incident, to compensate. Will update when all details are worked out.

- Pomaria, SC, USA

problem #8

Aug 162004

Ion 4-cyl

  • miles
Transmission slips gears when driving down hill. Consumer does not have to depress the accelerator or brake pedal. Vehicle will just slow down to 10 mph. While driving up the hill vehicle will accelerate up to 25 mph.

- Cleveland, OH, USA

problem #7

Jan 252004


  • miles


I bought my 04 ion2 in January of last year. About one month after my purchase I noticed that my car would downshift while braking downhills, which would cause the rpms to accelerate extremely high. The car would the jerk itself back into the gear it was suppose to be in. This went on for months and is still occuring. I have brought my car to Saturn of springfield countless times. At one point I was in there mutliple times in one week. Not only did is accelerate going downhill but it won't shift into the next gear going up hill, and to top it off when I enter the highway the car wont shift into 5 gear when I am accelerating, I have to remove my foot from the gas pedal to allow the car to shift. Saturn has told me countless times that there is nothing wrong with my car. I only average about 16 miles to the gallon no matter if it is the highway or city. I have gotten to the point were Saturn calls me the next day after every service call. Oh and I just had to have my postive battery cable replaced because it wouldn't stay attached to the battery which would't allow the car to start.

- South Hadley, MA, USA

problem #6

Sep 032004

Ion 4-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 50 miles
Received first Saturn Ion 04 and within one week of purchase car was displaying clear signs of either an electrical or computer problem. Was replaced with a second Ion O4. Noticed a strange clunking sound. Brought car in at 3600 miles, and it was transmission mounts, wheel bearings, axels, and break rotors. Car was returned with a broken piece in the interior, and smelling of burning plastic. I believe that this car is defective, and Saturn refuses to do anything other than make repairs under warranty. I think that I should be issued a refund, due to faulty construction.

- Norwalk, CT, USA

problem #5

Aug 282004


  • Automatic transmission
  • 48 miles
Vehicle was purchased brand new and had transmission replaced. There had been a leak in the transmission, and grinding sound when vehicle was cold. Consumer stated that dealership was doing nothing to help with this problem. Consumer did not feel safe driving, fearing that the vehicle will shut down.

- Lauderhill, FL, USA

problem #4

Mar 102004

Ion 4-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 2,674 miles
I bought a Saturn Ion 2 in January since that day I have only got an average of 22.5 mpg that is 270 miles per 12 gallon tank (and it still continues). In March as I was driving down a back road, it lurched, the check engine light came on, it bogged down, and would not accelerate over 50mph and was extremely sluggish, felt like I was driving a golf cart. I had it towed to the dealer. The recalls on the fuel filter and computer system were completed. The dealer informed me that the car was "operating as designed" and the problem could not be repeated. June 10th, the car repeated the same problem. I took it in again, they did the 6,000 mile service on it. Per my records, everything "checked out". the problem could not be repeated. The car was "operating as designed. 3 weeks later, driving on the freeway, the car once again, lurched, the check engine light came on, and went from 65  40 mph. Thankfully I did not get rear-ended. I exited the freeway, had to stop at a light, then during a left hand turn had difficulty getting the car to accelerate. The car finally corrected its problem, and I was able to drive home. I took the car to the dealership yet again, they could not replicate the problem. They replaced my valve body and now my car is running worse then it was before. I stopped by the dealership a day ago, and talked to the maintenance manager, and he stated that he hopes they replace the car, since there is nothing they can do about it. They have tried everything. My car is unsafe to me and others around. It is a safety issue. I am no longer comfortable driving my car. I have opened a case with Saturn customer assistance. This problem that I have experienced and as I have read others too, is extremely unsafe!

- Port Hueneme, CA, USA

problem #3

Jun 202004

Ion 4-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 22,960 miles
While accelerating, the vehicle down shifted. The consumer was able to maintain control of the vehicle and drove it to the dealer for inspection. The mechanic informed the consumer that the transmission chip needed to be replaced. The problem recurred and was taken back to the dealer four times. The mechanic was unable to duplicate the problem. On numerous occasions the vehicle did not shift properly. The vehicle would feel as if the transmission was slipping. The RPM would go up but the vehicle did not accelerate and no problem would be found by the service dealer. The consumer had almost experienced 2 rear end collisions and 1 broadside collision.

- Marine City, MI, USA

problem #2

Jul 042004

Ion 4-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 7,100 miles
We own a 2004 Saturn ion3 quad coupe, it has a different transmission then the others. We bought the vehicle on December 31, 2003. It had 91 miles on it. We noticed the transmission seemed to hesitate a little going from first into second. When we took it in for it's first oil change in March, we asked them to look at the transmission. They reported back that it was normal for a 4 cylinder to act the way it was. Assuming they knew what they were talking about we left it at that. We took it in again for paint damage they had caused when they had the vehicle for the oil change, and again asked them to look at the transmission (only about a week later). They again reported they test drove and it was fine. Now this past week for it's second oil change on Tuesday, June 29th, we again asked them because it seemed to have gotten worse. They again reported it was normal operation. Not a week after that report on Sunday, July 4th amidst out 4th of July celebration we drove a block and a half from home and turned a corner onto the main road. When I went to accelerate the car revved and didn't switch into second gear. It fought to go faster in first gear, but never switched. We noticed immediately and tried parking and again moving into drive, thinking maybe it had dropped itself into neutral. Again the same thing, we slowly turned the corner and putted our way back down the block to the driveway at 5 miles an hour so as not to further damage the engine due to transmission failure. The car currently has 7000 miles on it and a transmission that doesn't work. We meet with the dealership today to discuss retribution.

- Milwaukee, WI, USA

problem #1

Feb 032004

Ion 4-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 3,000 miles
Vti transmission causes sudden vehicle deceleration.

- Chaska, MN, USA

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