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.


hardly worth mentioning
Crashes / Fires:
0 / 0
Injuries / Deaths:
0 / 0
Average Mileage:
55,667 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 accessories - exterior problems

accessories - exterior problem

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2003 Saturn Ion Owner Comments

problem #3

Feb 082011

Ion 4-cyl

  • 100,000 miles


The locked and couldn't get it to turn.

- Tallahassee, FL, USA

problem #2

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 #1

Mar 122009


  • miles
There are no events leading up to the failure. From everything I've read from other Saturn Ion owners this is a frequent and seemingly random problem. At any given time if it is cold outside the car won't start. Everything lights up, the engine turns over and catches, only to stall. Upon repeated attempts to start the car there will be no response whatsoever. The engine does not turn over. After waiting several minutes it will eventually start. This problem has occurred 4 times in the last month; twice causing me to be late for particularly important engagements. Upon reporting the problem to the Saturn dealership where I bought the car I was told that they have many complaints of the same problem, but that their staff haven't been able to resolve it. This has been their general attitude towards several issues I've had with my car. I took it to another garage and they can't find a thing wrong with it. Saturn seems to be turning a blind eye to a problem that is clearly the result of a poor design somewhere on their part. I have also had to replace control arm bushings when I was at about 80 000 km, and now need to replace struts. I am hesitant to do this though, as the general consensus among Saturn Ion owners is that bushings and struts are in perpetual need of replacement on these cars. After replacing the parts most people find that they have to make the same repairs again within 2 years. Further problems I have with my car are: Trunk will not open with key, replaced wires on both front turn signals and one headlight, key would not release from ignition, erratic transmission behavior (I was told that this is a common problem and that I just have to deal with it), seat belt guides broken (front, both sides), rear seat belt "female" component falls into crevice in seat, paint peeling from front bumper without being chipped prior, and a faulty cruise control switch. Every single one of these problems has turned up again and again in the Ion owners community.

- Coboconk, 00, USA

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