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:
2 / 0
Injuries / Deaths:
1 / 0
Average Mileage:
113,059 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 brakes problems

brakes problem

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2003 Saturn Ion Owner Comments

problem #5

Feb 212015


  • 144,000 miles


I was driving my Saturn tonight and noticed that even when I would let off the brake, the car would accelerate and rpms would stay elevated. I was driving at about 35-40mph. I was coming up to an intersection and it simply didn't feel right, like it was pulling forward. The traffic light turns red and I start to apply pressure to the brakes. It felt like the brakes were resisting and it was taking a lot more pressure than usual to slow down. My car would not come to a complete stop and I was going ~5mph right up to the crosswalk. The car started violently lurching forward and still, wasn't coming to a stop. The rpms were revving and I was able to react in time to put the car in neutral, keep braking, and turn the engine off right before things would have ended very badly. I kept my car in park and turned it on, and it would shoot up immediately to 4000 RPM. I didn't trust the car at all at this point and sat in -18 degree weather processing what had just happened and what to do next. After about 5 minutes I heard what can be described as the acceleration pedal releasing or popping back up in place. There was nothing it could have been caught on to cause it to stick. Terrifying.

- Kalamazoo, MI, USA

problem #4

Feb 282014


  • 130,000 miles
The contact owned a 2003 Saturn Ion. While driving 40 mph, the brake pedal was depressed, but the vehicle failed to respond. The brake failure caused the contact's vehicle to crash into the rear of another vehicle. The air bags failed to deploy. The driver sustained injuries to the knees, which did not require medical attention. A police report was filed. The vehicle was destroyed. The manufacturer was notified of the failure. The contact felt that the crash was related to NHTSA campaign number: 14V047000 (air bags, electrical system). The approximate failure mileage was 130,000.

- North Syracuse , NY, USA

problem #3

Jul 062014


  • 19,000 miles
I don't feel safe in this vehicle, I have experience how dangerous it could be if the ignition switch does malfunction. I fear for my safety and my families safety the air bags does not work and there is electrical issues with the windows. I don't know why geico insurance didn't find this car not to be an safety issue?

- Milwaukee, WI, USA

problem #2

Mar 252014


  • 139,293 miles
I received a letter from GM about the ignition switch recall either last week or the week before. It stated to drive my vehicle with the ignition key only, not even with the key fob. I was also told that the part is no longer made for my vehicle. The letter also stated that there is no risk of ignition failure as long as the driver uses the key only. I have faithfully followed that since receiving my letter. I am telling you that information is false. As I was driving home tonight, I noticed the engine sounded different. The steering became difficult to control, the battery light illuminated on the dash, and my brakes only responded to very heavy pressure. Basically I had little control of my vehicle. I was less than a mile away from home. I turned into a parking lot with great difficulty, turned off my vehicle and then back on. It was as if nothing happened. I am panicked now. Thank goodness this happened after I exited the highway and it was after rush hour. I'm not sure I would have been able to turn into that parking lot without incident if there was heavier traffic. I immediately called GM when I returned home and told them the car wasn't safe to drive, even with the ignition key only. Customer service didn't seem to understand the danger. We'll see if they follow up. I hope you follow up as well.

- Aberdeen, MD, USA

problem #1

Jan 022014


  • 133,000 miles
On multiple occasions this vehicle has accelerated without pushing the gas pedal, with no cruise control option, it's unsolved by multiple mechanics. Sometimes the brake works while it's happening, sometimes it doesn't, the most recent time I pulled into a parking lot where I had to hold the brake down to shut the car off, I could smell the transmission, I turned vehicle off, turned it back on and it went to over 5 RPM still, turned back off, sat and waited, it was 2am so I couldn't call anyone. After 10 minutes it finally went back to normal. That was the most severe, it's had slightly similar issues at least 4 times. First mechanic said it was a cruise control issue, then I told him I was leaving since the vehicle doesn't have cruise control at all. Don't want him working on it. 2nd one ran computer check, no issue found. Hopefully GM recalls this before it kills someone. This car has had many issues me and my father could fix, ignition switch, wiper blade transmission, coolant light but this one isn't easy.

- Reinholds, PA, USA

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