NHTSA — Electrical System Problems

2003 Saturn Ion (Page 8 of 11)

CarComplaints.com Seal Of This Might Hurt

CarComplaints.com 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 8 of 11)

« Read the previous 20 complaints

problem #77

Dec 102009


  • miles


Whenever the temperature is significantly below freezing my 2003 Saturn Ion will not start. I sat in the car and tried to start the engine for over 20 minutes this morning before giving up and calling off the interview I was supposed to go to. It is not a battery issue, as the battery is completely charged. This issue has occurred roughly 15 times in the past two years, often leaving me stranded without a way to get home.

- Garden City, MI, USA

problem #76

Dec 062009


  • 102,000 miles
I recently purchased a Saturn Ion 2003 and it at times doesn't start. This has happened on numerous occasions and even after replacing the starter. After about 10-15 minutes, the car starts up. I cannot have a car that could possibly leave me stranded miles from my house in the cold.

- Queens Village, NY, USA

problem #75

Nov 182009


  • 80,000 miles
The event leading up to the failure was driving 3 miles from work to babysitters. The failure is the car refuses to turn over after turned off. This happens commonly in colder weather. Battery was replaced, starter was replaced, and then after research learned this is an ignition issue Saturn is aware of.

- Plymouth, MI, USA

problem #74

Nov 122009


  • miles


Saturn Ion 2003 does not start when cold, common problem with many people.

- Savage, MN, USA

problem #73

Nov 062009


  • 95,479 miles
2003 Saturn Ion service bulletin # 040845005. NHTSA item #: 10007431. No crank no start when ambient temperatures when cold. Had this car for 6 years with minor issues beginning as described above last winter season in 2008. Now the issue is frequent, multiple times a day if weather is cold. I live in the North East it gets cold here often. I have been unemployed for 14 months and can not afford the $270 Saturn is claiming to repair this situation. After doing some research I found that this is a common problem with people owning the Saturn Ion, Saturn is aware of this and it is a design defect. Why can't this be recalled" it leaves me stranded in awkward and unpleasant weather conditions. I currently have to heat up my car key with a lighter to make it warm enough to heat up the ignition switch and the grease inside. Is there anything you can do" thank you.

- Willimantic, CT, USA

problem #72

Aug 152009


  • 77,000 miles
In the colder weather, my car (which is a 2003 Saturn Ion) will not start. It often will start and run for a few seconds and then will stall out, and will not be able to be started again for about 10 minutes. It has been happening frequently (multiple times in one week) beginning around the date listed below. I have kept my car in good repair and have taken it in for servicing on a regular basis; I am concerned, now that I will be out somewhere in a city (or other dangerous place) at night and my car won't start. As a single young woman, this problem is a huge safety concern for me. I rely on my car very heavily to get me places, and knowing there are many thousands of other Saturn out there with the same problem as mine is a scary thought.

- North Canaan, CT, USA

problem #71

Dec 162008


  • 57,000 miles


Saturn Ion 2003 car would not start.

- Denver, CO, USA

problem #70

May 172009


  • 65,000 miles
My 2003 Saturn Ion keeps having ignition switch issues. I was first told by Saturn that I needed to replace my battery. Did that but the problem still happens. The ignition won't turn over but will after several minutes. Being a woman, this makes me very nervous because just yesterday when I stalled my car while on route I had to have my husband push me over to the side of the road where I had to wait until I could start it again. I could have been all by myself and had to rely on total strangers for help. :-(

- Calgary, 00, USA

problem #69

May 082009


  • 97,576 miles
My 2003 Saturn Ion has an ignition problem. Sometimes it won't start. It is intermittent. Today the car started, I started driving all the warning lights came on, the power steering went off, the ABS brake light came on. I got the car stopped, turned off the car. Tried to start it again, to no avail. Waited a few minutes, started the car, turned around, went back to beg. Destination. Turned off car. Tried to restart - no restart. Waited 30 min. Tried again, no start. Waited 1 hour, started but none of the items on the dash would work. This problem has happened several times. What would have happened if I were on the freeway and all this just stopped and the power steering went out?

- Turlock, CA, USA

problem #68

Feb 182009


  • 78,000 miles
2003 Saturn Ion. The car runs perfectly fine however I have been left stranded on several occasions due to a malfunction involving the ignition switch. Most of the time involves me being late for work but twice I was left in potentially dangerous situations. Once trying to leave a sporting event late night in downtown cleveland the car wouldn't start, turned the key and nothing. Tried several times finally after 20 minutes of that the car started right up. Another time with my 85 year old mom (who has alzheimer's) after buying gas the same thing and it terrified my mom. I have since learned that Saturn is aware of this defect and that problems similar to mine are very common and very frustrating to Saturn owners who are forced to pay nearly $300 for a new ignition switch only to have the problem reoccur a few moths later. Saturn admits that the problem is worse in cold weather. If people are stranded in frigid weather unable to start the engine and have heat, especially if there is an elderly person or child in the car, serious injuries could definitely occur.

- Huntsburg, OH, USA

problem #67

Mar 192009


  • 72,356 miles


The car just seemed to accelerate by itself and then quit; amazingly enough the speedometer got screwed up and was showing 10mph over what it was really going; only way I could tell was by what the rpms normally run was way too slow compared to the speed.

- Orfordville, WI, USA

problem #66

Apr 142009


  • 93,000 miles
Car intermittently starts. This has been a sporadic event since December 2007. It happens perhaps once or twice a month in the colder weather. Car will start fine at one stop, then try to start it again and nothing happens. Come back 10-20 minutes later and it starts right up. Originally thought it was the old battery, but that has been replace and the problem is recurring.

- Dracut, MA, USA

problem #65

Apr 062009


  • 58,000 miles
2003 Saturn Ion with 58,000 miles had been running fine. After a brief stop for shopping, the car would not start. It made only a clicking sound when the key was turned. This had never happened before. After about 10 minutes, it would turn over once and then nothing. After about 40 minutes, the car started. It was a cool day, but this had never happened before on even colder days. One dealer checked the battery and the starter and found nothing wrong. Another location identified the battery as low. It was replaced. But the real cause of this event is still a mystery. From other complaints, I see this is not an uncommon event in a 2003 Ion. I am very concerned, now, that it will happen again and still there will be no remedy. Are there no recalls because no one can figure out what is the cause of the problem or how to remedy it?

- W. Bloomfield, MI, USA

problem #64

Apr 062006


  • 20,000 miles
While there have, been no adverse deaths or injuries there is a problem that has happened multiple times that could lead to deaths. I have a 2003 Saturn Ion and have had to replace the ignition 2 times. The ignition locks up and the car will continue running even if I remove the key.

- Portland, OR, USA

problem #63

Apr 042009


  • 81,000 miles
Our 2003 Saturn Ion fails to start at times. Typically when this happens it is a cold morning. We replaced the battery and starter. The problem persists. Hundreds of people have cited the very same problem on car discussion sites.

- New Cumberland, PA, USA

problem #62

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

problem #61

Mar 062009


  • 48,901 miles
I have a 2003 Saturn Ion and the problem started yesterday. I just bought this car on January 31, 2009. I went to start the car and it would not turn over at all. It just said service vehicle on the message center screen. I drive 120 miles per day sometimes and I have done online research and have found hundreds of complaints on this car. It not only happens with this year and make but with other makes too! this is ridiculous and dangerous. The weather where I live gets down to 30 below zero sometimes and I cannot afford to not be able to start my car. I am a full-time student with 3 children and a husband that works out of town. I cannot afford the numerous car repairs that people are reporting that they had to have done on this type of car. Why hasn't their been a recall?!!!

- Box Elder, MT, USA

problem #60

Mar 032009


  • miles
During the winter months when temperature is 30 or below my 2003 Saturn Ion is unable to start. I must wait 20 minutes and then try again. There seem to be a faulty ignition switch. Which can be extremely dangerous in inclement weather.

- Newburgh, NY, USA

problem #59

Feb 282009


  • 50,000 miles
2003 Saturn Ion will not start due to faulty parts used by manufacturer.

- Dundee, MI, USA

problem #58

Nov 302008


  • 50,000 miles
On July 5, 2008 I purchased a 2003 Saturn Ion from carmax for the cost of $10,998. It apparently passed the rigorous carmax certified quality inspection. In November 2008 (4 months later) the Saturn would not start due to the cold weather. I took this into carmax and they replaced my battery at my cost. Again in January 2009 (1 month later) it still would not start in the morning. They performed a diagnostic test and could not duplicate. This morning now February 2009 it did not start again in the morning resulting in a problem getting my daughter to school. It is undoubtedly an issue that needs to be addressed by Saturn. After reading all these complaints about the car not starting under cold weather conditions I am perplexed as to why Saturn is not doing anything about this. This is my first experience with a Saturn and most likely my last.

- Chantilly, VA, USA

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