NHTSA — Electrical System: Battery Problems

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.


fairly significant
Crashes / Fires:
0 / 0
Injuries / Deaths:
0 / 0
Average Mileage:
18,750 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

problem #4

Dec 012006


  • 75,000 miles


I have a Saturn Ion 2003 and spent the whole of last winter having to go out and turn my key in the ignition 10 minutes before I needed to leave anywhere so it would start. It actually started in 2006 and the car did not start a couple of times during the winter. Georgia had a mild winter that year. Unfortunately, 2007 was much colder and my car constantly would not start. I am a single parent whose family are 3000 miles away on a different continent and I cannot afford for my car to not work when I have an hour commute and have to pick my child up by a certain time each day. I have looked at many websites and blogs and realize that this is a serious problem with all Saturn Ions. Saturn knows about it and refuses to do anything about it. I took it to the Saturn dealership and they couldn't figure anything out except I needed a new ($80) battery that did not solve the problem. I think that it is a huge problem and am not surprised that people don't like to buy american cars when this is the type of response that you get from them when their product does not work correctly. Are we sure that it's not just a scheme for them to make money from people?

- Douglasville, GA, USA

problem #3

Dec 112007


  • miles
On Tuesday, December 11, I stopped at a blockbuster to drop off some movies. When I returned to my car, it would not start. The engine would not even try to turn over. I heard a clicking noise, and called a friend to come and give me a jump. I tried to jump it, and that did not work. I immediately called a Saturn dealership that is nearby where I live. I told them what was going on so I could bring it in and have it looked at. I said that my car wouldn't start, when I tried to jump it that didn't work, and that my key is now stuck in the ignition and won't come out. His response to me was, "I bet it's the ignition switch. We have been having a lot of trouble with those now that the weather is cold. Did you say you jumped it? you shouldn't have done that. That can cause the battery to have a shortage". today, I had my car towed to the dealership and they diagnosed my car with an ignition switch problem and a dead battery. I had them replace both, and I also kept both of my old parts.

- Dallas, TX, USA

problem #2

Dec 042006


  • miles
I have a 5-speed manual 2003 Saturn Ion. Every time it's cold outside, the car refuses to start. This has happened repeated last winter, and has a couple times this fall, also. Now, that the temperature is staying low, I'm concerned about the time and effort required to make the car start. The radio and lights work fine, indicating there is power getting to this equipment. However, when trying to turn the car over to start, a message pops up saying "service engine." Nothing happens after that. One can almost predict when it will happen. If the temperature gets below freezing, one must be prepared to sit at home until the temperature rises, and allows for the car to start.

- West Chester, OH, USA

problem #1

Dec 292003

Ion 4-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • miles
I own a 2003 Saturn Ion. The battery went dead today because my wife left the lights on by accident. When the battery in this model car becomes discharged two undesireable problems arise. I feel that both of them introduce safety concerns. First, the key won't come out of the ignition switch through normal means. Second, the car can't be moved! the gear shift lever remains in the park position. I feel that a car designed such that these two problems occur when the battery fails is a poor design. The instruction manual provided with the car makes no mention of these problems occuring with a dead battery. In order to jump a dead battery in a car it is often necessary to move the car I N order to jump the battery from another car. I feel having an intentional design in a car that prevents it from being moved by the owner creates a safety concern. Regarding the key situation, my wife left her entire set of keys in the car when they got stuck in the ignition switch. Many important keys were left in the car unattended. It could have made a bad situation much worse. It turns out that the instruction manual in the car discusses how to get stuck keys out of the ignition switch, but no mention is made in the book that keys will get stuck in the ignition switch when the battery goes dead. I spoke to the consumer complaint department at Saturn regarding this concern, but it is not Saturn's policy to respond to this type of customer complaint. Since I feel these two problems do have a safety impact, I decided to register this complaint with the NHTSA.

- Beacon, NY, USA

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