NHTSA — Electrical System: Ignition Problems

2003 Saturn Ion (Page 3 of 3)

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:
1 / 0
Injuries / Deaths:
1 / 0
Average Mileage:
49,485 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 3 of 3)

« Read the previous 20 complaints

problem #11

Feb 102007


  • Manual transmission
  • 72,000 miles


For the past few months any time there is cold weather, which has been every day because it's the winter, my 2003 Saturn Ion 2 won't start for about 20-30 minutes. I took it to a local shop and had some work done; fuel injection cleaning, spark plugs replaced, etc. The problem still continued and I took it back. The car started fine and for the next few days while we were having mild weather I had no problems. As soon as the weather hit 30 degrees it started again. When I go to start the car it turns over but then dies. 5 or so more times and it again tries to turn over but nothing. Eventually after 20 minutes or so the car will start. The battery has been replaced because that's what we first thought was the problem even though it did not need to be replaced. We're now out $100 for that plus the work I've had done that did not solve the problem. I called Saturn and they told me that they have never heard of this, that this has not been issued into a recall and that they would need to hook my car up to the computer for $100 just to tell me what the problem is. I searched online for this particular problem and found thousands of posts and that the problem is the "ignition switch", but some people will still having problems even after that was replaced. Just this weekend I went to work and came out to start my car at 9:20 and by 10:00 the car still would not start and I had to find a ride home. I have two young children and am scared to leave the house with them in fear that my car won't start when I get to or need to leave my destination. I feel that this problem needs to be issued as a recall or like many others "I will not be buying another Saturn".

- Aberdeen, MD, USA

problem #10

Jan 132007

Ion 4-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • miles
1. temperatures below freezing 2. grease in ignition switch thickens and car will not start. It normally takes 10 - 15 minutes to warm the ignition enough for the car to start. 3. nothing was done to correct the failure. The service manager agreed to repair the car and bill the manufacturer but that didn't happen. I was told the car was out of warranty and they wouldn't repair it. 4. the manufacturer is aware of this problem with this particular year, make and model.

- Austell, GA, USA

problem #9

Jan 182007

Ion 4-cyl

  • Manual transmission
  • miles
I have a 2003 Saturn Ion which I purchased new from the dealer. When it gets cold outside (usually at or below 32 degrees) the car intermittently fails to start. The passlock system activates, preventing the car from starting, because the ignition switch fails to recognize that the proper key is in the ignition. GM has issued a technical advisory (# 04-08-45-005D) dated 15 Mar 2006 identifying the ignition switch as the cause of this problem. The Saturn dealership confirmed that the ignition switch was the cause of the passlock malfunction on my car and informed me that it would cost $250 to replace the ignition switch. In performance of my duties as a federal officer I rely on my vehicle to start when I need it to. I am often dispatched to remote areas in inclement weather to assist the public. Having a vehicle that will not start because of a recognized defective ignition switch is unacceptable; being told that I have to pay for repairs because of a manufacturing defect is insulting. The faulty ignition switch is not only a safety concern of mine, it impacts the safety and security of the american public that I have sworn to protect. Finally it is a safety concern for every Saturn Ion owner who depends on their car to start in 30 degree weather when there is no other warm environment available.

- Ashburn, VA, USA

problem #8

Dec 292006

Ion 4-cyl

  • Manual transmission
  • 22,813 miles


2003 Saturn Ion. This car will not start in the cold weather. If the temperature is below 32 degrees F for an extended period of time, the car will stall. This will be a recall item once we get together and sue Saturn for this obvious negligent behavior. This problem is well known and is continual. Perhaps when some unfortunate soul is stranded in the wilderness and dies, then the manufacturer will pay attention to this cold weather start problem. The public is well aware of the problem and so is Saturn. It would be well worth it for the corporate office to crunch the numbers and decide to recall the vehicle for this problem. I have read that the difficultly may have to do with a type of lubricant on the starter, which hardens in the cold weather. The car stalls as a result, and then the passlock kicks in. After 8 minutes, the car may start, or one may have to wait an additional 8 minutes (or more) for the ignition switch to loosen up enough to start the engine. However, the car may stall yet again---and set off the passlock system yet again. Saturn is negligent at the very least--and criminally negligent if they know of this problem---the potential dangers of it---and do nothing.

- Harmony, RI, USA

problem #7

Dec 192006

Ion 4-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • miles
Saturn 2003 Ion will not start in cool to cold weather. After several tries car will not start, but will then start after sitting for about ten minutes. Apparently this is a common problem with newer Saturn.

- Oshkosh, WI, USA

problem #6

Dec 022006

Ion 4-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 50,000 miles
2003 Saturn Ion quad level 3, will not start when temperature drops, or starts and immediately stalls. The passlock icon blinks and the message center says service vehicle. The dealership verbally stated to turn key on for fifteen minutes to reset the passlock, then turn off, remove key, and try the start sequence again. This is a recurring issue, four times in the past two days, car is currently immobile in a parking lot across town. An internet search strongly suggests this is a common failure that GM refuses to acknowledge and that all Saturn owners experiencing this issue should file a complaint for relief.

- Stryker, OH, USA

problem #5

Dec 012004

Ion 4-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 10,000 miles


: the contact stated the vehicle had problems starting in cold weather. The engine would start after a few attempts or not start at all on different occasions. The non service dealer could not duplicate the issue to fix it.

- West Lafayette, IN, USA

problem #4

Feb 242006


  • Automatic transmission
  • miles
My car won't start! at least every once in a while anyway. It's a 2003 Saturn Ion. I bought it used on 5/14/05 and a few months after, when it started to get cold in ga., it wouldn't start. After about 10-30 minutes, it would finally start as if there was no problem leaving me feeling like I was going crazy. I thought it may be the battery, so I replaced that (40.00 dollars). It still gave me problems that very night! I took it to the dealership, and had a diagnostic check done (40.00 dollars), they couldn't find anything wrong, and basically blew me off. Discouraged, I left and gave up. It continued to act up 2 days later, which I just dealt with. I took it to the shop yesterday for a oil change and guess what" it wouldn't start while it was there. They told me that while they were about to take it to the wash it wouldn't start, and asked me if I had any problems. I said yea. They said they were sure they'd locate the problem that day. Came back an hour later to tell me that it was the technician fault, claiming that he had left it in drive while trying to start it (how would he get it in drive if it wouldn't start") anyway, it wouldn't start that night! at this point im going to get my future father in law involved since he is an engineer and have him stir the pudding. Oh, and he believes it a short with the electrical system so we will have to have them to check that out.

- Decatur, GA, USA

problem #3

Apr 162005

Ion 4-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 55,310 miles
I purchased a Saturn Ion in June of 2003. I began having problems starting the car in October of 2004. It would not start and would just make a clicking noise when the key was turned. There was power to all accessories so it was not a battery failure. The service engine light would come on. After about 30 minutes of trying to get the vehicle to start, it would finally start once again (roughly at first) and the service engine light would disappear. I took it to the nearby Saturn dealership after the first occurrence and was turned away because they "were too busy". I took it there the next day and they said that nothing was wrong with it except for an oxygen sensor which they replaced. I drove it home. It did it again twice in the next two days. I took the car back again and they replaced the ignition module. I thought that everything was ok until this past weekend (April 2005) when it did the exact same thing. I took it to Saturn on Tuesday and they could not recreate the problem and would not provide me with a loaner car for more than one day. I had no choice but to take my unreliable vehicle back. I contacted Saturn corporate and filed a complaint. They stated that they would allow me to take the car back to the dealership and would get me a loaner for a few days but it was doubtful that they could get it to repeat the problem as it is intermittent. I have been told to not start it the next time and just have it towed to Saturn. That's fine except what if it dies in the middle of the night and I am away from home with my two small children? my vehicle is less than two years old and I should not be afraid to drive it any distance for fear of being stranded!

- Dearborn, MI, USA

problem #2

Dec 152003


  • miles
Bought a Saturn 2003 Ion 1 this past summer, June 2003. It work just fine until Colorado got its first cold spell, this is when the car started to act-up. The car will not start up in the early cold morrings. When I first try to start the car there is nothing, just a clicking sound. Then after trying for a while the car finally starts up, but it is a very rough start. I have taken the car to my Saturn dealship for the 3rd time and today will be the fourth the same problem. The car will not start up in the early cold morrings. I am getting very tried of this. I hope with the fourth try the problem will be fixed. If not, you will hear from me again.

- Colorado Springs, CO, USA

problem #1

May 202003

Ion 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • miles
Key always stuck in ignition, car doesn't start car door lock broken.

- Boca Raton, FL, USA

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