NHTSA — Electrical System: Ignition: Switch Problems

2003 Saturn Ion (Page 1 of 4)

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.


definitely annoying
Crashes / Fires:
0 / 0
Injuries / Deaths:
0 / 0
Average Mileage:
36,241 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 1 of 4)

problem #65

Apr 092014


  • 170,000 miles


The contact owns a 2003 Saturn Ion. While at a stop light, the vehicle stalled. The vehicle was able to restart after several attempts. The failure occurred on multiple occasions. The vehicle was taken to an independent mechanic who stated that the ignition switch needed to be replaced. The vehicle was not repaired. The manufacturer was not notified of the failure. The VIN was unavailable. The approximate failure mileage was 170,000.

- Oak Park, MI, USA

problem #64

Sep 012011


  • miles
2003 Saturn Ion. Consumer writes in regards to vehicle recall issues the consumer stated the vehicle was purchased new and she was never informed of a recall regarding the body control module which she was having problems with. The consumer stated the problem first started when the driver side window dropped when she closed the door. Then it would not stay up. Then half of the dash went black. The next window would go up and down on its own with no contact of any type. Then the controls to the electric windows stopped working completely and the electronic lock/opening device would not open the doors any longer or lock the trunk. The consumer was informed she would have to pay for a diagnostic test. The consumer also stated there was also a problem with the transmission. The vehicle did not react to being in park, so therefore, she had difficulty removing the keys from the ignition. The O2 sensor and the ignition switch had to be replaced. The consumer stated the transmission was never properly replaced. On one occasion, the vehicle stalled and the steering locked up.

- Janesville, WI, USA

problem #63

Dec 172010

Ion 4-cyl

  • 51,000 miles
2003 Saturn Ion tends to not want to start every winter! it has to do with the ignition switch freezing up. It will happen randomly in the winter 2-3 times a week. It is pretty bad when your car lets you sitting for 22 min. With a baby when its 22 degrees outside!!!

- Sparks, MD, USA

problem #62

Nov 272010


  • 47,000 miles


2003 Saturn Ion ignition switch. I can't get my key out of the ignition after I have parked the car and turned my key to the off position. I often have to sit in my car for up to 10minutes before it will release and let me have my key. When I am able to get my key out of the ignition my car with ding.. like the sound it makes when you leave your lights on, and it will not let me lock my car using my power locks. I have taken it to a GM dealership and they have said that it is the faulty ignition switch seen recurrently in Saturn's cars. Even getting the ignition switch replaced I was back to where I first started about a week later. This is dangerous and needs to be recalled!!! I can't believe that after all these years that this still to this day has not been recalled... this is absolutely ridiculous!

- Belton, TX, USA

problem #61

Nov 132009


  • 70,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Saturn Ion. During cold weather the vehicle failed to start since there is a defect in the ignition switch. The vehicle resets to a security mode as if it has been stolen. The dealer advised the contact to replace the switch; however, they would use the defective switch when they repair the vehicle. The failure mileage was 70,000.

- Valley Cottage, NY, USA

problem #60

Dec 012009

Ion 4-cyl

  • 82,221 miles
The contact owns a used 2003 Saturn Ion which was purchased in 2008. In cold temperatures, the vehicle would not start. The vehicle was taken to her local repair shop, and the fuel injector was replaced. There were no recalls for the failure. Two weeks later, in cold and raining temperatures the vehicle would not start. No further repairs were made to the vehicle to date. The failure and current mileages were 82,221. Updated 02/03/10 the consumer stated the grease in the ignition switch is freezing and/or hardening so that the ignition switch will not engage. The consumer believed the vehicle should be recalled so the ignition switch and grease can be replaced. Updated 02/11/10.

- San Diego , CA, USA

problem #59

Jan 012005

Ion 4-cyl

  • 88,500 miles


The contact owns a 2003 Saturn Ion which was purchased in 2003. She stated that in cold weather conditions, the vehicle would not start and it would stall intermittently. The dealer replaced the ignition switch at the owner's expense; however, the repair did not correct the failure. The vehicle continued to stall in cold weather and the manufacturer advised getting the ignition switch replaced a second time at the owner's expense. The failure and current mileages were under 88,500. Updated 01/29/10. Updated 02/01/10.

- Rutland, MA, USA

problem #58

Dec 092009


  • 115,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Saturn Ion. When attempting to start the vehicle, the engine would hesitate before it turned on. The vehicle was taken to the dealership and the ignition switch was replaced. The repair did not remedy the failure. The current and failure mileages were 115000.

- Mchenry, IL, USA

problem #57

Jan 012003


  • 20,000 miles
There is an issue that affects a sensor in the ignition switch. This causes the car to lock up because it is getting a false signal that the car is being stolen. This is a known issue that affects the car's "passlock" system and I think it needs to be recalled. This happens when (1) the temperature is below 0 degrees C over night or an extended time period. (2) the only way to solve the problem is to keep replacing the ignition switch when it goes bad. Attached below is taken from another owner of the Saturn Ion. "the problem with the Ion not starting in many cases is due to a poorly designed anti theft system. The system looks for the presence of the key in the lock when the ignition key is turned. The system looks for a low resistance, but not zero ohms, and can be trained to look for a specific value. If it does not find what it is looking for, the car will not start. One solution is to change the switch. Anyone that can use a wrench and screw driver can do this. The switch costs about $30. The problem, is that they don't last too long, sometimes less than a year. A simple solution I found elsewhere, is to cut the white wire from the ignition switch while the engine is running. Leave enough length after the switch so it can be spliced back together. I did this today, it was easy, and seems to work. It does give you a service warning. Another option, is to install a bypass device that is designed for remote starters. Another option, which is simpler, and depending on where you live (I haven't tested this) is to leave the key in the ignition all the time. Use a second key to lock the doors" a short search of Saturn Ions not starting in cold weather will show thousands of people who have experienced the exact same problem. Why this issue has not been dealt with is a mystery.

- Schenectady, NY, USA

problem #56

Jan 222009


  • 73,000 miles
This fall I went to start my 2005 Saturn Ion S2 it would not start. I had the ignition switched replaced. Now in January, I am having the same problems with the car not starting. I have researched and determined that this is not a problem that can be fixed permanently because the part is bad from Saturn. I do not want to keep spending $200 whenever I have this problem.

- Cedar Rapids, IA, USA

problem #55

Jan 212009


  • miles


I have a 2003 Saturn Ion that I bought used in 2006. When the weather is 32 degrees or lower the vehicle will not start. I thought that it may just be my battery but the battery was fine. After doing a google search I was able to read though about 150 cases where people with this same vehicle had problems starting the vehicle in cold weather. This really concerns me because this is a common problem with this vehicle and there is no recall for this reason. After doing research on this matter I found the problem to be a faulty ignition switch that was installed from the factory. This vehicle should have had a recall for this problem, with so many complaints of the problem. I have a four month old baby and to be out in the cold with a vehicle that wont start because of a manufacture problem is really sad. I think that you should really look into this matter with this vehicle. Every day I cant start my vehicle because of the cold weather. Please help me in this matter. Also google this problem and you will see many cases of this same problem.

- Mcdonough, GA, USA

problem #54

Dec 232004


  • 26,000 miles
2003 Saturn Ion has problems starting in the cold. Multiple websites document dozens of cases of people with the exact same issue all relating to a faulty ignition switch system. Problem occurred sporadically the first couple years but has become more and more common. Saturn is willing to replace the ignition switch but at my expense for something that is an obvious defect of the car.

- Schenectady, NY, USA

problem #53

Mar 072008

Ion 4-cyl

  • miles
Our 2003 Saturn Ion has a permanent default, in that it will not start in cold weather. And the term "cold" is relative. Saturn told us the ignition switch is faulty. Thus, we paid an excess of $200 to rectify the problem. However, this "solution" lasted only a little over one year. Now, Saturn tells us that though we have the updated ignition switch, it still causes the same no-start problem, and we need a $575 (plus tax) body control module. We had to pay $104.54 for Saturn to tell us this. Obviously, this is a problem caused by the manufacturer, which is leaving many people stranded morning, noon, and night in various locations around the country. The problem should be immediately rectified through a recall.

- Everett, WA, USA

problem #52

Oct 102007

Ion 4-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 48 miles
Everytime the weather is a bit cold, my Saturn Ion 2003 will not start. I took it to a local auto mechanic shop and they told me that it was a typical and unfair problem for the Saturn Ion owners. The also told me they do the same job on these same cars approximately 15 cars/times per week. The explanation they gave was that the ignition switch need it to be replaced. Then I took it to my Saturn dealership and they said the exact same thing: "the ignition switch needs to be replaced because it is causing the passlock (security) system to think the car is being stolen and shuts the starter off." He also said it was really common to replace the ignition switches every winter because those kinds of cars have been having that same problem regardless what the year model they are. I also asked them how many cars (per week) they had to fix due to this same problem and they told me it varied, but it was always between 10 and 25 cars per week. Also they said that previous year the weather was so cold and the Saturn Ions were not starting, that in just a week they had 40-something cars come in to get fix for the same problem. They told they would fix it for me but I would have to pay for everything. I refused to pay because it was not my fault, and I'm assuming people are paying to for something that is not even their fault. I also called Saturn and the customer care representative at Saturn said that Saturn does not have a recommendation for this problem at this time. The last thing I did was a research on the web about this problem and I found many websites, blogs and forums that address the problem as a factory default from Saturn. I read people's comments and they all said they had the same problem with their Saturn Ions and that Saturn did want to admit it was a problem of them. It appears as if no one was to take responsibility and the ones paying for this are the customers. This is not fair.

- Aurora, IL, USA

problem #51

Nov 082007

Ion 4-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 0 miles
When it is very cold outside my 2003 Saturn Ion would not start. I took it to a mechanic which said he couldn't figure it out but would replace the started and solenoid which happened. Again 2 days later, no start, I took it to a different mechanic which ran tests on it and said he couldn't figure it out, but since my battery was 5 years old, maybe I should replace that which I did. Then 4 days later, the care wouldn't start again, again I take it to yet another mechanic which runs a series of different tests on it and says everything is good, no explanation for the no starts. Finally after much frustration I was online doing some research about my car to discover a number of complaints about both the 2003-2004 Saturn Ion's having this ignition start problem and yet the manufacturer should have recalled it, yet hasn't and so while the Ion owner like myself is stranded here and there and missing days of work due to inoperable on one's purchased vehicle, and paying towing costs, repair bills, testing costs, etc...Saturn all along knew the problem. When I finally called Saturn and told them of the problem, took the car in and with hours, had a new ignition switch and low and behold yep that was the problem to the tune of $179. I think if Saturn knew this was a problem, it should have been recalled and fixed on Saturn's tab, not mine the consumer.

- Parma, OH, USA

problem #50

Nov 132007

Ion 4-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • miles
I own a 2003 Saturn Ion. On cold mornings my car will not start. I have replaced the battery and have taken it to several mechanics that have told me that they do not know why it will not start. I have been late for work numerous times and left stranded because of this issue. This is still a on going issue.

- Lasa Vegas, NV, USA

problem #49

Jan 162008

Ion 4-cyl

  • Manual transmission
  • 42,750 miles
I regrettably own a 2003 Saturn Ion 2 sedan. Several times, when temperatures are below freezing, the car fails to start. After speaking to the service manager at the local dealership and doing extensive online research about the problem I have found that it stems from a faulty design in the ignition switch. The switch leaks lubricant onto the wires in the ignition system. When it is cold enough for the lubricant to freeze, it impedes the signal required to override the passlock security system (standard on my car) and prevents the car from starting. Saturn will replace the ignition switch (at the cost of the owner if the vehicle is not under manufacturer's warranty, about $300 to $400). The new switches will inevitably have the same problem, after they leak the lubricant. Saturn knows of the problem and has published technical service bulletin #040845005. They, however, refuse to admit responsibility and devise a reliable remedy to the problem. Meanwhile, we are all freezing in the cold weather while we wait for our cars to start. I believe Saturn is criminally negligent in this respect.

- Bloomington, IN, USA

problem #48

Feb 132008


  • miles
Faulty ignition switch in 2003 Saturn Ion.

- Hattiesburg, MS, USA

problem #47

Jan 202008


  • Automatic transmission
  • 91,000 miles
Car will not start when it is cold outside.

- Saint Louis, MO, USA

problem #46

Jan 242008

Ion 4-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 39,000 miles
Car will not start in cold weather. (below 32F) this has been a problem the last 2 years on a 2003 Saturn Ion 3. after reading all the comments here... www.carsurvey.org/viewcomments_review_97727.html it would seem there is a very common problem with the grease freezing around the ignition switch.

- Clive, IA, USA

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