NHTSA — Electrical System: Ignition Problems

2003 Saturn Ion (Page 1 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 1 of 3)

problem #51

Apr 282014


  • miles


The contact owns a 2003 Saturn Ion. The contact stated that the vehicle was included in a recall (lock cylinder/ignition switch replacement/ ignition key). The contact stated that the dealer provided her with the wrong key. The contact received a letter from the dealer on May 27, 2015 which stated that, as part of the repair, the dealer provided her with the wrong key. The dealer would not replace the key. The manufacturer was notified. The NHTSA campaign number was unknown. The contact had not experienced a failure.

- Bronx, NY, USA

problem #50

Jun 252014

Ion 4-cyl

  • 133,000 miles
I received a recall notice for the ignition switch & ignition lock cylinder and ignition key. Contacted the local GMC dealer and they say they don't have the parts. It's been about 3 months since I contacted them. The GMC dealer is: Buick GMC at 361 N. switzer canyon, flagstaff, AZ (phone 928-774-1472). Last week I received a post card from GMC saying that their records indicated that I had not serviced the car for the recall notice. They urge me to take care of the problems. The issue is that the dealer says they don't have the parts. I haven't had any incidents thus far with the car. I ride the public bus to work.

- Flagstaff, AZ, USA

problem #49

Feb 012014


  • 112,111 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Saturn Ion. The contact stated that the vehicle was repaired under NHTSA recall campaign number 14E021000 (ignition switch). The contact stated when she turned the vehicle off, the key would not release from the ignition once the vehicle was parked. The approximate failure mileage was 112,111.

- Cooper City, FL, USA

problem #48

May 132014


  • 130,000 miles


The contact owns a 2003 Saturn Ion. The contact stated that while traveling at 50 mph, the vehicle stalled and the contact lost control of the vehicle. The contact crashed and the air bags failed to deploy. The contact was taken to the hospital for treatment of injuries. The vehicle was taken to a private mechanic where it was diagnosed that the ignition switch failed. The manufacturer was not made aware of the failure. The failure mileage was 130,000 and the current mileage was 130,000.

- East Falmouth, MA, USA

problem #47

May 072014


  • 110,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Saturn Ion. The contact stated that when powering off the vehicle, the key failed to be released from the ignition switch. Additionally, the engine would remain powered on when the key was removed from the ignition switch on several occasions. The vehicle was repaired under NHTSA campaign id number: 14V047000 (air bags, electrical system), however the failure recurred two weeks after the repairs. The manufacturer was notified of the failure. The approximate failure mileage was 110,000.

- Manhattan Beach, CA, USA

problem #46

Jun 112008

Ion 4-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 42,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Saturn Ion L3. The contact stated that the vehicle would not start. The contact placed the key into the ignition and the engine did not start, but the service vehicle light illuminated on the instrument. The contact stated that they had to wait several minutes to get the vehicle to start. The contact stated that the key also became stuck in the ignition. The contact spoke with the manufacturer in regard to the failure. The vehicle was not repaired. The failure mileage was 42,000 and the current mileage was 55,000. Updated 4/24/13 the consumer stated the vehicle needs a new wire harness for the alarm system and a new ignition lock tumbler with the dielectric grease in it. This failure across more often when cold. Upon making short errands, the vehicle must be left running in order to avoid sitting for 10 minutes. Updated 06/3/2013

- Centralia, WA, USA

problem #45

Feb 242011


  • 200,000 miles


The contact owns a 2003 Saturn Ion II. While the contact was driving approximately 45 mph, the engine stalled and the passlock warning indicator illuminated on the instrument panel intermittently. The engine restarted after waiting twenty minutes. The failure continued to occur. The vehicle was taken to an authorized dealer where they detected that the fuse box was loose. The technician tightened the bolts that secured the fuse box. The failure persisted and the vehicle was taken back to the dealer four times for the similar failure. The dealer recommended that the ignition switch be replaced to resolve the problem. The vehicle was not repaired. The failure mileage was approximately 200,000. The VIN was unavailable.

- Fredericksburg , VA, USA

problem #44

Apr 012009


  • 115,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Saturn Ion. When the contact attempted to start the vehicle it failed to start. The vehicle was taken to the dealer where the technicians stated that the ignition switch needed to be replaced. The failure happened intermittently and does not allow the contact to turn the vehicle on for approximately forty five minutes. The vehicle was not repaired. The approximate failure mileage was 115,000.

- Green Bay, WI, USA

problem #43

Jul 012010

Ion 4-cyl

  • 70,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Saturn Ion. The contact stated that upon entering the vehicle and attempting to start the vehicle, it failed to start. The vehicle eventually started after several attempts. She took the vehicle to the dealer for diagnostic testing. The dealer informed her that she needed to replace the starter. The vehicle was repaired. She also stated that the key was getting stuck inside of the ignition which made it impossible to turn the vehicle off or remove the key from the cylinder. The vehicle was inspected for that failure and informed her that she needed to replace the ignition switch. Instead of replacing the ignition switch due to cost they opted to reprogram the key so that she could remove it no matter what gear the vehicle was in. The failure mileage was approximately 70,000. Updated 2/23/11 according to the service invoice, the vehicle needed a new shifter which was causing the key to become stuck in the ignition. Updated 06/20/11

- Simpsonville, SC, USA

problem #42

Dec 022010


  • 115,000 miles
Failure to start in cold weather, and key sticking in ignition.

- New Market, AL, USA

problem #41

Jun 172010


  • 101,115 miles


I am really getting tired of this part breaking and GM needs to find a fix and recall this car and solve the problem. I found 44 pages of the same complaint on this same car on this website: (www.consumeraffairs.com/automotive/saturn_ignition_lock.html) I own a 2003 Saturn Ion sedan. My ignition is stuck in the on position. The only way I can shut my car off is to pull the fuse to the ECM. The key does not turn in any direction and will pull out of the socket with the car running. I have had this ignition part changed 4 times already. The first two times was under warranty and the key would pull out with car running, the second two times I had to pay for. The last two times it would not let me start the car because of the key not being able to turn. This is the first time it won't let me turn it off. I know this is an older car, but this is too much... [xxx] information redacted pursuant to the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. 552(B)(6).

- Burton, MI, USA

problem #40

Nov 202004


  • miles
Saturn Ion 2003 ignition switch and ignition cylinder bad 3 times since I bought the vehicle brand new in 2003. I have had to pay to replace the switch, at about $300., each time. No one but a GM dealer can replace this switch, which fails once the temp. Drops, because of GM not releasing the computer codes. The ignition cylinder is bad, but at a cost of $100. Just for the cylinder and another cost of $100 for the labor, I have to leave a key in the ignition at all times in the run position, so I can start my car. Saturn has admitted to these being faulty parts, but refuses to recall the cars, so the consumer is forced to pay over and over again for the same repairs.

- Gibraltar, MI, USA

problem #39

Mar 042009


  • 48,000 miles
The ignition switch does not work. During "cold days" my car does not start. I have to wait between 10 to 20 minutes to start the car. This is a problem that Ion 2003-2007 have, Saturn knows about it. However, they have not done anything about fixing the problem. Thousands of complains about the ignition switch, they need to do something.

- Lees Summit, MO, USA

problem #38

Jan 162009


  • 70,000 miles
My car will not start when it is cold. It is due to the faulty design of the ignition switch/passlock error. It happens at least three or four times a week, end every morning it is below 34 degrees. I have had a new battery, fuel filter and starter replaced in the past week. After ten to fifteen minutes it starts, but today after forty five minutes it still did not start. I went online and found that thousands of other Saturn owners have the same problem. This part needs to be recalled.

- Florence, SC, USA

problem #37

Jan 102009


  • 93,000 miles
We have a 2003 Saturn Ion that wont start in cold weather due to ignition switch problems. Saturn dealer wants $100 just to diagnose it on a computer but many forums have information stating that the dealer already knows that the ignition switch is faulty.

- Kansas City, MO, USA

problem #36

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 #35

Dec 202008


  • 74,000 miles
We have a 2003 Saturn Ion that has experienced ignition problems over the last 2 years. We had the starter replaced by our mechanic when the problem first occurred in 2006 but have experienced the problem 12-15 times since then. We have found out that the car will start if you wait for 15 minutes or so but it is not always convenient to do so. An internet search reveals numerous Saturn owners with the same problem which has not been acknowledged by Saturn as a design or manufacturing defect. My local dealership is aware of the problem with the passlock ignition system but can only repair it for a fee.

- Tulsa, OK, USA

problem #34

Sep 152008


  • 74,000 miles
My 2003 Saturn Ion 2 has had nothing but problems. The first thing I have experienced has been a problem with the car not starting on very cold day below 32 degrees. I had the ignition switch replaced last year as recommended by the dealership. Since the weather has gotten cold here in Indiana I have begun to have the same problem. The car just will not start on very cold days again below 32 degrees.

- Fort Wayne, IN, USA

problem #33

Nov 062008


  • 145,000 miles
I have a 2003 Saturn Ion and for the past 2 years my vehicle has had problems starting in the cold. I have heard and read hundred of people having to replace their ignition switch on their Ions. It has left me stranded on many occassions in the morning and at night. Saturn has not offered to fix this problem and is just banking in the cash for us to replace their ignition switches and get our computers reprogrammed. Since Saturn will not do anything to help its customers then I feel it is someone to investigate this ongoing problem.

- Tawas City, MI, USA

problem #32

Jun 172008


  • 44,000 miles
Car would not turn over until several attempts were made key would not come out of lock until after several attempts were made occurs weekly for several months I needed to get a new ignition switch and a new ignition cylinder this is the 2nd ignition cylinder I have had to get since purchasing my vehicle, obviously something is wrong with their parts once my car ran with out the key in the ignition!!!

- Lake Worth, FL, USA

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