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:
0 / 0
Average Mileage:
106,637 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 engine problems

engine problem

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2003 Saturn Ion Owner Comments

problem #18

Jun 012016


  • 141,000 miles


The contact owns a 2003 Saturn Ion. While driving at various speeds, the steering wheel became difficult to turn. The contact had to apply force to the steering wheel in order to steer the vehicle. The failure recurred on numerous occasions. The vehicle was taken to a dealer and repaired per a recall. After the repairs, while driving at various speeds, the accelerator pedal was depressed, but the vehicle failed to accelerate. The air bag and check engine warning lights illuminated. The manufacturer was not notified of the failures. The recall specifics were unknown. The failure mileage was 141,000. Updated 10/19/16

- Tampa, FL, USA

problem #17

Jul 022016


  • 115,522 miles
On sat., July 2, 2016 I noticed a loud noise coming from the engine area. Being a holiday weekend, I had to wait to take it to the dealership on tues., July 5, 2016. I ended up taking it to a reputable mechanic that day after a runaround at the dealership and filing a complaint against them. The mechanic did not know how I made it to his shop. The timing chain was completely loose and tensioner had broke off inside as well as a couple of bolts. Looking at the oil nozzler it was blocked which could be causing lack of oil going to the tensioner/chain. I have read posts that this was an issue on certain Saturn cars as well as timing chain. I purchased my car new in June 2003 and have maintained it very well, barely driving 5,000 mi./yr. Keeping the oil changed when required. I am not certain if the car was in motion at the time this occurred or if it happened at start up. I was able to drive it to the mechanic, however, he did not see how I could have made it there due to the condition of the parts. I was driving on the fwy. At 65 mph and made it there safely.

- Murrieta, CA, USA

problem #16

Sep 072014


  • 120,000 miles
This is the third time in one year that my timing chain has slipped on my 2003 Saturn Ion. I have read that the oil port is not large enough to handle oiling the chain. I have already paid out of pocket nearly 2000 dollars and it is still in the shop. It has messed up other parts of the engine every time it has done this. So I have to have other parts replaced also that are result of this. It runs fine then suddenly and without warning I can go to start the car and it starts having a spasm and then shutters and will not start. I am so afraid to keep having the timing chain fixed on this since I have read that it is really a fault in the engineering of the engine to start with. Please help. I need a number to call to see if there is a recall or will GM fix this problem that is surely their fault and not the fault of the owner of the car. It is a good running car and I did enjoy driving it but I can't keep getting the timing chain fixed if fixing the timing chain is not the problem really but is something else that is causing the timing chain to fail.

- Monticello, KY, USA

problem #15

Aug 022015


  • 132,000 miles


While driving at steady speed of 70 mph car fails to accelerate and boggs down when giving gas car then decelerates and stalls. Will not start back up for a few minutes then drives and runs like nothing happened

- Cleveland, OH, USA

problem #14

Aug 062013


  • miles
The contact owns a 2003 Saturn Ion. The contact stated that the vehicle failed to start. The contact also stated that the windshield wipers failed to operate. The vehicle was not diagnosed or repaired. The manufacturer was not notified of the failure. The failure mileage was unavailable.

- Atlantic City , NJ, USA

problem #13

Oct 192014

Ion 4-cyl

  • 131,000 miles
Timing chain broke, after having cleared a tune up only a couple weeks ago. No other problems with the car, and from doing some research I see that this was a problem with 2003 Ions but GM had no recall information for me, on my profile page on their website. I am now without a car and no way to afford a new one, and the only thing I'm thankful for, is that I wasn't on the highway or anything when it happened, and it occurred when I tried to start my car.

- Bangor, PA, USA

problem #12

Sep 092014

Ion 4-cyl

  • 130,000 miles


Ask a mechanic spring 2014, we had the recall on the ignition fixed on my 2003 Saturn. On September 9th my son drove the Saturn to detroit mi. About half way there on I-94, at rush hour, the Saturn lost power and began stopping. He was going about 70 miles/hour and didn┐┐T have extra keys on the key ring. Luckily, he is strong, smart and quick thinking. He was able to wrestle the steering column toward an exit, while depressing the clutch and restarting the car. Thankfully it started! if I had been driving the car, I don┐┐T think I could have done those things. We called the dealership that fixed the car and after numerous calls, they said they were not authorized to tow the car and fix it. Now several weeks later and in response to letters sent to GM executives, they tell us the same thing. I am telling them their fix is not a fix! I don┐┐T want others injured or dead. Why is this entitled ┐┐ask a mechanic┐Ł? we were told many years ago by a mechanic at the Saturn dealer not to hang extra keys on our ring. This dealer has been gone for many years. Maybe someone needs to ask a current mechanic if this is the right fix for GM vehicles.

- Portage, MI, USA

problem #11

Aug 072014


  • 96,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Saturn Ion. The contact stated that the vehicle would not start and the power steering warning light was illuminated. The contact also stated that the steering wheel became difficult to turn. The vehicle had not been repaired. The manufacturer was made aware of the failure. The approximate failure mileage was 96,000.

- Hayes, VA, USA

problem #10

Oct 092013

Ion 4-cyl

  • 120,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Saturn Ion. The contact stated that while driving approximately 30 mph, the engine stalled and the vehicle crashed into a curb. The airbags did not deploy however, the contact was not injured. The vehicle was not able to restart. The vehicle was not diagnosed or repaired. The manufacturer was notified of the failure. The approximate failure mileage was 120,000. Updated 10/2/14 the consumer stated the driver received an injury to the head. The vehicle has not been fully repaired. Updated 3/6/2015

- Gainesville, TX, USA

problem #9

Jun 092014

Ion 4-cyl

  • 105,000 miles
Key came out, but car was still running. Put key back in managed to get turn off engine, however key would not release for over 15min! this keeps happening to me. Scheduled appointment with chapman Chevrolet tempe, AZ to repair according to recall instructions that I submitted to their customer service dept. They say they will notify me when the parts come in, but it has been approximately one month or more already. I believe my family and my self are in danger of a fatal accident or something; sometimes the car will not surrender the ignition key for in hour. Already had new key made at chapman Chevrolet which makes starting somewhat easier, before, it would take, often times, 10min or more just to get the key to turn. Please help chapman Chevrolet get the parts they need or stop ignoring my request for the honoring of the recall work I requested of them. Im afraid this will not hold up much longer as is.

- Mesa, AZ, USA

problem #8

Apr 292014


  • 186,495 miles


The contact owns a 2003 Saturn Ion. The contact stated that while driving various speeds, the vehicle stalled after the battery light illuminated. The manufacturer was made aware of the failure. The failure and current mileage was 186,495.

- Louisville, KY, USA

problem #7

Oct 182003

Ion 4-cyl

  • 60 miles
When I bought my car it wouldn't start, the dealer said it was because it sat for a long time. This problemhas been constantly been an issue since in extreme weather. I was told during one shop inspection it was electrical and they have seen a lot of this but don't know what causes it. With this case it has shut my radio on and off and a big issue that I have is when I am stopped with my foot on my brake the engine will rev up and jerk forward. This happens in the city when I'm driving at slower speeds. I've had to run off the road to avoid hitting people, the only thing that saves me from hitting anyone at lights or signs is my safety gap between me and a front car. I've been late for work, ruined vacations, been stranded with an infant in 100 degree weather, and wasted a lot of money trying to find the problems. I bought it new and have heard every excuse for the guys have finally stepped in on one of the problems we have been having now GM needs to answer the rest. I'm not the only one with these problems. If you do a search online you can pull up 100S of issues exactly the same. I have all my receipts when I took it onto Saturn dealers. Now I have doors that don't seal but I'm sure this is because it's old or other excuses. I had to buy another car because my kids aren't safe in it. I can't even have a clean conscious trading it in so I still am stuck with it. I have complained about this issue before but no one listens.

- North Las Vegas, NV, USA

problem #6

Sep 032003

Ion 4-cyl

  • 3,000 miles
It don't happen all the time but it won't start you turn the key and nothing happen and you have to wait 15 minutes and try to start it most the time it will start but there were afew that it took a half hour sitting and waiting for it to reset had my car in the dealer want time and told them about they said nothing can been done about it intil it happen to them even whose the dashboard computer say service engines and it could happen everyday for a week than it could be months before it dose it again.

- Hazel Park, MI, USA

problem #5

Jan 022014


  • 133,000 miles
On multiple occasions this vehicle has accelerated without pushing the gas pedal, with no cruise control option, it's unsolved by multiple mechanics. Sometimes the brake works while it's happening, sometimes it doesn't, the most recent time I pulled into a parking lot where I had to hold the brake down to shut the car off, I could smell the transmission, I turned vehicle off, turned it back on and it went to over 5 RPM still, turned back off, sat and waited, it was 2am so I couldn't call anyone. After 10 minutes it finally went back to normal. That was the most severe, it's had slightly similar issues at least 4 times. First mechanic said it was a cruise control issue, then I told him I was leaving since the vehicle doesn't have cruise control at all. Don't want him working on it. 2nd one ran computer check, no issue found. Hopefully GM recalls this before it kills someone. This car has had many issues me and my father could fix, ignition switch, wiper blade transmission, coolant light but this one isn't easy.

- Reinholds, PA, USA

problem #4

Dec 012009


  • 75,000 miles
On multiple occasions over the last 2-3yrs, the car was turned on and the engine revved up to 3,500rpm without pressing on the gas pedal. If I put the car in drive while this was happening, the car would accelerate on its own (up to 25mph). I've had multiple auto shops inspect and try to diagnose the problem but none can tell me what the problem is.

- Rochester, NY, USA

problem #3

Feb 192014


  • 189,000 miles
On 4 separate occasions (different dates, most recent were 1-26-2014 & 2-19-2014) engine revved and car accelerated by itself without gas pedal depressed. Most serious occurrence, car accelerated, brakes had no effect (pushed to the floor), ran red light, went off road, slammed transmission into park to stop. Shut off car, then started it again, and it ran normal. Took car to mechanic. No computer codes. Nothing mechanical was found to be wrong. This is an extremely serious safety issue due to the inevitability of a collision with something or someone.

- Newtown, CT, USA

problem #2

Sep 062012

Ion 4-cyl

  • 152,392 miles
Wife and children riding down road when car turns itself off and looses all power. She was luckily enough to merge across 2 lanes at a coast with no brakes or power steering to bring the car to a stop. Then it took up to 30 min of sitting on the side of very busy I-16 till the security light stopped flashing and she could continue her way home with my 2 and 8 year old kids in the car. Now all the car will do is flash that passlock light after I have replaced the ignition switch, starter, battery, alternator and many fuses also following the relearn procedure each time.

- Savannah, GA, USA

problem #1

Jun 272010


  • 90,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Saturn Ion. The contact stated that the vehicle failed to start. The vehicle was taken to an auto mechanic who advised that there was a problem with the ignition. The ignition was replaced. The contact continued to have the same problem after the repairs. The contact notified the dealer who offered no assistance. The contact also called the manufacturer who offered no assistance. The failure mileage was 90,000.

- Mechanicville, PA, USA

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