NHTSA — Vehicle Speed Control Problems

2003 Saturn Ion (Page 1 of 2)

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:
4 / 0
Injuries / Deaths:
4 / 0
Average Mileage:
73,047 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 (Page 1 of 2)

problem #31

Apr 272016


  • 114,575 miles


Takata recalls..I have a 2003 Saturn Ion I was driving fine hit cruise control button once I was at 55 an my car made a clicking sound started jerking like the cruise control keeps coming on...I've turned car off hit brakes which should reset it but it still happens..the car feels like its down shifting an trying to accelerate on its on the rpms hump real high wen this happens..you be driving doing 50 mph an all the sudden car jerks like its trying to stop U feel I T in gas pedal also...

- Amelia, OH, USA

problem #30

Jan 202016


  • 171,127 miles
Accelerator car speeds up on its on when I am driving on it's own. Rps getting to the highest level cant hardly stop car

- Hobart, IN, USA

problem #29

Feb 212015


  • 144,000 miles
I was driving my Saturn tonight and noticed that even when I would let off the brake, the car would accelerate and rpms would stay elevated. I was driving at about 35-40mph. I was coming up to an intersection and it simply didn't feel right, like it was pulling forward. The traffic light turns red and I start to apply pressure to the brakes. It felt like the brakes were resisting and it was taking a lot more pressure than usual to slow down. My car would not come to a complete stop and I was going ~5mph right up to the crosswalk. The car started violently lurching forward and still, wasn't coming to a stop. The rpms were revving and I was able to react in time to put the car in neutral, keep braking, and turn the engine off right before things would have ended very badly. I kept my car in park and turned it on, and it would shoot up immediately to 4000 RPM. I didn't trust the car at all at this point and sat in -18 degree weather processing what had just happened and what to do next. After about 5 minutes I heard what can be described as the acceleration pedal releasing or popping back up in place. There was nothing it could have been caught on to cause it to stick. Terrifying.

- Kalamazoo, MI, USA

problem #28

Jan 102015


  • 136,000 miles


Coming to a stop in heavy traffic alarms and lights went off, the car lost powering and wouldn't go into gear finally when the gear engaged it would only stay in first gear. Luckily we were able to pull off the busy highway and get safely to the side of the road with no accidents or injuries.

- Ortonville, MI, USA

problem #27

Dec 112013

Ion 4-cyl

  • 111,000 miles
This has happened numerous times and is really scary! the gas pedal sticking it gets really stiff and doesnt want to stop. The one time I was going 25 mph and it wouldn't stop so I had to slam it in park and the rpms got up to 4. it seems to happen more when it gets cold out. It is not letting up and I am scared for my safety.

- Rockford, IL, USA

problem #26

Dec 012013

Ion 4-cyl

  • 78,000 miles
I was driving along the highway when my car began to accelerate and shift gears strangely. The check engine light came on and then a warning about the power steering. It did feel a little bit harder to drive. Took it to a mechanic who said something about the transmission had come up instead of power steering. Took it to another place who said it was a computer control module. Once checked, engine light turned off and car drove normally. Happened again in March, lost power steering for a few miles before it came back. Engine light came on, stayed on for a day, and then turned off. Searched online for other instances of this happening and found other Saturn Ion owners complaining of same thing, only it applied to 2004 and later. My 2003 is having the same issue as their's.

- Riverside, CA, USA

problem #25

Mar 302014


  • 86,000 miles


The throttle position switch failed on this vehicle while it was being driven. This caused the engine to quit. It would not restart. Replacing the tps cured the problem.

- Columbiaville, MI, USA

problem #24

Sep 252013

Ion 4-cyl

  • 87,000 miles
I was driving down a boulevard, I was doing 40 mph there was a police car in front and there was maybe about 2 car length distance from him. The light hit yellow and I saw him brake so I started braking as well but my car would not brake. The acceleration continued increasing, I didn't know what to do. I was slamming on the brakes but my car did not stop. My car slammed into the police car within seconds. My car was destroyed. My hood was bent in half, my front bumper scratched & peeled. The bumper stood on the car only because I kept trying to brake and the car went in an angle where it went under the cops car. Both my side fenders cracked and my front light was destroyed. The whole car frame is destroyed and I was held at fault of this accident. My insurance went up, I didn't get no money to help fix my car nor check the problem. If there is way I can get any type of help I would truly appreciate it. 5 months later the same situation happened again thank god I was not driving my vehicle it was parked. It was just accelerating on its own, I didn't know what to do. I left it parked for a week and when I turned it on it was fine. Im scared that this will happen again, please help me out.

- Brooklyn, NY, USA

problem #23

Feb 112014

Ion 4-cyl

  • 163,000 miles
I have owned this vehicle for 4 yrs and have has multiple instances of the vehicle revving and speeding up without ever hitting the gas. When this occurs I have reached speeds over 25mph without ever hitting the gas pedal when taking off from a stopped position. Usually this happens when I start the vehicle initially but has occurred while driving also. The RPM's will go high and if I put in gear the car will just take off. It sometimes will rev down after idling for a few minutes or if I shut off and restart after a couple minutes. When it happens while driving I have had to put in neutral and coast to a stop and shut car down. This is just a very unsafe situation altogether, and from what I have seen there are many more who have experienced this same issue.

- Greencastle, IN, USA

problem #22

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 #21

Feb 262014


  • 80,000 miles


The contact owns a 2003 Saturn Ion. The contact stated that the vehicle suddenly accelerated while the driver attempted to cross an intersection. The driver was able to shift the gear into neutral, move onto the road shoulder and release the accelerator pedal that was stuck to the floor board. The vehicle returned to normal function after restarting but only for a brief moment. The failure was experienced several times. The contact's mechanic cleaned the throttle however, the failure was not corrected. The vehicle was taken to dealer to have a diagnostic performed. The VIN was not available. The manufacturer was made aware of the failure. The failure and the current mileage was 80,000.

- Davenport , IA, USA

problem #20

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 #19

Feb 102014

Ion 4-cyl

  • 112,650 miles
The gas pedal gets stuck when pressed more than roughly 50% of throttle (~I.e. accelerating to merge or pass another vehicle). While driving on the highway, when I released the gas pedal, I noticed the car did not slow down. I used the brake and still could not slow the car down. Then I proceeded to reach with my hand to pull up the gas pedal, but I could not. At this point, facing an imminent crash incident, I quickly turned on my hazard lights, shifted the car into neutral, and let the car roll to a stop. I then proceeded to attempt to pull the gas pedal up by hand and it did not work. Rpms were still running high until finally after waiting about 30 seconds, I heard a 'pop' and the gas pedal came out. I was then able to drive normally, as long as I don't press the pedal down too far.

- Schenectady, NY, USA

problem #18

Jan 182012


  • miles
When accelerating to 35 mph, my accelerator got stuck and continued to accelerate faster. I was able to apply just enough brake pressure to barely make it safely into an empty parking lot where I was able to put my car into park and then shut off my car immediately. I then tried restarting my car and immediately it started revving and speeding forward. I then shut off my car for good and called aaa. While I was on the phone, approximately ten minutes after shutting off my car, I could hear the accelerator release. There was no mat in the way but it was something internal in the car making the accelerate stick. Thank goodness I was able to make that turn into that parking lot when I did and there were no other cars coming the other way before I made that turn.

- Louisville, OH, USA

problem #17

Dec 152011


  • 180,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Saturn Ion. The contact stated the vehicle abnormally accelerated without warning. The engine rpms raced even after the brake pedal was depressed, but the vehicle was hesitant to stop. The contact had to slam the vehicle into park in order to correct the failure. The vehicle was not inspected or repaired. The failure and the current mileage was 180,000.

- Nampa, ID, USA

problem #16

Apr 152010


  • 89,000 miles
The car will be running just fine. Then all of a sudden it accelerates and wants to go fast. I put on the brakes and it does not want to stop. Then the acceleration stops by itself and the car jerks like it is missing a gear. It does this probably about 2 times per week.

- Colorado Springs, CO, USA

problem #15

Apr 152011


  • 80,051 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Saturn Ion. While driving approximately 55 mph, the contact engaged the cruise control but the vehicle suddenly accelerated abruptly without warning. The contact then applied pressure to the brakes, manually depressed the cruise control button and pressed the clutch to disengage the system however, the vehicle continued to accelerate. The contact was able to remove the vehicle from the highway and shut the engine off. The vehicle was towed to a dealer who performed a diagnostic test and confirmed that the cruise control module had froze in acceleration mode and disconnected the system. The manufacturer took a complaint on the contacts behalf and the contact was awaiting a response. The current and failure mileage was 80,051.

- Tehachapi, CA, USA

problem #14

Nov 152007

Ion 4-cyl

  • 60,000 miles
When it is cold I noticed that my car will idle up to 4 and when I put it in drive it will go real fast even with my foot off the gas. When I try to brake it is hard to stop because it just wants to go.

- Copperas Cove, TX, USA

problem #13

Jan 202011


  • 120,000 miles
I was driving on hwy at 60 mph for approx 2 ½ hours. When foot was off gas, car would maintain speeds of 55-60 mph. Exited onto exit ramp on right. Exit ramp was approx 0.4 miles long, snow covered, and uphill. Applied the brake on & off while approaching the stop sign at the end of the exit ramp, car slowed to approx 20 mph with brake fully pressed. RPM's were approx 4,000 with brake fully pressed. Car continued accelerating with brake fully pressed. Couldn¿T stop, but was able to turn left and cross bridge over highway. Tried putting foot under gas pedal to see if it was stuck down, but it was not down. Continuously tried to brake, but could not slow the car to below 20 mph even with brake fully pressed. Roads were snow covered. Went approximately 0.5 miles on prairieview rd. No cars were stopped at red light on prairieview as I approached. Fully pressed and held down brake right before coming to red stoplight on prairieview rd & oak St/us-150. Car would still not go below 15-20mph. Turned right to avoid crossing into oncoming traffic. Lost control of the car and began spinning on the snow. Brake was still fully pressed down but accelerating at 3,000 RPM. Car did two 360's on oak St/us-150 crossing into oncoming traffic and went into ditch on left side of the road. Car was still accelerating, came out of the ditch and back into another 360 on oak St/us-150. Then car went into the ditch on the right side of the road. Front right passenger door hit wooden sign in ground in ditch, knocked it down, and ran it over. Car drove another 20-30 feet in ditch and got stuck in bottom of ditch. Break was fully pressed the entire time car was out of control, but car was still accelerating. When car became stuck in ditch, rpms were still at 3,000. With car in park it continued accelerating at 3,000 rpms. Turned car off. 5 hours later before car was towed, turned car back on and rpms were still holding above 2,000 - have video evidence of this.

- Carmel, IN, USA

problem #12

Nov 022010


  • 93,254 miles
Vehicle was taken to authorized Saturn dealer, 2003 Saturn Ion had continuous high engine idle after being driven at highway speeds. If vehicle was shut off the power control module(PCM) computer reset it self. Saturn dealer serviced the vehicle by re-programming the PCM( 10/21/10) as per a issued service bulletin of 4/2004. This did not work. Then they advised a spring in throttle body (engine) was bad and replaced spring ( 10/28/10). This also did not work, engine still has high idle and I bought the vehicle back on 11/2/10 to the service dealer.. service dealer then hooked up car to computer and has ser tech drive vehicle for over 25 miles, 2 times ; and thenfound another problem. They indicated that the power control module computer had a short and caused a burned out component in the computer. Since the Saturn is no longer being produces, the computer which must be replaced is on back order; and unknown when part will arrive. The Saturn service dealer ( ingersoll auto in danbury ct) advised that the vehicle should not be driven as it was a safety hazard, since the computer controls not only the engine but the ABS braking system. At this time unknown when a part will arrive as it is on back order. In searching the internet I found numerous complaints from person who also had problems with the power control module computer. I believe that GM/Saturn has had full knowledge of the problem and should have taken care of this problem prior; and as other owners of Saturn are having this serious problem then GM should be making replacement parts for this computer more available to Saturn owners. Ingersoll auto in danbury ct has advised me that they do notknow when the replacement computer will be available as there is no part available in the entire usa. Part will have to be made by GM and unknown when this will happen. So my 2003 Saturn Ion must be left at the dealer until a replacement computer is sent by GM, so my car can be repaired.

- New Windsor, NY, USA

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