Won't Start Intermittently

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.


pretty bad
Typical Repair Cost:
Average Mileage:
90,700 miles
Total Complaints:
12 complaints

Most Common Solutions:

  1. not sure (10 reports)
  2. have had new starter 2 new bateries tune since buying 10-08 (1 reports)
  3. install remote start (1 reports)
2003 Saturn Ion engine problems

engine problem

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2003 Saturn Ion Owner Comments

problem #12

Nov 082012

Ion 2.2L

  • Automatic transmission
  • 113,000 miles


Car will sometimes not start in cold weather. It acts like the battery is dead but if I turn the headlights on they are as bright as they should be. It only happens when it is cold out. I roamed the internet and found many complaints of the same deal happening to many other people.

From hours spent on the web researching this I have found what it is. Saturn used some type of grease in the ignition system (for the start key) that was not rated for cold climates. This grease will not transmit the information from your coded key to the ignition system. This in turn activates the ANTI THEFT system and shuts off the FUEL PUMP. You can continue to crank away all day and it will never start. Refer to your owners manual about the anti theft system.

The only solution is to wait about fifteen minutes and attempt to start it again. I have never had mine fail to start after waiting. I guess you could have a mechanic replace the grease. I totaled my car out on a big deer so the point is moot with mine.

Other than that I really liked the car.

- Steve R., Melvin, MI, US

problem #11

Dec 072009


  • Automatic transmission
  • 89,000 miles

I have a 2003 ION really like the car but it won't start in the winter. Starter,alternator , and battery are fine. Now I heard it might be the ignition system. Any suggestions? It seems to be okay when it's housed in my attached garage but if I go out for any length of time I"m stuck. This only happens when it's cold out. Never a problem in the summer months. Makes me look like an idiot when I tell the guy at the auto parts store the problem. Come on Saturn I know you're closed but think of the previous owners and new owners . Give us a clue to fix the problem economically.

- franm, Akron, OH, US

problem #10

Dec 152012

Ion 3

  • Automatic transmission
  • 58,565 miles

I have put two batteries in the car. Have taken to dealer, but since the problem is intermittent they do not know what to do. I have set in the cold, and the heat waiting for the car to turn over. I love the car, but when you do not know when it is going to happen then it is scary, especially if you have to be somewhere on time. It will be starting fine and then it starts having the problem and you are stuck.

- Lilly S., Blackfoot, ID, US

problem #9

Jul 142005


  • Automatic transmission
  • 18,000 miles


My wifes Ion was doing the iffy start thing, whether hot,cold ,daytime or nighttime. I heard of all the fixes described on this site and decided to go with a remote start. Not only did it fix the problem but it is very nice to have in I cold weather. I did install it myself so I don't know what the cost would be if you had someone else do it.

- pcole, Framingham, MA, US

problem #8

Nov 042010


  • Automatic transmission
  • 211,844 miles

i hate this car ....it won't start, great car other wise

- Jessica C., Buda, TX, US

problem #7

Mar 112010

Ion V4

  • Automatic transmission
  • 177,000 miles

Number 4 got it....I've lived in Arizona and Massachusetts with this car. This problem has happened to me in 120degree weather, and -20 with the windchill factor...In the rain, snow, dry, and humid weather. I'm just glad to know I'm not crazy and this has happened to alot of you. I've replaced the starter, ignition, battery, wiring and it still happens...Also, had my suspension system totally replaced by my family mechanic last year and it's gone again. SATURN SUCKS!

- Jonathon R., Dracut, MA, US

problem #6

Jun 012007


  • Manual transmission
  • 120,000 miles


2003 Saturn NO START ION... this started when I was working in California...weather was not a factor... moved back to Seattle area and have had the problem continuously... I call the dealership to make an appointment to take it in... they said they didn't know what the problem would be until they put it through diagnostics... there are posts all over the internet regarding the saturn ions not starting and it being a PASS/LOCK issue... what ever that is... my car doesn't start in the mornings and sometimes in the afternoons when I'm leaving work... it's every day now... not just intermittently.. Funny... everyone else knows what the problem is except for my local dealership which I will have to take it into and they will charge me an outrageous price to diagnos it and hopefully fix it.. Its too bad too cuz the car has been great other than that... so I will not be buying a saturn when I go car shopping next month

- Lanette K., Milton, WA, US

problem #5

Oct 182008

Ion Ion 2

  • Automatic transmission
  • 66,463 miles

got this car used from dealer, he put new tires and wheels on, new seat covers, head liner, new starter, 2 new batteries, tune up, detailed car, oil change filter etc. they did all this because they had problems starting car some days, they sold me car it was fine

Then when weather started getting cold it would not start for long periods slam car door

slam trunk lid the maybe it would start the same problem when I upgraded my gas to better gas the have to keep my tank above 1/4 full or problem reoccurred, dealer replaced

my new battery with another new battery in January, the problem happened again

3 more times every one thinks I'm nuts but Saturn sucks would never buy another one

on every web site with problems this is listed no recall issued 2003 also had this starting problem I am disabled and need my car to work

- ks2524777, Danville, IN, US

problem #4

Feb 282007

Ion 1 2.4L

  • Manual transmission
  • 43,000 miles

I have a 2003 Saturn Ion Sedan and at about 43K miles it started having a problem and it is currently sitting at 69K. I am the second owner. From what I have gathered in my research on this issue is that this is just a known issue but no known solutions. People have replaced everything from fuel pumps to sensors and even ignitions and starts, I even read a post where they replaced the WHOLE steering column. The problem I am experiencing I have now encountered for about 1.5 yrs and just the other day, it happened again. First time it ever started to happen, I kind of hit the front end of my Saturn going to fast over a dip after a really bad snow storm. Then my car didn't want to start the next day, not even after I parked it from going over the dip. The car was placed on a slightly slanted hill with the nose down. But it would start if I left it alone for 10min exactly. I kept track of how my car was positioned, what I had just came from doing, how long it was sitting before I tried to start it and how I was driving before I came to a complete stop. So as time went on, it finally did it again. Wasn't cold outside, once again slightly slanted hill but different location, had plenty of gas. Battery cables good to go, although the thought of having a splice in the cable that goes from the engine to the battery located in the trunk!. Nope!!!, ruled out. Finally I gave up and took it to Saturn Dealership, after 8hrs of waiting in the sitting area, they could not figure out why it was happening but did state that the computer was a LITTLE off, but they didn't believe that could cause this problem. It took so long because they had problems reconfiguring the computer. All the family mechanics and known private mechanics no one knows. Finally this issue stopped happening and 1.5 yrs go by I totally spaced out on the issue I had previously that magically disappeared one day (because this has been the only problem I've had with my car). Then the other day, wha la! did it NOT on a slanted hill, beautiful 70 so degrees outside and had put gas in my car, parked at the auto parts store to buy fuel injection cleaner. Put the injection cleaner in my car and, what do you know! it wouldn't start! AH HA!!! so I thought hey! maybe vacuum leak, Gas Cap = Pressure issue. Nope!!!, bought a new gas cap and still has done it 2 more times since.

Now I have read many many posts and the issue that I'm having is.....Turning the ignition the car will crank but then the car just dies (hasn't started yet...) with the ignition still turned to 'start' position it loses all power does not crank anymore no bells no whistles (ah ha! battery, alternator, starter, electrical issue...etc.., not that someone has caught so far). But as soon as you turn the key back to the 'ACC' or 'On' position you get the bells and whistles and then the dashboard reads "service engine". At this point if you attempt to start again, the car will not even crank. If you wait about 3min and try again, the car will crank then die like the battery was drained, once again, but the stereo and all lights (all electrical gagets at that) work. But if you wait at LEAST 10min. it will crank over and start like it never had a problem whatsoever!. FREAKIN MIND BLOWIN!!!......I'll turn off right after it starts up like a champ and it starts up with no problems. Talk about temperamental! geez! I mean it's not a huge issue as of yet because IT WILL eventually start ha ha, but at 10min from when you try, every now and then, when it feels like it. I believe this to be just a Saturn Ion issue because it's the newer version of the S-series of Saturn and it has happened with soooooo many variables considered such as but not limited to weather, year, model and mileage.

RECAP: INTERMITTENTLY No Start (from my experience and research) Not throttle, air, idle, or any type sensor Not fuel pump Regardless of weather Not battery or battery cables Not starter Not steering wheel electrical Not vacuum leak Not computer

- colorado saturn, Northglenn, CO, US

problem #3

Dec 132008


  • Manual transmission
  • 85,870 miles

When it's really cold outside my Saturn ION 1 won't start. Especially if I just run a quick errand and it's been off for only 10-15 minutes. It won't start. Then I have to sit there an wait, usually after waiting 10 minutes, I try it again and it starts like normal. This only happens in the winter, when it's really cold out.

I found a site listing several complaints of this same issue for the 2004 ION. Nobody has an answer and the dealerships don't either:


- mlsia, Cedar Rapids, IA, US

problem #2

Nov 172008


  • Automatic transmission
  • 45,000 miles

2003 Saturn Ion intermittently will not start, does not turn over. Happens during the fall and winter during cooler weather in Minnesota. Will usually start 20 minutes later and starts as though nothing were wrong.

Had same problem last winter. The Saturn dealership replaced a switch in the steering column (cost over $100) but later it did not start again. Took it back and they tightened the battery connections, but later it did not start again. I no longer have faith the dealership knows what is wrong or how to fix it.

- George V., Roseville, MN, US

problem #1

Mar 102008

Ion 3

  • Automatic transmission
  • 60,500 miles

I have brought this to two mechanics and the dealer. They each put it on the computer and then tell me it is fine. Battery, starter and alternator all check out fine. BUT when it is cold and damp the sucker will not start. It takes me anywhere from ten to fifteen minutes to get this thing to start!

- mikela, New Orleans, LA, US

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