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.


hardly worth mentioning
Crashes / Fires:
0 / 0
Injuries / Deaths:
0 / 0
Average Mileage:
67,901 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 miscellaneous problems

miscellaneous problem

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2003 Saturn Ion Owner Comments

problem #12

Dec 122015


  • 158,068 miles


Upon receiving recall notice#14063 ignition replacement and #14113 ignition lock cylinder and ignition key for vehicle from G.M. vehicle was taken to dealership to have recalls preformed in doing so dealership removed hand controls for disabled driver. Hand controls were not placed into previous state as vehicle was first brought in. Dealership is not certified to install, remove, modify or maintain hand controls for disabled driver. Dealership failed to notify vehicle owner of hand control removal to preform recalls. In an attempt to reinstall in original position upon leaving dealership owner discovered that the hand controls had been modified into an unsafe operating position by disabled owner. Vehicle was driven to owners home less than one mile from dealership. Where it will remain until it can be towed to a certified dealership to modify hand controls into proper position for disabled owner to safely operate vehicle. As of now vehicle is inoperable for safe use by owner.

- Henderson, NV, USA

problem #11

Dec 012014


  • miles
I had received a recall letter from GM for my 2003 Saturn Ion December 2014: GM recall # 14632 which states "that my vehicle's transmission shifter may not properly transmit an electrical signal that allows the ignition key to be turned counter clockwise past the accessory mode to the lock position after the vehicle has been shifted into park." This is happening to my car and I have taken it in for the repair on 5 different occasions to 2 different dealerships and it fails the very next day. I have a reference # that I filed with GM and the sr advisor recommended that I try a different dealership which I did but the issue remains. I have tried to call back the sr advisor but I continue to get voicemail and she has not returned my call. I am not sure what to do if GM issues a recall and they cannot repair the default.

- Port Richey, FL, USA

problem #10

Jul 262015


  • 189,188 miles
Sunroof glass shattered. While backing out of the drive I heard a thump on the roof of the car. Then while driving down the road I began to notice pieces of glass flying off the car. When I got of the car I saw pieces of glass on the inner cover of the sunroof.

- Plymouth, MI, USA

problem #9

May 292015


  • 109,000 miles


My mechanic told me to report this problem. I have a 2003 Saturn Ion and as I was driving the clutch pedal snapped up almost to the dash. I was barely able to get my leg up high enough to push it back down to shift. It would stay down for awhile then do it again sometimes as high sometimes about half way up. The pedal needed to be replaced. The car has 109,000 miles on it. He had a hard time getting parts for it because it was out of stock and on back order at most places. This is a real safety issue because when it first happened I completely missed the clutch and just pulled it out of gear without shifting. The pedal was up by the dash and my foot went under it. I am glad I wasn't on a highway. Since the parts are on back order my mechanic thinks it might need a recall.

- Gary, IN, USA

problem #8

Apr 012014

Ion 4-cyl

  • 117,356 miles
My name is [xxx] and, my 2003 Saturn Ion just shutdown while I was driving. I couldn't restart my car so another motorist helped me push my car on the shoulder side of the road. I called a local Chevy dealership, I gave them my name, my contact information and, my vehicle information. And, Chevy still til this day haven't returned any of my phone calls, my messages, and they're refusing to fix the recalls for my vehicle. Information redacted pursuant to the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. 552(B)(6).

- Philadelphia, PA, USA

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problem #7

Mar 242010


  • 176,100 miles
Intermittent issues with vehicle not starting. Insert key into ignition, turn and nothing. Vehicle dash lights come on, but nothing turns over. Well-known issue as noticed on several message boards. Per Saturn and others with this issue, the ignition switch and/or the wiring harness need to be replaced - which cost a lot of money. The system is supposed to "reset" itself after 10 minutes - however up to 24 hours passes without the system resetting itself.

- Levittown, PA, USA

problem #6

Dec 092006


  • 60,000 miles


The contact owns a 2003 Saturn Ion. The vehicle fails to start in cold weather or will occasionally take more than five minutes. The vehicle has not been diagnosed by the dealer. The contact replaced the battery and made minor repairs, but the failure still persists. The VIN was unknown. The failure mileage was 60,000.

- Strongsville, OH, USA

problem #5

Dec 292003

Ion 4-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • miles
I own a 2003 Saturn Ion. The battery went dead today because my wife left the lights on by accident. When the battery in this model car becomes discharged two undesireable problems arise. I feel that both of them introduce safety concerns. First, the key won't come out of the ignition switch through normal means. Second, the car can't be moved! the gear shift lever remains in the park position. I feel that a car designed such that these two problems occur when the battery fails is a poor design. The instruction manual provided with the car makes no mention of these problems occuring with a dead battery. In order to jump a dead battery in a car it is often necessary to move the car I N order to jump the battery from another car. I feel having an intentional design in a car that prevents it from being moved by the owner creates a safety concern. Regarding the key situation, my wife left her entire set of keys in the car when they got stuck in the ignition switch. Many important keys were left in the car unattended. It could have made a bad situation much worse. It turns out that the instruction manual in the car discusses how to get stuck keys out of the ignition switch, but no mention is made in the book that keys will get stuck in the ignition switch when the battery goes dead. I spoke to the consumer complaint department at Saturn regarding this concern, but it is not Saturn's policy to respond to this type of customer complaint. Since I feel these two problems do have a safety impact, I decided to register this complaint with the NHTSA.

- Beacon, NY, USA

problem #4

Oct 172003

Ion 4-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 5,100 miles
I bought a Saturn Ion in early August of 2003. I have had 5 separate occasions where the vehicle has stalled out on me and had no control of the car what so ever! the latest time was at the interstate at 65 miles per hour with an eight wheeler truck right behind me. Had I not thought quick and put the car in neutral and restarted the car or else I would have been hit it the rear by a several ton vehicle. I could have been killed! the entire power to the car dies !! the steering column locks up and you the entire car "shuts down" and you are stuck in front of another car w/ only the prayer of restarting your Saturn Ion so that you are not killed! the first person I spoke with in the service department told me that he had heard of this in a "couple of other cars" the service manager claimed he had no knowledge of what the "first service technician was talking about." I am outraged that Saturn said they would try to get the car to "duplicate" this problem for them. I have told them that it is not something that happens everyday or even every week. Their response was "we can't fix what we do not know is broken" I am going to ask that the car be returned to gmac which is the lean holder! I do not think this is a safe vehicle for myself and my small children. "I strongly discourage others from purchasing the Saturn Ion !!!! I feel as if I have been riding in a death trap!! outraged unfortunate Saturn owner of winston-salem.

- Kernersville, NC, USA

problem #3

Jun 122003

Ion 4-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 3 miles
I purchased my 2003 Saturn Ion quad 3 on 6-12-2003. I've had nothing but problems with it since the beginning. The transmission slips constantly. A tech from spring hill says this is normal for this type of transmission. Trying to turn left in front of oncoming traffic is a nightmare. This car is in the shop as we speak. The rear quarter panel is cracked and being replaced. The rear bumper is being painted because of scratches from the trunk rubbing. The front bumper is being painted because of runs in the paint. None of the body panels seem to match up. They're attempting to fix a popping noise in the front end. They're replacing the dr side glass because it is severely scratched. It sometimes runs rough at first crank.

- Bartlett, TN, USA

problem #2

Sep 192003


  • Automatic transmission
  • miles
On three different occasions my knee has accidentally hit the keys, causing the engine to shut off. My wife has had this happen once. I am 6 foot 3 inches, my wife is 5 foot 6 inches. In other words, normal heights. Two of these occasions have been on a freeway, going 65 mph. Luckily traffic has been light so there has not been an accident. Had traffic been heavier, this could have been much more serious.

- Madison, WI, USA

problem #1

Aug 192003


  • miles
I own a Ion 2003, when we purchased the car we also purchase the plastic window guards from the dealer. I had problems with the back door, the two parts making up the door were separating at top of window. They try to gluing, it didn't work, then they try something else and it did work, and finnally they order a new part. When they install the new part, they removed the plastic guard fron the window and said they will replace it at the next oil change. Well the next oil change came a they not only did not replace the window guard but they removed the guard from the other window!!!!they stated the guard was the caused of the problem. Now I want to know are the doors safe. My wife place my grand child in the back seat. Is there a bigger problem with the doors "??"

- Old Bridge, NJ, USA

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