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:
2 / 0
Injuries / Deaths:
2 / 0
Average Mileage:
91,004 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 steering problems

steering problem

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2003 Saturn Ion Owner Comments (Page 3 of 6)

« Read the previous 20 complaints

problem #70

Nov 202013


  • 125,000 miles


The contact owns a 2003 Saturn Ion. The contact stated that while driving 35 mph, the power steering warning lamp illuminated and the vehicle became very hard to maneuver. Also, the contact mentioned that the horn failed to turn off after being pressed. The vehicle was not diagnosed or repaired. The manufacturer was not made aware of the failure. The failure mileage was 125,000 and the current mileage was 129,000.

- Woodbridge, VA, USA

problem #69

Apr 012013

Ion 4-cyl

  • 133,000 miles
Power steering assist turned off while driving down the highway. The chime went off and the "pwr str" message appeared in the dashboard. The loss of power steering has happened numerous times since the initial occurrence. I have tried several times to have a GM dealership replace the part due to the similar issue on similar models. Recently the 2004 Saturn Ions were recalled for this exact issue. I am not sure why the 2003 Saturn Ions were not included. I am confident that it is the same part and the same exact issue. I called the local GM dealership after the recall came out and they said that since there is no recall on the 2003 Ion, that they will not replace the defective part at no charge. Because it is the same part and the same issue, the 2003 Saturn Ions should definitely be added to the recall list.

- Glen Allen, VA, USA

problem #68

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 #67

Apr 202014

Ion 4-cyl

  • 150,000 miles


Why is GM not required to include the 2003 Saturn Ion's in the recall for the power steering problem? I was advise by the GM customer service department that only the models 2004 and above are being recalled yet, I had a dealership confirm that my car has the same defective part as the 2004 models. I have lost power steering while driving on the highway multiple times at speeds over 55 mphs. This happened to my 3 times alone just yesterday. It seems like the problem is getting worse yet GM refuses to correct this problem.

- Glen Rock , NJ, USA

problem #66

Mar 042014


  • 85,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Saturn Ion. The contact stated that when turning the steering wheel in either direction, a banging noise was heard and the wheel would feel bumpy. The contact also indicated that when turning, the steering assist would malfunction, become loose and cause difficulty in the contact controlling the vehicle. The manufacturer was not notified. The failure mileage was 85,000. Updated 7/16/14

- Chicago, IL, USA

problem #65

Nov 072013

Ion 4-cyl

  • 135,789 miles
I was driving on highway 395 South near edsal road exit and I lost the ability to turn the steering wheel. It became hard to turn the wheel. There was no injury to myself or the vehicle.

- Fort Washington , MD, USA

problem #64

Jan 112012

Ion 4-cyl

  • 65,000 miles


Power steering cut off and on while driving on highway...( this has happened more than once) saw there is recall on 2004 and up Saturn Ion but not on 2003" don't they use the same parts? GM will offer lifetime replacement for it would seem that I have to have a crash before GM will fix"

- Simi Valley, CA, USA

problem #63

Apr 222013

Ion 4-cyl

  • 193,000 miles
At all speeds the power steering stops working. Started when making a turn. Steering did not return after turning had to manually force the steering wheel turn back to straight position. Rack and pinion could be the issue. Also makes a growling/rubbing sound.

- Morrice, MI, USA

problem #62

Jan 012011

Ion 4-cyl

  • Manual transmission
  • 88,333 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Saturn Ion. The contact stated while driving 45 mph and attempting to make a turn, the steering wheel became hard to turn. The power steering light illuminated after the failure occurred. The power steering regained normal function when the vehicle was restarted. A local mechanic replaced the steering wheel column. The vehicle was repaired. The manufacturer was made aware of the failure. The failure mileage was 88,333 and the current mileage was 117,000. Updated 5/27/14

- Round Lake Park, IL, USA

problem #61

Apr 022014


  • 48,000 miles
This is more of a question / comment than an incident. It appears that GM is recalling Saturn Ions, model years 2004-2007 for a problem with the electronic power steering assist motor. I am concerned that the 2003 Ion models do not seem to be included in the recall as, from what I can tell from replacement part sites, they are equipped with the identical part, #19207619 electronic power steering motor.

- Columbus, OH, USA

problem #60

Mar 192014

Ion 4-cyl

  • 114,000 miles


The contact owns a 2003 Saturn Ion. The contact stated that while driving 5 mph, the steering wheel seized and the contact she had to use extreme force to make a turn. The vehicle was taken to a certified mechanic where they stated that the power steering assist needed to be replaced. The vehicle was not repaired. The manufacturer was not notified of the failure. The failure mileage was 114,000. Updated 05/28/14

- Cuba, NY, USA

problem #59

Mar 022009

Ion 4-cyl

  • 90,000 miles
While driving at highway speeds steering would suddenly stop working display a power steering system failure on dashboard and enter manual steering mode. I would put car in neutral turn vehicle off and on to reset computer and steering to bring it back to a normal condition. As time progressed the fault would appear more frequently before getting it repaired at local Saturn authorized repair GM facility. Paid close to $1,000 for the repair and parts. Now that vehicle has lifetime warranty all pervious repairs should be refunded to consumers.

- Corpus Christi, TX, USA

problem #58

Nov 012012

Ion 4-cyl

  • 96,000 miles
While driving, complete electrical failure. All dash lights out. Gauges zero. Steering difficult. This continues to happen.

- Howell, MI, USA

problem #57

Mar 252014


  • 139,293 miles
I received a letter from GM about the ignition switch recall either last week or the week before. It stated to drive my vehicle with the ignition key only, not even with the key fob. I was also told that the part is no longer made for my vehicle. The letter also stated that there is no risk of ignition failure as long as the driver uses the key only. I have faithfully followed that since receiving my letter. I am telling you that information is false. As I was driving home tonight, I noticed the engine sounded different. The steering became difficult to control, the battery light illuminated on the dash, and my brakes only responded to very heavy pressure. Basically I had little control of my vehicle. I was less than a mile away from home. I turned into a parking lot with great difficulty, turned off my vehicle and then back on. It was as if nothing happened. I am panicked now. Thank goodness this happened after I exited the highway and it was after rush hour. I'm not sure I would have been able to turn into that parking lot without incident if there was heavier traffic. I immediately called GM when I returned home and told them the car wasn't safe to drive, even with the ignition key only. Customer service didn't seem to understand the danger. We'll see if they follow up. I hope you follow up as well.

- Aberdeen, MD, USA

problem #56

Jan 042014

Ion 4-cyl

  • 80,000 miles
In early January my mother was involved in a serious car accident while driving a 2003 Saturn iron. "I had no control over the car and it all happened so fast" my mother said. She hit a telephone pool then proceeded to roll down over a small hill and flipped, coming to a rest on a concrete divider. When responders arrived her ignition was off and the air bags did not deploy. She was hanging upside down for almost an hour until they were able to cut her out of the car. I have contacted GM and they confirmed that her car is part of the recent ignition switch recall. Please take the recall serious, it could save your L life, and others!

- Yeagertown, PA, USA

problem #55

Sep 092013


  • 136,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Saturn Ion. The contact stated that while driving approximately 30 mph, the steering wheel became inoperable. The contact lost control of the vehicle and the vehicle flipped upside down. The air bags failed to deploy. The vehicle was destroyed. The contact sustained injuries to the head and left leg, and a police report was filed of the incident. The vehicle was towed to a salvage yard. The manufacturer was not made aware of the failure. The approximate failure mileage was 136,000.

- Fayetteville, WV, USA

problem #54

Sep 142010

Ion 4-cyl

  • 70,000 miles
Power steering cuts out suddenly.

- Clinton, UT, USA

problem #53

Oct 152013

Ion 4-cyl

  • 127,820 miles
We purchased this 2003 Saturn Ion used and had the power steering assist motor fail when driving. A quick internet search revealed that this is a widespread problem. GM has acknowledged the problem and has been fixing cars with this issue (2004-2007). This car has the same defective part that is in the later models and should be included with the "special coverage adjustment" issued by GM. It is a very dangerous issue and I hope they consider the 2003 for coverage as well.

- Northville, MI, USA

problem #52

Jul 302013

Ion 4-cyl

  • 126,597 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Saturn Ion. The contact stated that while driving approximately 10 mph and attempting a right turn, the steering wheel seized without warning. The vehicle was taken to an independent mechanic for diagnosis. The mechanic stated that the steering motor would have to be replaced. The manufacturer was not made aware of the failure. The vehicle was not repaired. The approximate failure mileage was 126,597.

- Lakewood, NJ, USA

problem #51

Mar 012011


  • 70,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Saturn Ion. The contact stated while traveling 10 mph, the power steering assist suddenly failed. The vehicle was moved to the shoulder of the road where it was shut down then restarted. The vehicle resumed normal function. The vehicle was taken to the dealer where the failure was not diagnosed. The vehicle was not repaired. The manufacturer was notified about the failure. The failure mileage was approximately 70,000.

- Rensselaer, NY, USA

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