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 6 of 6)

« Read the previous 20 complaints

problem #10

Jun 302009


  • 110,000 miles


There is a failure in the computer for my power steering for my 2003 Saturn Ion. I have called the Saturn dealership and was told my them that this a common problem with this model of car.I was to it will cost around $700 to fix it. The problem is that my power steering will go on and off while driving. It will be on all the time if im turning alot but if im driving straight for a period of time it will turn off making it hard to drive around corners in speeds excess of 65mph. I have had many problems and incidents with this malfunction but the main of that I can think of is when im taking a curve on a highway doing 65mph and the power steering is off, and then will turn on half way through the turn sending me into the other lane because im putting for into the turn when I should need to. When it turns back on it will make a cracking sound while I turn the wheel and then turn on. Right away this had caught me off guard and almost got me in a couple accidents. Iam use to it now and expect it when im taking curves. The problem started at about 110,000 miles on my car which isnt a small amount and isnt a large amount. I now have about 119,000 miles on my car and I have noticed the problem is getting worse and worse and is getting more dangerous. It started with a simple cracking noise every now and then but I thought maybe it was temporary problem but now from what ive read and experienced, this is not a problem that can really be ignored anymore. This is the unit that keeps me on the road at high speeds and it turns on and off. That is not right or safe.

- Wisconsin Rapids, WI, USA

problem #9

Mar 252010


  • 54,824 miles
I have a 2003 Saturn ion3. The power steering stops working in warmer weather. When the temperature outside gets above freezing my power steering starts acting up. It will go out 3-4 times a week, which is all the driving I do in a week. The car has 88,000 km on it.

- Collingwood, Ontario, 00, USA

problem #8

Jan 102010


  • 71,000 miles
I was driving to a basketball game at a school and as I turned into the school, my power steering went out. It was unexpected. I drove up on the sidewalk at the school to stopped the car. I wasn't going fast but I had no idea it was about to happen. If there had been kids out there someone would have gotten hurt.

- Centerville, OH, USA

problem #7

Jun 152009


  • 70,000 miles


I have a 2003 Saturn Ion 1, it has continually gotten worse with the "power steering" failure. With the code that came up on the dash, it shows to replace the entire steering column. After $835 dollars spent, it has gotten even worse. It is suggested that perhaps the motor is the issue, at another $400 plus dollars, but no guarantee. It is unsafe to drive as it is, with the loss of power when you least expect it, however, it is most of the time, now. If I need to make an emergency turn, and the power goes out, it is not going to happen. It's an accident waiting to happen. This should have been recalled long ago, but now I am stuck with the expense of it.....

- Beaver Dam, WI, USA

problem #6

Apr 182009


  • 91,000 miles
My 2003 Saturn Ion has a major steering problem that is a serious safety issue. When turning the steering wheel, it sometimes will not turn like normal. It is sometimes slow and does not want to turn, or will keep turning and not want to straighten out. This is because of a faulty steering system which has an electric steering motor. There are numerous other Ions with this problem that I have read about, not just the '03. I am not even able to diagnose the problem at home because of the special equipment needed to scan the electronic systems. My Saturn warranty has expired and I have read that it could cost $1200 to fix. Plus the parts are not even sold at any parts store. There has not been an accident yet but the car is no longer a safe vehicle and I am discontinuing use until the problem is resolved.

- Norton, OH, USA

problem #5

Aug 252007


  • 40,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Saturn Ion. The contact was able to remove the key from the ignition while the vehicle was in any gear, including drive or reverse. She took the vehicle to the dealer at least twice and each time they stated that there was a different failure. The dealer wants to replace the steering column all the way through the engine to determine the cause of the failure. The key would not turn all the way back to the acc position unless the vehicle had been idling for at least 3-5 minutes. The contact found NHTSA campaign id number 97V055000 (electrical system:ignition:switch) for the same make, but a different model and the previous year. The contact feels that the recall should be expanded for her year, make, and model vehicle. She found hundreds of complaints online regarding this failure. The failure began within a week of purchasing the vehicle. The failure mileage was 40,000 and current mileage was 41,000.

- Casselberry, FL, USA

problem #4

Oct 172008


  • 55,557 miles


Electric power steering turns off while driving, making steering very difficult and extremely unsafe. There are reports on-line about most people almost losing control of the vehicle, and at least one person who recently crashed on the 405 freeway.

- Carpinteria, CA, USA

problem #3

Aug 302008


  • Automatic transmission
  • 60,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Saturn Ion. While driving 60 mph, the power steering fails intermittently and makes steering difficult. The failure increases the risk of a crash. The contact is in the process of notifying the dealer in order to determine the cause of the failure. The failure and current mileages were 60,000. Updated 10/16/08 updated 10/20/08.

- Edgewater, MD, USA

problem #2

Jun 152003

Ion 4-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 1,984 miles
I bought a 2003 Saturn Ion 3 March 17, 2003. Within 2 weeks the car had a cracked cylinder with coolant leaking into the engine. Saturn Corp. Recalled the car. The purchase of [xxx] was canceled 4/17/03 and I purchased a 2nd 2003 Saturn Ion 3, [xxx], on 4/17/03. The 2nd car from the beginning had transmission problems shifting between gears, jerking up and down from 30 mph to 70 mph, kicks when started, rattles loudly in reverse, and steering problems coming out of turns. The car has been in service 4 times (bumper to bumper warranty. Information redacted pursuant to the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. 552(B)(6).

- Davie, FL, USA

problem #1

Jan 022004

(reported on)


  • miles
When tires spin transmission disconnects. Then. Vehicle has to be towed. This normally happens when it is snowing. Also, steering wheel turns from left to right on its own.

- West Glover, VT, USA

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