NHTSA — Steering: Electric Power Assist System Problems

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.


definitely annoying
Crashes / Fires:
0 / 0
Injuries / Deaths:
0 / 0
Average Mileage:
45,000 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

problem #6

Mar 022010


  • 64,000 miles


The contact owns a 2003 Saturn Ion. While driving at 30 mph the contact noticed that the vehicle would stall. The dealer was contacted and the contact was informed that the mileage was high and they did not have enough complaints from NHTSA to recall the vehicle. The contact has also experienced problems with the power steering when driving at a speed of 15-20 mph. The contact took the vehicle to an authorized dealership and they informed her that the electric power steering motor needed to be replaced.the approximate failure mileage was 64000 and the current mileage was 74500.

- Columbus, OH, USA

problem #5

Aug 122006


  • 30,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Saturn ion2. The contact stated his power steering at unpredictable times did not operate. The warning light would illuminate before power steering failed. He would pull the vehicle to the side of the road, turn the motor on and off and it would resets itself. The dealer was called and stated they need to replace the power steering at a cost of $300. The failure mileage was 30,000 the current mileage is 60,000.

- Lindenhurst, IL, USA

problem #4

Oct 292009

Ion 4-cyl

  • Manual transmission
  • 60,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Saturn Ion level 1. when turning the steering column or when striking a bump the power steering failed. She had to turn the vehicle off, to reset the error code. Her mechanic gave her tsb 06-02-32-00. He then advised her to be aware of the failure, because it was a manufacturers defect. She took the vehicle to the dealer. The dealer replaced the power steering motor at an expense of $400. The failure mileage was 60,000. The current mileage was 75,000. Updated 12/8/09 the dealer replaced the electric steering motor. Updated 12/09/09. Updated 05/28/10.

- Melbourne, FL, USA

problem #3

Apr 182008

Ion 4-cyl

  • Manual transmission
  • 61,000 miles


Power/electric steering on 2003 Saturn Ion is malfunctioning making the wheel extremely difficult to turn and driving very dangerous. The incident resulted in temporary loss of control of the vehicle and could easily have lead to a serious accident.

- Dartmouth, 00, USA

problem #2

Sep 262007

Ion 4-cyl

  • Manual transmission
  • 55,000 miles
The 2003 Saturn Ion-3 power steering goes out while driving. It will work again, for a while, after the car has been restarted. This car has the electric power steering unit enclosed in the steering column. Saturn has advised me this is a $1000 repair on a four year old car with 55,000 miles. I see that there is an investigation on Pontiac G6 autos for this same problem. I would recommend expanding that investigation to include all GM cars with the electric power steering.

- Olathe, KS, USA

problem #1

Mar 092004

Ion 4-cyl

  • Manual transmission
  • miles
Saturn Ion 3 electric power steering. 2003. Power steering-electric: It appears that the electric power steering is programmed to give more assist in a panic situation. Sensors detect when the steering wheel is being moved rapidly, and immediately give more assist, making the wheel very easy to turn. Since most people over-correct in a panic situation, this increase in assist is exactly the wrong thing to do. This is especially noticeable on interstate highways where the speed really accentuates the effect. I do 90% of my driving on the interstate, so this is of particular concern to me. I now have 20,000 miles on this vehicle and have known about this odd steering behavior since about 2000 miles when I swerved to avoid an animal and almost drove off the road. If the car was still within the 30 day, 1500 mile buy back period, it would have gone back. Even knowing that the problem exists, and occasionally giving the wheel a sharp movement so that I know how the car reacts, I almost hit the guard-rail when I was surprised by another car drifting into my lane on the date below. I tell every Saturn Ion owner that I meet about the problem. A friend's son drove their Ion off the road about a month ago under similar circumstances. Owners who don't often Venture on to the interstates are reluctant to believe there is any such problem with their new car. The same is true of the Saturn dealership that I have taken my car to. They send me on my way, drive a couple of miles, tell me they drove 50 miles and that the car is perfectly fine. I don't know of anyone who has been killed by this problem, but I'm sure it is only a matter of time.

- Barneveld, NY, USA

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