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.


fairly significant
Typical Repair Cost:
No data
Average Mileage:
39,541 miles
Total Complaints:
1 complaints

Most Common Solutions:

  1. not sure (1 reports)
2003 Saturn Ion transmission problems

transmission problem

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2003 Saturn Ion Owner Comments

problem #1

Jan 092007

Ion Quad Coupe 2.2 L4

  • Automatic transmission
  • 39,541 miles


I took this car in for standard service/oil change, passenger compartment air filter, rotate tires as I always did when due. This time I had a concern with a noise I was hearing. Sounded like exhaust or license plate rattling, Tech comment "Verified customers concern, noise or vibration from front of vehicle, found the noise coming from the transmissions (internally). Recommended to reschedule for during the week to continue diagnosis". This was a weekend service. 12/23/2006 Rescheduled for 1/09/2007, this time tech comment "upon inspection of vehicle noise, tech could not verify customers complaint at this time. No codes or faults in the system. Vehicle operates as designed". They tried to bill me for this check when they said it was the transmission and to bring it back. They ended up charging is up to "miscellaneous goodwill". On 4/20/09 again during oil change I told the service department I was still hearing noise from the front of the car. This time I noticed it during acceleration or passing, Tech comment; Test drove vehicle, unable to duplicate customers concern at this repair needed at this time". November 2009 I received a letter stating the VTi transmission in my Saturn may exhibit excessive transmission noise or reduced performance. I showed this letter to the Dealership and they still said they could't do anything because they don't hear what I hear. I now had proof I was not hearing things and several times my car would not move when in gear, but again this never happened when under the control of a Saturn service person. I am very disappointed with the fact that I reported issues with my transmission years prior to the civil action brought against Saturn/GM which prompted their letter to me informing me of extended warranty. But my extended warranty is almost up and I have always felt they are just pushing me along to make it past the warranty so they don't have to fix it. This transmission should have been replaced 'free of charge' 2 years ago.

- , Modesto, CA, USA

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