Transmission Slipping Seal Of This Might Hurt 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.


pretty bad
Typical Repair Cost:
Average Mileage:
126,350 miles
Total Complaints:
3 complaints

Most Common Solutions:

  1. not sure (2 reports)
  2. replace transmission (1 reports)
2003 Saturn Ion transmission problems

transmission problem

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2003 Saturn Ion Owner Comments

problem #3

May 132016


  • CVT transmission
  • 158,990 miles


This happened earlier today but has happened many, many times before... Usually I try to keep my car around the 70mph or less mark and it doesn't seem to happen as often, but it still happens. When I'm driving the car will suddenly seem to slip out of gear, though it is still in drive and the rpm's will keep going up while the car continues to slow down and I am not able to accelerate. I then have to pull over to the side of the road with hazard lights on (given that hopefully there is somewhere safe to pull over, it's extremely scary to have to slow down and pull over when you're in the middle of the interstate), then if I turn the car off and turn it back on, the car will usually run fine again.

I haven't had any accidents yet, but I'm sure it's definitely a possibility. I have two children and another on the way right now so this is a very scary situation for me. Also, I was in the ATM drive thru at the bank the other day and when I tried to shift my car back into gear and go, the car was stuck in park and would not shift. I had to turn the car off twice to get it to finally shift and nearly went into a panic attack because there were several cars waiting in line behind me. I would have liked to get this problem fixed when it first happened, but unfortunately, I just can't afford a new transmission, and seeing as there is no recall for these transmissions, even though there are thousands of complaints, I know I can't get it taken care of. This is a safety issue and it should be a recall!

- Christina D., PARRISH, FL, USA

problem #2

Mar 212004

Ion L1

  • Automatic transmission
  • 90,000 miles

I went to the dealership several times to complain about the transmission slipping. Each time I was told that they could not find a problem with the transmission! The transmission slips only occasionally and therefore detection would be very hard. It still does slip on occasion and has not become a major problem.

- Henry H., District Heights, MD, USA

problem #1

May 262013


  • CVT transmission
  • 130,000 miles

I bought this car in the summer of 2012 with about 115000 miles on the car. Things were great, I actually really liked this car! LESS THAN A YEAR LATER, I was on the interstate coming home from running errands with my son. I noticed the car slowing down and attempted to accelerate. Nothing happened, just a lot of loud noises from under the hood, and my RPMs shot up. I tried a few more times to accelerate, and nothing. I drove with my hazards on on the side of the road until I made it to my off ramp. When I pulled over to call my boyfriend, I couldn't shift out of park.

A $45 tow and two mechanics later, I find out my transmission is slipping and will need to be replaced. In any car this is an expensive fix, however I have to assume Saturn created the Ion to terrorize consumers. I did my research online and came across all kinds of information about a class action lawsuit due to the shoddy transmission. Mechanic #2 quoted me around $5800 for a USED transmission, and laughed in my face when I asked about a rebuild. Every wrecking yard in the area does not have the kind of transmission I need, and GM customer service is a joke.

I think the situation speaks for itself. If you're looking for reliability, look elsewhere. I'll be trading this clunker in.

Update from Jun 24, 2013: A GM dealer in my area has quoted for about $4500 for a new transmission. This will have a three year warranty, and as much as I just want a new car, I decided to have it fixed and hope that this car can at least get me through nursing school. Ugh.

- Sabrina G., Berea, KY, USA

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