SAAB Buyers Guide

By Richard Elliott
SAAB Owners Club Technical Editor
Updated January 2004

It is always advisable to buy a car with full service history. If the service book is missing it may have service history and your local SAAB dealer may be able to help locate this information. It is also advisable to have a potential purchase HPI checked which will alert you if the car has been stolen, written off, or is subject to an outstanding finance agreement.

Prices indicated in this guide include parts, labour, and VAT, however they are intended for guidance only.

SAAB 9-5 Saloon and Estate

The new SAAB 9-5 was introduced in 1998 and replaced the 9000, although the new car doesn't offer a hatchback option. Unlike the 900 launched in 1994, which went through a steep development curve, the 9-5 was well tried and tested before it was launced on the European market so early models are still a good buy.
The 9-5 offers excellent value for money, particularly if you buy a high mileage car with full service history. For example an R registered car with 120k mile on the clock may cost around £3500


The good points

All are low pressure or full turbo, with a turbo diesel option.
Roomy, comfortable long distance cruiser. Lots of innovative ideas, black panel that kills all but most vital instrument illumination at night, novel interior light control that automatically lights when ignition key removed or door unlocked. Saab audio package good quality and safe from predators. Competitive parts pricing policy.

Model List

  • All models are available with 4 doors in a saloon format, or 4 door estate
  • 9-5
  • 9-5 SE - more standard equipment like alloy wheels, audio upgrade, front fog lamps, leather option etc.
  • manual, automatic
  • 2.0 litre and 2.3 litre SAAB engines
  • 3 litre V6 General Motors engine
  • tdi diesel


Transmission

Difficulty selecting reverse on all 9-5 models is caused by damaged reverse synchromesh : requires gearbox strip down to rectify.
Pinion bearing noise can occur at 100k+ miles. Also synchro's can be damaged or worn and need to be checked before purchase All of the above straightforward to repair, but will set you back aroung £800 at a SAAB specialist. Automatic gearbox is very reliable, expect to last over 200k miles.


Engine

On 2.3 and 2.0 engines beware of balance shaft and timing chain rattle: needs immediate investigation and can affect engines at 70k+ miles. Failure will result in serious engine and cylinder head damage. Look for oil seepage from head gasket, common on 2.0 and 2.3. In order to replace the timing chain, unlike the 9000, the complete engine has to be removed adding to the cost of the repair, expect around £1200.
Turbo failure appears common and is evidenced by excess smoke from exhaust when idling. Crankcase breather pipes perish and fail letting fumes into the interior, this also can cause premature turbo failure so needs to be checked. Turbo replacement will cost around £900 inclusive
V6 engines are very smooth and reliable, but servicing costs extra due to cam belt change and more time consuming service work - try fitting a set of plugs!
Diesels require more frequent servicing, at every 9000 miles. Beware of accidental overfilling of engine oil, which can cause major engine damage.


The rest

All models have direct ignition units which still fail like on 9000 causing misfire or non-start (SAAB should have sorted this problem buy now). Costs £180 to fix with new unit.
The 9-5 has a hydraulic clutch and so far seems to cause few problems. Interior dash SID unit and ACC units have poor quality displays which frequently fail and are expensive to replace.

SAAB 900 1994 onwards
and 9-3 up to 2002

The new SAAB 900, now rebadged as the SAAB 93 was introduced in 1994 and is based on a General Motors floorpan, ie Vauxhall/Opel Calibra. All suspension, engines and transmission designed and made by SAAB. Many features from the classic 900 can be seen in the new models, so they are still seen as distinctive. Later models are much improved. For example, early models are very high geared meaning frequent gear changes in traffic. 96 onwards models are a very good buy, earlier model still worth a try and reliable but steep development curve resulted in many small design changes that resulted in many improvements on later models that enhance driver enjoyment and comfort. The new 900, whilst not initially accepted by 900 classic drivers is now gaining new converts by the day, after all the 9000 was not seen by some as a real SAAB as it was based on a FiatlLancia platform.


The good points

Roomy, comfortable long distance cruiser and economical Cheaper insurance than classic 900 or 9000. Lots of innovative ideas, black panel that kills all but most vital instrument illumination at night, novel interior light control that automatically lights when ignition key removed or door unlocked. Saab audio package good quality and safe from predators. Competitive parts pricing policy. Safety, although didn’t fare too well in the EC crash tests scoring 2 stars it is better than the classic 900 but it is high scoring in the States and Sweden. Very good rear seat belts and child seat facility

Model List

  • 900
    • 900 turbo
    • 3 door and 5 door variants
    • manual, automatic and sensonic gearboxes
    • 2.0 litre and 2.3 litre SAAB engines
    • 2.5 litre V6 General Motors engine
  • 9-3
    • 3 door and 5 door variants
    • 2.0 litre and 2.3 litre SAAB engines (from 1999 all 9-3 cars are fitted with eco turbo)
    • tdi turbo diesel
    • Manual or Automatic (auto not available on tdi)

9-3 Improvements

Listed below are some of the major improvements on the 9-3 compared to the 900.
  • hydraulic clutch operation
  • Improved comfort due to fitting of 9-5 seats
  • Improved handling
  • New exterior and interior colours
  • Updated styling
  • V6 engine option dropped, but 2.2 tdi diesel made an option


Transmission

Two faults can cause difficulty selecting reverse on 900 and 9-3 models.
  • Difficulty selecting reverse on pre '95 models requires gearbox strip down and new reverse gear
  • Later models are affected with a different cause, which is damaged or worn reverse synchromesh
Pinion bearing noise at 100k+ miles is straightforward to repair, and check also for worn synchromesh on 2nd and 3rd. Estimate cost of £800 to repair at a SAAB specialist.
Automatic gearbox is very reliable, expect to last over 200k miles. Sensonic models are best avoided unless you really want one, because problems are expensive to rectify.


Engine

On 2.3 and 2.0 engines beware of balance shaft and timing chain rattle: needs immediate investigation and can affect engines at 70k+ miles. Failure will result in serious engine and cylinder head damage. Look for oil seepage from head gasket, common on 2.0 and 2.3. V6 engines are very smooth and reliable, but servicing costs extra due to cam belt change and more time consuming service work - try fitting a set of plugs!


The rest

On turbo models and later 2.3i, direct ignition units fail causing misfire.  Costs £180 to fix with new unit. Top strut mountings on pre 96 models cause knocking noise on front suspension: later design can be fitted for longer life. Heavy clutch operation - cable operated.  Cable failure is not common, but new clutch and cable will restore normal operation.  The new 93 has hydraulic operation which is lighter and smoother. Corrosion can be a problem on early model up to 1995 due to poor resistance to stone chips on the lower part of the doors. This can become a serious problem if not attended to in its early stages.
On the 9-3 some new faults have emerged:
stiff heater distribution control is very difficult to cure without fitting new heater box which requires complete removal of dash. Often caused heater control knob and operating mechanism to break due to stiffness inside the heater box.
SAAB Information Display (SID) units and ACC panel display are often faulty and cost £270 to replace.


SAAB 9000 1985-1997


The SAAB 9000 is based on a floorpan developed by SAAB and Fiat/Lancia.  Cars like the Alfa 164 and the Lancia Thema share the same floorpan, but that's where the similarity ends.  SAAB engineers have designed everything else, including a full range of engines and gearboxes. Used car prices are very good value, offering high spec and staggering performance at a very reasonable price.  Later models such as the 9000 CSE 2.0 eco feature a low pressure turbo, which offers good all round performance and were introduced in 1992.  This model ran up to the end of its production in 1998, when the SAAB 95 was introduced. A CSE will have climate control, cruise control and leather seats as standard on later models. SAAB are well known for their turbocharged cars, and the 2.3 turbo is outstanding.

 

The good points

Roomy, comfortable long distance cruiser Unique 5 door hatchback with fold down rear seats.  Cannot be beaten on space and performance.  Also 4 door saloon (CD model) available High level of standard equipment Well proven and reliable design Seats are probably the best in the industry for comfort, and are particularly of benefit to people with back problems Competitive parts pricing policy


Model List

  • 9000i 2.0 and 2.3 litre
  • 9000 turbo 2.0 and 2.3 litre
  • 9000 3.0 litre V6
Model designations:
CS and CSE introduced 1991 - facelift 5 door model
CD and CDE introduced 1988 - 97 - 4 door saloon
Carlson - high performance sports model, replaced by the Aero in 1992 - 5 door hatchback
Griffin - 4 door saloon with 2.3 litre turbo or 3.0 litre V6 high spec.


Transmission

Difficulty selecting reverse on pre '95 models: requires gearbox strip down and new reverse gear. Later models are not affected, but same model year 94/95 9000 have same problem. Pinion bearing noise at 100k miles, check also for worn synchromesh on 2nd and 3rd gears which can cause jumping out of gear. Straightforward to repair, estimate cost of £800 at a SAAB specialist. Automatic gearbox is not very reliable, expect to last 100k miles. These are made by ZF and can be rebuilt by a specialist. Cost approx. £1,100


Engine

On 2.3 and 2.0 engines beware of balance shaft and timing chain rattle: needs immediate investigation and can affect engines at 70k+ miles. Failure will result in serious engine and cylinder head damage. Look for oil seepage from head gasket, common on 2.0 and 2.3.  Also oil leaks from timing cover and crank oil seal. V6 engines are very smooth and reliable, but servicing costs extra due to cam belt change and more time consuming service work - try fitting a set of plugs!


The rest

On turbo models and later 2.3i, direct ignition units fail causing misfire.  Costs £180 to fix with new unit. Heater matrix often leaks coolant.  Can be detected by unpleasant smell when heater is turned on. TCS (Traction Control) is probably best avoided because the system is not reliable, and expensive to fix.  Some faults can cause the vehicle to be unusable. Top and bottom engine mountings cause vibration As some 9000 models are over 10 years old, areas affected by corrosion are easily identified. Corrosion is more or less confined to the doors in each bottom corner. If your 9000 is rust free in this area, it would be a good idea to treat inside the doors with a suitable rust inhibitor. 

Classic SAAB 900
1979 - 1993

Available in 2 door and 4 door saloon up to 1989, and 3 door and 5 door hatch which are by far the most popular. In 1987 SAAB launched the convertible based on the 16 valve turbo, later versions were also fitted with the normal injection 16 valve engine.
In 1981 SAAB developed a new engine called the H engine, which is based on the original B20 4 cylinder unit that was introduced in 1972. In 1984 SAAB also introduced the B202 16 valve turbo engine. This engine later became available in the 900i without the turbo. Some variants have full pressure turbo denoted by a boost gauge fitted above the fuel gauge. Low pressure turbo models do not have a boost gauge. As far as buying a classic 900 the main problem now is the age of the vehicle, many now sadly suffer from quite major corrosion problems which due to the low value of some older models means they are often scrapped. Certain models are well worth preserving, and spending money sensibly on a restoration project:
  • SAAB 900 16S turbo 3 or 5 door
  • SAAB 900 8 valve turbo 3 or 5 door
  • SAAB 900 16 valve lpt aero
  • SAAB 900 16 valve injection SE
  • SAAB 900 convertible
  • SAAB 900 Carlson
Some of these cars may be automatic, but generally speaking automatics are less desirable. Other variants are also available such as the 2 door carburettor 900, which are good reliable cars but less desirable.



Transmission

Pinion bearing noise at 100k+ miles is straightforward to repair, and check also for worn synchromesh on 2nd and 3rd. Estimate cost of £800 to repair at a SAAB specialist.
Automatic gearbox is reliable but only 3 speed so the car is noisy


Engine

Timing chain rattle mainly on 16 valve engines requires engine removal to rectify properly. Otherwise due to well proven original design the engines are very reliable.


The rest

Corrosion can be a problem on all models, in particular the last ones to be built suffer from seam corrosion in bonnet lids, tailgates, and inside door edges. Earlier versions suffer chassis corrosion at the front wishbone mounting bushes, front inner wings, rear inner wings, and rear tie bar mountings. Stiff power steering requires steering rack replacement to cure, costing around £450.


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