Top List of Most Common Problems with the Saab 9-3

After the success of the Saab 900 and subsequent growth of the company through the late 90′, our favorite car company came out with a completely new car in 2003, as a continuation of the 9-3 name. Commonly referred to as the Sport Sedan, 9-3ss, or 9440 chassis (as opposed to the outgoing 9400 body style), these cars are coming down pretty sharply in price. Because of that, like the Saab 9-5, it is possible to buy a fantastic car for pennies on the dollar (we picked up a running 9-3ss for our next race car for $500). However, like most cars bottoming out in value, it’s important to keep an eye out for the top 10 most common Saab 9-3 problems.

General Motors had a heavy hand when managing Saab’s design and building oversight on this project, which means you will see an increased amount of GM parts-bin sourced components. This is especially noticeable in areas such as switch packs, stereo equipment, and materials used both on the interior, exterior, and engine bay. The chassis is a reworked GM Epsilon platform, roughly shared with a few other GM cars. In 2007 the interior was updated, and in 2008 the 9-3s underwent an external facelift, with many newly designed parts added with both.

saab 9-3

The 2.0 4 cylinder is a GM Ecotec unit that is also used in tons of other applications. That’s not to say this is not a Saab engine, as engineers in Sweden had their hands all over it during the design phase. Additions include the use of Saab’s Ion sensing Trionic system, updated internal materials, block casting processes, valvetrain updates, and a revised cylinder head. This version of Trionic (8 in this case) differs from T5 and T7 because the ion sensing module is a separate unit instead of being built into the direct ignition cassette. This allows for money-saving individual ignition coils instead of a complicated coil pack. Two turbos were offered, a small Garret GT2052s and a larger TD04 for Arc and Aero models.

Since this run of cars is so comprehensive, and so many changes were made over models, we will focus on the most popular 2003-2007 9-3 with the 2.0 engine. Many of these will still translate; however, there are some differences in later facelifted cars, as well as vehicles equipped with the V6 engine. So now that you have the rundown of the car itself, here’s a list of common failure points to keep an eye out for when shopping for one of these cars in no particular order.

SAAB 9-3 Fuel Gauge Reading Empty (Fuel Level Sensor)

It is fairly common to be driving, and witness your fuel gauge suddenly drop to zero. Although this does not affect the drivability of the car, it can be a somewhat annoying problem. The issue is related to a sensor on the fuel pump, which is prone to failure, resulting in a lost signal and an empty fuel reading. The part in question is attached to the fuel pump, but it is available for buying separatelyIt fits all 9-3ss models.

Fuel Gauge Level Sensor
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However, if your car is past 100k miles on the stock fuel pump since you have to drop the tank to do the job, we recommend changing the entire fuel pump unit out with a new TI Automotive one, formally known as Walbro. The fuel pump assembly has the fuel level sensor built-in.Saab 9-3 Fuel Level Sender

9-3 Hesitation, Surging, and Rough Idle (Electronic Throttle Body)

Like nearly all modern cars, the 9-3ss uses an electronic throttle body that is prone to failure.  The throttle body has a rotating ‘butterfly’ plate inside that controls the volume of airflow into the engine, and is controlled electronically via the throttle-by-wire system and the computer inputs.  This means that the computer is in control to more effectively control the engine based on what it thinks you want it to do.

Throttle Body
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However, when these electronics fail inside the throttle body, latency and tolerances increase in operation causing hesitation, surging, and rough idle.  If you are encountering a rough idle, try cleaning the throttle body before replacing it.  A GM dealer TechII scan tool may be required to calibrate the ETB when replacing.  Don’t forget a new gasket!Saab 9-3 Throttle Body


9-3 Clicking Noise In-Dash (Recirculation Motor)

Behind the glovebox is a series of motors that control the HVAC system, one of them is the re-circulation flap motor that opens and closes the vent to use outside air. Inside these little motor, assemblies are a series of small plastic gears that tend to lose more teeth than an aging boxer. This has two outcomes. The first is a very annoying clicking sound around the glovebox area. The second is the flap operation degraded, and you may lose your recirculation feature on your AC.

Recirculation Motor
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If this is going on, you have two options. The first is to take apart the assembly, and if you’re lucky, the missing teeth will only be on one part of the gear. You can remove the gear and re-clock it since only a small section of the gear actually comes in contact with the other gears. The second option is to simply pop in a new one and be done with it. We carry the motor in Valeo, which is the OEM supplier of these motors to Saab.Saab 9-3 Recirculation Flap Motor

SAAB 9-3 Binding Steering and Popping Noise From Suspension (Broken Coil Springs)

Broken suspension springs are a common problem in new-gen 9-3’s, and are something to keep an eye out for. For whatever reason, the springs snap near the perch, causing a knocking/popping noise. You will notice a definite change in the way the car drives at that point, and you should see the corner with the broken spring will be sagging lower than the others.

Coil Spring Set - Front
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Luckily, it’s easy to check out the problem since a broken spring will be quite obvious upon visual inspection and easy enough to fix with the right set of tools. We have a wide variety of SAAB 9-3 suspension springs available, so it’s important that if you have a broken spring, to look at the paint markings on the spring. If they aren’t there, read this post to tell what spring codes you have, or call our customer service with a VIN. If you don’t want to deal with taking the strut assembly apart to replace the spring, we offer complete strut assemblies that we put together ourselves using the best quality OES parts available.Saab 9-3 Broken Springs

Coolant Leaks (Water Pump)

This is a dreaded failure that most 2.0 4cylinder Ecotec (Saab B207) engines will encounter. The water pump is a strange design, driven off a chain in the timing cover rather than on the outside of the engine with a belt. This seems like it would be more of a robust design, but more often than not, you will find yourself having to replace the water pump without gobs of miles on the odometer.

Engine Water Pump and Thermostat Assembly
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You can postpone the failure and leakage of the pump by changing the coolant at regular intervals, but generally assume this to be an inevitability. To change it, you need a special tool to lock the gear in place. That way, you can undo the bolts on the gear and take the pump out on the other side of the bracket. If for some reason, the gear has excessive wear on it, you can buy the Genuine Saab version, which comes with the gear. We have a quick tutorial on how to go about changing this pump hereSaab 9-3 Water Pump

9-3 Engine Rattle (Balance Shaft Tensioner)

Like the water pump, which is tied into the same balance shaft chain drive system, the tensioner that keeps it all running smoothly is almost sure to break, causing an annoying rattle in the engine. When we were building our Saab 9-3ss race car, both of the engines we were working with had these components snapped and sitting at the bottom of our timing case. Somehow, both engines ran, and we’ve heard of people complaining about engine rattle for months before either fixing it or having the entire system come apart (badaboom).

Engine Balance Chain Kit
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We try to always have a balance shaft kit in stock at all times because of the likelihood of someone discovering this while having something apart (maybe you dropped a bolt into the case doing a water pump), and requiring this part immediately. We ship the same day, so if your balance shaft chains, tensioner, or guides are messed up, have no fear!

The broken tensioner and chain guide

Steering Lock Malfunction – Make A Safe Stop (Ignition Switch Module)

When you see this pop up on your display, it’s not a great feeling. When I first saw it, I immediately pictured the steering wheel locking while driving, sending me into some kind of Thelma and Louise style vehicular excursion. However, this is not the case, and the fix is relatively simple. The most common cause of this message is the ignition switch module, or ISM, located in the center console. This is the part that you put the key into, and when it goes bad, the body control module doesn’t get the signal it’s looking for, and hence the message will pop up.

Ignition Switch
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Currently hovering around $100, there is a good supply of these switches available, and they are a relatively easy DIY fix (no programming required). If left too long, you may encounter a no-start situation, so when you start getting this message, it’s a good idea to act quickly and replace the ISM. If you are seeing this message and are encountering other weird electrical issues, a fresh car battery may be the solution, as even a slight drop in voltage can cause weird things to happen with the electrical systems of these computerized cars.Saab 9-3 Ignition Switch Module

Grinding/Moaning Suspension When Turning The Steering Wheel 

Aside from being a common wear part on all cars mounted with McPherson struts, the top mounts and bearings in the 9-3ss are particularly susceptible to failure. When they go bad, you will notice an unpleasant grinding noise accompanied by a clunk or squeak when going around corners. Luckily the parts are inexpensive and relatively easy to take out yourself. If your car has over 100k miles on it, you may want to consider just replacing the entire strut assembly, as your struts, springs, bushings, etc. will all be worn as well.

Strut Mount Bearing
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eEuroparts carries the bearings and strut mounts, as well as the entire strut assemblies already put together, so all you have to do is unbolt the old one from the knuckle, remove the three nuts on the top, and swap the assemblies. Just make sure you are getting the right suspension options before ordering, as there are a few options dealing with sport suspension vs. standard packages. While in there, it’s a good idea to change the sway bar end links as well, since they are inexpensive and must be removed when doing the job anyway.Saab 9-3 Strut Mount

SAAB 9-3 Seatbelt Won’t Retract

A saggy seatbelt isn’t just annoying, it’s unsafe.  Saab issued a recall awhile ago (and took their time about fixing it), but lately we have been selling a lot of seatbelt tensioners that pick up the slack in the assembly.

If you have a saggy belt, first check to make sure the belt isn’t binding up near the slot where it comes out of the B-Pillar trim.  If it moves free and clean, something inside the tensioner might be broken, requiring immediate replacement.  We have these in stock to get you back on the road as soon as possible.Saab 9-3 Seat Belt

Clutch Pedal Won’t Return Up

This is a common problem that will almost surely manifest itself at some point on all manual transmission cars. If your clutch pedal isn’t returning back up, relax. You can still drive the car, and it will just feel super weird until you get under there and replace the helper spring and associated clips. 

Generally, people replace the whole thing (It’s not too expensive), but usually, the clip on it is what breaks, and this can be replaced by itself. We offer both the helper spring and the clip.

Clutch Helper Spring
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SAAB 9-3 Door Locks Won’t Function (Door Locks)

This one is particularly annoying. You go to unlock your car, hear it unlock, walk up to pull the handle, and PSYCH, that door is still locked. You look around and notice only 3 of the 4 locks actuated, leaving you to walk around and use the other door to get into the car. If it’s the driver’s side door lock, I suspect you will waste no time in replacing it. Luckily we sell enough of these in Genuine Saab to keep in stock. Many 9-3ss owners will replace a door lock assembly at some point, so prepare yourself and be happy that these parts are available (and at a reasonable price too!). Watch out for the VIN split in 2005, as the design changed midway through the year, and you must know when your car was produced to get the right lock.

Door Lock Actuator - Front Driver Side
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Key Not Recognized, Haywire Turn Signals, Wipers, Cruise Control, or Lost all Keys

The Central Integrated Module, or CIM, is a very complicated computerized device in the steering column that has a lot of control over your car’s systems. A few of those systems include verifying your key chips, controlling your wiper transmission, cruise control, steering angle sensor, as well as housing the clock springs for the turn signals.

  • The keys stop working altogether (or you lost them), that’s a bad thing, and you will probably need a new CIM.
  • If the other systems listed above are acting super weird, first swap your battery for a new one to make sure everything is getting the right voltage.
  • You did all of this and still have no change, you may be looking to replace the CIM. The Central Integrated Module requires a dealer program to divorce from and marry to the computer, so don’t start pulling these things apart yourself without a TechII and some training.

Also, do NOT pull out the red clip, no matter how tempting it is. If you pull that out without the unit installed in the car and the wheels in the proper direction, you will brick the module, and it is not cheap. We, of course, will NOT refund sprung CIMs.
Saab CIM

9-3 Peeling buttons (Climate Control Button Set)

The Saab 9-3 is supposed to be an upscale car, but when all the buttons on the climate control panel are peeling and cracking away, it sure doesn’t feel like it. Luckily these button sets are available in Genuine Saab and aren’t too complicated to change. We have two sets, one for cars with heated seats and one for vehicles without heated seats. Don’t stare at these anymore, spend the little extra on this cosmetic fix, and get back to appreciating the interior of your car. Just remember that it may look like the box is filled in packing material, but there are actually three loose buttons wrapped up in there, so don’t call us saying that you didn’t get the other buttons, they were in there, and we know you threw them away. Time to start dumpster diving!
Saab Peeling Buttons

I hope that helps, I know I said top 10 problems, but I came up with 12 since some really did need a shout-out. Thanks to Ashley in CS for helping out with some of these topics, she is our resident 9-3 expert and has witnessed most of this firsthand. If you have other common failures that you have seen with your 9-3, go ahead and comment below. Thanks for reading!


129 thoughts on “Top List of Most Common Problems with the Saab 9-3
  1. steve

    You left out a few other issues that I have encountered over the years such as: Door mounted mirror glass falling off, drivers side taillight plug corrosion, tail light exterior lens becoming unglued and falling off, power amp mounted under drivers seat failure when wet ( snow, spilt drink), rear window exterior trim (black plastic) chipping off, pinch control issues with the windows (fail to stay up). Fortunately I was able to make the repairs myself with parts sourced from Thanks guys

    • Adam Goral

      I have had friends that experienced the taillight socket corrosion, mirror glass falling off (a common problem on nearly all new cars), and pinch control issues. Maybe a part 2 will happen, but for now the list was getting pretty long as it was! Thanks Steve for the comment!

      • Jenellewells21

        Do you know how or what these problems could be or have you had it done. The driver seat won’t go forward or back stuck without moving. Window on drive side not working nothing on the door works trunk won’t open. And the turn signals in back don’t work but do in front? Thank you!!

    • Jenellewells21

      Do you know how or what these problems could be or have you had it done. The driver seat won’t go forward or back stuck without moving. Window on drive side not working nothing on the door works trunk won’t open. And the turn signals in back don’t work but do in front? Thank you!!

  2. Damien Shulock

    Great list…our 2007 Sport Combi is proving you right. 60k miles = ignition unit malfunction, 70k miles = driver outside mirror glass spontaneous ejection, 90k miles = taillight socket corrosion. About two weeks ago the gas gauge malfunction happened @ 95k miles. I’ll be doing the whole pump&gauge combo. And the peeling interior buttons of course – I’m happy to hear that those are available!

    • Ken S

      The 07s didn’t have issues with buttons. 07 was the year the interior changed and the buttons that peeled were replaced by a GM- like dash. Are you sure it’s an 07?

      • Damien Shulock

        Ken S, I went and checked and you are right, the dash buttons are in terrific shape in our 2007SC. I must have been remembering our 2004 SS Aero when I was picturing flakey buttons.
        Update: did the fuel pump and sender from eeuro (the $225 version) and the job went smoothly. Big awkward parts to work with (cat back exhaust has to come off, drop tank, wrestle with the pump lock ring) but it is a pretty straightforward job. Works great so far.

  3. Damien Shulock

    And how about the Halogen headlight bulbs blowing out prematurely, wiring and plugs melting? Can you retrofit the Saab Xenon headlights in the 9-3’s that came with halogen?

  4. Steve Koplo

    Excellent data and I’d like to see more of these. I’ve got a 2007 9-3 and am about to get spring/strut assemblies from eeuroparts. The car’s got 153,000 on it and potholes have just done them in. I love the car, which I bought last year, and am an old Saaber from 99’s, 900 and 9000. My only question about the car is why I’m only getting 16 MPG City – is this an ECU problem, O2 Sensor? The car’s been fully maintained on service records.

  5. Joe03SS

    I would add in a couple of more things, leaky seals on HVAC cabin filter housing, front window regulators, wiper transmission failures, and for those of you with 2003’s – secondary air valves. Core engine internals, turbos and ignition on these cars are bulletproof from my experience.
    And forget wonky radio amps below the drivers seat.
    Body holds up great toooo….2003 still going strong after 13 years and 180,000 miles

  6. Rick

    I have a ’06 SS, 102,000 miles.I have the insulation cracked off, and wires corroded/oxidized, where they go into the headlight bulb plug plastic block. Another one is the rear window regulators (the plastic pulleys inside the track shatter, and the cable turns into one big knot). Also the plastic body of the shark fin antenna, and pieces around the rear windshield falling out.

    Would pulling the trim around rear windshield out, and filling in the gap with black RTV/silicone/Poly.Ur, or window weld, be a viable repair?

    • Geoff Thompson

      Dear Adam,
      I have a 2003 9-3 Arc Sedan, and recently I have warm air coming through the central front vents on warm days, with side front vents nice and cool. Our car has done 200,000k. I also noticed some foam coming out of one vent, and I gather there can be foam degeneration in the AC system. My mechanic tested the AC and said it is cooling just fine, but he said he would need to pull the whole dash out to see what the problem is.
      Does this sound familiar? Is there an easy fix?

      • Adam Goral

        Commonly, problems with certain vents working and certain vents not working has to do with blend doors. Blend doors are connected via plastic linkages to stepping motors, and they control how outside air blends with HVAC controlled air. When a motor fails, a blend door gets jammed, or a linkage breaks…that’s when you have some vents working and some vents not. In the short term, you can always close the front vents that are blowing warm, twice as much cold air will come out of the remaining active vents. Unfortunately your mechanic is right, in order to target and replace a problem like this, you’d have to pull the dash apart. Furthermore, most of the repair parts for that car in this category have been discontinued. I can’t provide any guidance on the foam issue, but I hope this is a little helpful.

  7. Leonel

    I have a dodgy power steering and read on some forums that even after replacing it, the problem sometimes persists. I was under the impression that power steering was a common problem, but not according to this?
    The cost of replacing with the risk of failing makes me wonder of disposing of the car instead (190k).
    Your advice would be precious. I probably should call you for a quote as the turbo gasket is also leaking, leading to contaminating my heating with toxic fumes…
    Its a shame as this TID has a nice powerful drive and interior trim and I feel as being a shame to send it to junk.

    • Adam Goral

      Australia huh? Your solution is to simply drive north of the equator and it should read right ways up once you get into the northern hemisphere. Just kidding! Since you are in a foreign market (where the cars that are produced are quite different in a lot of different ways), it is possible that the US/Canada model part is different from the Aussie spec sender. We do not have access to foreign market dealer software due to a variety of licensing reasons, so we can’t say for sure. I took a look at the sender and it looks like you could potentially take the arm off and flip the board. I attached photos to give you an idea of what I’m talking about. That might keep you from having to do an international RMA and potentially getting a replacement with the same issue. Saab 9-3 Fuel Sender 1 Saab 9-3 Fuel Sender Example 2

  8. Aaron

    Don’t forget the windshield washer jets coming apart from the bottom and leaking. Outside ambient sensor failing, ignition coils failing, information display knob being erratic and intermittent misfires at idle. Other than that I love my 06 9320T.

    PS. There’s now a recall for driver’s airbag.

    • Adam Goral

      Thanks Aaron, we were trying to keep it under the 10 most common problems, the comment section is a great place to list additional issues because we all know….there will always be more than 10!

  9. mike Nolan

    I think they missed two things. The electrical connectors in the back for a 9-3 melt and require repair. the other is the head lights need replacement a lot more often then most other cars I have owned.

    • MDev

      Ive had my ’99 9-3 for a year, and have had to replace headlight 3 times, and had 3 batteries test as “bad.” However, it runs great and is the only maintenance I have had. My decision to invest $1,800. in a 18 yr. old SAAB, in lieu of a monrhly car payment, has paid off! How long do they live?

  10. Nigel Edlin

    Hi to all you Saab 93 enthusiasts, I have just purchased a lovely 09 sportcombi here in New Zealand with 71500klms on the clock . I am interested in this forum as I need to be aware as to what problems may arise with this lovely car, which I might add is a pleasure to drive. (my wifes new drive). Keep the information coming its very helpful, a little scary but helpful.

  11. Nigel Edlin

    Hi further to my last post I am keen to learn as to why the exhaust on our Saab are black rather than say grey and what would be required if one was to have the vehicle tuned for optimum performance(fuel wise). Also at 71.5klm should I have the radiator flushed to forstall the inevitable problem with the water pump. Were major improvements made to the 2008-9 model over and above the 2006-7? Any advice would be most appreciated, cheers Nigel Edlin.

  12. TimmyTwoPants

    2003 93 Arc in upstate NY USA, 63k miles only have had the broken spring one. One other for me was – I’m told I shut doors too hard(lol?), and had a problem with lock and mirror controls on left side. Watch tut on taking off door panel and found right there a hanging connector that had worked itself apart.

  13. David Haase

    Regarding popping sound in suspension, Mine is a 2002 93 Hatchback with about 184000 miles on it.
    Visual inspection did not reveal broken spring. Most recent event happened while backing very slowly out of parking stall with steering set to full right. After the event there was no noticeable difference in the handling of the car.
    Plan is to inspect again and if nothing found with springs focus on the struts.

  14. Rob Jackson

    Popping noise in front end replace the strut to stabilizer links before spending big money. My 2007
    Saab 9-3 Conv sounded like everything was about to fall out going over bumps. The Moog links
    have grease fittings and appear like they will last. If you can remove the front wheels you can
    install these links in no time.yourself. Replace these links which will run approx $100 + or – for 2 quality
    links. If that doesn’t help then spend $ for everything else. Replace these 2 links first.

    • Adam Goral

      There isn’t a specific fuel filter on these cars. There is a debris sock on the fuel pump but due to the cleanliness of modern gasoline distribution infrastructure and the plastic fuel tank, Saab must have decided not to include a specifically replaceable one (this is my own theory). With no more metal fuel tanks or gas station tanks, there generally is much less to filter.

  15. Robert Ho

    Has anyone experienced persistent CEL problems goes away comes back? Diag codes say misfirings. I replaced ignition coils, and spark plugs. Mechanic says dirty fuel lines, so they did BG44 and I dumped Seafoam as well. Still have issues. HELP!

    • Adam Goral

      A common reason for misfires that aren’t ignition coils or spark plugs is air leaks. Check all the hoses and clamps from the turbo to the intercooler as well as looking out for broken vacuum hoses or fittings on the intake manifold.

      • Dana

        This is going to sound strange but I experienced random misfire CELs on my 06 9-3 2.0T for quite some time until I realized I had a slight random oil leak in the turbo, which in turn, ends up being injected into the engine. AKA, turbo shaft seals. Opening up the inlet of the turbo and giving it the careful finger spin test indicated that some of the time the turbo was a little “sticky”. Changing out just the turbo cartridge, $100 (not the turbo housing) greatly simplifies the repair labor and cost. With the replacement turbo cartridge, the 06 with 294,000 miles is a beast with power, runs like new.

  16. Jeff Hahne

    My problem is both front power seats have play in them where they’ll move front and back when braking and accelerating. A new seat track costs over $4,000 yet it’s probably one one bad component that fails. But I can’t find any information online about what that part is likely to be.

    • Adam Goral

      I think the best approach to this is to take the seat out and have a look. They aren’t complicated, and are only held in with four fasteners. On the sub-hour journey of uninstallation, I’m sure you will come across what is causing your looseness. I am curious as to where that $4000 number came from, we show a seat rail for about 90% less. Recycled parts may be your best bet, you will probably be able to find an obscure part like that seat rail for about 1% of that $4000 price. Hope that helps, good luck.

      • Jeff Hahne

        The problem is any used seat rail is likely to have the same issue so didn’t consider that route. My mechanic placed long life washers where the play was happening as the old ones had disintegrated. Due to the labor involved it was still a costly repair.

      • Mark N

        This apparently happened to me just this week from using an automatic carwash, resulting in water pooling in the front passenger floorboard under the glove compartment. I recently had a similarly clogged drain recently in a mazda miata ragtop, for which a trombone-cleaner snake was the recommended fix — could that work on the Saab sunroof drain? Mine is a 2006 9-3 Aero SportCombi. (Btw, years ago I had a 2001 9-5 nearly ruined from clogged AC drains backing up and shorting out the computer module under the seat. Sad, and horribly expensive to repair, esp considering the preventive maintenance to clear those drains could’ve been done with a coathanger.) Thanks

    • Rbroc

      The cabin air filter housing has a crappy foam seal that lets water in from outside. Remove the housing, clean the surfaces with rubbing alcohol, reseal with silicone caulk. Retest with a pitcher of water poured down the rt side of the windshield. The water may have killed your blower motor too. If not , check the A/c drain on your evaporator to ensure its not clogged.

    • Adam Goral

      Many times the elements get broken due to wear, because they are thin and fragile. The most common problem is due to people kneeling on the seats at some point to grab something in the cabin. This puts a small zone of high pressure on the heating element and stretches/breaks it.

  17. Abdul

    I have a 2007 Cadillac BLS which has the ame motor as the SAAB. The msg I amgetting now is “coolant level low” , but the coolant is full. What could be the problem? I live in South Africa

    • Adam Goral

      Very interesting, I’ve never heard of a BLS before. There is a sensor in the coolant reservoir that senses the amount of coolant on many cars. Most likely the sensor is gummed up, stuck, or just bad. You can either replace the sensor, the reservoir with sensor, or attempt to clean it.

      • samolomo

        Adam Goral, I’ve lived with this problem for years now especially because I often travel by public transport. My Saab 9-3 model won’t start after driving it especially when the weather is hot. After driving to a destination, it won’t often start except I let it cool for up to 30mins, sometimes more. I took it to The GM dealer years ago a number of times and they will reassure me they had fixed it but it will reoccur immediately I take the car back. They’ve run all sorts of diagnostics, changed the CPC, the fuel filter etc etc. No change to date. Don’t know what else to do. I’d like to give the car out now but not with this problem, is there any other solution?

  18. John Jenney

    I have a 2003 93 Turbo convertible. Recently (8 weeks ago) Idler puller came apart and belt was destroyed. Before I got to a place where I could stop the car it had pegged the temp gauge. I had it towed home, replaced pulley and belt and it worked fine, idled perfect no overheating problems. This past week it kind of stuttered a couple times on the road. Three days ago it took a couple minutes of cranking to start. Never been a problem before. Yesterday after i got home I shut it of, all normal. Later, about an hour, it would not start. Today it just cranks and cranks but will not start. A year ago I replaced fuel pump and crank sensor. Fuel pump activates when the key is turned on. Could the heat from the day the belt broke have damaged the coil cassette? any suggestions??

    • Adam Goral

      Do you have any check engine lights on? Look for the signs of a headgasket going, oil in the coolant or coolant in the oil. It might be a good idea to do a compression test while you’re at it to rule that out.

  19. John Jenney

    My 2003 93 Turbo convertible broke the drive belt, and before I could get to a place to stop it heated to the max. Shortly after, my ignition cassette failed. New cassette and plugs and it ran fine again. However. since then the turbo guage is in the mid white range at starting, and on almost acceleration it goes slightly into the yellow. If i hit the pedal hard, the gauge goes to the edge of red sometimes slightly into the red. It runs cool, performs about as normal, no warning lights on at all. The turbo is quiet but i’m wondering why the gauge is acting this way. Before the heating problem, it was much lower in the white zone. When driving, when I back off the gas the needle goes to the bottom of white, but when I stop and idle its about Midway. Component problem, or am I just being overly concerned??? Thanks for any assistance at all.

    • Adam Goral

      Hi John, the turbo gauge in a T7 car (not the model of this article but hopefully I can still help) is based on the amount of reference vacuum. It’s more of an engine load gauge than a turbo gauge in that respect. Make sure that all the vacuum hoses are in good shape and nothing got messed up in the debacle.

    • Adam Goral

      The electronic ignition and injection use something that’s called an ionization unit to optimize burn and decrease knock without a knock sensor. If you are looking at generic codes, most likely you need to replace the ionization module, since there is no knock sensor on your engine.

  20. Paul V Moodie

    Saab 93 2.0 2006 common problem: temp gauge sticks when ignition is off and then goes ‘off the scale’ when on agaib (although actual engine temp is fine) – quick fix is to disconnect battery, I know, but this keeps recurring.
    Any permanent solution?

  21. Desmond Levy

    I get a rattling sound from under the hood only when my AC is on. Sounds like it’s coming from the engine. As soon as I turn of the AC it stops. Hard to tell here it is coming from when I check under the hood. Will check my pully first.

    • Adam Goral

      A pulley, specifically the tensioner, is put under extra stress when the AC compressor clutch engages. If it’s loose and not able to keep tension, it’ll rattle back and forth potentially causing your issue.

  22. Aaron

    Thanks for the article! I recently replaced the head, head gasket, timing/balance chain, water pump, and thermostat. It all started with a grinding noise on the timing side of the engine (bad balance chain tensioner, broken guides) and led to replacing original parts while I had everything apart. Something worth noting in the article- If you’re going to replace timing components, you might as well do your cooling components, as well while you have everything apart (and not sending it to a shop).

    Thanks, again, for sharing!

    • Adam Goral

      Absolutely, when you have the timing components apart, replacing the difficult-to-access waterpump, thermostat, thermostat housing gasket, and transfer pipe orings is a fantastic idea.

  23. Veronika

    I Have a 2004 9.3 and recently am experiencing a throttle body issues-when driving and come to a full stop car is very slow to get back on speed. Along with a throttle body then codes indicate engine computer model distinction but mechanic said those codes trigger each other. What should I do? Just the new throttle body should do it? Each

  24. Susan Castelli

    I have a 2006 Saab 93 turbo with manual transmission. I love this car with a passion but I am a recently retired teacher and am having problems with the car and cannot afford to repair it. I do not work on cars. The problem today was a bad shaking. I thought it might be a flat tire but all tires are good. I always take it to a Saab mechanic about 20 miles away. Three weeks ago the mechanic said that I have a very bad oil leak and repair would cost $800. I need advice about how to sell my car since I don’t think I can afford to keep it. I am sad. The car has 224,000 miles on it. It is so much fun to drive. Any ideas on how to sell it?

    • Adam Goral

      Hi Susan, a simple Craigslist post is usually the best way to sell it. If it is shaking when driving, needs an oil seal (which sounds like a main oil seal, very hard to reach), and has 224k miles on it, I would try a starting price of $1000. Hopefully you can find someone willing to fix it. Most car people spend their time on Craigslist when looking for inexpensive cars to fix and drive. Good luck!

  25. Tim o

    I have a 2006 9-3 2.0t manual transmission. My check engine light came on the other week, and the guy at the parts store said his code reader showed a fuel problem. He sold me a gas cap and told me “that should do it”. Great!!! So I swapped out the caps, unplugged the battery to reset the check engine light. Now the light has stayed off for a week, but my car has no power! The engine races, the turbo only engages with higher rpm’s, and absolutely no power. And today I had to drive my kid to hockey, and it smelled pretty bad of burning rubber, plastic, metal. . I can’t really afford a mechanic right now, of course! Any ideas where to start??? Any help is greatly appreciated, for this car is my baby. I would hate to have to “put it down “ because I tried fixing the gas cap.

    • Adam Goral

      First off, never trust what the parts store counter people say about your car, they have no idea. No fuel problem can be fixed by a gas cap. Occasionally a leak in the gas cap seal will trigger an EVAP code for emissions, but that’s totally a different story and only effects your emissions testing. Unfortunately it sounds like there is something major going on, you said you had the code read….what is it? Let’s start there.

      • Tim o

        I’m not sure what the code was. He just said it was a fuel pressure code. He seemed so confident, I was stupid not to get the printout. And now the cel isn’t on, so… what can I do? I understand it probably didn’t permanently fix the fuel problem. But if the engine is racing, I would guess it has enough fuel. A buddy that knows slightly more about cars is telling me its probably a bad mad sensor or possibly a bad turbo. I would be happy swapping both, but I feel I’m still stabbing in the dark. And I have been calling around me to see if a shop would look at it. They all are telling me they don’t have a Saab program for diagnosis, but they would see what they can do for me with no guarantee. The best guy I could find said it would probably cost me a couple hundred just to look at it. Ouch!!!

        • Adam Goral

          No code no bueno. It may still have a stored code even if the CEL isn’t on, but the likelihood of that diminishes the longer it stays off. Then I guess I have a question, what do you mean by engine racing? Do you mean you have to rev it more to make power? If it was misfiring that badly you would probably be getting a flashing check engine light signalling that. The first thing I would do is pull the covers off and have a good look at the intake hoses going in and out of the intercooler and turbo to make sure you don’t have a tear that’s leaking hot pressurized air into your engine bay. Also check to make sure the vacuum hoses, specifically any that come straight off of the turbocharger, are all intact and not ripped or dangling. Both of those scenarios could I guess cause both the loss of turbo boost and result in a burning hot engine smell in the right set of circumstances.

          Take a look at your spark plugs, you can learn a lot about how the engine is running by seeing what the spark plugs look like. Are they white and thin, like the car is running hot or lean? Or are they dark, or oily? Are they all even or is there one cylinder that looks different?

          If you take it to a shop make sure they have a GM tech II scan tool. Any GM dealer would have one, or shops that specialize in GM service. Afterall your Saab is a GM plaform with a GM engine. Don’t let anyone tell you they don’t know how to work on Saabs because there’s very little Saab in there.

  26. Tom Dinette

    Is it just me or why does it appear that the front tires especially wear out more often than it appears they should?

    Also, any way to eliminate the black grime that gets all over the front tire hubs during normal driving conditions?

  27. GregK


    The “black grime” on your wheels is Disc Brake pad dust. Some Brake pads produce lots of this, other much less.

    Pads such as Akebono or EBC brands produce very little dust in normal use. The Akebono is the lowest dust with minimal rotor wear, the EBC Red is a high performance pad with rotor wear about the same as OEM pads. I have had good results with both (almost no black dust), but don’t install on worn rotors, particularly the Akebonos.

    Here is an example link 2004 9-3 with the basic brake setup (i.e these may not be the right ones for you car)

    • Adam Goral

      Couldn’t have said it better myself, great advice. I have been running the Redstuffs for about 8 years now, I always pick up a set when I get a new Saab. I like the progressive feel, very smooth and really clamp down if you are coming down from speed. When new they will be super dusty as they break in completely, but then the dust goes way down. When almost used up they will get dustier too. The Akebonos are also very low dust and will brake really well, but will perform more like an OE pad, with less fade than OE but not as heavy duty as the EBC Sport pads.

    • Adam Goral

      Hi Brett, If the car is too lean then you are getting unmetered air into the intake system after the mass air flow sensor. Because of that the ECU is basing its calculations on what the MAF says but there’s extra air leaning out the air/fuel mixture. This can be caused by tears in the intake boot or piping after the MAF but before the turbo, but more likely a check valve or purge valve in the vacuum system. I looked around and after a quick google search I found a number of reports saying that when the EVAP purge valve goes bad which makes sense. Go through your vacuum system and make sure that the check valves hold pressure and look for torn boots, bad hose connections and any other air leak that could potentially introduce outside air into the system post MAF.

      • Brett G.

        Thank you Adam! I will do a check through my vacuum system over the weekend for any leaks. The one thing I wasn’t thinking about was the EVAP purge valve. Great place to start. I’ll let you know what I find.

        • Adam Goral

          If all the check valves ‘check out’ and you have no vacuum leaks, then your next step is to look into fuel (and why you’re not getting enough). This is less common, as items like a failed fuel pump generally cause the car to not run.

  28. Malcolm Seward

    Malc Saab 93 2003 2lt Turbo 210 BHP Engine light on OBD reports accelerator pedal sensor voltage err runs OK until throttle off then will not rev again if in park misfiring etc ,changed accelerator pedal & sensor no change changed throttle body &sensor no change please help

  29. Eric

    I have an 04 9-3 arc replaced brake master cylinder, pads and rotors and bled the system. Now I have a “brake malfunction” warning any ideas what it could be? Brakes are working fine

  30. Caryn

    My son just purchased a 2008 9-3 2.0T with 120k miles literally a week and a half ago and then two days ago it would not start. Cranks but no start. Ran perfectly, seemingly pristine condition, prior to a very cold morning the other day with the no start. We thought it may be stale gas but some research online and I discover there’s a good chance it’s the common defective intake valve issue. This being a major issue my question is do you feel this car is worth repairing and keeping or if we can get it to start again should he just resell it now and get out from under it? And lastly, I was originally lead to your site by a Google link to a blog post titled “Saab 9-3 Intake Valve Issue – How to fix it once and for all!” however the link took me to a dead page, can you provide me a working link to that specific article? Thank you

    • Adam Goral

      Before buying anything do a compression test, you can rent a compression tester from your local Autozone for free. In regards to the compression test for the valves, do the test when the car is cold, you should be getting around 180psi to 200psi on all cylinders. It’s a very easy test, just remove the ignition coils and screw the tester into the first spark plug hole. Crank the engine a few times, 5-10 should be enough. When done take the tester out, put the plug back in, and go to the next one. If you see numbers drastically lower then you are most likely looking at leaky valves. We don’t sell the head kits anymore because we routinely received carelessly packed cylinder head cores that were un-rebuildable (missing important pieces like cam caps, gouged bearing surfaces, stripped stud holes etc). We are working on a kit that will have all the parts you need to drop the head off at the local machine shop.

      Generally the car will start even with bad valves, you may be looking at a fuel pump which is more likely for a sudden no start. The way to test for a bad fuel pump is to crank the car and make sure you have power at the connector leading to the pump. Listen for it to hum, and finally check for fuel pressure at the rail with a special fuel pressure tool. It’s basically a gauge with a bicycle pump style valve on it that screws onto the fuel rail. It should pop right up to 50 or 60psi when cranking. If not, I’d replace the fuel pump.

      Sorry to hear about your sudden issues, it is quite disheartening to have a car for such a short amount of time. This generation 9-3 is a joy to drive and has a great chassis. However they are not without their problems. The thing is now in 2019, you are likely to run into issues on any 10 year old European car. So the question is, fix it and enjoy it, or settle for a Chevy Sonic. Of course we are biased, but I always feel the European cars are worth the extra effort.

  31. Have a 2005 saab 93 2.0t having a wobble sound coming from drivers side front of car! Increases with speed most noticable at 60mph! Its not causing any vibration? Just sounds like a rubbing or a wobble? Any ideas??. Same sound whether or not you let off the accelerator?

  32. Kasey F

    Hi. I’m test driving a 2003 9-3 linear turbo manual with 200k miles today. I can’t find a maintenance schedule for this high mileage. What should typically be replaced/have just been replaced at this time? I don’t want to buy $1400 car only to get hit with a huge maintenance bill immediately. Any thoughts on typical annual manintenance costs? Thanks.

    • Adam Goral

      The biggest thing would be to check religiously for coolant leaks on the back of the engine. You will see a hard coolant pipe go from the thermostat housing on the driver side, to the waterpump on the passenger side. This is notorious for going bad and is a huge pain to do. The other thing is to listen very carefully to the timing chain. Another very common costly failure is broken balance shaft chain guides. It will sound like a rattle. Make sure to try the radio, and push down on the corners to verify the shocks and struts are damping and they don’t bounce. Other than that, it’s up to taste and looking for all the normal used car things like brake pad wear, gauging the previous owner’s ability to maintain a vehicle etc. Hope that helps.

  33. Rose

    Hi I just purchased a 07 Saab 9-3 aero turbo and was told that the wobble was because it is time for new tires. So I got new tires and it still wobbles the entire car. When I accelerate to about 35 mph it starts to wobble and gets really bad around 45 mph then around 55/60 mph it just wobbles a little. It does not wobble when I take my foot off the gas pedal at any of the speeds. Do you know what this might be?

    • Adam Goral

      A bad CV joint in the axle can cause vibration under throttle, and it is a common problem. Have the car inspected to figure out which CV Joint is bad and we can help you get a new axle. Thanks Rose.

      • Rose

        I wouldn’t describe it as a vibration. It is more like a wobble. It’s almost like the diagonal tires are different sizes making the care wobble. When the axle is bad will it make any noises?

  34. Mike

    I bought a 2010 9-3 2.0 convertible with about 84,000 miles and I’ve been very happy with how it drives over the last year. I’ve had two other Saab convertibles and have been used to the normal, mostly annoying issues they have as a price of driving an otherwise enjoyable car. I have had issues recently with whining noise behind/to the right of the back right passenger seat as I open or close the roof. It recently started to stop part way with an error message of some obstruction in the trunk which is not the case. Is this likely a hydraulic issue (which looking online looks very expensive)? Am I going to be driving a convertible that doesn’t “convert”?

  35. Rich

    My 2004 9-3 Linear 2.0T with 97K miles is loosing coolant with no visible signs of any fluid leaks anywhere even after pressure testing the cooling system overnight. Also, the engine does not overheat and the coolant appears to be flowing well back into the expansion tank. The radiator, heater core and hoses were recently replaced and the expansion tank cap is new after the old cap got stuck to the tank. Any ideas on what to do to fix the loss of coolant? Should I look to change the water pump or add a stop leak additive. Your advise is greatly appreciated

    • Adam Goral

      The only thing that comes to mind is potentially a slow headgasket leak if you are absolutely certain that it’s not dripping out somewhere (and if it’s not dripping there’s only one other place it could be going, out the tailpipe). I’ve seen cars get HG leaks, even with low mileage. It’s more to do with age I think.

      • Dave

        I had a 2003 2.0T with the same symptom. It ended up that a threaded pipe coming out of the intake manifold was leaking from corrosion of the threads. There was never any indication of a leak probably because it evaporated without going anywhere. I found it by accident. To find this pipe, remove the engine cover and look for said threaded pipe coming from the manifold with corrosion at the manifold. I had to get creative with JB Weld to fix it.

          • Dave

            Oops, apologies. After looking at a bunch of engine pics, I realized that I confused my 1999 9-3 issue with the 2003 9-3. It was the 99 that had the coolant leak under the engine cover. The 2003 had a blown transmission. I no longer have either of those cars. Loved them tho. Adam, thanks for the article, my current 2008 9-3 Aero XWD 2.8T is currently experiencing a couple of the things you mention including the very expensive fuel sender(s) issue.

          • Adam Goral

            Ah yes, then for your generation of 9-3 you may be referring to the coolant connection to the throttle body.

  36. Karl S

    I have a 2005 9-3 Arc with manual transmission, 205K miles. I have had only a few of the common problems so far–mostly annoyances. I do have a combination of issues that I haven’t seen a post yet that specifically covers–and it seems to happen only when it’s really humid (common in North Carolina) or raining/snowing. Started with the typical spastic windshield wipers only a year or two after I bought the car new, then about at age 7 or 8, whenever the wipers were acting up, the high beams would only work as long as I held the stalk in the on position. Then as of about 2 years ago, the air conditioner just shuts itself off on its own, with the windows fogging up within seconds… Shutting the engine off, waiting a few seconds, then restarting usually gets the air conditioner working again at least for a little while, but only occasionally resets the wipers and high beams. Those just fix themselves when the humidity lessens, whenever that is. Is this just a coincidence (all three systems susceptible to moisture) or is there some common point of “control” for the three systems. Someone on the SaabCentral forum suggested replacing the CIM but I didn’t think the AC went through that module. I hope I don’t need to go down the CIM road–I don’t have the capability to divorce/marry the CIMs and the nearest Saab tech I would trust is over 2 hours away…

    • Adam Goral

      Mysterious electrical problems are nearly impossible to diagnose online, unless others have had the exact same problems. Take a look at your wiring harness and make sure you don’t have rodent problems or something like that, and get a diagram of where all the electrical grounds are located.

      • Karl

        I’ve been looking through the WIS I have a copy of to see where the grounds are and if any of the systems acting up have a common ground. Unfortunately, most of these have separate wiring diagrams and the WIS program is not set up to let you see more than one diagram at once, so this takes a lot of time and note taking… On a different note, more recently, after changing the stabilizer bars, tie rod ends and outer CV axles, the front end is much quieter, but now that I don’t have all that clunking going on, I can hear a different tone to the engine (at least I think it’s the engine) and it seems like it’s missing some of its power. Almost sounds like a deep drone (sounds like a “sports car” exhaust tone) but with a slight buzz to it. If it were just the drone, I would suspect the muffler was starting to lose its effectiveness, but the buzz is disconcerting. It’s not a rattling noise–much higher frequency. The only check engine codes I’m getting are related to the fuel level sending unit every time I fill the tank and an occasional vacuum sensor error associated with that. I did notice the last time I replaced the spark plugs, the one at the driver’s side end (not sure if that’s #1 or #4) had what looked like oil gunk on it; the other three were clean. I assume at some point I’ll need to replace at least the head gasket if not the rings on that cylinder, and I could definitely see that related to power loss, but could that be related to the sound? Wish I could record it…would be a lot easier than trying to describe it online!

  37. jose l campos

    I got a check engine light p0102 on my 2005 saab 9-3 linear 160k, MAF low voltage. Is this something to do with the throttle body. Any one had this issue and fixed it.

  38. Hisham aman

    I have saab 9-3 2005 2.0t 120k,it’s my third saab car, i want to unlock the safety acceleration from the saab company, i want to have the maximum power once i want its always need like a sacend to getting fast
    Can you tell me how?
    Thanks boss

  39. tariq

    Dear Sirs:
    I own a saab 2005 9-3 for more than 9 yrs now. I have 124,000 miles on this car. The problem I’m having with this car is that it doesn’t want to start. it start i can drive for a mile or two with no problem then doesn’t want to move much and start shaking while i drive or stop. If i stop the car and want to start doesn’t want start again and If I wait say about 45 mins or an hour it start and cycle begins again.
    What seems to be the problem.
    Thanks, Tariq

    • Adam Goral

      Since this is such a safety oriented issue, I recommend taking the car for inspection at a licensed mechanic, in order to run proper diagnostics. I cannot accurately diagnose this issue, as it sounds like it could be multiple problems.

  40. Scarlett

    Hi there, I own a 2004 Saab 9-3 Linear (178k miles) and have been noticing some of the following problems. Back in November 2019, I ran into an issue with my accelerator. My check engine light came on and the accelerator had trouble increasing speed past 15mph. It would take about 4-5second before it jumped forward and was able to properly increase speed. I took it in for a diagnostic test and the code P2138 popped up. Armed with this code, I went to my mechanic but was told my throttle and sensors showed up fine. It was then he told me that it was my turbo and that it was leaking oil ( 1,900 to repair YIKES). However, I haven’t notice any visible leaks from under the car (of course I’m not a professional with cars). I’m planning on taking it in to another place to get a second opinion to confirm it is indeed the turbo.

    The other thing I have noticed is light smoke coming out from under the hood occasionally (also notice some burning smells). I also have problems with my coolant getting low pretty regularly. Upon some research and this forum I can make the guess it’s a possible cracked or warped cylinder head, maybe? Could this cause accelerator problems too? Or could it be cracked/leaking hoses coming off the turbo? Would the turbo and gasket be two separate problems or can they be related to some degree?

    (Note: We’re going in for a second diagnostics from a different shop on Monday)

    Thank you

    • Scarlett

      Oh, I also should note that we have noticed some weird vibration feeling after starting up the vehicle. After about 10seconds (or less) from starting the vehicle up, we noticed this weird vibrating sensation. Almost as if there was another car with a LOUD base next to our car. It has only happened a couple of times but the sensation was alarming. It doesn’t seem to occur while driving, only when we’re parked.

  41. FarvaTheGreat

    Hey Adam! I’m hoping you still check here I’m not sure what this issue may be. 2008 9-3 2.0T. Start up no issues, at low rpm when idle there is a light ticking-definitely from the motor, not cabin. Seems to go away when giving fuel, but returns again at idle. Could this be lifter related? Or? Any ideas would help, I cannot locate exactly where it is coming from and I don’t really want to start ripping everything apart quiet yet.

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