Ownership Verified: From far east to high north: '02 Saab 9-3 2.0t

NLZW735

New Member
Joined
Feb 6, 2019
Messages
4
Location
Hamburg, Germany
Car(s)
'02 Saab 9-3, '01 Kawasaki Zr-7


Now that Mitchi stopped persuading me to do a PYC and it's certain that i'm coming to Ringmeet, it might actually be time to do a PYC for once ... as this is the third car i've owned since i got involved with FG.


Well then, here we go, rewind to August 2019:

After owning exclusively japanese cars ('01 1.0 Micra, '99 1.3 Corolla, '05 IS200, '97 1.6 MX-5) i couldn't keep denying my interest in cars from other parts of the world. My goals were to surpass the 200 PS barrier for somewhere below 3.000€ and maybe dip my toe into the world of forced induction. Quite certainly it had to be a swedish car then. Since i decided Saabs are far more appealing (unique and quirky) than Volvos, i started searching for 9-5 Aeros but quickly found out those are either in serious disrepair or too high-priced.
However one day my search led me to a 9-3 that was advertised with 211 PS and the pictures immediately caught my eye. After phoning the owner/seller and his workshop of choice I had to take a look at this one in person for sure! Thanks to failing the DIY auxiliary belt replacement in my MX-5 i grabbed a rental (and Mitchi) and headed for Hanover.



The Odometer was just short of 280.000 km and the specs included: glass sunroof, cruise control, rear parking sensors, ez-lip front lip, tinted grille and windows, 30mm lowering springs, the best rims saab had to offer at the time, cabriolet seats with electric adjustment and memory function, and a software tune to raise the power output from 150 to 210 PS which was made evident by a Hirsch Performance sticker and an aftermarket boost gauge. Crucially, the PCV system had been upgraded. A bottle of touch-up paint, a leather care kit, a biltema ice scraper, oil for topping up, interior cleaner, coolant premix, a set of brake rotors, a second set of seat upholstery, some door trim, a spare park distance module and a set of winter wheels were also included.
Test-drive revealed it had a lot of power and corresponding torque-steer and it was at the sime time more comfy than anything i had ever driven before; it also had some hesitation when stepping on the gas and a check-engine-light but for 2.000€ we agreed that it was (quote) "still a lot of car for the money".
I paid a part of the sum upfront and two-or-so weeks later i picked up the car with my GF on the way back from the Nürburgring.



It would be confined to my garage for another 2 months while i was still driving the MX-5 and proceeding to pass it on.



When the time came and i had it registered, it was already mid-October and i was just in time to head to the local monthly Saab-meet and i certainly met a nice bunch of people there.
On October 30th, the day before my birthday, my GF and i took the Saab to my parents and had a great evening; we packed it with food and presents and headed back home later in the evening. At some point on the Autobahn, the car wouldn't respond well to the throttle pedal anymore and the CEL started flashing; as we exited it became evident the engine was only running on 3 cylinders and i parked it up in an industrial area around the corner. Then and there the clock turned 00:00 and it was my birthday, stranded in my "new" car, broken a mere 12 days after registering it, and i couldn't help but shed a tear. We were lucky to catch a bus that wasn't even scheduled to come and after a bit of an odyssey we returned in her car 2,5 hours later to pick up our belongings and head home.



OBD-II diagnosis reported it was a misfire and a few weeks went by trying to troubleshoot the car. I gave it new plugs to no avail, and luckily didn't pay for an expensive ignition unit rightaway because it turned out the engine was down on compression.
What followed were more weeks and months, phonecalls, forum posts, exorbitant quotes, desparation, phonecalls again, and i was close to giving up when i received a private offer to replace the engine. It took a while to get all the details straight but that didn't worry me any more; it was already February and no nerves left to become any more agitated or impatient.
Mid-March came and trusty Mitchi lent his hand again. I rented a tow truck (apparently the only one of this size in germany that's up for rent) and we brought the Saab to Bremen.



I was already confident in the mechanic from how he talked on the phone but when we saw his shop, this opinion was reinforced.



A couple of weeks later he invited us to come back to pick up the car, only for it to spring an oil leak on the day we came. After hours and hours of up to 4 people troubleshooting together (oil pump seal, oil pump cover, head bolts, head gasket ...), we had to head back home without the Saab.



I was devastated and the problem could have been anything from minuscule to disastrous. After all it turned out to be the former. The timing chain cover had come loose and allowed oil to be flung out. Soon, we headed there again to finally pick it up. I could immediately tell the "new" engine (180.000 km with fresh timing chain, fresh gaskets and cleaned oil pan and pickup) runs a lot smoother than the old one did. Test-drive and gearshift linkage adjustment commenced, followed by a demonstration of the Tech-II diagnosis tool. Finally, by the end of April, the car was "done".


(i try to be creative with the plates, so it turned out to be IKEA 9-3)

I have to admit that my confidence in the car is not fully restored. From day to day it varies a little, although it's increasing. There are still things to do in the coming months. I'm planning to honour the car by not immediately trying to get rid of it and actually enjoying it. Every day that it doesn't give me a new noise or vibration is a good day, every day that it does hurts my heart.
Short-term service things like brake fluid and oil are due soon; probably also power steering fluid. I will take care of a few rusts spots on the undercarriage before winter comes again. There is also rust around the trim behind the rear doors which might become my first project of working with panels and bog. Maybe the power steering pipes will need attention. Maybe i feel like adding braided brake lines, maybe i will add wind deflectors to the windows. And i have that oh so praised steering rack bracket laying around too.



This will not get boring. My cars can never be boring i guess, that's one of the buying criteria. I just hoped it would keep me awake in a different way, not by being broken down on the side of the road for half a year.

I buy cars for the experience; there is so much to experience in a car beyond the looks or the driving. Yes there are the problems, but there are also special qualities, quirks and features. There is smell, there is comfort (or the lack of). There are people you meet, there are places you go.

And with every car, everything is different again.

Try different things!
 
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Mitchi

Sierras für alle!
DONOR
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Dec 10, 2012
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5,500
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Lüneburg
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'89 C4
I admire you for your patience! I would not have withstand those dreadful feelings.
 

public

Volvomies, volvomies
Joined
Nov 26, 2007
Messages
11,862
Location
Causticity
Car(s)
P26L XC70 D5 and a ton of crap
It is the worst to get a punch in the groin right away when you've gotten something you've excited about. However, I hope this has been a great "team-building exercise" for you and the Saab, and since you have now bonded with it mechanically, I hope that it will help you feel good about it when you really know what it has "eaten", and you can fix it.
 

Tram13

Active Member
Joined
Mar 1, 2019
Messages
415
Location
Croatia
How bad is the torque steer? I know that the 9-3 Viggen was notorious for its torque steer and was even put on a top 10 worst cars list by a respectable British driving magazine.

Other than that, this car is awesome! I'm not sure it'd be on my list if I were looking for something to drive on B-roads, but for an Autobahn cruiser? Definitely! I know it shares a lot of DNA with the Opel Vectra, but then, it's still a recognisable Saab design, and it's much more common than the OG Saab 900, therefore the parts should be easier to find.

I've actually wanted a 900/9-3 convertible ever since seeing Jerry Seinfeld driving one in his sitcom, and I find the hatchback equally interesting, plus it's obviously better in some aspects (like structural rigidity and practicality). Good luck with this car in the future and take good care of it!
 

NLZW735

New Member
Joined
Feb 6, 2019
Messages
4
Location
Hamburg, Germany
Car(s)
'02 Saab 9-3, '01 Kawasaki Zr-7
I admire you for your patience!
It is the worst to get a punch in the groin right away when you've gotten something you've excited about. However, I hope this has been a great "team-building exercise" for you and the Saab, and since you have now bonded with it mechanically, I hope that it will help you feel good about it when you really know what it has "eaten", and you can fix it.
It was heartbreaking, and it rally gnawed away at my nerves, but i'm not one to quickly throw the towel (for one reason or another). Although a lot of luck played into this. If i hadn't gotten that one engine replacement offer, i would have had to sell it. And thanks to the great guy who did the job, the combined price of the whole endeavour is still relatively low, with the added bonus of knowing much more about the car, its weaknesses, maintenance status, condition etc now. I wouldn't have gotten the same info if i bought a car at this price rightaway. Plus i have a place to go to if something goes seemingly FUBAR again!

How bad is the torque steer? I know that the 9-3 Viggen was notorious for its torque steer and was even put on a top 10 worst cars list by a respectable British driving magazine.

Other than that, this car is awesome! I'm not sure it'd be on my list if I were looking for something to drive on B-roads, but for an Autobahn cruiser? Definitely! I know it shares a lot of DNA with the Opel Vectra, but then, it's still a recognisable Saab design, and it's much more common than the OG Saab 900, therefore the parts should be easier to find.
The regular driving experience is dominated by a combination of torque steer, bump steer and tramlining. I don't know to which extent the 30mm lowering springs and the large wheels exacerbate the problems, but i'm certain that they do. The source of the problem is apparently an extremely weakly mounted steering rack, which can flex in its squishy rubber mount so much that it interferes with the steering angle. This means that driving on a shaky autobahn i.e. waves from summer heat or big gaps between concrete slabs, the steering feels unnervingly light since the entire hydraulic rack is shaking. A big change in road camber on country roads will require some amount of countersteering similar to what happens with wind blowing from the side. When stopping at red lights on roads that have even tiny ruts means the steering wheel will try to turn sharply shortly before the car is stationary. Potholes can turn the steering by an amount that demands awareness and a tight grip on the steering wheel, especially on country roads. All of that amounts to a car that's very tiring to drive since you need to pay attention to the road surface and the steering wheel basically at all times. At some point it becomes second nature of course, but i have never experienced behaviour like this before.

I think the front subframe which the 9-3 shares with the Vectra is only made for about 140-150 hp. All versions of the Vectra that were more powerful had a V6, which is likely to have a more sturdy setup to cope with the power, but the 9-3 didn't get that.

The miracle solution: a mod that replaces the big rubber bushing of the steering rack with a CNC aluminium piece to stop flex. Additionally there is a brace connecting this mount to the inside of the fender to minimize the strain on the firewall/bulkhead. It requires drilling out a hole that is already present on the inside of the wheelwell, that's the main reason why i haven't mounted mine yet.
People have said that this brace does more for the handling of the car than a set of coilovers ever could.

And indeed, it's not a star on the B-Roads. The gear ratios are too long and too far apart and the steering is a bit too unresponsive to really dart around sharp turns. On top of that, the high power output and somewhat mediocre braking performance mean you can easily find your self going "too fast" for a turn. Nevertheless it's tons of fun to manhandle this little barge on twisty roads because of the relatively wide tires (215s) and the minimized body roll (thanks to the springs). As the car initially had the lowest factory power output it came with the smallest turbocharger. Of course that means high boost (software increase from 0,4 bar to 1,0 bar) puts more strain on the poor thing, but it also means the smallest possible amount of turbo lag!
 
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