Avoid 2.2L Saturn L-Series Vehicles Recommends NC Consumers Council

Only a small population of vehicles were recalled for a serious defect while many owners continue to suffer engine damage

NCCC urges consumers to avoid Saturn L-Series vehicles due to timing chain failure
Image: General Motors

The North Carolina Consumers Council (NCCC), a nonprofit consumer education and advocacy organization that has been representing the interests of North Carolina consumers since 1968, is advising consumers against purchasing any Saturn L-Series vehicles with 2.2L engines due to a significant risk of timing chain failure.

Available from 2000 to 2005, Saturn L-Series models consisted of both 4-door sedans and 4-door station wagons. Since 2001 NCCC has received a steady stream of consumer complaints involving several significant safety hazards in the L-Series vehicles.

Tail and Brake Light Failures

In 2003 NCCC petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to investigate repeat tail light and brake light failures in Saturn L-Series vehicles. In May of 2005 NHTSA agreed that a safety defect was present in the tail lamp assemblies of all 2000 through 2002 Saturn L-Series sedans and 2000 through 2004 Saturn L-series wagons. Approximately 306,000 vehicles were recalled in the United States and Canada for this condition as a direct result of the NCCC petition.

Timing Chain Failures Causing Engine Damage

Also in 2005, NCCC submitted a second defect petition to the NHTSA regarding 2000-2003 Saturn L-Series vehicles with 2.2L engines after receiving numerous reports of stalling and subsequently destroyed engines due to engine timing chain failures. In 2006, another recall was issued, but only for a limited number of 2001 model year vehicles.

Complaints Continue for this model

"The Saturn L-Series vehicles have been plagued by problems from the very beginning," said NCCC Vice President Brian Reitter. "To this day, complaints about the L-Series have never subsided."

Reitter says that the most common complaint continues to be the defective timing chain. General Motors (GM) released a Technical Service Bulletin (TSB) to its dealers in June of 2003 advising them of a design change to the timing chain. The old style timing chains have an oiler nozzle that does not provide adequate oil flow under certain conditions, such as starting and low RPM idling, which can cause the timing chain to break and causing engine failure.

Recall was limited to only a fraction of the population

Unfortunately, the GM recall was only for around 20,000 vehicles, a small percentage, and only those made during a four month period. As a result, most consumers have been forced to make the costly repairs out of their own pocket or completely scrap a vehicle.

NCCC again petitioned NHTSA in 2007 to have all Saturn L-Series vehicles with the affected timing chain recalled and repaired free-of-charge; however, as of April 2009 NHTSA has determined that continued investigation is not an appropriate allocation of resources despite the subject vehicles continuing to experience failures.

Government response doesn't match with our complaint data

"NHTSA said the stall while drive failure rate of the L-Series is in line with other similar types of vehicles; however, the L-series is the ONLY vehicle on which we have EVER received timing chain failure and subsequent engine failure complaints," continued Reitter. "It does not appear that General Motors or NHTSA will take any further action on this matter other than letting consumers suffer the cost of engine replacement on a vehicle that's not worth having the engine replaced, especially since a majority of L-Series vehicles are ten years old. Despite the age of the vehicles, which is still within the average life expectancy of a vehicle, the number of complaints we receive has steadily been increasing."

The Decision to issue the do not buy recommendation

Since no recall has been forthcoming and complaints continue to pour into our office, NCCC is urging consumers in a first-ever move to avoid Saturn L-Series vehicles. The organization is also inviting other consumer groups across the country to join them in educating consumers on the inherent financial pitfalls of owning these vehicles.

Warning signs of timing chain failure

NCCC urges consumers currently driving the affected vehicles to immediately turn off the engine in the event of any unusual noise in the engine compartment, which could be an impending sign of chain failure, and have the vehicle towed to a vehicle repair and inspection facility.

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