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Old 12-28-2013, 04:33 PM   #1
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2002 SL2 DOHC Proactive Maintenance

Greetings. I just purchased a 2002 SL2 DOHC with 158,000 miles. Had the car inspected and most everything checks out. Mechanic said the front struts need to be replaced, the belt tensioner needs to be replaced, and idle speed is too high. He didn't diagnose further but I did some research and, based on the symptoms, I'm guessing it's the Throttle Position Sensor. Other than that, there were no other issues found. There are no maintenance records whatsoever for this car so my questions for the forum are this:

1) With 158k miles I assume most components are nearing the end of the expected lifespan. Are there particular components that could fail suddenly leaving me stranded?

2) Should I take a proactive approach and replace those components now or would you recommend that I just wait until they fail?

3) Given the above, are there particular repairs that I should piggyback together? For example, I'm already considering replacing the TPS so I might as well remove the entire throttle body and follow the cleaning procedure described in other posts. Are there other repairs that make sense to group together and perform all at the same time?

As a new Saturn owner, I REALLY appreciate your advice. Thanks!
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Old 12-28-2013, 06:47 PM   #2
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Re: 2002 SL2 DOHC Proactive Maintenance

I dont think 158k miles is near the end of life of a Saturn SL2. I would agree a TPS might need replaced, but a high idle could also be a sticking Idle Air Controller, or a vacuum leak. One thing about Saturn "S" series cars is a habit of using motor oil. So keep a check on the level. The problem is well known, and doesnt have any easy solution. The oil control rings are somewhat weak I think, and likely to stick in the groove if the engine sees mostly short trips. The problem never seemed to be so bad on cars whose owners had long commutes each day. One of ours was using a quart every 400 miles. It still passed the emissions test just fine though.
The transmissions need an oil an filter & fluid change now and then, and if you dont have the service records, I would do the fluid and filter change. The filter is a special spin-on kind, on the front of the transmission. Saturn Transmissions have a drain plug on the bottom near the differential that you remove to drain the fluid. They take Dexron III type fluid.
It may have been replaced already, but the original Engine Coolant Temperature Sensors had a high failure rate. Then the car could get hard to start in the morning. There are two sensors that look alike, on the side of the engine that is facing the driver's side of the car. One of them will have two contacts, and that is the one that should be replaced if its original. I'm not sure how to tell if its original, except the originals were usually made with a plastic body, and the replacements have a brass body.
You can expect the EGR valve to get sticky and need replacement. That is a fairly common item to fail with any car with over ten years on it. There is a rubber tube coming from the valve cover that will get senile and crack open. That should be looked at.

The radiators had a habit of developing a leak, on the plastic side tank on the driver's side, near the top - where the upper fitting is for the transmission oil cooler. Its kind of normal, and again, with that mileage on it, the rad may have already been replaced, but if not - keep an eye on the coolant level. The leaks were always fairly slow - and easy to miss if you didnt look for them.
The radiator fans can also fail, and cause overheating if you dont realize it. The way to test it, is once the engine is fully warm, to let the engine idle for a while, and see if the fan comes on before the temp gauge gets more than halfway across the 4th section of the temp gauge lines. Luckily the fan motor arent too expensive, nor very hard to replace.
We have had several SL1 and SL2 cars in our family. They were from 92, 95, 96, 98 and 99. Each of the SL2s had sunrooofs that were stuck shut, and in heavy rains, water could get in. So we just sealed then shut with a cartridge of 100% silicone sealer. The electric windows got finicky too, though most of the problems were with the rear door windows. A small plastic piece would break, and the windows would no longer go up when you wanted them to. Shoving them up with your hands and telling folks never to use them was our solution.
We had wipers that would suddenly decided to begin sweeping, when starting our 98 SL2. That was another Saturn thing - a malfunctioning wiper control module. My fix was to insert a toggle switch, so if the wipers didnt behave, I could stop them; timing it so they would stop in the 'parked' position.
While the "S" series cars all look very good, one reason is because plastic doesnt rust; and the doors, fenders, & trunk are all plastic. If you open the rear door and look at the sill, you will see the metal substructure of the car, and it may be rusty.
The sunroofs in Saturns have drains from each corner of the sunroof 'insert' They run down inside the windshield pillars, and down the body behind the rear doors, and they like to plug up at the bottom. The openings arent easy to reach, until you have taken the fenders off. This was another reason we just sealed the sunroofs closed.
With the mileage your car has on it, it would be an okay idea to replace the idler pulley, and at least the tensioner pulley, if not the entire tensioner. I would also replace the serpentine belt.
When our 96 SL1 had 190,000 miles on it, I had to replace the water pump. Its not too hard to reach, though you do have to reach it from above, and from below. That car wore out its clutch at 199,000, and I pulled the engine and replaced the clutch. It now has about 240,000, and my daughter is using it to commute to a job that is 50 miles away. Its a 5-speed, and gets about 35 mpg.
The cars have a timing chain, which doesnt have any recommended replacement interval. They seem to last past 200,000 miles very easily.
I would be sure to oil the door hinges and put a drop of oil onto the key, and put it into each lock - ten minutes per lock.

I kept looking and finally bought a set of the Saturn Service Manuals on ebay, for a 95 SL2. They also cover most things on the 91-94 Saturn "S" series cars. They were expensive, costing over $100, but there are 17 volumes in the set! And they have already paid for themselves.

I get quite a few parts from an online place, called Their prices are better than the regular auto parts places. When I needed a dealer part - I found that Chevy dealers had the listings. That was years ago though, and either rockauto or ebay are where I go for parts now.

As for the mechanic saying it needed front struts; of course it would. Any car with close to 100,000 on it could use new struts. But I havent changed any front or rear strut on our family's Saturns. Im sure new ones might improve the ride on lumpy roads, but its not a critical issue to me. You can expect things like outer tie rod ends and ball joints to need replacement sooner or later.
As for the life of a Saturn, a few years back there was a gent named Luke in southern CA who delivered parts to retailer, so drove his SL1 a lot. Last I heard from him he had over 530,000 miles on the engine and transmission, neither or which had ever been out of the car.

There are or were a number of other Saturn forums. I would do a google search on "Saturn forum", though with the cars aging and being 'orphaned' the forums may be drying up.

Good Luck with your car.
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Old 12-29-2013, 10:43 AM   #3
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Re: 2002 SL2 DOHC Proactive Maintenance

Thank you VERY much for the excellent, detailed info. I really appreciate you taking the time to write all that up.
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