Ignition problem, 2001 Saturn

A friend of mine had a problem with her car over the weekend. While she was pulling out of a driveway in her Saturn SL, (1.9L 4-cyl DOHC), the engine simply stopped. Her battery was not a problem, nor was the starter. It cranked and gave compression just fine. It just wouldn’t spark, on any cylinder.

She got her roommate (not an auto mechanic) to come out and take a look. They removed and replaced all the spark plug wires, and all of the fuses in the fuse box. This took approximately 45 minutes. The only thing that looked like a problem was that one spark plug wire was loose (they do not report having the expertise to determine whether it was the wire that went to the ignition coil).

Anyway, once everything was put back together, the car started just fine. It has been started twice since then, and there has been no problem. Still, she’s worried that this could happen again with no warning, and possibly on a freeway.

When she told me this story, I thought about problem I had a couple of years ago, with my ignition coil not providing juice to the spark plugs. For me, it only happened on occasions when I was trying to start my car (warm), and SOMETIMES, removing and reconnecting the ignition wires would let me start. Other times, I just had to wait for a while, and the engine would start once it had cooled down some more.

My problem was eventually diagnosed as a cracked ignition coil, and I suspected that hers might be as well. I went up on Google to see if I could find a test that could rule out a cracked coil. While I was doing this, she gave me one more piece of information: while the car was refusing to start, the lights and gauges on her instrument panel ALSO WERE NOT FUNCTIONING.

Right after she told me this, I found a hit on Google that mentioned that Saturns had a potential problem with the ignition coil AND the ignition switch. And now, as I’m typing this, she’s saying that one of the fuses might have been loose, too.

Is the ignition switch the likely cause of what happened to her car?

Thanks for any responses.

A faulty ignition switch is certainly a possibility, and if the instrument cluster failure did indeed go hand in hand with the no-start, it’s very likely.

Note that what the key is inserted into is not the actual ignition switch, but the igniton lock cylinder. The switch is connected to the back side of the lock cyinder.

Thanks, Gary T. And the fact that the problem began with the spark going away while the engine was running? Is that also consistent with a faulty ignition switch?

Yes. What we’re speculating is a poor contact inside the switch. When it loses connection, the effect is the same as if the switch were turned off, resulting in no power to the ignition (thus no spark) and no power to the instrument cluster, which is on the same ignition circuit in this model.

Some other items that would go off if the switch were actually turned off, including the wipers and radio, are on a different accessory circuit and likely would continue to work. If this is the case it’s a pretty sure bet the problem is a faulty switch.

If it is the switch, the symptom could reappear at any time.

Thank you very much. I’ll notify her immediately.

My girlfirend used to drive a late 90’s Saturn SL. She would be driving along and suddenly the engine would just turn off. It happened to me a few times while driving the car as well.

After sitting on the side of the highwaya few times waiting for the tow truck to come, the car would cool down, and once the tow truck brought the car home, it started right up.

The engine would just stop when the car warmed up, and once it cooled down it started up fine. (there didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason as to how long the car was running or how far it was driven)

She had the Camshaft Position Sensor replaced and it didn’t happen anymore.
It seemed to be a common problem with Saturn’s