Problems with my car; advice and opinions needed

I’m having some problems with my car, and I’m looking for input from my fellow Dopers. I’ve been having a problem with my car (a 1998 Saturn SL2) since the summer. The problem is that my “Service Engine Soon” is on, and the Saturn dealership that I’ve been taking it to hasn’t been able to correct the problem. I’ve given myself a day to calm down from my latest encounter with them, so I have no need to rant about them in the Pit. However, I do have to wonder if the service department is just stringing me along now.

Here’s the story. In June, my car was acting odd, and my “Service Engine Soon” light came on as I was driving home from summer school. I immediately took it to the dealership for testing and fixing. What caused the warning light to come on was a bad O2 sensor, a bad coolant sensor, and arching spark plugs/wiring harness. I also had a bad serpentine belt and a broken motor mount, but those probably wouldn’t have tripped the light. The repairs were made, the fault codes were cleared, and I was on my merry way.

Five miles later, the “Service Engine Soon” light came on again. The next day I took it back to the dealership after school. After testing, I was told that the problem was that the fault codes from the previous day hadn’t been correctly reset. The technicians reset it, and I was on my merry way. Two-tenths of a mile later, the “Service Engine Soon” light was back on. The next day, after school, I was back at the dealership with my car and a very familiar problem. This time, the diagnosis was that the power control module (essentially, the computer) was bad and needed to be replaced at a charge of $700. Having just spent $600 for repairs two days earlier, I decided to postpone that repair until I could gather the money. I was told that my car would run fine, but that cursed light would remain on (plus, I wouldn’t be able to pass inspection).

Yesterday, I had the money assembled and took my car back to the dealership. The PCM was replaced and reprogrammed. I was assured that this would correct the problem with that warning light. After I got my car back, I drove around for a while to make sure that the “Service Engine Soon” light wasn’t going to come on again. After about twenty miles, the light was still off. I was satisfied that everything was good and went home. About an hour later, I drove to the store. The “Service Engine Soon” came back on and is still on. I used much profanity on the drive home. Now here’s where I need advice.

First, does anyone out there have any idea what could be the cause of this problem? My gas cap is securely sealed, all my fluid levels are good, I’m still a month/1000 miles away from my next oil change, and my car is running as well as it ever has. It could be another sensor problem, but I can’t check that on my own. It could be something out of alignment, I suppose, but I haven’t had an accident or jostled my car in any way that I can think of.

Second, would it be worth it just taking my problem to another Saturn dealership in the area? The same dealership, technicians, and service advisors have seen my car four times, and the problem is obviously not fixed. I’m not sure if just going to another Saturn dealership is going to guarantee that they’ll find something that the other place did not.

Third, is possible that I may have wasted $700 on a repair I didn’t need? After the initial repairs in June, the fault was attributed to the computer not being reset properly, and then it was attributed to a bad computer. Now that that’s been replaced and the problem persists, I’m having doubts as to whether or not that was the problem. If it turns that replacing the PCM was unnecessary, is there any chance of me recovering some of that $700?

Thanks, and I look forward to any advice ya’ll can give me. In the meantime, I calling the last service advisor I dealt with and telling him that the damn light is back on. I already know he’s going to tell me he’ll need to see the car to figure out what’s going on, but that’ll have to wait until Saturday (work, school, and all that fun stuff).

1st:Disconnect battery post for thiry seconds…Reconnect. OK/Nok take to different dealer. Simple things on a maintenance schedule will cause the light to go on, or all that jostling in the engine compartment may have aggravated something. I had a vehicle with a computer, it lied. The bitch, my 64 truck will never lie to me…Good Luck, but a toyota or nissan or honda,

I would suggest that you gather the all the invoices for these repairs and contact Saturn’s consumer affairs department. Explain to them that 4 times you were told that the car is repaired, yet you cannot even drive across town before the light comes back on again. Explain to them that you love your car, but have lost faith in the dealership. Make sure that they understand that you cannot believe that 3 completely unrelated problems have occurred to your car, as it left the dealership. Ask them if they have some type of technical wizard that can assist the dealer, who apparently is clueless. Get a name. Follow up with a letter describing the entire affair with copies to the better business bureau, and the dealership.
In your further conversations with the dealership explain that they have had 3 tries and $1300 to find the problem. It appears to you that they are just throwing parts at the car. In particular the PCM (computer) was not needed, and you would like the old one reinstalled, money refunded, and your problem fixed. (I don’t know the comsumer laws in TX, in Calif. this could happen.)

bojon, I’ll try your advice tomorrow afternoon. However, I fear that, while disconnecting the battery for a bit may reset the warning light, there is something wrong with my car that is causing a fault condition. If that works, I think the light is just going to come again shortly afterwards.

Rick, I’ve got all the old invoices in front of me. To be fair, only about $1000 has gone to repairs related to that are directly related to the warning light. However, you are right: I need to complain about this to someone higher up. I talked to the service advisor today, and he basically said what I thought he would. I need to bring it back in, but he’s convinced that the old PCM was bad and did need replacing. ::shrug:: I remain unconvinced, but we’ll see.

Thanks for the help, both of ya’ll. :slight_smile:

Disonnecting the battery will reset the computer back to the factory default. Hence, if there is a problem the computer will see it again and the light will come back on.

I would contact Saturn.

I wonder if they tested that power module orwas it just the next best thing to replace. Dealers seem great at replacing parts sometimes but not fixing them. I would guess that there is a good chance you never needed to replace the module. Complain and good luck.

Okay, I think I can close this thread off with a happy ending.

First of all, thanks for all the suggestions on dealing the car and the dealership. The information was greatly appreciated. Thanks.

Second of all, the car went back to the dealership for one last chance. I complained to both Saturn and the service manager about what I had been through with my car. I was assured that the technicians were not just basing their diagnoses on the phase of the moon as related to the ascension of Jupiter and the number of bats sleeping under the nearby freeway overpass.

Third of all, the car is fixed. I was told that the computer had not been properly programmed when it was replaced the previous week. The technicians reprogrammed it, and I got my car back without having to pay anything extra on it. It’s been a week since then, and the warning light is still off.

So, in conclusion, I appreciate the help. My car is finally fixed, and I didn’t have to drop anymore cash on it. I feel like I won a victory against the dealership, although I recognize that all I did was complain up the chain of command.

Not that you need it now, but at Kragen, you can get a little box that reads the codes just like the dealer has, even resets them too. About $150-$200 for a multi car type reader or $39 for a one car version.