You’re looking at my younger son’s car. Long story short, I passed my 2006 Ford Focus on to him and within a month someone ran a stop sign and put an end to it. My son’s stepdad loves to hit the auto auctions, so he sprang right into action. In no time he found this 2000 Saturn sedan — 20 years old with only 35,000 miles on the clock. Even better for my son, this car cost $500 less than what insurance paid for the T-boned and totaled Focus. How often does it happen that someone wrecks their car and makes money on the deal?
It’s strange to me to think of this Saturn as a CC. But it is 22 years old now, and these are starting to become uncommon on the road here in the Midwest. This one has been reliable for my son for the two years he’s owned it.
This Saturn hails from the era before cars became so tall, and it’s mildly amusing to see my six-foot-two son down so low in it when he pulls up, and then emerge and tower over the thing. He likes his space to be tidy, as you can see.
We’ve looked at the history of Saturn at length here at CC, with a two-part Automotive History by Jeff Nelson here and here, and a GM Deadly Sin on the first-gen Saturn SL by PN here.
An interesting juxtaposition to Rich Baron’s COAL entry a couple posts down. Thirty years ago, owning a 20-year old car meant you were driving an unreliable, worn out, end-of-life vehicle. These days, a 20-year-old vehicle Is (or can be) a perfectly useful vehicle for parents to not have to worry about what their child is driving.
Yep, been thinking about that lately myself as I shop around for a used Honda/Toyota minivan to replace my previous van that was totaled last December. My budget puts me right at the 8-10 year old mark. Absolutely no comparison to a 10-year-old vehicle from when I started driving in the 80s. Back then a 10-year-old vehicle was a cheap beater with limited time left. Now it gets you a high-quality vehicle you can drive another 10 or 15 years. Of course, that’s reflected in the price…in the late 80s my first car was an 11-year-old Olds Cutlass with 110,000 miles, pockmarked with rust fore and aft. Cost me the princely sum of $800. Now an 11-year-old car still requires a loan…
Had a 2000 SW2. I adored that little car. Good on gas, cheap to run, reliable and actually pretty fun to drive. Just make sure it’s got oil and its a happy little car. And being its an automatic, change the tranny fluid every 30k.
Somedays, I wish I had never sold it.
Great cars. Not as refined as a Camry, say, but will run forever if taken care of.
One of my daughters totaled her 2003 Chevy Prism in 2012, paid $3200, received $4400 settlement. Another daughter hit a deer with her 2008 Scion XD bought in 2016 for $4000, received a $5600 settlement.
I enjoyed our five new Saturns, but the problem I had and I recommend you watch with the S series is transmissions. My last 2001 SW2 went through three automatics. A shame because it was a good little ride. What ended my SL days was due to my ability to keep getting my wife pregnant – we grew right out of it, and you can’t fit three car seats in them and have room for older kids. Tried – doesn’t work. From there, we went to a new Saturn Relay3 but it was just a regular GM minivan with dated engine and tranny that wore out at 165,000 miles. We grew out of that van around the same time.
Now that my father-in-law, Mr. Goodwrench has passed, we’ve return to Fords and a Chrysler minivan for family duties – thank god my wife loves minivans.
Speaking of 20 year old cars…. As a retired Toyota salesperson, I bought a 2000 Tacoma P/U, standard cab, 2.4L, auto with air last year, with 176,000 miles on the odometer, and paid less than $2,000.00. Later that same year, I traded a 2010 Corolla S, 1.8L 4cyl, 5-speed with 80k for a 2001 Solara, 2.2L, automatic, with less than 50k, for $4,000.00. I have my two vehicles to last me the rest of my lifetime.
Fine car and well kept. Loved my 2000 SL2 I purchased in 2018 with 83k on the clock. Only issue was the large rust hole in the engine cradle. An hour with the mig and some scrap sheet metal and I was go to go. Sold it 20k later for what i bought it for as my 6-2 son couldn’t fit comfortably.
Great cars, and I’m no fan of the domestics in any way. We had a ’95 SL2 bought new that still ran great when we sold it at 200,000 miles. We lived in the city at the time and it was a great car for urban living, small enough for easy parking, and zippy and nimble so it was perfect for dodging though traffic.
I bought a Dodge Shadow for $900 that was wrecked two days later when a driver lost control of her car and ran into it. It was parked on the street, so her insurance had to cover the loss. They offered me $2400 for it based on a market survey of available used cars. Nevertheless, I quickly sent them the title and got the money. This doesn’t happen often, but it does sometimes.
Saturns were often referred to as the Rodney Dangerfield of cars. They don’t get no respect.
The 2000 apparently got a facelifted dash since the cluster and center stack look different from our 97 SL2. That gave good service apart from an intractable serpentine belt squeal until the Achilles’ heel differential pin let go and punched a hole in the transaxle in 2017. At that point we had gotten 120,000 miles and 15 years out of it so it got donated and scrapped.
The twin cam Saturns were actually good to drive with adequate acceleration and solid handling. I’d consider another but that transaxle is a ticking bomb.
I’ve got two more or less 20 year olds in the fleet now and they are both reliable but slightly seedy on the edges.
I bought my oldest Grandson a 2003, 173K mile Honda CR-V (first gen vehicle) @ 3 years ago. While $umm money has gone into it for repairs/maint., overall it has been quite dependable for its intended around town use.
Now that his dad put in a modern radio he is VERY happy with it…..one must have music, as I do remember from long ago!
The improved engineering and quality built into most vehicles in the last 20 some years do indeed make for very long lived vehicles compared to even cars from the 70s, 80s…progre$$!!! 🙂
Had two S-series Saturns that I bought used…a ’95 SL1 and a ’01 SL2. I’m still kicking myself for selling the ’01. Modern cars are way too complicated for my liking and the idea of having something simple, cheap, and easy to work on like an S-series is REALLY appealing these days. Good luck finding one with the 5-speed and low(ish) mileage at this point though 🙁
My daughter is still driving one grandma’s 1998 Civic and one son is still driving the other grandma’s 2006 Buick Lacrosse. Both are still well under 100K even now. And both are still chugging along, although the Honda suffered some nasty right side damage that is not worth fixing.
In my world, this is a great young person’s car.
This falls into a category of cars that I appreciate more now than when they were new.
Since my daughters are gradually nearing driving age, I can’t help but look at older, well-kempt cars and think “that would make a great car for a her.” My neighbors’ son recently bought a ’98 Ford Ranger as his first car… another relatively solid vehicle with few frills – not a bad choice.
Good luck to your son and this very well-preserved Saturn!
There is a lot to said for basic, older vehicles as inexpensive transport. Insurance costs
Are extremely low as well. I pay $12 a month for (liability only of course) on my 1992
For older daily drivers parts availability and mechanical simplicity are key, unless you
Are able and willing to have your transport sidelined while you hunt down part x.
Near total lack of safety features is another aspect. My approach is to treat driving
Older 4 wheeled vehicles the way I would a motorcycle, ie no distractions, including radio,
And hyper vigilance.
I hate to say it, but if I had a child starting out on the road, I would hesitate to put them in
Anything more than a decade or so old.
Interesting on all the positive comments about the S Saturns. Now I’ve never driven one, let alone owned one, but what I have heard isn’t positive. Whatever.
Now the age is a different matter. I remember back in ’72 a cousin, who was into cars, bought a ’47 Cadillac. 62 series, torpedo back IIRC. 25 years old, it wasn’t bad, but clearly a very old car. My daily driver today is a ’98 BMW 328is and with 230K on the odo I wouldn’t think anything about driving it to NYC tomorrow without even popping the hood. And that’s 3K miles for me. Not all, but many cars, some going back to the 80s, are capable of absolutely absurd longevity, limited by failing paint (clearcoat) interiors and smog. Oh yeah, styling and keeping up with the Joneses. But not mechanically.
In 2007 when my son was 16 I bought him a 2003 Cavalier with 35k on it from a salvage auction. needed a fender, headlight and bumper cover. he’s now 31 and still has the car. The paint is crap, it has dents all over and the dash is cracked but at 160k, it keeps on running. I’m taking it on a vacation to Mexico and while there i will paint it, have the interior done and hopefully he will still have it when he’s 46 and I’m dead.
My first car was a 1998 SL2 which I bought in 2016, it was reliable and served me well for the year and a half I owned it. This will sound rather cringe-inducing, but I wanted something different, at the time my high school parking lot was filled with either the Chevrolet Cavalier or the Honda Civic which strikes me as BORING. And to its credit the Saturn was different (queue the slogan), it had plastic body panels, headlights that looked different from anything else, had window switches in the centre console, and burned an unhealthy amount of oil (common Saturn issue).
I was also limited by some prerequisites set by my Dad. My Dad told me there would be some requirements (As I needed his consent/signature in order for me to buy a car in British Columbia.)
1. Must be a 4 cylinder
2. Must be from a reliable brand
3. Not super fast
4. This was unspoken but kind of implied, preferably a GM product.
After weeks of showing my Dad potential suitors (which he mostly rejected), I found this tidy low KM Saturn on the used lot of our local Dodge dealer. At 134000km and $2000 it became mine. I felt the car suited me well, it was a bit of an outcast, kinda weird and I grew rather fond of it. It served me well on trips with my friends, first dates and even my first car accident (not my fault). It was also my first foray into automotive repair, learning DIY tricks from my grandfather and dad, we even custom painted the rims.
However after a while, the inner car guy wanted something more. I wanted a manual, something more practical like a hatchback, and something that didn’t suffer from late 1990’s GM build quality.
So after a year I bought a low km (88,000km) 2002 Golf GL 5 speed, and sold the saturn for $1000 to a young chain smoking couple from the next town over.
Epilogue: A few years later I saw a Mazda 2 in the parking lot of my university, and I immediately was drawn to its rims. They were clearly off a 1997-1999 Saturn SL2 and were painted just like the ones on my car. The Mazda also had a dealer plate frame from the town where the people I sold the Saturn to were from. My theory remains that the owner, despite my warning, forgot about the classic Saturn oil burning issue and let it run out and seized the motor. Then slapped the rims onto their new ride.
The Saturn is likely gone and that bums me out, had the new owner taken better care of it he likely could’ve gotten many more years of service out of it
From what I understand, Saturn motors had low tension piston rings in an attempt to decrease friction and increase fuel economy. The oil control ring would coke up if the oil was not changed regularly and stick, resulting in increasing oil usage. Sometimes you could un-stick the rings by warming up the motor, pouring in a little Mystery Oil, transmission fluid, or your mild solvent of choice, let it sit over night, start it up, run hard about fifty miles and then drain and re-fill; sometimes that didn’t work.
I kept a friend’s son’s 97 Saturn alive through his last couple years of college and for a while thereafter. It was an honest mechanical device, with a somewhat agricultural flavor-solid, not quite as refined as the Japanese. He moved to Florida and I learned recently that the Saturn had finally died. I was a little saddened, it had always responded well to good care.
Hey- we knew we were cool.
I have been playing with the S series for 20 years or so. My SO and I have owned 26 of them. Mostly SC2s and all have been twin cams.
We currently have 7 roadable – 3 needing minor work – 1 needing deer damage replaced.. 5 parts cars intact and a barn full of parts.
We intend to be driving these cars till we die.
I have learned them. I know nearly every part, hose and wire. I can diagnose and fix virtually all problems myself. They’ re that simple. I have rebuilt several of the engines. The parts are still available and cheap.
My SO has driven one to work daily for the last 20 years – 30 miles one way – without single breakdown.
With car prices out the roof – we sold a few of our collection – at many times what we paid.
Essentialy – we drive almost free.
What’ s not to love.