EnG Saab 9-5 SE Update

As regular readers know, I bought a 1999 Saab 9-5 last month, and I’ve enjoyed driving it.
But I must say, I’ve not enjoyed fixing it.
UPDATE: I guess that I thought that it would be understood that since I bought an 8-year-old car, I bought into a few repairs (see comments on stereo, motor mount). As I said in one of the summary paragraphs, I expect to get my hands dirty a little. I went over this car pretty well at the time of purchase, I missed a couple of things, but my lament here is about two specific things: one, dumb luck that a few parts that worked well at the time of purchase failed in the first month of use, and two, that some of these failures are due to poor designs and/or manufacturing processes.
That is, this isn’t so much a “woe is me” whining rant as it is a frustration that our favorite brand is bitten by the same bug as many other manufacturers have fallen prey to: cheaper parts and less attention to longevity for better margins and/or competitive pricing. That’s all.

First of all, I knew that the radio in it was an iffy thing — the car broker knocked a couple hundred off the price to compensate. It’s completely unusable — the radio included came from a different car, and couldn’t be “married” to my car since it hadn’t been “divorced” from the previous (and unknown) car. After some reasoning through the options, I’ve decided to replace it with an aftermarket unit. I simply couldn’t see paying the price (good used 9-5 head units go for about $200 on eBay) for 8-year-old technology. I’ve ordered the DIN adapter from GenuineSaab.com (thanks for the tip, Greg!) and a Panasonic head unit with a front USB port for thumb drive or iPod connection. Sweet. I’m planning to keep the speakers as they are until I get some of the other things resolved. On the minus side, I really like having the steering wheel controls for the stereo, and the aftermarket unit will not take advantage of them.
Second, you may remember surprise number one: the failure of the serpentine belt. There’s a slight surprise, and one that I don’t think was foreseeable, so it’s something that I’ve not blamed myself or the car for, but it was a pain, none the less.
While the 9-5 was in the shop for the belt, the folks at French’s noticed that it needed a motor mount, so I got that, too. Is eight years and 94,000 miles too soon for a motor mount? Probably not, so, again, I pretty much chalked that up to the “normal” wear and tear on an eight-year-old car.
Well, that wasn’t the end of it. Not even close.
The mechanic in Dallas also noticed something that happens to “all Saab 9-5’s sooner or later” — a leaking heater control valve. This genuinely took me aback since I’d taken a good look under the car before I bought it. I saw no evidence of fluids that seemed out of the ordinary. I told them that I’d take my chances with the car on the trip home. I stopped at an auto parts store in Hurst, Texas along the way and bought a bottle of coolant to be sure. The leak must have been small, because the 9-5 didn’t lose much coolant, if any, on the 700-mile trip home.
Once at home, I took the 9-5 to my local indy Saab mechanic, Eurofix. They fixed the heater control valve, calling it the “welcome to Eurofix” repair because they do them so often. They also found that the oil pressure sensor was leaking a small amount and replaced it before it bacame a major issue. This is a repair that I could have made myself, but I elected to have them do it because it was already in the shop for the heater control valve and I simply didn’t have the time — Christmas and a vacation after Christmas were bearing down, so I had them do it. (I guess that I could have done the heater control valve too, but what a freakin’ pain.)
By now, I was getting a little cranky with this car. Any more surprises and I was going to get downright frustrated.
Of course, since I’m writing this, there have indeed been more surprises.
Early this month, just after the car went through emissions testing (thank goodness), the information display rang out a little cheery tone saying, “Check Engine”. Grrrr. Turns out this was a faulty 02 sensor, cheap and quick fix, but by now I didn’t trust the car at all. That mistrust turned out to be completely justified when I returned from a three-day trip the following week and the car was completely dead. No juice at all. Nary a light bulb flickering. So, the Nashville Airport Security detail jump started the car, and I practically cussed the whole 20 miles home. The next morning the car didn’t start without help from the C900 and a set of jumper cables. I looked at the battery casing for a manufacture date, and, sure enough, the battery was cheap and just over three years old. This is one that I can easily fix, and I bought the new battery and went on, thinking that the little nagging issues were now fully behind me.
I was wrong. The nagging issues keep coming.
This weekend, as the cabin vent fan came on, there was an accompanying rattle that sounded something like playing cards on the spokes of a bicycle. Yes, for all you 9-5 fans out there, it was the dreaded 08 code on the automatic climate control. It seems that Saab built the freakin’ “blend door” (actually a damper to control the mix of outside air the enters the cabin) control arm out of plastic that has the strength of wet pasta once it turns five or six. And, to top it all off, the cabin vent fan has stopped working, period. I’m not sure if it’s a related item or not, and the vent fan motor (which is also known to break right about this time of life) isn’t cheap enough at $300 to just have on hand when I fix the darn control arm.
The real insult to injury? Read the comments on SaabCentral.com about the dealer cost to repair the blend door issue — $1900 and up. Oy vey! It turns out that the “official” Saab parts and methods require that the dealer replace the whole assembly which necessitates near removal of the dash to make the repair. Of course, the aftermarket suppliers have a $100 DIY repair that will suffice. Do you remember my comments on the great write up from Greg Abbott? Are you listening Saab? As aggravating as this is to an enthusiast who expects to get his hands dirty — how does the average driver feel? These things clear Saab dealerships like bulls clear the streets in Pamplona!
Frankly, at the moment, I’m feeling a little let down by the car that I chose. None of this is Earth-shaking, but it needs to let up or the Nine-Five is getting eighty-sixed.

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