SAAB 900 Turbo 16v

SAAB 900 Turbo 16v 5 Speed Manual DSCF1171

Year Registered: 1991

Mileage when bought 132,000
Mileage when sold 247,000

Buying a car out of warranty and heading for its first 8th birthday, you know that certain repairs are likely to be needed. Clutches tend to go around the 100-150k mark, depending on how you drive and whether you like to rest your left foot on the pedal. Gearbox’s have a similar shelf life and so too for transmissions. If you buy well and have a full service history to guide you, you can mitigate some of these costs, but you know that eventually parts will wear out.

Saab’s were built by snow loving Swedes and designed to survive a head on collision with an elk. It is perhaps because of this the 900’s predecessor, the 99, was the only car allowed to race in the UK’s Rallycross series in the 80’s without the need for an aftermarket roll cage. The 900 Turbo inherited much of this strength and it is quite possibly one of the safest places to be in an accident, so long as you don’t launch through the windscreen or smash into the steering wheel for there are no such things as airbags. You could also do yourself a mischief with a poorly placed hot drink, for SAAB’s idea of a cup holder at the time extended to two shallow rings on the inside of the glove compartment. Handy for when stationary perhaps, but not at a canter.

DSCF1162This model was the last of the true SAAB’s, pre-General Motors and the hideous piece of machinery that superseded it in 1994. As with any vehicle, if maintained properly and regularly, it can and most probably will last very well. The 900 is no exception and a mileage in excess of 400k (644,000 kms) is entirely possible.

I ran the car for 13 years and a glance through the receipts showed some common threads. Engine mountings, CV joints and boots, and front disc’s were the most habitual repairs other than the exhaust mounting that must have been changed 7 or 8 times. Luckily the part was inexpensive but you took sleeping policemen with care for the consequences meant a day or so of creaking and clanging before a replacement could be found and you’d be convinced the shock’s had gone.

In time, costly repair bills did eventuate including a new clutch, transmission, radiator, brake master cylinder, exhaust system, steering column and a new headliner. However, these were parts that had to go at some time and then only once.

By using Hollobon’s rule of addition and subtraction, developed mostly on beer mats and coffee stained post it notes, the car cost me in the region of $1200-1300 per year including services but not including tyres. I tried to service the car every 6 months and for a time used cheaper repair garages such as Ultratune. I can’t knock their service but the parts did seem to have a shorter lifespan and ultimately paying slightly more at a specialist proved more efficient and the car drove far better.

 

TYPICAL COSTS

Transmission replacement  $2272

Clutch replacement  $1550

Radiator $ 275

Outer CV Boots kit (fitted) $ 215

Brake Master Cylinder (fitted) $ 260

Front Engine Mount  $ 190

Steering Rack Boots  $ 150

Starter Motor  $ 150

Steering Column $ 113

Exhaust Mount  $   10

DSCF1170RECOMMENDED SERVICE CENTRE

SAABTech – 3 Taronga Place, Mona Vale NSW 2103 – Tel 02 9999 2771

www.saabtech.com.au

RECOMMENDED FORUMS / KNOWLEDGE BASE

www.saabcentral.com

Here is a more comprehensive report from Simon Turner, to read more visit:

http://www.saabcentral.com/techhelp/c900/900_buyers_guide.php

Head gasket: Signs of water and/or oil leaks from the cylinder head. Unless you are a fairly competent mechanic you will be looking at around 10 hrs labour plus parts for a replacement. Expensive!

Gearbox:One of the major weak points in a Saab is the gearbox. You hear of gearboxes, both automatics and manuals giving up the ghost at 60,000 miles and others going on for over 300,000 miles. It all depends how it has been treated. Auto boxes coupled to Turbo motors probably have the worst reputation for letting go first. As a rule of thumb you can reckon on some major gearbox repairs between 150,000 and 200,000 miles. Again gearboxes can cost anywhere from £200.00 for a second hand box to £1000.00 for a fully recon box, plus the labour to fit it! The whole engine and gearbox has to be removed for repair or replacement. Things to look out for, difficult to engage gear, not engaging any one of the gears, a whining noise whilst travelling in 3rd or 5th and popping out of gear particularly reverse.

Turbo:Again the Turbo’s seems to have a life span from anywhere around 60,000 miles to 300,000 miles. As a general rule a turbo can be expected to last around 120,000 miles. The earlier oil cooled Turbo’s tend to go sooner than the later water cooled turbo’s but obviously again it depends how they have been treated. The earlier oil cooled Turbos require a lot more time to cool down. Again they are fairly costly to replace averaging around £300 to £400.

Timing/Cam chain:Expected lifespan around 150,000 miles. Listen for rattles from the engine especially when the engine is cold. You can replace the chain without removing the engine with a link chain, but it is recommended by Saab that the guides are replaced at the same time which does involve removing the engine.

Exhaust system:Might seem obvious but a complete exhaust system is a fairly expensive item to replace. If you are able to get under the car check the system for general condition and check the exhaust manifold for cracks, especially the 8v cars.

Oil and Water: Check the oil for signs of ‘mayo’ water leaking into the oil system and at the same time check the coolant for signs of oil getting into the water system. Both are usually signs of gasket failure.

Clutch:If the clutch pedal is taking just after you have started to release it then it would indicate that either the hydraulic clutch system has air in it and it needs bleeding or more than likely the seals have gone in the mastercylinder and it needs repairing or replacing. The other less likely reason is that there is wear in the pedal linkage allowing for freeplay in the pedal itself. Of course the clutch itself might need replacing at around £150.00 including labour.

Power Steering Rack:Try to get access to the underside of the vehicle to check the steering rack for leaks. When test driving the vehicle the steering should be light and responsive. If stiff when the car is cold and becomes more responsive as the car warms up, this is a sign of a rack on it’s last legs. Replacement racks are available for around £150.00 to £200.00 plus around three hours labour to fit.

C/V joints: When test driving a car with steering on full lock and you hear a click, click, click sound this is a sign of worn CV joints. Replacement joints cost around £70.00 plus a couple of hours labour to fit.

Ball joints: If you have the facility available. check the ball joints. Although fairly cheap and easy to replace they can lead to bad handling and uneven tyre wear. Listen for signs of loud knocking.

Shock absorbers & Springs: There should be no ‘spring’ in the suspension. If there is then the shock absorbers need replacement at around £40.00 each. They should last around 100,000 miles. Also check the rear springs as they tend to sag on older higher mileage cars especially ones that might have been used for towing.

Heating system:Check the operation of the heater and for water leaks in the left footwell. Water leaks indicate the heater control valve needs replacement. No heat, or if you are unable to turn the heat off would indicate a problem with the heater controls.

Sagging Headliner:A common problem which to be fixed properly requires the complete removal of the headliner shell and application of new material and replacement. The lining and adhesive are resonably priced.

Central Locking:Central locking can play up for a number of reasons.

Heated Seats: Quite often on higher mileage Saabs the heated seats have ceased to work. This is usually due to a broken element in the seat itself which involves removing the seat for repair.

Radiator: Might seem like an obvious one, but make sure you check the radiator for leaks and general condition. Cost is around £150.00 to have it replaced.

Electric window winder:This seems to crop up quite often and can range from just requiring a good lubrication to the replacement of both the window motor and regulator. Fairly easy to replace yourself and inexpensive if using second hand parts.

Body: Although generally rust free, the 900’s do have some common places where rust can appear. Check the bottom insides of doors, wheel arches and petrol cap cover in particular. Also around the base of the spoiler in the Turbo and along the inside bottom edges of the doors.

 

Audi Ur Quattro

According to Ron Eagle of Eagle and Raymond Automotive, Quattro’s in Australia tend not to go especially wrong.

For instance, he has never had to deal with any Turbo issues or even replaced one of his customers clutches. That may say more about the owners than  the car, but it does go to show that even though these cars are now 20 to 30 years old, Audi built them to last.

I am indebted to Bob Jones, probably my only reader and therefore a hugely important person, for sending me the link to Octane Magazine, for some excellent information on what to look out for.

Externally we are rather lucky in Australia that rot, either on the panels or beneath the car, is unlikely, unless of course your Quattro was shipped in from Europe, probably the UK due to right hand drive, after a few years of its life. If it had to endure a number of wintry, salt laden roads corrosion could have set in.

In the current absence of personally collated local data, more of which will be added soon, Richard Dredge’s article for Octane Magazine sums it all up nicely.

The quattro’s in-line five-cylinder engine was built in three forms. First came the 10-valve 2144cc WR unit, followed by the MB in 1987 (2226cc, 10 valves) and the RR (2226cc, 20 valves) from 1989. Most troublesome is the WR, while most reliable is the RR – although the latter unit is also the priciest to buy parts for. That leaves the MB, which gives the best balance of affordability and reliability.

Engine rebuilds are costly but, if looked after, a WR unit will despatch 150,000 miles before it needs attention; expect at least another 50,000 miles from an MB or RR. Hopefully the owner will have changed the oil every 5000 miles, using a synthetic lubricant.They will also have used only Audi oil filters (WR engines have two), which have non-return valves to prevent oil starvation of the top end at start-up.

To allow a low bonnet line the powerplant is canted over, leading to pistons and their rings eroding the cylinder wall and causing it to become oval. It takes a long time for significant wear to occur but, once it has, things get expensive. It’s simplest to find a decent used unit; they’re not plentiful but can be sourced through the owners’ clubs for around £750.

Key WR weak spots include a failed turbocharger, given away by poor performance and blue exhaust smoke – the problem is largely solved on later cars by the use of a watercooled unit. Also listen for ticking from the exhaust manifold as the engine warms up: this indicates a cracked manifold, and new replacements are unobtainable. To check for this you must start the car from cold; if it’s already warm, the manifold will already have expanded.

If you’re testing a 10-valve car that’s unable to run cleanly, it’s probably because of perished or split rubber intercooler hoses. If the rubber is damaged, it’s straightforward to replace them; they cost £30-170 each and there are three of them.

There aren’t any problems specific to just the MB or the RR engine, but there are some which might crop up in any of the three types of unit (and particularly the WR). The first is worn valve guides and hardened valve seals, given away by blue exhaust smoke on the over-run. If the engine has been thrashed, a top-end rebuild could be needed in just 60,000 miles, costing up to £1300.

Look behind the offside corner of the front air dam, at the oil cooler and the unions on its pipes. These corrode, allowing the engine to lose its oil and potentially to seize. Get to it in time and the bill is £200 plus four hours’ labour; leave it and the bill could be £4000 for a full rebuild.

If the engine runs badly or won’t start at all, take a look at the turbo boost gauge. If this gives a permanently high reading it’s because the inlet manifold pressure sensor has packed up; replacements are £150, available only from The Quattro Workshop.

The Bosch fuel-injection system is reliable but the fuel pump can give trouble if the car hasn’t been used much. It’s easy to spot because the engine won’t start but will turn over. A new pump at £150 is the only solution.

Whichever model you’re looking at, ask when the cambelt was last changed. This should be done every 45,000 miles or five years, but it’s not straightforward. The crankshaft securing nut needs a 27mm socket and a torque wrench that goes up to a massive 450Nm (331lb ft).

Transmission

Despite the quattro transmission’s complexity, it’s incredibly durable. Synchromesh may have taken a beating if the gearbox has been abused, but this is easy to spot by trying to change ratio quickly when the box is still cold; crunching means the synchromesh is weak. As a rebuild is nearly £1000, most owners live with it or fit a used gearbox for around £200 – plus 10-12 hours’ labour to fit.

Clutches typically last 150,000 miles unless they have been abused. Accelerate smartly in each gear and see if the clutch slips; if it does, all is not lost as specialists can supply an original equipment Sachs unit for £170. It’s possible to buy even cheaper clutch kits, but don’t be tempted – the Sachs one has proved the most reliable
of the lot.

Finish by checking the diff locks haven’t seized up. They’re vacuum operated and you should ensure that the lights on the centre console go on when the locks are engaged and, just as importantly, that they go out when disengaged. Usually, reluctance to do either means the control units just need freeing off and lubricating.

Suspension, steering and brakes

Quattros tend to be thrown about, wearing out the suspension bushes, which also have a hard time because of the quattro’s torque and tyre grip. The front and rear sub-frame bushes bear the brunt, along with the wishbone bushes, so checking these is essential. Look for split wishbone bushes – a new set is £50 and it’s an easy swap.

If a 20v quattro has been really chucked around, it could be suffering from cracks down the nearside of the rear subframe; a replacement is £800. That’s why most owners use the same from a lesser quattro (such as an Audi 80), sourced from a scrapyard for £35 or so.

The steering should be sharp, with plenty of feel. If not, it’s probably because the wheels are out of alignment, leading to uneven tyre wear. Each corner can be adjusted for camber and toe in/toe out, and it should be checked annually by a quattro specialist.

Moaning from the front wheels as the steering wheel is turned on the move means fresh bearings are required; it’s not possible to detect play by feeling for it while the car is jacked up. New bearings cost £30 per corner and they usually last around 80,000 miles. Replacing them is a DIY job if you’ve got access to a press to get the old units out.

The wheels can get damaged on the inside of the rim, because of their width. With the car on axle stands, get underneath and spin the wheel, looking to see if it runs true. If it’s badly damaged it will need renewing – at over £300 apiece from Audi. It’s more cost-effective to buy secondhand ones and have them refurbished.

On MB and RR models, pull the connectors off the low servo pressure warning switch mounted on the brake servo. With the engine switched off, but the ignition on, attach a continuity tester. Press the brake pedal repeatedly on a two- to three-second cycle – if the switch closes after five or fewer depressions the system’s hydraulic accumulator needs changing, at £250.

The rear brakes can give problems, especially if the car isn’t used much, as the handbrake’s self-adjuster piston rod seizes. The best cure is to fit reconditioned brake calipers at £120 per side (double this on the RR).

Bodywork, electrics and trim

Thanks to plenty of zinc plating on most cars, exterior panels are fairly durable. Pre-1985 quattros, with no galvanised panels, can show signs of localised rust even if they’ve never been pranged. From 1985, various panels such as the wings and bonnet were galvanised – but it’s not possible to say with certainty which panels were galvanised and when, as Audi mixed and matched. Until 1987 the bootlid was made of steel, but after this date it was plastic.

Any post-1984 quattro that hasn’t been scraped should be largely rust-free as at least some of its panels will be galvanised; post-1988 examples are the most durable of all. Original factory stickers on the underside of the bonnet are a clue to an untouched car, as these decals haven’t been available for years.

Sills can rot on the earliest quattros, along with the underside of each door and the wheelarches. All quattros need their wings analysed – especially their seams, which often harbour rust as a result of poor accident repairs. These models were handbuilt at the factory so panel fit should be good on an original car.

Make sure all the instrumentation is working, especially if it’s the digital system fitted from 1983. Then switch the ignition on and check that all the warning lights illuminate – bulbs may have been removed to disguise major problems.

Pre-1983 examples have a simple wiring loom, while later ones don’t. But the latter models are also more reliable because the components were of a higher quality. The most common problem with the earliest cars is corroded connections. Before starting the difficult task of tracing dodgy circuits, however, take a look at the fusebox: the board in it can crack and break the connections. A new one is £50.

On WR models, the synthesised voice should spring into action if the ‘Check’ button is held depressed while the ignition is switched on. Then make sure that all the equipment is working – although it’s rare to find functional heated seats and air-con, as replacement parts are obsolete. Also, replacement wing-mounted electric aerials are no longer available and neither are substitutes.

New interior trim is extinct, so it’s worth paying a premium for a car with a really good cabin. Most parts are available on a used basis, though.

Conclusion

Bridging the gap between classic and modern, the quattro can theoretically be used every day or just for the occasional Sunday run. However, the spares situation is currently poor, with many parts available only secondhand, so clocking up a high mileage could prove very expensive.

Things are less of an issue if you’re buying a mint example, but make sure that’s what you really are getting. Despite the quattro offering huge levels of handling, grip and roadholding, there are plenty of examples that have been crashed heavily. As a result, you must ensure the bodyshell isn’t twisted and that the rustproofing hasn’t been compromised. Uneven panel gaps and strange tyre wear patterns will normally give away the former.

Buying the best you can afford is a good mantra for any motor, but especially so for the quattro. A sorted example is one of the most complete cars ever built – but purchase a dog and you’ll have a serious money pit on your hands.