SAAB 900 Turbo 16v 5 Speed Manual
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.
This model was the last of the true SAAB’s, pre-General Motors and the hideous piece of machinery that superseded it in 1994.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.
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
RECOMMENDED SERVICE CENTRE
SAABTech – 3 Taronga Place, Mona Vale NSW 2103 – Tel 02 9999 2771
RECOMMENDED FORUMS / KNOWLEDGE BASE
Here is a more comprehensive report from Simon Turner, to read more visit:
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.