Are old Saabs good or bad to own and maintain?

Saabs have always been quirky cars. Innovation has always made the Saab stand out from the first model to the current series.

The models I will be looking at here are the 9-3, 9-5, (still current) and 9000 series. The oldest of these three is the 9000 which although no longer made, are still available used, often in prime condition and have many of the innovations used on later models.

The Aero version is still a thoroughly modern car, very powerful, with luxury everywhere you look inside and out.

If you want to drive a real luxury car with heated seats, airbag and lot's of power but don't have a lot to spend?

The 9000 can be purchased for a few thousand dollars, and if you buy the right car, you will think you have won the pools! Inside the luxury version is top quality seats in leather or a soft fabric, heated seats, air bags, sunroof, wood-grain trim like a Rolls Royce, wonderful instrumentation layout and very good visibility..

Saab ( Svenska Aeroplan Aktie Bolag) is a well respected automotive company that has been making top end luxury cars for a long time with a history in the design and manufacture of high end aircraft. When it comes to building strong modern cars, they do it very well indeed.

The thing is, that old ones have a bad reputation for needing major and expensive repairs, and if you love the car you need to know how to get around these problem the easy way.

Buy a good one!

The answer is the same advice I gave on buying and owning a BMW 5 series, which is simply DON"T buy one without a complete service history and a working knowledge of what to look for in the way of problems.

The earliest models of Saab are very rare and sought after as a collector's car so I will mention them here as well.

They were a two cylinder two stroke motor of only 750 cc mounted transversely or sideways in front of the front axle and very few cars have survived partly due to the small number made, and the fact that the motor was vulnerable in front end collisions.

These early Saabs were cheap to purchase and needed to be very good value to compete with the well established Volvo of the time........ not an easy ask!

The next model that was introduces to the USA market carried the Ford V4 motor and was very popular providing 65 horsepower which made it quite nippy with a usable 4,700 rpm providing a zero to 60mph time of 16 seconds flat, considered quick at the time.

In 1964 Saab went on to introduce the new Saab 99 and the inclined four cylinder Triumph motor was used. The motor was inclined, as it was in reality half of the new V8 that Triumph were developing!

The motor was strong and reliable at only 1.5 litres. At the same time, in line with it's focus on safety, ( no doubt born of being an aircraft company historically) Saab removed all asbestos from it's brakes by 1981.

As you may know by now, Saab sold half of the company to GM in 1990 and the other 50% was acquired in 2000, so the late model Saabs are using the Holden Astra or Vauxhaul Vector running gear for the last few years, but has been sold to the Dutch specialist automotive builder Spyker in 2010.

Saab 9000 Aero. Fast, luxurious with firmer suspension than the standard 9000
Saab 9000 Aero. Fast, luxurious with firmer suspension than the standard 9000

Pictured is a friend's beautiful 9000 Aero (which I have driven)

It has among other things a massive amount of power for it's size produces by a higher throughput turbo than the standard 2.3 motor.

The earlier 900 series ran for 14 years and was a development of the earlier 99 which is not being critiqued here as it is just too old to be in the hands of other than dyed in the wool Saab enthusiasts, who know how to find the bits needed to look after a car of this vintage.

The models I believe are of most interest for the used Saab buyer are the 9000 aero, and the 9-3 and 9-5 built at Trollhättan from the mid nineties to 2001.

Grill on the Saab aero.
Grill on the Saab aero.

The 9000 series was styled by the Italian Giorgetto Giugiaro with the motor mounted transversely allowing more passenger space than the 900 although it is slightly shorter in overall length.

The 9000 aero was well ahead in design with airbags, strong body shell and passenger protection built in to the whole design.

The 9000 was also the first front wheel drive car fitted with ABS along with it's many other safety devices.

The first 9-3 built in 1998 was almost identical to look at as the 900 with a high mounted third brake light and the grill being the only noticeable difference cosmetically, but with over 1,100 improvements ranging from suspension to active head restraints it is a much tighter chassis to drive with much better handling and is a massive improvement over the 900.

The SE version has a lot more than the standard model which already has many luxuries not found in other cars.

Early model Saab 9-5 engine bay. Note the exhaust manifold cover at front of motor.
Early model Saab 9-5 engine bay. Note the exhaust manifold cover at front of motor.

The saab 9-5 has seen 3 different companies involved in it's construction, and the current model is a gem.

Early 9-5s had problems with:

  • oil delivery. If oil changes were constantly missed or overdue the sump would build up sludge and block the primary oil filter inside the motor resulting in a loss of oil pressure and thus oil delivery to the camshafts and crankshaft often causing serious engine failure.
  • transmission failure: Same deal. A lot of torque delivered from the turbo motor means service intervals are important. Those who ignored transmission service paid the price.
  • electronic problems: such as the display unit losing pixels. There are only a few electrical problems, one being the main display. No longer an expensive fix, as rebuilt and replacement units are now starting at around $150.
  • coil pack failure: This is simply a mileage thing unless the motor has been overheated. The location of the coil packs means they can get too hot and begin to fail. New ones are expensive.
  • camshaft balancer failure: Once again, nothing wrong with the design, but poor servicing can be very expensive when it comes to repairs if servicing has not been carried out in time.

All of these problems can be traced to infrequent servicing, poor servicing or in some cases incomplete servicing.

As I noted with the BMW 5 series, full service history is a must, as high performance cars that have been serviced poorly can cost as much as 3 times the purchase price to repair.


9-5 Saab dashboard showing drop down cup holder, seat heater switches, cruise control and computer display.
9-5 Saab dashboard showing drop down cup holder, seat heater switches, cruise control and computer display.
wood grained console in the Saab 9-5
wood grained console in the Saab 9-5
Rear of the 9000 aero with its clean lines and great visibility.
Rear of the 9000 aero with its clean lines and great visibility.
9-5 station wagon with Saab roof racks.
9-5 station wagon with Saab roof racks.

Soft leather pockets, individual heat and cooling swivel ducts, it's comfortable and roomy.

Saab 9-5 back seat showing heater, all leather seats.
Saab 9-5 back seat showing heater, all leather seats.
High quality all leather interior that lasts almost forever and most look like new.
High quality all leather interior that lasts almost forever and most look like new.

This is the interior of the 9000 aero. As you can see, the car is beautiful inside even by today's standards. There is ample legroom and space between passengers.

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Comments 11 comments

diogenes profile image

diogenes 4 years ago from UK and Mexico

Hi Aussie: You left me thirsting for more info. You certainly know your onions! I have never owned a Saab, but have always liked the quirky design. I wouldn't now because of cost. By the way, you might do an article on the Citroen C5, which was one of the worst cars I have even owned! (2002 diesel). I now have simplicity itself, a Jimny and love it...Bob (story on HP) Good on yer, mate...Bob


rmcrayne profile image

rmcrayne 4 years ago from San Antonio Texas

earnest, I bought a 1996 Saab 9000 CS (2.3 l light turbo) before I left Germany, and still have the car. It has less than 150K miles and has been well maintained. Maintaining it however has become more of a problem over the years, finding a good diagnostician who knows the idiosyncrasies. I’ve had quite a few expensive electrical problems the last few years. Right now I’m putting off a $850 repair. I still love the car, but not sure how much more of this I’m up for. I love the luxury and the safety. The car has fended off 2 deer and 2 flash floods so far. It’s a 5 speed, and got 26-28 mpg most of her life, but has dropped off to about 22-24 now.


BrianS profile image

BrianS 4 years ago from Castelnaudary, France

I owned and loved a Saab 90, really did feel like you were sitting in a cockpit when you were driving. It was as solid as a rock and when you shut the doors it sounded like you were closing up a bank vault. Fabulous motor, never had anything like it since, shame really.


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 4 years ago from Melbourne Australia Author

Hello my friend diogenes! Thank you, I luv em! (The Saabs that is!) If you know your stuff, you can buy a good one with every luxury for under 10k

As to the C5, a very patchy build and some horrible design faults, so I know what you mean.

I may do a worst cars hub and ask you to contribute!


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 4 years ago from Melbourne Australia Author

Rose Mary, it sounds like you have had the best from the old girl.

The trend I see, is that a top mechanic understands the little things that need to be done to stop the bigger more expensive problems to develop.

It is in my opinion time to unload it.

Any body damage at the front is highly likely to cause ongoing electrical problems, because most body repairers don't know enough about the importance of ensuring all wiring is not only intact, but correctly routed and connected.

Electrical problems are expensive, but apart from the models with a computer screen that loses it's pixels over time, the electricals are very high quality and without incidents such as flooding or body intrusions, they last a very long time.

Stay tuned, this hub is going to be twice this size after my next edit.


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 4 years ago from Melbourne Australia Author

Brian, the first 90 I drove just blew me away with the way you could drive at high speed in the wet with two wheels in the rough.

When I let go of the steering wheel it still tracked dead straight.

As you said, the body was built like a brick outhouse and the doors closed like a vault.

Saabs are a very special motoring experience.


molometer profile image

molometer 4 years ago from Cambridgeshire, England

What an interesting and informative hub. A friend of mine has always driven Saabs. They do have a certain uniqueness.


Lord De Cross profile image

Lord De Cross 4 years ago

Thanks for all these Earnest, R.I.P

LORD


aguasilver profile image

aguasilver 4 years ago from Malaga, Spain

Earnest, you are missed already, I hope your family keep this site open for future views...... like the old Saab, you may have been beaten up on the exterior, but you had a beautiful interior.

RIP my friend,

John


Chris 4 years ago

Hi Ernest...i have a 9000 Aero and also live in melbourne...was wondering if you can recommend any repairers...unavida79@gmail.com great post and info :)


Deborah Sexton 2 years ago

I miss you Ernest and wish you were still here.

Love you Deborah

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