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2003 Saab 9-3 Problems

RepairPal has identified the most common problems with the 2003 Saab 9-3 based on complaints from actual vehicle owners. We'll tell you what the problem is and what it'll take to fix it.

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19
Known Problems

If the ignition switch is turned to the "lock" position when the vehicle speed is over 5km/hour, the ignition key cannot be removed from the lock cylinder. This is not a defect, but a normal design feature. In order to remove the key: Turn the ignition to the "on" position, wait several seconds, turn ignition to "lock" and remove the key.

The anti-lock brake system (ABS) and/or traction control light may illuminate. This can be caused by corrosion in the (ABS) wire harness connector at the right front wheel speed sensor due to water intrusion.  Corroded connectors should be cleaned or replaced as necessary to correct this concern.

The Check Engine Light may illuminate because of air injection pump, and/or check valve failure. There may be no drivability symptoms detected.

The Check Engine Light may illuminate because of oxygen sensor failure. There may be no drivability symptoms detected though gas mileage may suffer.

 

The thermo contact in the AC compressor can fail, which means the compressor may fail to engage or disengage.

2.0L engines may become low on engine coolant with no cause found for the coolant loss. Our technicians tell us than in some cases the engine block may require replacement due to porosity.

A well-documented and well-known issue with the Saab 9-3 built between 2003-2011 is harsh shifting from the 6-speed automatic transmission, and slight slippage between gears. This has been noted as hesitation to accelerate, especially from a stop.

Mainly, software issues have been to blame for these mishaps, but mechanical malfunctions related to shift solenoids and the valve body have also been major causes. Finally, the automatic transmissions in these models are sold as ‘sealed for life’, yet the transmission fluid does not seem to last the complete service life of the vehicle.

Correction of these issues often requires a simple software update, meaning the vehicle only needs to be plugged in, and the transmission controller receives new programming meant to fix these drivability concerns. In cases where this does not correct concerns, the transmission must be removed, inspected, and repaired, possibly requiring a complete rebuild.  

 

To mitigate these issues from escalating to a full transmission rebuild, many technicians recommend replacing the transmission fluid at regular intervals, yet the manufacturer has never offered this guidance. 

A knocking noise while turning and/or a banging noise when driving on rough roads may develop in the front suspension. This type of noise is commonly caused by a front strut thrust bearing damaged due to water intrusion. Our technicians tell us revised thrust bearings are available to correct this concern.

Our technicians report failures of various components in the audio system. Speaker, control unit, and steering wheel button failures are all possible.

The shaft for the air blend door can fail creating the inability to adjust the AC or heating temperature. The AC or Heat will not maintain the proper temperature.

The idler pulley for the serpentine belt can fail causing noise from the belt area. Our technicians report the pulley has been known to fail completely which can cause the belt to break or be thrown off.

The head gasket may leak oil externally. The oil will be visible around the cylinder head and block area.

The water pump can fail causing noise on the left side of the engine and overheating. Other symptoms include coolant loss and leakage at the front/left area of the engine.