03 August 2009

Why I will never buy another Saturn

I must confess. I am not a car person. I don't know a rotary engine from a V6. It doesn't have to be sleek or sophisticated, and it certainly isn't a stand-in for my sense of self.

I just want something that will reliably get me from A to B.

That's partly why I drive a Saturn. When it opened its doors as a "different type of car company," Saturn promised quality, affordability, and excellent customer service.

What the company forgot to tell us is those promises would expire within a few years.

When I bought a used, but new-to-me car in 1995, I researched Saturns and found nothing but good things about them. Some people complained the cars burned oil, but satisfied owners abounded. The cars were reasonably priced, were well-made and easy to maintain. Although its ties to GM concerned me, I eventually bought a 1993 Saturn SL that I drove without any trouble until 2005 when I bought a new used car.

Enter the 2002 Saturn VUE.

Foolishly, I trusted my brand experience with Saturn when I should have been suspicious of the parent company. Saturn was no longer a different kind of car company.

At first, the VUE was just buggier than expected based on my prior experience. Then it became a succession of small annoyances, parts wearing out before they should, etc.

Repairs have since become an avalanche of major issues. This year alone, I have spent more than $3,000 in repairs for odd things that should never go wrong on a car with less than 100,000 miles. Fuel sensors. Temperature sensors. Computer chips. Brakes and bearings. Drive train issues. Strange rattles, squeaks and a tire with a slow leak that no one can find.

And the mechanic just offered up a list for another $2000 in repairs, the bulk of that to replace a bearing in the drive shaft. He was incapable of explaining to me how a drive-shaft bearing goes bad. It's not like I jump railroad tracks with this car (that was the '72 Pinto and I didn't have to replace its bearings--or shocks for that matter).

It would be one thing I were alone in my car challenges, but discussion boards blaze with drivers who have chronically ill VUEs. Needless to say, when I buy a new car next year, it won't be a Saturn.

In the meantime, it's a really good thing I don't confuse my sense of self with my car. Otherwise, I would be a broken-down, expensive-to-repair POS whose only saving grace is I'm paid for. Now that might make me feel bad about myself.

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