Saab Central - Technical Help
The Classic Saab 900: Second Hand Buyers Guide
Article by Simon Turner
One of the questions we seem to get asked quite often is : What should I look for when buying a used Saab 900? What we have attempted to do here is summarise the main points that you should look for when purchasing a 900 or 900 Turbo and inspecting it for faults.
Firstly you should establish what it is really worth not what the seller is telling you it is worth! I guess that is ok if they are asking for less than book value! Two useful online guides are the 'Kellys Blue book guide' and the 'Parkers guide', see links at the bottom of this page along with a link to check the HP rating of second hand vehicles.
Whenever possible buy a car with Full Saab Service History either by an official Saab dealer or a recognised Saab Specialist. FSSH will come at a premium but will surely save you money in the long run and will give you confidence when purchasing the vehicle that it has been well looked after and properly maintained by its previous owners. High mileage should not be a major concern as long as you have confidence the car has been well maintained, 200,000 miles plus is not that unusual. In my experience vehicles without any history are not always a bad buy as long as you check the things that generally tend to go wrong with the 900. Some of the more common problems are listed below :
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! See the 8v headgasket replacement guide for an idea of what is involved.
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. Things to look out for see the TurboTechnics troubleshooting guide. Also see the DIY Turbo rebuild guide.
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. See our guide to checking your timing chain for wear.
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. See heated seat repair guide.
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.
Dashboard lights:Again quite often you will find some of the bulbs have blown on the dashboard. Most are relatively easy to replace. See Dash light/switch repair guide.
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. See Overhaul of power windows.
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.
Convertible Roof: If purchasing a Convertible as well as checking the roof itself for wear and tear also make sure the electric roof action is smooth and noise free. If there are any strange noises when lowering or lifting the roof it is a sure sign that there is a problem with the hydraulics. Very expensive to repair.
The Tech Help section of this website probably gives you access to the largest amount of mechanical, troubleshooting and repair guides listed in one place on the Internet. If you do encounter any problems with your 900, this is as good a place as any to start looking for the solution.
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