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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
I was absentmindedly scrolling through Craigslist earlier today as I've done for years and happened to come across an absolutely pristine 96 NG900 turbo about 20 miles south of me. It's gorgeous. 45k miles, full service record, dealer doesn't report any mechanical faults. I'm going to go test drive it probably this Friday and I'll get it checked out by a well-reputed local Saab mechanic as well.

I've wanted a 900 for about as long as I can remember, basically of this exact spec and vintage. But I don't have any experience owning or repairing Saabs, and although I have a functional knowledge of how engines work, I have pretty limited experience working on cars in general. But here's the catch: I'm home for most of this year from college dealing with a chronic health condition that I was diagnosed with about a week before leaving home, I have a lot of free time, and I'm pretty desperately in need of something to do. I am pretty apt with my hands and am voracious to learn, and I certainly have the time and space for it. I've read the FAQ and buyer's guide and it sounds like I'm in for a fair amount of work. I'd be trading in a pretty reliable daily driver that I've had for years and has served me well. The trade in would create a fair surplus that could go towards acquiring necessary tools and parts and dealing with future mechanical issues.

I don't want to be redundant and I've read a bunch of threads from people in similar situations. But I just want to make sure there isn't anything super obvious I'm overlooking here. Am I about to enter a vast and inescapable mechanical purgatory? Will this be worthwhile or is this the dumbest impulse decision in history? FWIW I'm attaching a few pics from the listing, but I won't link it here as I'm not sure if that's kosher.

Thanks.

EDIT: Forgot to mention that it's listed for about 4 grand but I think I should be able to get that down a bit
 

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These cars have a few moderately expensive weak spots, but TBH nothing that's really different from most cars. A few things that might set you back $300-$500, but truly just a few and probably one-in-a-lifetime occurrences... not something you gotta keep dealing with over and over. They are generally pretty simple cars, very well understood by folks here, and it's highly unusual to run into a problem that hasn't been identified and dealt with dozens of times. TL;DR, they ain't rocket science. Mostly you deal with normal Euro car maintenance issues, and every 100k or so you'll probably spent $1500 on parts, and if you're even a little mechanically inclined there's very little that cannot be done with basic hand tools.

If a 900 is what you want, it seems you could do worse. Not many clean 900s left these days. Whether this particular car is well-advised is going to be the intersection of maintenance records, a good mechanical evaluation and cost.
 

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I bought a '97 9000 in great condition with 135K miles, full history and evidence of good care, accepting that any vehicle that age is going to spring a surprise occasionally (6 years and 12K miles later, the gamble has paid off with no issues beyond minor trivia). That 900 being such low mileage is a major plus, and that + history + consequent good condition is clearly why its quite pricey.

I agree with jvanabra.

Ask to inspect the paperwork, try to trace the previous owner, and now that its out of his hands he will hopefully give an honest appraisal. If the GM 900 has any incipient faults they're unlikely to have arisen in only 45K miles, and the good history implies that any issues will have been taken care of.

There must be a list of typical 900 faults on here somewhere. I can't think of any off the top of my head (having had a 9-3 for 13 years but not a 900).

My fut feeling would be as it was with my 9000. Such a good one is a rare find, and an opportunity not to be missed.
 

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Few thoughts:

1) It's a bit overpriced for a '96-900. Even with 45K. That said, I do see people with these cars and lowish miles (under 70K) asking too much for them. If you can get it for less that would be better.

2) I advise anyone who buys one of these to have $1000 set aside for upgrades and replacements. But, with 45K, you might be able to skip things like shocks / struts, which are usually a major component of that cost. Keep in mind that regardless of miles, 24 year old rubber stuff like suspension parts is dried out - you'll likely need to do some replacement. Like Jvan said, there will be stuff that needs to be done.

It sounds like you are ready for DIY. We can guide you here. The dealer service manual is available. You can learn to do your own work, which is the major part of the cost on these cars.

What state did it live in? Depending on the answer, I'll add some considerations. But, the biggest thing is to drive it and see how it runs. Hit the highway, under load (acceleration) up a long hill, try the braking, watch the tranny shifting, etc.

If you've got time and will have some cash left over for tweaking and repairing, it would be a nice ride.
 

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If you buy it, recognize that you may not be able to resell it easily if you have to get rid of it. If you have to put in some repair money, you won't get it back for sure.

Do you prefer automatic transmissions, or are agnostic on transmisison choices?
 

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If you buy it, recognize that you may not be able to resell it easily if you have to get rid of it. If you have to put in some repair money, you won't get it back for sure.

Do you prefer automatic transmissions, or are agnostic on transmisison choices?
Wouldn't an agnostic be in doubt that transmissions even exist? o_O
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Thanks for the advice, everyone. I feel at least mostly satisfied that I’m not impulsively condemning myself to a life of eternal mechanical penance.

Few thoughts:

1) It's a bit overpriced for a '96-900. Even with 45K. That said, I do see people with these cars and lowish miles (under 70K) asking too much for them. If you can get it for less that would be better.

2) I advise anyone who buys one of these to have $1000 set aside for upgrades and replacements. But, with 45K, you might be able to skip things like shocks / struts, which are usually a major component of that cost. Keep in mind that regardless of miles, 24 year old rubber stuff like suspension parts is dried out - you'll likely need to do some replacement. Like Jvan said, there will be stuff that needs to be done.

It sounds like you are ready for DIY. We can guide you here. The dealer service manual is available. You can learn to do your own work, which is the major part of the cost on these cars.

What state did it live in? Depending on the answer, I'll add some considerations. But, the biggest thing is to drive it and see how it runs. Hit the highway, under load (acceleration) up a long hill, try the braking, watch the tranny shifting, etc.

If you've got time and will have some cash left over for tweaking and repairing, it would be a nice ride.
I talked to him on the phone and it sounds like he’s willing to negotiate. I already got him down like 400 bucks and he threw in new tires which I guess it needs. Maintenance record is clean — looks like it had a cylinder head replaced in 04 and was in a minor fender bender a couple years ago. Taking it to a guy I know of who does Saabs tomorrow to get it looked at.

It’s lived its whole life in CA so I’m not super worried about rust, but I’ll take a look. I’m gonna have about 6-7 grand in the bank to work on the car after trade-in. I’ll give it a good run for its money when I drive it tomorrow.

As far as transmission — I believe in their existence in the material realm and I’m comfortable with a stick. This one is an auto. I’m not super torn up about it. San Francisco is a pita to drive with a clutch anyways.
 

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Regular non salvage title? Just asking because a fender bender can sometimes total cars like these due to the value.

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Oh snap... if you're in SF that's a very different transaction IMO. Not only no worries about environmental damage, but plenty of shops to choose from. That's great. The big issue I've had with cars outta SF is that the bumpers tend to be torn up, so I'd check behind the plastic just to see if there's anything to see there. Somewhat related, low mileage cars in SF often suffer from above average wear for the miles - hills, traffic, etc. mean a car with low miles by the numbers often behaves like a higher mileage car. I'd definitely see if you can score an extended test drive. Maybe offer him $100 to take it for the afternoon - take the money off the car if you buy it, he keeps the cash if you pass.
 

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Discussion Starter #10
Oh snap... if you're in SF that's a very different transaction IMO. Not only no worries about environmental damage, but plenty of shops to choose from. That's great. The big issue I've had with cars outta SF is that the bumpers tend to be torn up, so I'd check behind the plastic just to see if there's anything to see there. Somewhat related, low mileage cars in SF often suffer from above average wear for the miles - hills, traffic, etc. mean a car with low miles by the numbers often behaves like a higher mileage car. I'd definitely see if you can score an extended test drive. Maybe offer him $100 to take it for the afternoon - take the money off the car if you buy it, he keeps the cash if you pass.
Aha, makes sense. That’s the plan. It’s in the South Bay and he’s cool with me driving it like 30 miles north to get it washed and checked out by a mechanic, which should double as a pretty effective extended test drive. I went to the lot and checked it out today and the bumpers do indeed seem a little torn up on the surface. I didn’t check under since to look at it today I think I was technically trespassing. There’s a panel underneath the left taillight that’s a little bit bent/dislodged, looks like it was backed into a pole or something. Title is clean and I think the rear bumper might have been replaced. Otherwise it’s in very good shape — needs a bath though. Attaching some pics but the orientation is all screwed up, I’ll rotate them when I get home
 

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That looks pretty typical IMO. It's impossible to avoid some bumper damage on a city car, but you want to be sure nothing sheet metal or reinforcement was damaged in the process.

I'll be a little self-servingly honest here: If you can't get this car for $2000-$2500, you should drive up to Sacramento and buy this '02 9-3 for $3500 from me. More miles, but it's VERY up to date.


It has two annoyances, otherwise it's a kickass car. I was planning on selling it in March or April, but eh, whatever. :)
 

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I've had lots of different types of cars and have joined several forum groups because of that.
My opinion is that Saabs aren't a particularly difficult car to work on and even though the parts can sometimes be expensive I haven't found mine to be expensive to own.

Even though it may be a good idea for you to buy this car I'm afraid that that doesn't necessarily prove your sanity, not that there's anything wrong with that.

Also, I'm assuming that you're not drinking the Merlot because you have a good supply of a decent Shiraz.
 

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If you do buy it and need one of those panels, I think I have one. I will have to check the part #. Got it along with some other parts in a package deal :)

As for the merlot... if you drink a lot of it... they did make these cars in that color. You might want to hold out Just sayin'. (Actually, just kidding... Saabs version of BRG with the beige interior is an awesome color combo).
 

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Ok, so... drove the car.

It’s not perfect. The brakes and front tires are shot to hell. It also shudders pretty good on the highway with accel/decel, one of the seat motors for the power adjustment is jammed, and the radio is DOA. No biggie. But it’s not a museum piece either.

Took it to a local mechanic here in San Mateo (name Pat Jonsson, anybody know?) and it died in the parking lot.
Again, no big deal... battery is shot, barely holds a charge. He took it around the block and put it up on a stand. Here’s the rub:
  • It was in a pretty significant accident at some point in its history. Most of the left side body panels have been replaced, save for that panel under the taillight which is still pretty scraped up. He says it was probably mostly cosmetic, hence why there isn’t any structural damage and why it wasn’t totaled. Irritating that this wasn’t on the carfax but whatever.
  • Power steering pump is leaking and I guess the rack and pinion assembly needs to be replaced soon.
  • Leaky vacuum hoses.
I guess he’s been working on these cars a long time and he seemed pretty enthusiastic about one with such low miles. He kind of nudged me in the direction of buying it. Lol. Despite the accident in its history it’s in pretty pristine shape for its age. The guy selling it wasn’t aware of the accident and got much more flexible after he heard of it.

Whether or not I buy it tomorrow depends honestly on which side of the bed I wake up on, but I definitely won’t take it for anything more than $3k. It was a little rocket and a lot of fun to bomb down the highway in.

To wit, nice car, got a few issues but not too many, WAY overpriced. Time to settle down with a nice Shiraz and talk myself into buying this beautiful hunk of crap.

(My username may have been a bit prescient, actually... the leather in the passenger seat has a HUGE wine stain that I thought was blood at first. I was corrected by the mechanic — “I’ve seen blood on Saab seats... that’s not blood.” Shudder.)

Thanks for the help, guys. I’ll keep you apprised.
 

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Just keep in mind there is no shortage of decent used Saabs. Low miles are nice, but sounds like it has more than its share of issues. A well maintained higher mileage car for less can make a lot of sense.

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What you describe is basically ever Saab I've ever bought from SF, and I lack the fingers and toes to tally them. When people are only driving for 2-3 miles at a time at 15mph, you end up with low total mileage but you also tend to lose sight of exactly how beat the car truly is. Three years ago I bought a super low mileage '99 convertible for $1600 out of SF and it was in virtually identical shape, minus the body damage. $1500 later and a friend drives it every day.

As mentioned elsewhere, the age of the car results in all the rubber degrading, so you're probably looking at a mess of new suspension components, a bunch of underhood rubber parts (radiator hoses, vacuum hoses, motor mounts, etc.), new fluids and filters all around (they are probably WRECKED), and maybe some other miscellaneous stuff. My personal opinion, but I would look at this less like a car with 45,000 miles on it, and more like a car with 25 years on it.

Speaking from experience, you're going to put $1500-$2000 worth of parts into this car to make it right. I can give you that spreadsheet. If you're paying someone for labor it'll be a lot more, so don't do that. :) If you did that, you would probably have a $4000-$4500 car so I'd look at this as a $2500 purchase max, and I'd fight tooth and nail for $2k. The market for "low mileage Saab that needs a pile of work" is VERY small... whoever the owner is will probably be camped on this car for months and months before he gets a dime over $2500. The 9-3 is a much better car, and you can get nice 9-3s for $3k-$4k all day. You're in a good negotiating position.

Again self serving, I'd really encourage you to come up to Sacramento and drive my '02 9-3 around some afternoon and compare a $2500 900 with 45k on it to a $3500 9-3 with 120k on it.
 

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I agree with Jvan, with the possible exception that if the seller isn't motivated that he might just sit on it and wait for a less astute buyer. I've been in that deal before. But, maybe the guy is motivated, maybe he is honestly concerned that the car is not what he thought, maybe he'll sell to you for a reasonable price.

My negotiation strategy over the last decade is to lay everything out for the seller. I tell them we have a mutual goal: I want to buy the car and I know they want to sell it. I tell them that I'm not up for back and forth negotiating... just tell me the bottom line on what they need to get to sell it today. I've been pleasantly surprised by the return offer in 4 out of 5 cases using that model. In the cases when it's been a small dealer selling the cars (vs. private party) they've given me prices significantly better than I expected they would ever accept. You might give it a shot with this guy.
 

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I don't know the market in California, but with that level of problems, I would not consider that car for pretty much any price.

Ignore the low miles, it's had more damage done to it than some carefully driven cars have had in 200,000 miles. You opened this thread by saying it's an "absolutely pristine" car. Well, it's 100% not.

It also has not been maintained. I can understand a few things being wrong, but shot battery, shot brakes, shot tires, shot steering rack, dirty interior....ugh. And it doesn't run well.

If it is your Dream Car that's one thing, but it's not. Again, ignore the low miles, they're irrelevant.

If you ask me, you want a 1997 or 1998 coupé. The cars have improvements to brakes and have a hydraulic clutch in '98. The coupé also looks good, without compromising load-carrying capacity.
 

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Strongly agree Ed... if it's specifically a 900 wanted, '98 is the way to go. So many improvements, and parts availability on the earlier ones is starting to get tight.

If it's specifically T5 then '99. If it's a hatchback Saab then '02.
 
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