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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
My wonderful(ish) '88 Nissan 300zx finally bit it, and when faced with roughly $1500 worth of repairs I figured it was a sign from on high that it was time to move on to something a little more useful. Not having a back seat is a real PITA sometimes.

So as I'm shopping around for used cars, my long-fermenting interest in Saabs (loved the Viggen commercials when I was in high school, and the general engineering approach to the badge has always been neat in my mind) found its way to the forefront of my conscience when I started realizing that a ten year old car with ~100k miles was well within my budget, not just a 25 year old car with 250k miles.

I found a 2002 9-3 4 door automatic with about 99k miles for $5k. The car was leased new out in Arkansas for about 36k miles then put up for wholesale auction and wound up in Virginia where it's been ever since. Carfax has some maintenance records but they're obviously not going to be as detailed as a portfolio of invoices kept by the owner, which unfortunately I don't believe are still with the car. Bad news, I know, but hopefully not a dealbreaker.

I checked the car out yesterday: some parking lot scuffs on bumper corners, and the previous owner obviously had a dog as the plastic emergency pull inside the hatch was a bit nibbled. The enamel/paint on the front and rear emblems was worn off, which I thought was sort of odd but clearly isn't a major issue. Otherwise the interior was in great shape - all electricals/lights checked out ok, just some really minor blemishes in the leather here and there and the dealer didn't do the most thorough detailing job in the world.

Unfortunately the dealership isn't really anywhere near a big highway so my test drive didn't include passing at highway speeds, but based on the driving I did do the engine and transmission seemed fine. The initial start in the dealer lot took about 3 seconds to start up and there was a small amount of white smoke, but between that and the initially semi-stiff brakes I'm going to attribute that to "sitting around for a couple of weeks" effect that I've experienced with other cars. Subsequent start-ups were lightning-quick and smoke free, and the car was smoke free on the road with perfect shifts. Engine sounded good. A bit of turbo lag, which is something I'm not used to but I suppose is normal/unavoidable. There was a bit of a brief high-pitched whine when slowing down for lights - I suppose that's the turbo de-pressurizing? I recall a similar sound in a friend's WRX.

Based on what I've read on the forum so far, it sounds like the first thing I'll want to do is have the oil pan dropped and checked for sludge. I've read that this is the type of car where you'll either want to be a competent DIY-er or loaded. While I'm not the most dextrous of mechanics and lack the tools and space to do the work (no driveway, just a parking space in my townhouse neighborhood with strict HOA rules about doing work on your car), I have a mechanic I trust and I'm pretty good at finding good deals on parts and he's happy to install those at a decent "friend" discount. He was a BMW and Porsche mechanic for a long time, but I'm not 100% sure what his experience level is working on Saabs. Hopefully the experience working on European cars in general will put him at an advantage even if he's never had his hands in a Saab. From nosing around a bit, it sounds like I can probably expect to put about $500-1000 into the car right off the bat to get it back to factory spec, but even taking that into consideration the car is still a fair margin less expensive than what I had budgeted.

Obviously, I'm on a forum chock full of Saab enthusiasts so I know opinions would be biased, but I'm basically just looking for some reassurance that this is a solid purchase for me. Parts don't appear to be much harder to find or more expensive (barring things like the turbo...that'll have to be a junkyard find when it's time I'm sure) than parts were for the Z and at this point I'm quite used to needing work done on a fairly regular basis. I love how the car looks, I love how it drives and I'm hoping to get a lot of years out of it.

So, good idea? Bad idea? Anything else really obvious I should check for before signing off on this car? Don't discourage me and make me wind up with a Saturn or something that I'll hate for a year until it keels over!
 

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Let's put it this way. I don't even need a car, but after driving a 98 900 SE we traded in, I thought about buying it. After a couple weeks of research on these cars, I know I'm buying it. I think I'm stuck here. BTW, this will be my 63rd (ish) car I've owned.
 

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I'm headed to the dealer to do final sign-off and take the car home this afternoon. Pretty excited about it!
Best of luck, Batmen.
You may not have to drop the sump...this is a lot of work...but then, I know of no other 100% reliable method..
Try pulling the valve cover and then doing a comparsion with some other pics....
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Thanks! Do sludge problems tend to express themselves through engine noise/misfiring/smoking or anything like that? Another dealer had a 2005 9-3 with less miles on it for not much more money, but the hatchback and the window sticker that indicated that there was some "random misfiring" on the as-is 2005 sounded to me like a possible sludge casualty so I stayed away from that one.
 

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the price seems a little high to me but i did buy my 00 saab 9-3 3 door hatchback for $2000 with 135k miles. i dont know how used car prices are in your area tho. im in michigan so maybe prices are that different. personally, i wouldnt pay more than $4k for a car with over 100k but i guess it really depends on the car. its hard to tell sludge issues with out actually looking into the motor. signs may be loose/warn out tensioners, slightly sluggish performance, and quite possibly valve ticking (these are just the sighs ive come across in my short life of cars, there are probably more). i would take the extra percaution and just drop the pan and look. it really isnt too hard. i love my saab, but thats cause i got a great deal on it and its faster than my 2.2l s10. I hope this car is good and well worth it too you and i hope it brings you many miles of fun driving.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
I'm in the DC area so most cars below $7-8k are either ancient, have miles through the roof or are wrecked/have blown motors (or some combination of these). The most common exceptions to these seem to be things like minivans or PT Cruisers (usually sitting in the mid-100's miles-wise) and 90's Japanese-make sedans, also with fairly high miles.

Looking at other areas on things like craigslist, Auto Trader, cars.com and ebay always makes me somewhat depressed because you can get so much more car for so much less.

I actually couldn't find a 9-3 anywhere near this cheap here in Maryland and am buying this one from Virginia instead as their prices are consistently lower.
 

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Oh ok, since your in the DC area that makes lots of sence. 5k isnt bad then.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Just got home from the dealership. I feel like the 2.0 has more oomph than my 3.0 V6 in the Z, and then you push the "Sport" button and all comparisons fly out the window (err, sunroof!).

I did notice a quiet, low rumbling noise that sounded like it was coming from up front somewhere after I parked the car just now and turned it off. I'll do some sleuthing and see if I can find out what that might be, but my boss's '92 Buick Roadmaster makes a similar noise for a few minutes (albeit a ton louder) after he parks it and he said it has something to do with the active suspension or something like that. Maybe this is something along those lines?
 

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NO, no active suspension. You're saying that you're sitting there idling and hearing a rumbling noise? Does it increase with RPM? Try opening the hood and see if you can pin it down closer. If the car is hot, the electric radiator fan will kick up when you stop, so it could be that. Gather some evidence and post and we can help with further diagnosis.
 

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Ah yes... that's a "normal" sound to some extent. It continues to run for a short while when the car is shut off. Stick your ear next to the funny looking thing in the front center console between the switches or switch blanks at the bottom, just above the lighter.

You can stop the noise by cleaning it. There are lots of threads here on that. Removing it is the only interesting part. After that, blow the dust out. Clean the fan blades with alcohol. put a tiny drop of oil on the bearing points. It should be all set.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Great, thanks!

Got to see the traction control (I assume) at work just now as it seems to want to be sluggish from a stop when I have the wipers on.

First day, I know, but I'm already really enjoying this car.
 
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