1999 Saturn SL1

Click here for new photos, January 2004, of the XM Radio installation.

In February 2003, I bought a silver '99 Saturn SL1 5-speed as a commuter car. This is the first time in my life I've ever set out to buy a dull car, but it seemed the appropriate thing to do. I needed something that would be reliable and economical, at least until my sons finish college. The older one is a freshman, and the younger is a sophomore in high school, so that means I need a car to cost as little as possible for 7 years.  I hope this is it!  So far, so good, since I've gotten 36.9 and 37.1 mpg on the first two tanks. (Update... summertime mileage is around 33 mpg.) Starting with only 48,000 miles seemed a good idea, and I only paid $5800 for it. (I was averaging $2000/year in repairs on the '85 Corvette, and was getting 18 mpg on my commute.  Next car, in 2010, will be something like a 2006 Corvette Roadster.)

Anyway, here are a few photos.  Click to view the full-sized image.

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Since I plan to have this car for a long time, I figure that a set of seat covers will keep me from wearing out the seat cloth. I had bought a pair of "fake neoprene" seat covers from Shear Comfort (link opens a new window) when I had the Corvette (the seam had come apart and foam was coming out) and I liked them, so I bought a set of red ones for the Saturn. This choice helps to brighten up the drab interior. I also have a Blaupunkt Nevada CD/receiver that I had bought for the minivan, so I replaced the cheap-o "Rampage" stereo that was in the car. The Blaupunkt is red, so it goes with the seats. I'm thinking of getting a black and red leather steering wheel cover to further the theme. I'd also like to add a Delco Skyfi XM Radio receiver.

My younger son correctly pointed out that, regardless of what I do with the interior, there's nothing that can be done to make this car cool.

In some of the pictures, the surround for the receiver looks blacker than the rest of the console. This is a result of the texture reflecting the camera flash differently than the smoother plastic around it, and you really don't notice it in "real life."

I added a "Wheel Skins" leather steering wheel cover to match the rest of the interior. This is a lot more comfortable that the hard plastic steering wheel!

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I've seen a lot of Saturn SLs on the road with the headliners hanging down. Mine started to come down at the edges in 2005 and I used some adhesive to stick it back up. Within a year, it was falling down in the middle. Part of the problem, I'm sure, is that it's parked in the sun all day every day. If it isn't going to rain I leave the windows down some, but that isn't always possible, and I've been caught a few times by afternoon thunderstorms. Part of the problem, I'm sure, is that they used a glue that didn't hold for the life of the vehicle, making it a common problem.

In any case, I got the headliner replaced in August of 2006. It only cost $100, plus $20 for each sunvisor. The material on the sunvisors wasn't worn out, but it was discolored with age and I wanted it to match the ceiling. I'm hoping the deterioration of the glue and material was the source of the recent "old car smell". I'll know for sure once the smell of the new glue goes away.

I also ordered some window visors from WeatherTech. The set of 4 was $100, which may seem like a lot to spend on a Saturn, but I figure I'll have the car another 5 years. It has 119,000 miles on it now, and should have 220,000 by then. Anyway, I can now leave my windows down a couple of inches without having to worry about getting the seats wet. These slip into the window channel. They were extremely easy to install, and the don't change the look of the car much. Here's a picture of the installed visors (click for a larger one).


Here are some pictures from when I had a blowout on the road!

February 2010, I repaired the shift linkage for $19.99, saving several hundred in parts and labor compared with going to the dealer. Video here.

The End

Yes, the end. On July 14, 2010, I was rear-ended on IH-610 E just before the exit to I-10. The Saturn had over 184,000 miles on it. I had actually been thinking for some time that I would need to replace it soon, partly because that's too many miles on the original clutch, and I knew things were bound to start breaking soon. All in all, it was an amazingly reliable car.

I had seen earlier in the day that the local Chevy dealer was having a sale in conjunction with my credit union — buy a new or used car, get a $500 gas card. I found a couple of potential replacements on their website. On the way home, I decided that, no, selling the car now would be a bad financial decision. I just don't need a car note. Five minutes later, my mind was changed for me when a pickup came sliding up from behind as traffic suddenly stopped, and pushed me into the car ahead.

So that's that. Well, it's never the end of the story: The next day I went down and bought one of the cars I had seen on the dealer website, a 2006 Chevrolet HHR. I hope it's as good as the Saturn was!




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