That Time My Saab 900 Left Me Stranded at Work

My 1998 Saab 900 strikes again.

My Saab NG900 had multiple problems at this point. It is always low on coolant, but never to the point that it’s dangerous. The oil is old… very old. The hatch and hood have to be held up by 2×4’s. The transmission was pretty rough, as the third gear synchro no longer existed, and fourth isn’t far behind. I keep a carbon monoxide detector in the vehicle as exhaust gases leak pre-cat into the cabin at stand-still. There was a whine coming from the serpentine belt system..again.

My red Saab 900 is very rarely used, aside for screwing around in the backyard and perhaps the occasional five minute run to the autoparts store. I was feeling brave, so on one random Monday morning, I decided to risk it all and take on twenty minute commute to work. Yes, I am being a bit over-dramatic here. I really had no doubt it would make it to work that day, but evidently, I should have.

The windows were down and the radio was up on my pleasant sunny drive. I reached for the window switch, and they were inoperable. “That’s probably a fluke… something else just that broke… maybe they’ll work again later,” I thought to myself. Two minutes later the speedometer started to wig out, working intermittently. I quickly turned off every accessory I could because I knew my alternator just about had it.

The resilient Saab 900 managed to get me to work, and upon parking I tried to restart the vehicle. Dead as a door nail. I am into this car about $1,200. This crusty, turbocharged Saab 900 crushed it in a handful of track days, but it also performed as a commuter, putting on thousands of comfortable miles while returning 30+ miles per gallon, traveling primarily to and from Pennsylvania. But it was finally time for something new, and so the Craigslist search began.

It wasn’t the first time in recent past I was fed up with this particular Saab 900. This time it lasted for about two weeks, but common sense prevailed yet again. I had better uses for the few thousand dollars I would spend on a used car. The same few thousand could make my car great again, not that I think that’s necessarily the correct route either. Additionally, with a new used car I would be back to square one, unsure of any maintenance that was performed and its own list of blemishes.

My Saab 900 surely had its issues, but at the same time, it had a lot of new parts. During my two-year ownership I replaced the high pressure power steering line, complete control arms, tie rod ends, inner tie rods, brake lines from the firewall back, I even added some upgrades with custom polyurethane motor mounts and a used roof rack. We have at least 5 sets of unused 16″ 5×110 wheels after switching the BGKP racecar to 17″ variants. I have like-new winter tires mounted on a set of 15″ steelies. Not to mention the abundance of parts to pick from between our two junk cars and racecar spares. I think you can see where I’m going with this.

I spent the Saturday of my Labor Day weekend giving my Saab 900 the attention it deserved. I replaced the alternator (the only spare part we didn’t seem to have), and installed a new tensioner as well as a “short belt.” The less pulleys, the less chance of something else breaking.

TIP: You can use a shorter belt on the NG900 to bypass both the center idler pulley and the A/C condenser. The correct size is 6pk1815 (6 ribs at 1815mm). You can also do the same hack and just bypass the center pulley if you have functioning A/C. The belt size for that (Disclaimer: from online research, not personal experience) is a 6pk2460.

Once I was sure the car would start and charge again, I moved onto some various odds and ends, such as replacing the hood/trunk shocks and a much needed oil change. It’s still far from perfect, but this ol’ Saab 900 is good enough for now.

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