Used Car Review – 1999 Saab 9-3 SE

Image by OSX via Wikimedia, Public Domain
Image by OSX via Wikimedia, Public Domain

In the bleak mid-winter I found myself looking for something that would be able to make it through the rest of the winter without breaking the bank, or my daily: a BMW E39. When flipping through the automotive classifieds. Seeing as I have lived my entire life in Rochester, and having contributed to our Winter Beater Blog: I knew i wanted something squat, front wheel drive, and possibly Scandinavian. It is at that point when I found an ad for a 1999 Saab 9-3 SE for a mere $1200 and decided to abide by the first law of car searching: “Thou shall always take a look.”

What I found was a little bit worse than what I expected, which was then confirmed by a GM Master Check via a Surfwrench Used Car Check. I ended up passing on my chance to buy this “jet fighter on wheels” but not before putting through its paces, and having a great bit of fun.

The 1999 Saab 9-3 SE is a GM made, Swedish designed, small-executive car offering a 2-liter turbocharged inline 4 cylinder engine producing 200 HP. Right away, I could tell that there were issues with the turbo charger. It wasn’t coming from a lack of power, rather an excess of heat that was building up, which was then causing a lack of power. When something is overheating in the winter, there is usually a fairly sizable problem. I discussed it with the seller and he said that the car always did that, which told me that it had been neglected for quite some time. Other than that, when the car was cold, it was a good drive: the power delivery was nice and the handling was also very squat, square, and “chunky”. It never felt heavy, but it did feel very solid- this isn’t a terribly heavy car, but you can tell that it is well built—sturdy.

A Cheap Car to Go Moose Hunting

These feelings come from the reinforced A-pillars of the car, which had to pass a Saab mandated “Moose Test”. We can’t make this up, they run their cars into moose sized crash test dummies. Apparently this is a big problem in Sweden, so they build them to be able to withstand the incredible forces of running into a large animal, high off the ground, at speed. The resulting reinforcements make the car a bit heavier than its American cousins, and also give the body a stiffness that isn’t bad, it’s just different. I actually liked the ride of this a lot, but I couldn’t get over the overheating problems.

Moving on to the interior of the car: it was nice, but that Saab weird that they have been know for from the get-go. First off, every single thing in the inside of the car worked. That is kind of rare in a car that would be old enough to get its drivers liscense in America. Every Instrument, light, switch, button, and dial worked. This includes the infamous “Night Panel” which turns off every light in the cluster with exception of the speedometer for night driving to reduce driver distraction.

Smart—Like the People Who Drive Them

The overwhelming feeling was that this is a car made for the people who were going to be driving it, which is an awesome feeling when considering a winter beater. You want a car that is going to be safe, because other people drive like s**t when it start snowing, especially here in Rochester, NY. The engine was solid, but the likelihood of a cracked head or blown head gasket was very high according to my Surfwrench Tech, so I had to pass. It would have cost way too much to fix, compared to how long I would have been driving it. The ride was nice and the interior was too, but that is pointless when a car is going through a quart of oil every 5 miles. I can’t help but feeling that if this one was in better shape that I would have been happy to pull the trigger. I would have been happy to drive it all winter, and then I would have been happy to sell it to an RIT student in the spring. This is because Saab owners are typically smart. They’re not smart because they own Saabs, they are smart and then they buy Saabs, according to an Los Angeles Times Article by Megan Duam.

Verdict: If you can find one in good shape, for a good price pull the trigger. As for this one, it would be a pretty terrible car to take me through the winter, but It would be awesome to go moose hunting with. That’s my Saab story, and I’m sticking to it…

…I’ll show myself out. That was terrible.

Surfwrench is an automotive repair application based in Rochester, NY. We serve customers across Western New York and are growing everyday. When we’re not test driving winter beaters, or pushing Jaguars to the red line, we are helping customers save time, money, and hassle on auto repair.

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