Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Got oil in your coolant? Driving a Saturn S-Series from 1991-1997?

If you own a Saturn S-Series Sedan, Coupe, or Wagon with a Single Overhead Cam engine, If your Saturn ends in the number 1 and was manufactured between the years of 1991 to 1997, you could potentially be sitting on a costly engine cylinder head repair.

For a problem to go unchecked for six years of manufacturing is unacceptable.

Please make sure you make an informed decision before you purchase a Saturn vehicle. If the corporation won't make amends on such a major mechanical problem that occurred for six years, what makes you think that they will stand behind their other newer vehicles?

For some more interesting reading on the failure of the SOHC Cylinder Head on a 1997 Saturn SC1 causing an oil and coolant mix, check out this reliability rating at MSN AUTOS.

Take A Look

Here's what you'll see when your Saturn S-Series single overhead cam engine (SOHC) develops a cracked head due to a manufacturing flaw, and the engine oil mixes with the coolant:

The Unresponsive World of Saturn.

Last week, I attempted to contact my local Saturn Dealership, Saturn of Mentor, to see if perhaps they could give me some information.

I learned two things.

One: They do not call you back when you ask them how much an engine replacement for a 1997 Saturn SC1 with a cracked cylinder head will cost.

Two: They DO KNOW about the problem with the cylinder head, and a technician (whose name escapes me right now) will tell you the best way to find the crack is to remove the camshaft, spray some carburetor and choke cleaner onto the head around the 4th camshaft journal and "the crack should be clear as day".

If the technicians have that much experience with this problem, shouldn't that warrant some sort of "owner support" from the Saturn Corporation?

I have been in contact with The Saturn Corporation concerning the defective SOHC cylinder head

Recently (last week) I contacted The Saturn Motors Corporation directly via their contact form on the website to ask them about the problems with my 97 Saturn Sc1.

This is the message I wrote to them.

Subject: 1997 Saturn sc1 Engine Block damage at 76,000 miles?

I am writing to you as a 2 time Saturn owner to express my extreme displeasure at my current situation.

I previously owned a 1993 saturn SL2 and drove it happily until it was involved in an accident in 2006. When the accident disabled the vehicle it had 114,000 miles on it and still performed flawlessly.

Pooling together my insurance settlement money and extra cash I had saved, my fiancee and I decided to remain loyal to the Saturn brand and purchased a 1997 Saturn SC1. When purchased, in December 2006, the car had 68,000 miles on it.

I've driven the car rather infrequently but regularly (approximately 12 - 15 miles a day 4 days a week to my job and back, and on normal grocery and shopping runs) but have never driven the car for long amounts of time (the most distance ever traveled by the car in one trip was on the day I purchased it from the dealership to my home, approximately 60 miles).

3 months after purchasing the vehicle the heater core failed and was replaced.

3 months later a leak developed in the power sunroof, forcing me to either cover the sunroof when it rained or deal with a pool of water in the passenger's side of the vehicle.

The exhaust system required replacing in 2007.

As of 2 weeks ago, during my drive home, the coolant went totally hot, I arrived home to view the milky oil/coolant sludge pouring from the coolant reservoir.

I replaced the head, and all other associated gaskets, refilled the coolant and drove again, for about 4 total trips.

The problem has resurfaced. Leading to only one conclusion, the engine block or a cylinder is cracked.

I have come to this conclusion thanks to your technical bulletin on vehicles from 1991 to 1997 with SOHC engines.

76,000 miles does not sound to me like the amount of driving that a company would want their engines lasting.. it would probably put that company out of business quickly.

Upon further internet investigation, I see this to be a RECURRENT and EXPECTED problem with engines of these years.

I also see that some disgruntled Saturn owners (who had FAR MORE miles on their vehicles) have voiced their concerns to your company, some seeking legal recourse.

I know that these are troubling times for the Saturn brand, and I am sure you are more than aware that Americans are frugally spending their dollar on trusted brand names and value-added products, this includes vehicles.

I, unfortunately do not have the over 2 thousand dollars required to repair this vehicle. I can site the troubled economy for my woes as well. I actually expected, with finances in peril as they are currently, that I could count on my low mileage Saturn to keep performing up to its specifications for AT THE VERY LEAST another 40,000 miles. At least to get close to the performance of my last Saturn.

Alas, it seems the 97 SC1 is a pretty face and nothing more.

Please advise if there is some sort of way I can seek recourse from your company, or perhaps you could convince me as to why I should not share my experiences with this vehicle with the entire world and all I come in contact with. As of now, without a vehicle to speak of, I am in a very dissatisfied and unsettling place.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter and respond.


They responded 2 days later:

Service Request: 71-731558480
Customer Relationship Specialist: Marv Henry

Dear Me,

Thank you for contacting the Saturn Customer Assistance Center. We appreciate you taking the time to write us in regard to your 1997 Saturn SC1.

We sincerely apologize for the concerns that you are experiencing with your vehicle. We understand this can be very frustrating and would like the opportunity to assist you further in any possible way we can.

Based on the nature of your concern, it would be better if we can also continue our communication via telephone. Since you included your phone number in your email, I will be contacting you today, June 09, 2009, between the hours of 8:00am to 10:00am, Eastern Time. If for any reason I am unsuccessful in reaching you, do not hesitate to call me directly at 1-866-790-5700 extension 42700, and advise the best time I may call you. However, I am only available Monday through Friday from 8:00am to 11:00am, Eastern Time. If my hours are inconvenient for you, please feel free to contact the Saturn Customer Assistance Center at 1-800-553-6000. Customer Relationship Specialists are available Monday through Friday from 8:00am to 09:00pm, Eastern Time. If you choose to continue to resolve the concerns through email, simply reply to this message. I look forward to the opportunity to speak with you soon.

For more information regarding the maintenance and care of your vehicle, please visit This free online service offers vehicle and ownership-related information and tools tailored to your specific Saturn.

Again, thank you for contacting Saturn.

The Saturn Consumer Support Team

The call that day never arrived, and I proceeded to call my Customer Support Representative several times that day to no avail.

I finally left him a message stating that when he felt I was important enough to call back, I would be waiting.

This is the email I sent to him:


I waited up today until 11:12 AM for your call and it did not arrive. I work a 3rd shift job, so waiting up this late has really cut into my sleeping time and will alter my schedule for today.

I called at approximately 10:15 to your number directly and left a voicemail. Apparently you had left for the day by then?

This really isn't doing a great deal to endear the Saturn or GM brand name to me.

Please contact me as soon as you feel it is important enough. I will be waiting.


The next day I received my telephone call.

Marv proceeded to apologize to me, stating that there was a problem with the telephone system in their office. (They couldn't email and let me know that, and amazingly I was able to get an operator to forward me directly to him with no problems at all. he never answered.)

Marv explained to me that there was nothing that The Saturn Corporation could do to help me with my cracked cylinder head problem. While he was very sorry for my inconvenience, the car was indeed 12 years old and I was the second owner. He stated that there wasn't enough complaints to warrant the use of a recall and that a technical service bulletin (which I had to remind him existed) is just a simple guideline to their technicians should such an anomaly arise and I had no reason to use that as an example of there being a larger problem or a defect.

Marv talked in circles around my well stated arguments for over 12 minutes before I finally realized that the conversation was futile and intended to give me the proverbial brush-off.


I ended my conversation with Marvin Henry by letting him know that based on my experience with my 1997 Saturn SC1 and my experience with Saturn Corporation's Customer Assistance Center that I would NEVER AGAIN purchase another Saturn Vehicle.

I also informed him that I would NEVER AGAIN purchase another General Motors ( GM ) automobile.

I hope that through this blog I can encourage more of you to consider (or reconsider) your purchase of a Saturn vehicle.

Don't support a company that does not care.

Other Saturn Owners Speak Out About Their Saturn SOHC Cylinder Head Experiences.

The quest for answers why my 1997 Saturn SC1 decided to crack it's cylinder head at only 76,000 miles doesn't start and end with me.

There are multitudes of other Saturn vehicle owners of all S series Saturn cars with Single Overhead Cams between the years of 1995 to 1999 that are experiencing the same problem as myself.

We all experience the same thing, an overheat makes you notice a loss of oil into the coolant, it creates the "Chocolate Milkshake" overflow into the radiator's surge tank. The only course of action is to replace the cylinder head.

Here is a link to where another Saturn S-Series owner is having the very problem. has a rather lengthy section devoted to Saturn S-series owners having a myriad of problems. The one that rears it's ugly head the most is the Cracked Cylinder head, complete with "Chocolate Milkshake" coolant. has an answer from a former Saturn technician explaining the DEFECT in the casting of the SOHC cylinder head causing the head cracks.

If you check the forums over at (the largest saturn owner's community on the internet) You'll see the Cracked Cylinder head on SOHC 1.9L Saturn Engines is a commonly addressed topic.

All of these complaints, all of this commotion, and a recognized manufacturing mistake and yet the Saturn Corporation, and The General Motors Corporation have done absolutely nothing to help their owners solve this problem created by an obvious manufacturing error.


Continuing on with my research as to why my 1997 Saturn SC1 cracked it's cylinder head, I'd like to direct your attention to Saturn's Technical Service Bulletin # 96-T-65B

Technical Service Bulletins are sent to Saturn technicians as a quick reference for common problems that they might encounter while working on Saturn S Series Vehicles.

TSB 96-t-65B reads as follows:

Engine Runs Hot and/or Engine Oil Mixed with Engine Coolant in Engine Coolant Recovery Reservoir (Replace Cylinder Head Assembly).

This bulletin is revised to provide updated claim information as well as parts information about the release of a remanufactured cylinder head. This bulletin supercedes bulletin 96-t-65A, which should be discarded.

1991 - 1997 Saturn vehicles equipped with SOHC (LK0-1991-1994, L24-1995--1997) engines.

Engine may run hot and/or have engine oil mixed with engine coolant. This condition may be noticeable when checking coolant recovery reservoir level.

Some 1991-1997 SOHC engines may develop a crack on or near the camshaft journals and surrounding casting areas allowing engine oil to mix with engine coolant.

Refer to the following procedure to locate the area where the engine oil is leaking into engine coolant passages.


When required, refer to the appropriate year service manuals when performing the following procedures.

Remove camshaft from cylinder head.
Pressure test cooling system.

While monitoring the pressure gauge for air pressure drop, inspect all hose connections and visible joints for engine coolant leaks. Inspect the camshaft journals and surrounding areas using a bright light, to help locate hairline cracks. (Refer to illustrations for examples of area where cracks may appear.)

Air pressure may drop slowly, depending on the severity of the crack(s).

If a crack is detected in one or more of the areas shown, cylinder head assembly must be replaced. If no crack is detected, proceed to step 5.
Remove cylinder head and gasket.
Proceed to step 6 and flush engine block and cooling system before installing new cylinder head and new cylinder head gasket.

Engine block, radiator and heater core must be flushed before installing new cylinder head and new cylinder head gasket.

If pressure bleeds down, but no leaks or cracks are detected, remove cylinder head assembly and inspect the cylinder head gasket for damage between the oil and engine coolant passages.
If cylinder head gasket is damaged, remove and discard cylinder head gasket, and proceed to step 6.

Engine block, radiator and heater core must be flushed before installing cylinder head and new cylinder head gasket.

If cylinder head gasket is not damaged, inspect engine blocks for cracks in the oil and engine coolant passages in the cylinder liner area. If cracks are detected, replace engine block.
Leave upper radiator hose connected to the radiator.
Remove and discard lower radiator hose.
Open radiator drain plug.
Insert a hose in the upper radiator hose and flush radiator with clean water until clean water flows from the lower radiator hose connection.
Remove and discard upper radiator hose.
Remove water inlet housing and thermostat and discard thermostat.
Remove engine cooling system drain plug, located at the right front of the engine block below the thermostat.
Remove and discard water pump.
Place shop rags in the exposed cylinder bores.
Using a hose, fill the exposed water jacket surrounding the cylinders with clean water until clean water comes out of the thermostat location.
Remove shop rags from cylinder head bores and apply a liberal amount of 5W - 30 engine oil to the cylinder liners to help prevent corrosion.

Do not install thermostat at this time.

Install water inlet housing to engine.
Install engine cooling system drain plug.
Install new water pump.
Leave inlet heater hose connected to heater core.
Remove and discard outlet heater hose.
Insert hose into inlet heater hose and flush with clean water until clean water comes out of heater core outlet.
Remove and discard inlet heater core hose.
Remove and discard coolant recovery hose.
Remove coolant recovery reservoir and flush thoroughly with clean water.
Install remanufactured or previously removed cylinder head and new cylinder head gasket.
Install new radiator, heater and coolant recovery hoses.
Change engine oil engine oil filter.

Prepare a mixture of Calgon ® or equivalent (automatic dishwater detergent), and water at the rate of 59 milliliters (two ounces) (dry measure) to 3.8 Liters (1 gallon) of water. The cooling system holds approximately 7.6 liters (two gallons) of coolant.

Fill the cooling system with the mixture.
Run the engine for five minutes.

Drain the cooling system.
Repeat Step 29 through 32 until all oil residue is remove from system.
Fill the cooling system with clean water.
Let the engine run five minutes.
Drain the cooling system completely.
Install new engine thermostat.
Install cylinder block drain plug.
Close radiator drain plug.

The vehicle must be level when filling with coolant.

Fill the system with coolant.
1991-1996 early vehicle equipped with "Green" Saturn non-phosphate ethylene glycol-base coolant, fill the cooling system with a 50/50 mixture of new Saturn non-phosphate ethylene glycol-base coolant (P/N 21030365, 3.8 Liter [one gallon] container).
1996 interim and 1997 vehicles equipped with "Orange" Saturn DEX-COOL ™ extended-life engine coolant, fill the cooling system with a 50/50 mixture of new Saturn DEX-COOL ™ extended-life engine coolant (P/N 21031164, 3.8 Liter [one gallon] container).
Start engine and check for leaks.
Fill the coolant recovery reservoir to the full cold line after the engine has run for two or three minutes. Install and tighten cap.

First Post.

This blog will be used to chronicle the problems I've had with my 1997 Saturn SC1 Coupe.

The vehicle currently has 75,981 miles on it and hasn't been driven since June 1 of 2009 due to a crack in the cylinder head.

I purchased the vehicle in December 2006 from Elyria Hyundai in Elyria, Ohio for $4,100.00 and drove it on the longest drive it has been on from the dealership to my home. A whopping 65 miles.

When I purchased the car it had 67,700 miles on it. This means that I have put approximately 9,000 (Yes NINE THOUSAND) miles on the vehicle since I purchased it 3 years ago.

The day I drove the vehicle home, I noticed the coolant warning light coming on, it was low on coolant and needed to be filled (or so I thought). Turns out, my heater core was slowing leaking into my interior ductwork. By Februaray 2007, the heater core had failed completely and required replacement. (at 69,000 miles).

In spring 2007 the power sunroof began to show it's failure.

The power sunroof now leaks into the passenger's side whenever it rains.

In wrinte 2008 the EGR valve failed and required replacement. (at 70,000 miles)

Now at almost 76,000 miles. The engine has failed completely. The cylinder head has cracked, causing a milky "Chocolate Milkshake" substance to circulate throughout the coolant. This is caused by a mix of Oil into the cooling system.

The cylinder head requires replacement.

Additionally one must purchase a new head gasket, intake manifold gasket, exhaust manifold gasket, upper and lower radiator hose, heater hoses, thermostat, water pump and surge tank to fully solve the cracked cylinder head problem.