Doctor Diesel

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Hi Doc

In 2010 my dad bought an 07-plate Saab 9-3 TiD 8v. So far it has covered 120k miles and has been passed on to my brother, and then me, so it’s been in the family for more than 12 years.

It’s always been maintained properly and just before Christmas had a serious service which included a new set of glow plugs, and I looked forward to at least another year of motoring from it, but the car has suddenly gone into limp mode. I’d noticed the idle seemed a bit rough, and when I try to accelerate hard a rev limiter kicks in. Turn the engine on and off and the system resets but the problem soon comes back.

So, Doc, is the car worth fixing, or would I be throwing good money after bad, and what could the problem be in the first place? I’m fond of the car, but if it’s going to be a financial drain I have to be realistic.

Andrew Noonan

Hi Andrew

Yes, it’s easy to bond with a car, especially if it has served you well, but as you say, pragmatism is necessary here. On the plus side, your Saab 9-3 is a known quantity with a guaranteed level of provenance.

It’s powered by a variation of the Fiat-designed MultiJet compression ignition engines found in myriad Fiats and Alfa. In 2004 General Motors began using it to power oil-fired Vauxhall Vectras and a variety of Saabs, succeeding an apparently tough, but rather agricultural, 2.2-litre diesel motor of Isuzu heritage.

The 1.9-litre engine, available in various states of tune with eight and 16-valve heads, had some issues with water pump failure leading to shredded cam belts. I believe the recommended mileage to change these is 90k, but some mechanics reckon this should be done 30k sooner. Inevitably, these motors have dual mass flywheel/clutch combos, and these have been known to give trouble too, so you might want to check on the car’s service history to see when the water pump was last replaced, and if you’re still running on the original clutch, as these things might impact on whether the car is worth spending any more money on.

If you reckon it is, then I suspect the performance limiting issue will relate to a fuel pressure drop on the high pressure side of the 9-3’s fuel circuit. Unless you have specialist diagnostic tools, checking this out for yourself isn’t practical, but a decent garage will be able to compare your car’s actual pressure against its specified one.

If there’s an issue, this could be caused by a number of things. The fuel pump, located in the tank and apparently quite awkward to get at, might be at fault, or some gunk may be partially blocking a fuel pipe. You’re then looking at these being disconnected and blown out with an air line. Really, the only way to restore your car’s pep is by a process of elimination, and you’ll have to take a punt on the problem being straightforward to find.

Why don’t you ask your garage man how long it would take to check over the fuel system, and budget for a couple of hour’s work, and decide after that if the car is worth persevering with? If you’re still driving it in a year or 18 months’ time, you’ll be glad you did, and if not, you won’t have broken the bank. 

One Response

  1. ‘oil fired vauxhall vectras’? may I ask the engineering difference between oil fired (boilers and other heating) and oil fed Internal Combustion Engines (propulsion/drive)? I liken it to the difference between gas holders (gasometers) and gas meters(measurement/consumption)!

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