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SAAB Project Update: Back in Service, Sorta


After not moving from my driveway for a week, it was high time to get the SAAB back into service. I parked it because of a cracked coolant hose. I wanted to avoid the possibility of having it blow out completely while out on the road. Luckily, the hose was a short one that connects to the throttle body. After replacing the hose, I figured I could start diagnosing the other problems. Well, I have some good news and some bad news.


First, the bad news. While removing the coolant hose, I bumped the breather hose that connects to the top of the valve cover and it broke in two. The gas and oil fumes had hardened the hose and caused it to become so brittle that it just snapped off into multiple pieces. That made removal a cinch, but I needed a replacement and it isn’t exactly something you can pick up at your local auto parts store.


Instead, I just used some of the same hose used to replace the cracked coolant one. It probably wont last as long as the original, but it fit and had some unexpected consequences. After tightening up all the clamps and topping up the antifreeze, I got inside the car and fired her up. To my surprise the engine now idled evenly and a short test drive also revealed that most of our stalling issues had been resolved!

So, as suspected by some of our readers, we had a bad vacuum leak. I had planned on just replacing sensors until the issues were resolved, but this was a much more cost effective option. We could have easily dropped over $500 on a new MAF, knock sensor, throttle position sensor, temperature sensor, etc. That’s not to say that some or all of these don’t still need to be replaced though.


The Triump based H engine was a good one, but I can’t help but wonder if it was too good for the 900. It seems that it just keeps on running while everything else around it starts to fall apart. Take this power window switch for example. Obviously it was a bad idea to stick electronics between the seats, but the insides of this switch actually wore out from use. The metal was so worn that the switch actually stuck and shorted out. New switches are on the way, but I am starting to wonder if I have taken on a never ending game of gremlin chasing here…

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  1. Mark E

    Where I worked up until April there was a guy I made friends with who drove a Subaru SVX. The car was actually how we talked to one another. One day there was a call over the PA system about a Black Subaru on fire in the parking lot. Turns out that, yep, it was the SVX. The owner first thought it was a smoking accident but it turns out the power seat controller stuck and the motor overheated & set the insulation of the seat on fire. So consider yourself lucky, I guess…

    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

      Yeah I do feel lucky Mark! I think it happened the same day that the engine was having problems. It smelled like something was getting hot, there was a puff of smoke, and then the windows wouldn’t roll up. Hmm, I guess I should be happy that it wasn’t the seat warmer that shorted out…

  2. Brian

    Never doubted for a second that you’d have it going again in a flash! Now on to Toyota body work. I’m rootin’ for ya!

    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

      Thanks for the vote of confidence Brian! The taillights and fuel pump just arrived so I will be working on the Toyota tomorrow.

  3. paul

    Yes I found the same thing that motor was sweet but it seemed like every other month something silly would go bad but, with a hundred plus thousand the interior / seats were perfect as new & the car was as tight as a new car, 0 rattles. I guess yours might have had a rougher life then the one I had, also mine was a 1 owner car bought with 82,000 miles.

    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

      The odometer on mine was broke when I got it, but it was already at 159k when someone pushed the reset button while moving. I’m guessing we are getting close to 200k, so I guess I shouldn’t complain. The seats in my car are still firm and in great condition too. With a little work it should have many more years of service in it!

      • paul

        Now that I see the outside the paint/ body looks very good, as mine looked. These cars handle quite nice, once you get it sorted you will find this quite fun to drive. … When you need a front main seal Saab has a tool that can reach down & grab the thing being inches from the cowl it is very tight. Your air filter box is different then mine, mine had a hollow snorkel/ air inlet that met with the vents in the hood, that came straight up next to the oil add tube I was always afraid to bring the car in for an oil change because I was afraid someone would add oil to the air inlet , so I changed my own oil/ Castrol 10/30 GTX.

  4. Pat

    How about a pic of the car? I guess its a 900 with AC.? Great article!

    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

      I updated the article with a photo of the car. If you click the link in the first paragraph, you can read past updates.

  5. jim s

    they made 900’s with manual crank windows, i thinks. i know they made them without A/C. less to go wrong and easier to work on. i wonder who made the window switches for saab. you can always put the car up for sale.

    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

      I never really liked power windows because they always seem to break, but A/C is a must! Nothing ruins a drive more than a sweaty backside. Every pre-94 car that I have ever owned has not had a working A/C system. The sellers all said that it just needed a recharge, but I knew better. It can be tough to get the R-12 recharged, but it’s even harder to find a system that is not already leaking. Amazingly the A/C still works on this car after 27 years of service! I’m not giving up just quite yet Jim. Today’s little victory gave me some much needed motivation and I would like to see it in a better state before moving it on.

  6. Martin

    Congrats on the quick win on the idle issue. I’m guessing that hose was probably original. It’s probably a smart plan to go around and replace the rest of them, you might find it fixes all your ills with the motor running issues. My dad owned a Saab dealer at the time your car was new. I remember taking a 900 Turbo cabriolet out for a ride one night, and in a moment of hard acceleration heard a loud pop. The car died and wouldn’t restart. As I tried to calm myself down fearing something expensive and the wrath of my father, I found the intake bellow had popped off just after the air mass meter. A quick fix with the screw driver in the cars tool kit and I was back on my way. That was my first experience with how badly cars run when the system has leaks. As far as the window switches go, they’re probably original as well and once replaced will give you perfect service. You might want to clean and grease the window regulators to make it easier on the motors. I have to admit, I feel like you’re being a little hard on the Saab. Don’t forget, the car is 27 years old, and you don’t know the life it’s led up to the day you were handed the keys. I’m sure most anything else out there that has done daily driver duty for that long would have a list of little things to fix…. If they’re even still on the road. Part if the joy of owning cars like this is giving them the TLC they deserve and passing them on to the next owner in better shape than you found them, maybe even for a small profit! Don’t lose faith in her. Good luck!

    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

      Thanks Martin! Your story reminded me that the airbox lid on my car is cracked on both sides where it clamps to the bellow so it is not sealing good. I found another one that is only cracked on side so I need to expoxy that and get it replaced!

      Maybe you are right about me being a little too hard on the poor SAAB. I suppose that part of the problem is my own ignorance when it comes to fuel injection and emissions control systems. Troubleshooting this car is forcing me to learn though and I feel like I am starting to grasp how all those little sensors communicate to control the fuel mixture. Reading everyone’s feedback here on the site sure helps and hopefully we are all learning a little along the way!

      • Thomas Bean

        Duct tape should be in every glove box……

    • paul

      Martin you quite right, & just want to ad that an older car that might have many owners & many hands working on the car some that know what they are doing & some not.

  7. Bryan Cohn

    The lesson from this is? Well, I stress this to friends all the time, who take the advice about 50% of the time and those who ignore it do so to their own detriment. The advice? Look for, inspect, fix, check, change, etc etc all the free, cheap, easy, simple things first.

    Using your problem Jesse, before ever considering sensors or relays or filters, the first thing to check is vacuum leaks. They are FREE to check and sometimes FREE to fix.

    A friend had a running problem on his Miata that drove him crazy (and he is a mechanic by trade). After months of trying things he decided it must be the air flow meter (91 Miata with the flapper door AFM). So he takes off the air filter housing, then the AFM and guess what? The boot on the intake side of the AFM had been installed wrong and was letting air in after the AFM. Install the hose correctly, put it all together and instantly fixed. He bought the car this way, no telling how long it had been screwed up…..

    So, always check the easy, free stuff first. Ok, schools out. Enjoy the rest of your day. :)

    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

      Sometimes we all need this reminder Bryan! It sure feels satisfying when you finally find those little things that make such a big difference. It is obvious that a few of the vacuum hoses have been replaced, but something doesn’t seem right. It could just be me, but shouldn’t there be a PCV check valve coming off that breather line?

      • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

        To answer my own question, looks like only the turbo engines were fitted with PCV check valves? A service manual is on its way and I plan to check the rest of the vacuum lines tomorrow. Thanks Bryan!

  8. John J

    I may have posted this before, but if you are not asking for advice on then you need to be. Best place for Saab cars help. Lots of tutorials also.
    Also a good place for Saab parts is

    You are going to find that many rubber items, namely hoses of the coolant and especially vacuum variety will all need to be replaced as they would on ANY car of this vintage.

  9. jim s

    you bought a service manual, is that the first sign that the saab is a keeper! on vehicle fires i read somewhere that there are aprox 23000 each year. i wonder how many were caused by failed switches?

  10. Charlie Member

    Many of these, if in New England, died of rusted out strut towers, the strut would just suddenly poke up through and the front of the car would drop down. Maybe they were fixable, but no one I knew bothered, the cars were junked, still running just fine otherwise.

  11. dj

    I remember when I worked for GM as a tech in the late 80’s. The 84 up Corvettes did the same thing. The switches would short out causing the seat motors to overheat setting the seats on fire.

  12. rancho bella

    Dang it Jesse……….would you just buy an old Ford truck. They rarely break, all parts are available they get bad mileage per gallon……what else could you ask for? Oh’…..and you can put stuff in em’.

    Then it’s so long to the “Saab story”.

    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

      Then there would be nothing to write about!

  13. Brian

    Ford trucks lost me when they added 50 to the name.

  14. john S

    Gremlin chasing? You should have gone for a 99 Series SAAB. They really are built to go a distance:) Stay with it though we are all cheering.

    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

      Yeah, I was actually looking for a 99. Found a ’78 Turbo that has been parked in a field for a while and was tempted. We have to get this one running good before taking on another project though!

  15. Daniel Woods

    I have two 86 900s a 85 four door auto 900 and a 96 900. All turbos. All 5 speeds except the 85. Best 86 Hatchback is totaled. 85 has power steeting leak. Other 86 is maybe complete?? I bought it for parts. 96 needs clutch work. Life got in the way. Been sitting for a few tears.

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