Saturday, June 14, 2008

T7 Crankcase updates... 9-3's and 9-5's, listen up!

Hey everyone,

Now that the big 3 have been wrapped up, I'm going to move onto some general maintenance related things.

Now, there are many things I could start with here... fuel filters, spark plugs, radiator hoses, whatever. To me, however, there is something much more important. This does not apply to everyone, just T7 cars (00-03CV 9-3's and 1999-2006 9-5's).

To the applicable, let me tell you a story. Somewhere, in 1997 Sweden, engineers sat around, pencils behind ears and coffee pots overflowing, and designed the 9-3 and 9-5 to follow the NG900 and the 9000. They tested the cars beyond comprehension, putting them on earthquake-like suspension testers, driving them into barrels that simulated Moose's, and doing countless laps on the race tracks of Europe. Not a detail was missed!

:cough:except for the design of the crankcase system:cough:

":P.s cough:"....and the fuel pump access hole in the 9-3. That too. ":P.s. cough:"

Anyway, what I'm getting at here, is that these engines flowed crankcase gasses about as well as ice flows downstream... it just doesn't. It stays and builds up, and eventually, bad things happen.

A message to the engineers who designed the crankcase system, and put the catalytic converter so close to the oil pan...

That's kind of the story with the T-7 engine. At idle, none of the gasses generated by the crankcase system get ventilated and what results, amongst other things, is SLUDGE. Say it with me now... SLUDGE.


One last time... Sluuuuudge.

Saab realized this was a problem about the same time the attorneys for all the people effected were sending out their affidavits to the judge, attempting to get money from Saab for engine replacements paid for out of pocket.

Sludge kills engines, but usually will kill a turbo first. What happens is the oil feed line that supply's the precious lubrication to the turbo cakes up with sludge and flow gets cut off to the turbo (think Macdonald's lover needing a triple bypass). Without lubrication, the turbo overheats and cooks the bearings, seals, and eventually will shred the compressor wheel from all the play in the shaft.

A turbo I pulled from a 1999 9-5

Did I mention I rebuild turbos? The reason I got into doing this was how many I was seeing from cooked and sludged engines that it was lucrative enough for me to start doing in house. Anyway, more on that later.

I borrowed these photos from Anders (the Saab expert, if you ask me), they are from his TSN gallery. They show a severe sludge problem in the T7 engine.

Sludged camshaft area underneath the valve cover

A sludged oil pickup screen

Saab rectified the sludge issue with a few different update kits for the crankcase vent system, finally ending up with crankcase update number 6. You can tell if your car has this by looking for these hoses:

When you bring your T7 Saab in for service, this is THE first thing I always check for (unless it's not running, or something...)

The moral here is that sludge is real, and must be addressed. Change your oil, and change it often, always using Mobil 1 synthetic (you do use synthetic, right?) and Genuine Saab or Mann filters. Taking 20 minutes to pull your valve cover and do a sludge inspection can save your car, and will also put your mind at ease when you find a clean and lovely honeypot of oil under there.

In theory.

Oh yeah, I forgot. If you're replacing a blown turbo due to sludge or oil cooking, ALWAYS replace the oil feed pipe too. Install the new one with the old pipe and you might as well leave all the bolts decently loose, because you will be turning them again next week. Write that down.

Chuck Andrews, owner of Andrews of Princeton, does some great writing for NINES magazine and has many of his informative articles posted in PDF format on his website for you to read, you can check them out here.

Check out Anders Gallery at TSN for interesting and eye opening Saab photos.

Take care and keep the dirty side down,

Fuel Pumps, all models

For the final installment of the big 3 common failures I most often note on my clients cars, I will be talking about fuel pumps.

A Walbro brand fuel pump

The name of the thing is pretty self explanatory, no?

The pump is submerged within your gas tank and pumps fuel from the tank to the engine. If you listen very, very carefully while your car is running you can lightly hear it in most Saabs.

Saab OEM pumps are made by Bosch, and will usually last 100,000 miles or so. It is not part of any scheduled service, it is just one of those items whose day comes when it goes out.

Pumps often fail upon startup, they will simply not come on and the car will fail to start. Typically they will sputter and attempt to start a bit, but without sustained fuel pressure the system cannot manage to fire fuel through the injectors and ignition cannot occur.

The fuel pump lives inside a basket within the tank that contains the pump, a pre-filter, and also has the sending unit for the fuel level gauge built in.

The pump rests inside the basket

This particular pump is from my Stage 5 tuned 1994 9000 Aero. I have replaced the factory pump with a larger, higher flowing pump, a Walbro 255LPH. This pump is the most common for racing applications that require more fuel supply to the engine.

My Walbro 255LPH pump installed

Fuel pump replacement on a c900, 9000, or 9-5 takes about 1-1.5hrs. On a OG9-3, it takes about 3 hours because removal of the gas tank is required. The fuel pump inserts run about $180. Your dealer will attempt to replacement the entire basket assembly instead of the pump insert, and list price of the assembly is over $600. By replacing only the insert, it saves me time and you money, so we both come out on the plus side.

That's all for now

Take care,

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Saab Direct Ignition (DI) System, most models

Hello again,

Following my list of 3 common Saab failures that will leave you on the side of the road, I wanted to discuss the direct ignition system found on your Saab. If you have a 9000 turbo (91-98), NG900 turbo (94-98), 9-3 (99-02), or 9-5 (99-present), then your car incorporates the direct ignition technology developed by Saab in the late 80's.

Direct Ignition... it just sounds fancy, right?

As you know (or may not know), Saab prides itself in turbo charging. Turbochargers increase engines efficiency by forcing air into the engine, which ultimately creates more power. By doing this, it is possible to make a 4 cylinder perform at the level of many v6 and v8 engines, providing not only power, but fuel economy (everybody say yeeeah!). The advances of turbocharging, and Saabs innovation with turbochargers, outgrew the performance and ability provided by distributor style ignition systems, so Saab developed the DI system to work with its new Trionic systems. The DI also cleans the plugs after you shut the car off. It runs through a 5 second burn off cycling, in which time it ignites all the plugs with very hot spark to clean the ignition surfaces of the plug!.

A Direct Ignition cassette, this one is red which indicates that this is a T5 system

What the DI system does is eliminate all of the common ignition components found on conventional ignition systems for a more... turbo friendly? ignition system. The ignition system is managed by Saabs Trionic software, which comes in two (technically 3) versions, Trionic 5 and Trionic 7. The MY93 9000's had a special version of T5 different from all others (94-98).

Also, for owners of 2003+ 9-3's, your Saab has a coil pack ignition system, which has 1 individual coil pack per cylinder and is operated by Saabs Trionic 8 system. I have yet to deal with this system enough to comment on any failure trends.

The DI system is housed within the DI cassette which sits on top of your engines spark plugs and ignites them with an electrical charge generated within the cassette. It is essentially a computer. It also can read knock and spark temperature through the spark plug itself, a capability distributor style ignition systems would never be able to incorporate.

Here we see the inner workings of a T5 DI cassette

Now, why is all of this important to you? These DI's commonly fail, and the vehicle will cease to operate immediately upon failure. The most common failure pattern I tend to see with them is an overheating of the small pocket of oil inside of the DI, which will then spill out into the circuitry. I'm not sure which comes first in this case, the chicken or the egg, but either it overheats and spills, frying the circuits, or spills from the circuits overheating.

What causes this?

No really, I'm asking you.

What I'm saying is that there is not really a common point at which these DI's fail. I've heard tell of a friend of mine putting on a brand new one from Saab, and it failing a week later. My 1994 9000 Aero made it 200k miles on its original DI cassette, yet some only go 60k. The DI is not a service item, and is never replaced by Saab unless it fails. I personally keep a spare on hand at all times in my trunk, because you really are at the mercy of it when you're driving.

A T7 Black DI, you can also see the boots which sit on the spark plugs

Replacing a DI is simple and only takes a matter of minutes, failures can often be identified by the smell that a DI puts off after failing, one of a burnt electronic nature. The lesson here is check your DI, there is a date code stamped on the label underneath. It will read something like 0250. The first two digits indicate the year, and the last two indicate the week. 0250 would mean a DI made in 2002 on the 50th week. Remember though, this does not indicate when the DI was installed, just when it was produced. If you have an older DI, I would suggest purchasing a spare to keep, just in case.

I keep both T7 and T5 used DI's on hand, price for T5 used DI's is $150 and $125 for T7 DI's. The two must not be interchanged, as they are meant to work specifically with the T5 or T7 system. As I already mentioned, T5 DI's are red and T7 are black. If any of you Saab-o-philes feel otherwise about DI interchangeability, this is not the place to discuss it.

However, this is. =)

There is also a recall on T7 DI cassettes, I will check your car for this during service to see if it has been done.

Anywho, I'll be doing some less common jobs over the next few days (vent flap motor on a 87 9000 Turbo with Automatic Climate Control, a transmission flush and filter replacement on a c900 automatic, and a Manifold Absolute Pressure sensor on a 9-5), I will post about all of that by the end of the week when they are completed.

Take care until next time,

Serpentine belt and pulley replacement, all models

Hello again,

If you're reading this, you probably have a car... most likely a Saab, even. Your Saab does many things, it moves, it stops, it turns, and inevitably it breaks.

Well, chances are if your Saab leaves you stranded on the side of the road the cause is one of three things

1. A Direct Ignition Cassette
2. A Fuel Pump
3. A broken Serpentine belt or pulley

I'm going to venture to say that about 60% of the "HEY! I'm on the side of the road and broken down" calls I receive are specifically related to serpentine belt or pulley failures.

What is a serpentine belt, you ask?

The Serpentine belt and its various pulleys can be seen on the left side of the engine in this photo.

A serpentine belt is a multi ribbed rubber belt which operates the engines various accessories such as air conditioning via the AC compressor, the charging system via the alternator, the power steering system via the power steering pump, and the cooling system via the water pump. It is driven by a single power pulley, known as a crank pulley, which is externally mounted on the engines crankshaft. Tension on the belt allows for the friction of the belt against the various other pulleys to operate these pumps and devices. Tension is applied and removed from the belt via a tensioner with a pulley that adjusts and absorbs shock as the belt turns. Saab 9000's use a hydraulic tensioning system with a shock absorber, whereas NG900's, 9-3's and 9-5's use a spring loaded mechanical tensioners.

This is a 9-3 and 9-5 style mechanical tensioner with tensioner pulley

Classic 900's (79-93) use a multi belt system which total 4 belts and has mechanical non automatic tensioners which must be adjusted by hand.

Anywho, the serpentine belt and its pulleys receive much wear and stress from its constant turning while the engine is operating. The belt is engine speed dependant, so the faster the engine is revving the faster the belt is turning. The pulleys on the accessories, such as the AC compressor, alternator, waterpump, and power steering pump are fairly resilient and do not typically wear (but I would suggest replacement if the parent component is replaced), however, there are two (in some cases 3) specific pulleys that cause problems for Saabs.

The pulleys in question are idler pulleys and the belt tensioner pulley itself. They do not drive any specific function on the car, and since they are hard mounted on the side of the engine itself, they contain bearings which allow them to turn. Their purpose is solely to direct or provide tension to the belt itself. The bearings they contain wear over time and the pulleys can separate from the bearings, which will throw the belt off track, stop the critical functions of the car from functioning, and will leave you stranded where you are.

In this photo we see an old pulley on the left, and a new on the right

Also, the serpentine belt can become weak over time and will snap, also leaving you with the same scenario. However, from personal experience, the pulleys will let go before the belt does, as untrained technicians will many times replace the belt but not the pulleys.

Here we see a 9-3 and 9-5 tensioner pulley with a new hardware kit

I follow Saab's suggested service listing for these bearings, and that is replacement every 60k miles. The pulleys and serpentine belt are included in the 60k mile service, but as stated before, that does not mean they are always changed.

The lesson here is check your belts condition. Belts and pulleys will sometimes make noise and give you some warning before they go, but many times they just go. When you come to me for an initial service, this is one of the first things I will check and suggest to you as a client to keep you motoring safe and happy!

Parts cost varies per model, but an idler pulley, tensioner pulley, and serpentine belt replacement usually runs in the $250 range with labor included.

Please leave comments to let me know how you guys are liking the blog. Also, if anyone needs anymore clarification or explanation, feel free to ask!

Take care,

9-3 Sport Sedan Headlight Wiring

Hey there,

Today I encountered what is becoming a more and more common problem on the early (MY2003) 9-3 Sport Sedans.

The wiring that connects to the headlamp socket, which holds the bulb for your low beam headlight and provides power to it, becomes corroded and fails. This leads to loss of a headlamp, but provides great fun for those who love a good sporting game of Padiddle.

See: Padiddle

Anywho, the good news is that the repair is simple. GM have encountered the problem enough to the point where they have created a repair piece that splices into the old headlamp wiring and is already wired into the bulb socket. This way, you get a reliable connection and do not have to mess with rewiring the bulb socket internally.

Steps involved:

Remove front bumper

Remove headlamp

Splice and fit repair kit w/bulb
Re-install headlamp
Re-install front bumper

Job cost:
Parts - $20
Labor - 1hr

I'm going to try to remember to take my digital camera with me when I work from now on, but for now cell phone pictures will do!

Take care,

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Simply SAAB... the blog!

Hello everyone,

What I've decided to do here is keep a blog as a point of information and outreach to clients and those interested in Saab automobiles alike. After 5 years of Saab service I've noticed many common failure trends across the spectrum of Saab models and will attempt to address those which I encounter here for everyones information.

First, A bit about me. My name is Chad Lowers, I'm a Political Science/Pre-Law major at WVU. I'm from Charleston, West Virginia, but have resided in Morgantown, West Virginia for the past 2 years. After working on Saab automobiles in and around the Charleston area I made the decision to attend West Virginia University in lieu of moving on to different ventures later in my life outside of the world of automotive service.

Simply SAAB was started by me as an outreach to Saab owners in the greater Morgantown and Pittsburgh areas who were having problems finding technicalness willing to service their automobiles. As known by most Saab owners, many automotive service institutions are not willing to work on Saab automobiles due to the complexity of their engineering. When individuals do find shops willing to work on their Saab automobiles, the cost is typically very high and the quality often low.

I strive to provide quality, convenience, and affordability to all of my clients. Quality through 5 years of experience specifically on Saab automobiles, from c900's to 9-3 Sport Sedans. Convenience through my mobile service and my ability to work with your schedule. Finally, affordability through my labor rates that are half of the Saab dealers!

Take care, hopefully I can write here often!