Diagnostic Report: My Saab 9000 Aero has some needs, but it ain’t so bad

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Saab 9000 Aero Project front three-quarter
Brad Phillips

In the first installment of my low-buck Swedish hot-rod project, I outlined the chase, the purchase, and the deposit of the Aero at my friendly Saab specialist for an in-depth examination. So, how are things going?

In my fantasy scenario, the good folks at Sports Car Service walk slowly around the car, clipboards in hand, looking unsuccessfully for mechanical defects to note for repair. They nod to each other thoughtfully, eventually setting down their pens, micrometers, and flashlights. Pulling comfortable leather chairs close to the car, they sit quietly and simply admire it, perhaps offering a toast to a vehicle so wonderfully immortal with a glass of ice-cold Absolut.

Yeah, not so much. My Saab has some needs—but the situation ain’t so bad.

The biggest reason I wanted the car to go to the shop straight away was to diagnose any issues that would have been a serious pain to deal with once I got it home. I’m fairly handy, but I don’t have a lot of specialized tools or a lift in my garage. Couple that with the fact that I already have half the garage occupied by a partially disassembled Sunbeam Tiger, and you can see why I was resistant to bringing home another major surgery patient.

BTP_Tiger_EFI56
Brad Phillips

After the inspection, I got a call from Bill at the shop, and we decided which issues should be tackled immediately and which could be safely deferred. We gave priority to items that affected the driving experience and to mechanical components that had been put on the “maybe later” list by a previous owner but never actually addressed.

I noted in the test drive that the shifter felt pretty out of whack—and sure enough, the taper pin, shift rod, and coupler between the shifter and the transmission were all totally worn out. For other Saab 9000 owners who may be curious, first gear isn’t supposed to be under your right knee, and you shouldn’t graze your knuckles on the dash when engaging fifth. The shop had an NOS coupler and the other bits on the shelf and went ahead and installed them to bring the shifter back to spec. Check! I had also noticed that the tachometer was fried, so a good used one from the shop’s parts stash went in its place.

BTP_9000_Shop3
Brad Phillips

It was immediately apparent that the tie-rod ends were exhausted as well, a problem which can spoil handling, stress the steering components, and increase tire wear. Again, the shop’s parts shelf supplied the correct NOS stuff, and a front-wheel alignment sorted things out. Tie-rod ends aren’t expensive, and the new ones will really help the steering and road feel. They wear out over time on every car, so it wasn’t not a huge surprise that the Saab needed a fresh set at 205K+ miles.

While testing the fuel system, the technicians noticed that the vent hose was broken at the filler neck, so that got replaced. It’s probably not a good idea to vent fuel vapors into the cabin of the car. I’m not sure how the Saab passed a recent Virginia state inspection with that faulty hose, but it was an easy fix.

I did approve one bit of fairly invasive surgery. The right parking-brake cable was stuck in the “engaged” position, and, to bypass the issue, the cable had been cut to free the caliper. Since replacing the cable was far easier on a lift, I let the shop just get ‘er done.

Unfortunately, the back half the interior of the car has to come out access the parking brake cable, so labor for this fix will likely outweigh the cost of parts. If the car was an automatic, I probably wouldn’t have prioritized this, but I’ve had manual-transmission cars without working parking brakes before, and constantly parking on hills can be a pain. I don’t like to rely on the gearbox alone, either, especially when that transmission has a lot of miles on it. Ever had a car pop out of gear when you didn’t expect it? Sprinting to your car as you watch it disappear down a hill is not a pleasant experience, and I’ve been there …

BTP_9000_shop2
Brad Phillips

The Saab’s still waiting on a few simple items during its stint at the shop. Fresh vacuum lines will help that lively BOOOOOOST gauge read accurately again. An ABS wheel sensor will get replaced to clear a fault code and eliminate the dash warning light. The new sensor will give the car working ABS again, a feature that hasn’t been in operation for quite some time. Lastly, a bent wheel will be straightened, and a new set of Michelin Pilot All Seasons will be installed. Sweet.

I’m still looking for a factory radio setup and a few other interior pieces. The photo below is from some period dealer literature I own, and shows what a 9000 audio stack should look like. The whole dash is like the cockpit of a 747, a ’90s masterpiece composed of little switches, buttons and lights. Do I really need a tape deck or CD player? No, but they will look great and complete that factory-stock look and feel.

BTP_9000_brochure_radio
Saab

For the next installment in this saga, I’m hoping to give the beast a proper road test! The snow may be falling here on the East Coast, but that should be no problem for my mighty, over-boosted, non-traction control equipped Saab 9000 Aero. Okay, that may be actually a huge problem. Stay tuned.

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