San Diego SAAB Owners Group (SDSOG)

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SDSOG How-To Page

Some problems seem to be endemic to SAABs of all vintages.  The 900 steering rack for example, or the timing chain tensioner on the -87 2.0 liter engines.  In this section, I hope to offer some helpful hints on the more common repair and maintenance procedures for those who like to work on their SAABs.  Contributions are always welcome from those who have actually performed the jobs themselves.  (There's no substitute for hands-on experience.)

All of the usual disclaimers apply -- utilize the advice herein at your own risk!


The V4 Balance Shaft Gear            SAAB 900 Turn-signal Switch            SAAB 900 Dash Removal

Random Stalling, 2.0L

The V4 Balance Shaft Gear

    This little darling is the bane of SAAB V4 owners the world over.  Anyone who has driven a V4 SAAB beyond 100K miles has experienced (or will soon experience) this failure.  I have included some information on identifying and repairing the problem below.  Corrections and additions are welcomed.

- Chris Rogers, SDSOG


1)  Overheating while driving
2) Alternator light ON
3) Engine shudders, out-of-balance
4) Cooling fan not spinning but moves easily by hand


The fibre (common) or nylon (rare) timing gear which drives the balance shaft has been stripped of its teeth.  When this occurs, the balance shaft pulley no longer spins.  This pulley is responsible for driving the cooling fan, alternator and water pump via the fan belt.  Without coolant being pumped through the block, the engine quickly overheats.  Obviously, the best way to avoid catastrophic damage to the engine is to shut it down immediately.


This is almost always caused by worn balance shaft bearings.  While these bearings may seem to have an unusually short lifespan, it should be pointed out that the bearings are often placed under excessive strain by over-tightening the fan belt.


The best way to increase the longevity of the balance shaft gear is by keeping the fan belt adjusted as loosely as possible while still avoiding belt squeal.  This will prevent undue strain on the balance shaft bearings.  Of course, regular and frequent oil changes will extend the life of all the bearings in the engine.


Unless the mileage on the engine is unusually low, the failure of the balance shaft gear is a pretty good indicator of general engine health.   One can assume that if the balance shaft bearings are badly worn -- the others are probably not far behind.  If a complete engine refresh is out of the question, it is possible to replace the balance shaft gear alone.  However, if the balance shaft bearings are worn to an obvious extent, i.e. the balance shaft can be vertically moved even slightly by hand, it is not worth the time and effort to replace only the gear.

With that said, the next decision is whether to remove the engine to replace the gear, or attempt to replace it in situ.  While it *is* possible to replace the gear without completely removing the engine, it is not advised.  Here's why:

a) When the balance shaft gear fails, it's remnants drop into the oil pan.  It is impossible to completely remove all of those remnants simply by draining the oil.
b) The oil pan cannot be removed for cleaning with the engine in the car.   There is a cross-member that covers the rear-most pan bolts, making it virtually impossible to completely remove the pan.

Yes, but...

What's that?  You still want to replace just the gear AND you simply must do it without removing the engine?  Good luck, here's what you need:


1 Timing cover-to-block gasket
2 Blue silicone gasket cement or equivalent (oil-resistant)
3 Antifreeze
4 Timing cover oil seal for balance shaft
5 Replacement balance shaft gear, nylon if available
6 Oil and filters (enough for three or four oil changes)


1 Disconnect positive battery terminal
2 Disconnect windshield washer hose from bottle
3 Remove hood
4 Loosen bleeder valve from heat exchanger, near firewall
5 Remove caps from radiator and coolant capture bottle
6 Drain radiator
7 Disconnect headlight wires & hood release cable
8 Remove grill assembly
9 Label all coil and alternator leads
10 Disconnect all leads from coil and remove coil
11 Disconnect all alternator leads and remove alternator and fan belt
12 Remove lower alternator bracket
13 Loosen hose clamp at upper radiator hose/manifold
14 Remove hose from manifold
15 Loosen hose clamp at lower radiator hose/radiator
16 Remove bolts on lower radiator mounting brackets, L/R
17 Remove radiator, extracting from lower radiator hose (messy)
18 Remove retaining bolt from balance shaft pulley
19 Remove balance shaft pulley GENTLY  (a 5" gear puller helps a lot!!)
20 Remove all bolts around timing cover (1/2" socket)
21 Remove 5 forward bolts from oil pan and all bolts from left and right side, leaving rear bolts in place (they're virtually inaccessible anyway)
22 Loosen hose clamp on upper water pump inlet hose at water pump
23 Loosen hose clamp from head-bound water pump outlet hose and remove hose from pump
24 Gently and carefully pull the timing cover away from the block, complete with water pump and fan.  A putty knife slipped between cover and gaskets can help to facilitate removal of the timing cover. The idea is to sacrifice the timing cover-to-block gasket, but desperately try to preserve the oil pan gasket. If it gets destroyed, you're in trouble. Hopefully the oil pan gasket will come away cleanly from the timing cover and remain intact on the lip of the oil pan.


     The remains of the balance shaft gear will probably clear the lip of the oil pan for removal, however, installing the new one will require that the oil pan be levered down for clearance. Again, take care not to damage the oil pan gasket or bend the oil pan excessively. This is the part of the job where you are clearly in Mickey Mouse territory. However, if luck is with you, it's also the part where a 24 hour job becomes a 6 hour one.

25 Using the 5" gear puller if necessary, remove the remains of the old balance shaft gear.
26 Oil the contact area of the balance shaft liberally with fresh motor oil.
27 Using a large screwdriver or pry bar, *gently* lever the oil pan down far enough to allow installation of the new balance shaft gear. It must move less than 1/2 an inch and if it is done carefully it will not harm the pan or the pan gasket. When levered down sufficiently, use small wooden shims between the oil pan and the block to hold the pan down far enough for the new gear to clear the oil pan lip while it is pressed onto the shaft.
28 Before installing the new balance shaft gear, you must align the dot on the face of the crank gear (the big one) with the #2 dot on the face of the cam gear (small one).  This will properly align the first dot on the cam gear which must align with the dot on your new balance shaft gear.  It sounds confusing, but at this point, simply know that both dots on the cam gear *MUST* be aligned with matching dots on *BOTH* the crank gear and the balance shaft gear.
29 To align the crank gear dot with the cam gear dot, set the emergency brake and shift to neutral. With a large ratchet (preferably 3/8" drive and socket, *slowly* turn the crank gear clockwise (left-to-right) until the dots line up. The  other dot on the cam gear should now be facing the balance shaft.
30 Smear fresh motor oil on the contact surface of the new balance shaft gear.

Carefully align the dot on the balance shaft gear with the dot on the cam gear and press the new gear in place on the balance shaft.  It will not simply slip on and a rubber mallet will be a big help in getting the new gear on. However, take your time.  This is not the time to work out your frustrations -- tap, don't bang. Here's why:

a) The gear must rotate slightly as it's teeth mesh with those on the cam gear.
b) There is a freeze plug on the other side of the balance shaft.  If you bash the gear onto the shaft, you're likely to send the balance shaft back through the engine enough to dislodge the freeze plug.   :-P
c) You're already dealing with questionable balance shaft bearings.  Banging on the shaft will not improve that situation.

32 Once the gear is in place and it's face is flush with the other gears, go wash your hands and grab a cold beer.
33 Before reassembly, the oil seal on the timing cover must be replaced.  If at all possible, this process should be done using the proper drift.  Digging the old seal out with a screwdriver will likely damage the inner surface of the seal channel.
34 As they say, "installation is the reverse of removal."  Clean sealing surfaces well and use a reasonable amount of gasket cement on the timing cover and oil pan.  The oil pan gasket will probably leak somewhat after reassembly -- the price you pay for a quick job.


Keep in mind that you have now have a bunch of fibre bits in the pan that you won't be getting out until you actually remove the pan.  The best you can hope for is to remove the small bits that get sucked into the sump and trapped in the oil filter.  Prior to starting the engine, change the oil and filter.   Run the engine to operating temperature and change the oil and filter again.   Take a short drive around the block and change it again.

Is this excessive?  Perhaps.  But each time you take a turn or hit a good-sized bump, those bits will have another opportunity to run through your engine and/or clog the sump.  To me, every oil change improves the odds against a major problem.  If you have an oil pressure gauge, glue an eyeball to it -- and start saving your pennies for the overhaul you know that engine needs...

Chris Rogers (5/98)

SAAB 900 Turn-signal Switch

   The lowly turn-signal (or "directional") switch is one of the most oft-used switches on your car -- at least, it is if you care at all about the surrounding traffic.  After many thousands of uses, the inner parts of any switch begin to wear and/or break.  On many SAABs, this stalk also carries the cruise control switch.  In that case especially, a replacement switch can be quite costly.

- Chris Rogers, SDSOG


Perhaps the best way to increase the longevity of any switch is to use it once per day, gently engaging all possible positions for a moment or two before returning it to its normally off position.  I dare say that while this procedure will, in all likelihood, allow your switch to outlast most of the other mechanical devices in the vehicle, it may not be the most prudent method of maneuvering through traffic.  Therefore, use that switch with gusto -- and when it fails, repair it!


I have had good luck repairing these switches, it's actually quite simple.  Personally, I have applied this technique only to SAAB 900 switches from M87-94 that had the integral cruise control switch.  The process should be substantially similar on other models.  Two things can cause this problem: a broken or weak spring and/or a worn cam. The fix involves replacing the spring and increasing the depth of the détentes on the cam...


1 Drill, with 1/8" bit
2 Phillips screwdriver and Torx driver with various bits
3 Small, sharp X-Acto knife or tiny rat-tail file
4 DANCO faucet seat replacement kit for Sears 2S-1H faucet, part #88005.  This is a known good fit for an '89 SPG with cruise control -- if yours is different, consider bringing the old spring with you to your friendly neighborhood hardware store.
5 Superglue


1 Remove the plastic cover below the steering column
2 Remove the screws attaching the switch bracket to the column
3 Take careful note of the wire locations on the switch itself
4 Disconnect wires and remove the switch from the bracket
5 With the 1/8" bit, drill off the two rivet caps that hold the switch together -- take off only enough to open the assembly
6 Disassemble the switch, removing the plunger and inner spring
7 Degunk the innards and note the worn cam surface
NOTE: The spring presses against a plunger which fits into the détentes on the cam. As the cam lobes and spring wear, the plunger is no longer held firmly in the détente. When this happens, the lever either won't return to neutral, or won't remain engaged.
8 If you use the DANCO spring suggested above, note that it's somewhat narrower than the original. Since the plunger must fit within the spring, you'll need to file enough material from the plunger to get it to fit within the spring.  (Believe me, it makes sense when it's in your hand.) I used a utility
knife to simply round off the corners of the plunger and pressed it into place within the spring.
9 The cam material is fairly soft and increasing the depth of the détentes can be done with a sharp X-acto knife or a tiny rat tail file. A very small increase in depth is all that's needed... too much and the switch won't return to neutral.
10 Reassemble the switch, testing for proper operation. Believe it or not, a drop or two of superglue on top of each rivet stud is enough to hold it together for a long time.
11 Reinstall the switch in the bracket, reconnect the wires and screw it all back onto the column.

The whole process, save shopping time, took me about 1.5 hours. The faucet repair kit came with two springs and cost me $2.99 -- not bad.

Chris Rogers  (10/98)

SAAB 900 Dash Removal

   Removing the dashboard of a 900 is one of those jobs that no one likes to do -- but once or twice in the life of the car, you may find that it's the only way to get at certain components for replacement -- the heater fan, for example.  Plus, after ten years of exposure to the sun, the top of the dash cracks.  Replacement, while not the easiest or the least expensive option, is definitely the best way to solve the problem.  Larry West has developed the step-by-step procedure below for removal of the 900 dashboard.  The process will differ slightly between years, but it should prove extremely helpful for anyone tackling removal of a 1979-1993 900 dash.

- Chris Rogers, SDSOG

1 Remove the dash-mounted speaker assemblies.
2 Remove the steering wheel and the pad below it.  NOTE:  See the SRS manual if you have an airbag, or consult your dealer. 
3 Remove the radio and radio basket.
4 Empty the glovebox.
5 Using a Torx head driver or Posidrive driver, remove the four vertical screws that hold the dash fascia in place.   Note their position, they are all different lengths.
6 Reaching through the radio slot, unplug the lights and other wiring to the heater controls.  Observe the cad-plated ring behind the vent control.   Near the top is a barb.  Push down on the barb, and push the ring toward the firewall. It should come off easily. Then pull the vent vacuum line connector off.
7 Carefully draw the fascia towards you.  Reaching up through the bottom, disconnect the cigar lighter, and the lower dash switches.  Sometimes it's easiest to push them out of the fascia, then disconnect.
8 From the top, disconnect the lighting switch.
9 Disconnect the foglight switch, the mirror switches (if any) and the dash light rheostat.
10 Once everything is removed or disconnected, pull the fascia clear.  The wiring is pretty straightforward and it's unlikely that you'll get something wrong.  However, be sure to note the wire positions on the row of switches below the heater controls. 
11 Using the appropriate driver, loosen the screws holding the dash pad at the speaker holes (one per speaker hole, at firewall). Under the glovebox, remove two screws.
12 Reach into the glovebox, pull down the glovebox light & disconnect.  With BOTH doors open, slowly draw the dash pad towards the rear of the car. Check that you're not caught on the glovebox light wires, or any other wires.  At this point, the heater fan & anything else in there is easily accessible.
13 Installation is the reverse of removal.

Larry West  (2/99)


Random Stalling, 2.0L

   Ever have one of those nagging problems with your car that refuses to be fixed?  It's intermittent - happening only when you're alone on a deserted stretch of road with no witnesses and (worse) no help nearby.  Extremely frustrating.  

   Martin Eatough had one of those bugaboos with his '86 SPG.  The engine would quit at random for no apparent reason.  Repeated attempts at restarting would fail.  If he sat quietly in the car for a few minutes, said a silent prayer to his deity of choice and focused his concentration on images of junkyards and car crushing equipment, sometimes it would start up and run as if nothing had happened.  There was no apparent pattern to the failure and the mechanics he'd seen were all stumped.  Martin even consulted his trusty Bentley's manual for a clue - still no luck.  

   Finally in desperation, he began swapping out parts and finally found the culprit.  The ignition pulse amplifier is a square, relay-like device in the fuseblock.  While it's primary duty is to assist with cold running, it can also create a no-run condition when it fails.  Apparently this part has been troublesome to others in the past -- SAAB has issued a new (improved?) part as a replacement:

The old part number was:  95 12 831
The new part number is:  95 18 481

   If you find that your 2.0L is dying randomly, try swapping-out this part.  

  Another possible cause of this symptom, one which I have personally experienced, is deterioration of the plastic hall effect sensor connector on the distributor.  If you're running an '85 or '86 2.0L engine in your SAAB, this part becomes brittle with age and can short out the leads causing random stalling. With this problem, you may also notice that just before the engine dies, the tachometer drops immediately to zero.

- Chris Rogers, SDSOG

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Last modified: August 13, 2021