We ditched our reliable 2011 Hyundai Elantra for a quirky 2009 Saab 9³ wagon. Here’s what happened.

By Dallas Hansen

Almost a year ago, my then-fiancée Solange and I boarded a plane at LAX en route to Boston to buy a car we had never seen from a seller we had never met manufactured by a company that was no longer in business.

Oh, and it had already racked up 128,000 miles.

Such are the lengths one will go to satisfy an obsession—one that my fiancée may not have shared but against her better judgement was willing to accommodate. I was almost as excited for the 5000-mile road trip and the subsequent YouTube documentary that was to come as I was to drive what was the car for which I had long lusted: the all-wheel-drive, 2.8 V6 turbo SportCombi (wagon), loaded with Xenon headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, parking sensors, navigation, and an 11-speaker Bose sound system.

Solange’s Hyundai Elantra was purchased new four years earlier. It had been reliable, had only 50,000 miles, and would for a few more months still be under warranty, but in several ways it had been lacking. The 1.8L, 140hp 4-cylinder was feeble compared to the ubiquitous 5-series BMWs and E-Class Mercedes-Benzes that dominated the LA freeways, but the worst part was the perilous body roll experienced any time the road turned left or right. Also, it was a sedan. With a sporty wagon, we could have something that not only performed well but also had great hauling capacity—important for the road trips that we so enjoyed.

Upon meeting the seller—a British chap in his early 40s named David—we determined that the goods were more or less as advertised and handed over 80 $100 bills and set off down I-95 toward NYC.

The first time we stopped for gas I noticed white smoke rising from beneath the hood. I lifted the hood and observed it emanating from between the bulkhead and the engine.

“Smoke? No I don’t know anything about it,” said David when I rang. I checked the oil and all fluids, which remained at appropriate levels, and continued toward our hotel reservation in Manhattan.

After unloading at our Lincoln Center hotel, I found parking 19 blocks away in the Upper West Side and parked the wagon for the weekend until it was time to bring Solange to JFK so I could continue the journey solo.

My first mission: get out of NYC and get this smoking engine bay doused. At night, I sped through New Jersey. Then the Check Engine Light came on. In Hazelton, PA I checked in to a Days Inn, and in the morning, after an Internet search, I headed over to Eurotech in Wilkes-Barre.

Taking note of my ambitious itinerary, the Eurotech staff bumped me to the head of the queue—within minutes of my arrival our new wagon was on the hoist and the smoke issue was diagnosed as being threefold in origin. First, during the most recent oil change, performed at a Valvoline Instant Oil Change, the O-ring attached to the new filter wasn’t replaced, but the one from the old filter was reused. Thus creating an oil leak. Second, there was a slow drip from one of the coolant lines leading from the expansion tank. Third, the brake fluid reservoir cap had a broken seal, and that was leaking too.

A veritable mess! No matter—$75 (including a complimentary lunch) and I was on my way with a warning that the Check Engine code—P0089 Fuel Pressure Regulator Performance—was common to the Saab 2.8 and generally benign, remedied only a fuel pump assembly replacement (a $1000 job).

I barely remember Ohio. I got into Chicago and parked in the Wildwood neighborhood near Caldwell Woods, and in the morning I got on my bike and rode the North Branch Trail—where I learned to ride a road bike in 2012.

Moving on, I had just passed Tulsa on the Oklahoma Turnpike when the smoking returned—thick and white. I looked under the hood and saw coolant leaking at that same hose clamp Eurotech had just replaced. I wasn’t going to continue under these cirumstances, and it being late Friday afternoon I would be unable to make it to Autohaus Unlimited, Tulsa’s resident Saab specialist, until Monday morning.

The usual Saab hangout

The usual Saab hangout

I hunkered down in the Downtown DoubleTree for the weekend, rode my bike around Tulsa, and may have ducked into a couple of bars. Monday morning I was at Autohaus before they opened, and when Toby, the head technician, arrived, he pulled out a 7mm socket and a pivoting ratchet, gave the clamp a few turns, and sent me on my way at no charge. Oh well—at least I got in some Tulsa time!

The rest of the way was mostly uneventful. I folded out the rear seat and slept a few hours in the wagon’s cargo area at an Arizona rest stop, convinced I was bringing home the ultimate road machine.

The next move was, first, another oil change (Mobil 1 0W40) and then to replace the serpentine belt and the transmission oil (ATF). All was fine until our first big repair bill came in January. There was a thudding, booming sound coming from the rear differential—the Haldex eLSD. A quick search online revealed many of these had been replaced under warranty. I called around to price out an out-of-warranty replacement and was given prices ranging between $3200-$3600.

Buyer’s remorse started kicking in.

I dumped the car at the nearest Saab Official Service Center—Scandanavian Service in Simi Valley. Three weeks later, they changed the three fluids and replaced a clutch pump inside the differential—for under $1000. Good to go.

Our next major road trip was in July of this year, to St Louis and back. Before leaving I replaced all six spark plugs and ignition coils and the fuel pump assembly. No more P0089!

What we hadn’t counted on was the A/C compressor failing on I-70 near Salinas, Kansas. Admittedly, Solange had been driving a little aggressively with it running while the outside temperature was 108°. With our beagle in the back, we rolled down the windows, opened the roof, bought a bag of ice and put it beneath the pooch and managed to dodge heatstroke. But let’s just say the drive to St. Louis was nonetheless a long one.

Once in St. Louis we located a Saab specialist—Ecotech in Webster Groves—who diagnosed the Beaglewagon’s A/C compressor as “clanging like pots and pans.” And another $1000 later, we were chillin’.

Back home, the Check Engine Light had returned—P0449 EVAP Vent Malfunction. After extensive diagnostics—and another three weeks—Gert at Scandanavian Service had determined there were two corroded wires at along the passenger floor preventing the EVAP canister from receiving ECU commands to open and close. A little soldering, some shrink tubing, and a lot of money—another $1200—and it was lights out for P0449.

molaspassbeaglewagonDespite having cost us over $4000 in parts and repairs in under a year, we still love the Beaglewagon. It’s comfortable, practical, powerful, handles well, and has quite a lovely exhaust note. Looking around, I don’t think it’s even possible to get a better looking wagon—a newer Volvo V60 Polestar would be nice, and so would a 2014-ish Cadillac CTS-V Wagon, but they both run around $60,000 and the latter gets only 12mpg around town.

As for the Elantra, we intended to sell it to a private party, but just when I had it detailed and ready for sale, I espied the perfect trade-in opportunity: a 1999 Saab 9³ Viggen. With 145,000 miles. You might question the wisdom of trading a 2011 car with 54,000 miles for a 1999 car with over 90,000 more, and you would be right, but that’s an explanation I’ll have to provide another time.