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.

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

  1. I got rid of my 2012 VW Sportwagen for a 2005 9-5 Aero 2agon with 128k. That was a year and a half ago. Now I’m at 176k and my only regret was i didn’t get a saab wagon earlier.

    Thanks for the fun read.

  2. My 2009 four cylinder, front wheel drive has 140,000 miles and has been spectacularly trouble free. If maintained with most fluid changes every 30,000 miles, you could have also probably enjoyed the same results

  3. I have a 2006 9-3 Aero SS… with a manual! I bought it eight months ago at 96k miles and now it’s almost at 108k. Fantastic car, lots of fun.

    I’ve had some similar issues. The P0089 for me turned out to just be the sensor in the engine, and not the pump assembly. $75 and five minutes of my time and the light went away. I also had to replace both coolant lines coming from the expansion tank since they had popped in rural NM, about 300 miles from any town. Fun stuff.

  4. I had owned Saabs since 1967 basically for safety, simplicity and economy. Buying them used was a bargain. In the late 1990s my wife insisted that I buy another brand so that I could finish building our home instead swapinh parts from one old car to another. Honda CRV and later hybrids were great but lacked the performance and handling off the 900 turbos. I later bought a Honda Insight which was sportier and had s hatchback. This was great until a low speed accident that totaled the insight and sent me to the hospital made me reconsider Saabs. A 2001 93 had incredible power, great handling and a roomy hatchback. Rather good mileage as well considering the power. Later my wife got a V6 93 Aero wagon and loves driving it thousands of miles to visit family. Wonderful amazing cars but no longer DIY repairs. But for the value of comparable modern high tech cars the Aero seems far better and safer than the fancy competition. Just need a competent mechanic, good fluids and prescribed maintenance to have a long running wonder car.

  5. I immigrated from California to Australia in 2010, I bought a 2002 9-5 Aero sedan with 220K km on ebay (for about the same money I sold my ’06 9-3 Aero 40k miles in California – them cars are expensive down under).
    This would be the 3rd 9-5 I have owned, and I bought it on a gamble. Turns out it’s been a great buy, 6 years later and he’s now on 300K km,
    We’ve been to the top end of Queensland, the dusty outback and all along the coast.
    It hasn’t missed a beat. But I do need to change all the engine mounts.
    Recently I bought a mistreated ’03 9-3 for $500 and restored it to full health. Just waiting on a door mirror to pass the safety inspection.
    I’d then have to see my 9-5, it’s not going to be worth much money and it’ll be sad to it go.

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