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 The SAAB 9000 Buying Guide/Page 2...

Choosing a 9000

With a bewildering choice of models and engines, deciding which model to choose is anything but easy. The obvious choice is for a full blown Aero or 200bhp Anniversary but such machines do not come cheap and (with the former) running costs and increased insurance premiums must be factored in. Griffin models with all the optional equipment as standard make a lot of sense… if you can find them! Bear in mind that full pressure 2.3 turbo cars seem much less plentiful after 1994 and are correspondingly more expensive.

Don't rule out non turbo cars - these can be surprisingly economical on long distance work and will cost less to insure, too. From a DIY maintenance perspective, these cars make most sense of all, being much easier to work on because the engine bays are less cluttered.

After running both the saloon and hatch models from various model years, the author is convinced that the saloons, for all their slightly ungainly looks are probably most refined although load space in the hatch is simply unbeatable. Ultimately, it would be a mistake to focus on one particular model to the exclusion of all others. It is wiser by far to make a decision based on condition, rather than year or style and it may well be necessary to travel!

The 9000 range when new was held in high regard as an executive model from a prestige car maker. As such, the 9000 can be fitted with a host of complex optional equipment.  Many cars will have been subject to loving care and sympathetic driving but others will have been soundly thrashed. Sorting the tired cars from better examples may seem daunting but need not be as difficult as expected, even for the novice.

One very good but not infallible indicator of a car's general condition is the state of the interior. Clean, unscuffed seat facings and door cards usually point to the fastidious owner who will have been equally attentive to servicing. Check the toolkit (located on the driver’s side of the luggage boot) is complete - it should be there on a car with good service history. If it isn't, worry about the competence of anyone who hasn't even the basic kit that ships with the car or failed to replace it after emergency use.

Rust should not be a serious worry and checking is easy. Much of this is common sense - avoid anything with really tatty bodywork: stone chips are a sign of honest work but rust spells neglect and possible poor quality body repair work after an accident. Earlier pre-1990 cars can suffer from serious rust in the roof panel, especially if a sliding sunroof is fitted, so check carefully for any signs of bubbling or blistering because an effective repair is time-consuming, ergo expensive.  . Doors on pre CS models too can suffer to the point that the bottoms can resemble lace curtains. This is often due to water being trapped in the door bottoms, sometimes due to blocked drain holes. Repair is possible but please note that the drillings for the fasteners for the body mouldings vary between considerably between variants and check strap design varies if used doors are to be acquired! This means that later CS doors can’t be fitted easily to flat front models without work.

Vehicle undersides generally last very well with but one car that was parked habitually on the coast found to have floors that were soft near the jacking points. Even so, do check underneath to verify the underbody sealant is intact. At the same time, cast an eye over the exhaust system, for parts are quite dear. At the rear of the car, check that the metal bands that retain the (plastic) fuel tank are not rotten, since on older cars, they have an endearing habit of failing after the tank has been filled. The bands cost around £35 each.

Headlamp lenses are not cheap but are at least available although second-hand ones can cost up to £30 each. With CD models and facelift pre CS hatchbacks (1991-2) do check that the top leading edges of the combined front indicator sidelamp units have not been damaged by careless closing of the bonnet.

Whilst examining the exterior of a car, bear in mind that some models have a reflective décor panel, sometimes referred to a tail blazer. This item is very susceptible to fading on early cars but all models are prone to cracks, chips and less than careful reversing manoeuvres.  Replacement is frighteningly expensive – allow £75 even for a good used unit from a breaker’s yard! On all models ensure that ham fisted mechanics have not forgotten to refit the front (2-piece) inner wheel arch liners, as this will leave the front wings exposed to road grime and salt during the Winter months.

Running gear is generally robust but many cars have covered large mileages and there are several potentially costly problems that can be avoided. A full SAAB dealer (or specialist) history is almost essential, particularly with automatic cars, where the gearbox MUST be drained and have its filter changed at least every 24,000 miles to avoid expensive problems later. Checking the fluid level and colour on the gearbox dipstick will reveal little about the overall condition of the autobox. Instead, the car should be driven at least ten miles, as ‘boxes sometimes loose drive when the fluid gets warm. Upshifts should be smooth and it should be possible to select drive and reverse from the Park position (when stationary with the foot on the brake) without the car jerking violently.  There should not be any delay more than a second between selecting D or R with the lever – more than this indicates a problem.

Manual gearboxes sometimes prove troublesome too – beware of difficulty in selecting reverse gear (1994 on cars in particular) and general noise (all years).  Cars with tired clutches are not cheap to fix, (a main agent will probably charge around £750+VAT) as the clutch slave cylinder is positioned inside the gearbox and should always be renewed with the clutch plates. It is worthwhile checking vendors have not left tins of brake fluid in the luggage boot and a glance under the gearbox for damp patches is worthwhile, as fluid leaks can escape from the rubber plugs in the gearbox base.

Be advised that the 9000 engines (except the V6) have timing chains, rather than toothed belts and these can and do wear from 70,000 miles. Beware noisy chains that are audible on tickover when the engine is warm! Very regular oil changes at 6000 mile intervals help minimise wear -the bits alone will cost around £200 to renew the chains, guides, gears and tensioners. Removal of the timing cover to do the job though can damage the cylinder head gasket, which all adds to the expense (£1200 is par for the course). My message is... you can buy an AWFUL lot of oil for that, so don't let it happen! The author once sold a very fine 1993 9000CDE 2.3 Turbo -at 158,000 miles the chains were untouched and silent: testimony to the previous owner’s attention to servicing and careful driving. If looking at the V6, make sure that the toothed timing belt has been changed recently with its tensioner -repairs to the 24 valve layout are expensive, so don't let it happen. Another check worth doing is oil quality on the V6 - beware signs of oil in the water, for the oil cooler (sits in between the cylinder banks) can leak oil into the coolant. Renewing the cooler is a £225+ job (approx.).

Moving back to 4-cylinder cars, coolant in the cooling system reservoir should look fairly clean and not resemble oxtail soup.  Cars with service histories usually have dealer tags to show when the coolant was last renewed.  Water in the oil caused by a blown head gasket is quite unmistakable: not only will the car be boiling its brains out but the oil will resemble mayonnaise and there will be oil in the coolant reservoir.  This is notoriously difficult to remove, so do not be unduly worried if a potential purchase shows signs of black oil in the tank but the coolant and oil are nice and clean. In such cases, ask the vendor who did the work and when, for added peace of mind, for it may be that the overheat was caused by a defective radiator (which may not have been changed).  The presence of stickers (yellow background, red border) on the opposite side of the engine bay show when the brake fluid was last changed.

While still under the bonnet, be advised that oil leaks around the cambox gasket on all 9000s are fairly common. Replacement gaskets are inexpensive and easy to fit.  On V6 cars, however, access is far more difficult, as much more dismantling is required.  Spark plug apertures on the B308 engine (V6) often fill with oil but since the plugs on this engine require changing at 40,000 intervals, this usually goes undetected. Leaks around the power steering pipes leading to the system reservoir (off-side front inner wing) are often due to loose hose clips.

Working around the front of the engine, (2 litre and 2.3 engined cars only) do check that the exhaust manifold studs are present and none are snapped, as these are very difficult to fix with the cylinder head in place on the engine.  More often than not, the studs become wasted and weakened so that hard driving or attempts to remove the nuts from the stud without using heat result in snapping.

With turbo charged cars offering remarkable power for the money, some will have been driven quite hard. As a result, items like engine mountings can suffer, although this can sometimes be hard to detect but look for tell-tale rubbing on the timing chain end of the cambox cover which will have polished away the black paint if the engine has lifted from its mountings to chaffe on the underbonnet sound deadening. The engines are mounted on two (expensive) hydraulic mountings fitted to the subframe on the driver’s side of the car and supplemented by a steady bar (torque arm) with two large rubber bushes on top of the engine. These are frequently split – replacement is not expensive but a 10 ton hydraulic press was required to change one which failed on the author’s own V6 9000CSE, which has a similar arrangement.

On the nearside of the car, the gearbox mounting may be past its best, too.  Excess movement leads to judder on take-off (the right word for a turbo!) and this can, in time, lead to gear selection problems, as the metalastic sandwich joint connecting the gearbox to the gearlever selector rod can start to break up.  It is worth noting that uprated Polyurethane bushes are available for the steady bar torque arms and gearbox mounting, as well as for things like the anti roll bars. These are available from specialists like Elkparts and Abbott Racing.

The 9000 is a strong car but design focussed on protecting the passengers. In a frontal impact crash, damage is often transmitted through the bumper to the chassis legs and door aperture. Tell tale damage to the centre of the roof is virtually impossible to repair and another giveaway is difficulty in closing or opening doors.  For this reason it is almost essential to use a company like HPI to check that the vehicle is not listed on the VCAR (vehicle condition alert register) after a serious accident.

It is a very good idea to check all the electrical equipment works. Cars with TCS (Traction Control) can suffer from a rough or erratic idle. Fixing this is not easy, as not all dealers still have the equipment or knowledge to investigate. Used parts are in short supply and substituting known good units seldom works. In any event, when a new/used TCS ecu is fitted, it needs to be reprogrammed to suit. Some specialists known to the author, have scrapped otherwise perfectly good cars because of persistent TCS woes.  There is no obvious answer here, as cars so equipped have a different engine bay wiring loom and throttle body to standard.

Problems with electric mirrors or window lifters are not unknown and sometimes the resistor block for the blower fan fails, leaving the fan operating only at full speed.  This is more of an irritation than anything else: replacement is quick and relatively inexpensive. Motors on electrically adjustable (or memory) seats sometimes fail and it is worth checking that the electric seat heaters that are a boon in Winter still work, as repairs are fiddly and really require hog ring pliers to undo the clips that secure covers to the seat frames.

One trap for the unwary relates to the washer tank reservoir, which around 1992 was relocated from the passenger side of the car to the driver’s side, partly in the interests of easier maintenance but also to accommodate the fitting of impact sensors for the SRS system.  This means all CS/CSE hatches will be so equipped and CD saloons from 1992. The tank is mounted behind the front wing on two long bolts, the heads of which are located in hexagonal recesses in the plastic. Inevitably, movement caused by normal driving can cause leaks. Repair is awkward as the wheel arch liners and the wing must be removed.  Worse still, the tank itself is a decidedly unfunny £60 or so to buy. Often, leaks are caused by nothing more than a weeping ‘T’ piece next to the tank, but it pays to be informed of the ‘worse case scenario’ and can lever a bargaining advantage, if trying to purchase.

On the subject of leaks, be not misled by a pool of clear water beneath the car after a run with the air-conditioning (or climate system) running.  One owner known well to the author arrived looking slightly depressed one day clutching a new water pump.  After it was pointed out that the coolant was a health blue colour and that the screen wash tank contained a solution of methylated spirits, our friend was very puzzled until he remembered that his domestic refrigerator produced copious amounts of water too. Even so, the water pump was fitted, just for added peace of mind on a planned continental trip

Performance

Even normally aspirated 2 litre cars (135bhp) should be capable of 120 mph+ and 0-­60 in around 10 seconds, whereas turbos are 2 seconds faster with almost 140 mph available. Normally aspirated 2.3 cars are rated at 150 bhp and although they are obviously faster, the real difference between 2 and 2.3 litre normally aspirated engines only becomes apparent when towing.

Later Eco Light Pressure Turbo (LPT) cars have different gearing for more relaxed cruising and better economy. The 2litre (B204) LPT engine is rated at 150bhp, whilst the 2.3 LPT develops a useful 170bhp. Although 225bhp Aeros and Carlssons are very exciting to drive, they incur increased insurance premiums. All full pressure turbo charged cars have superb mid range acceleration, especially at 70mph and more because the turbo charger is spinning at optimum speed with no delay in spool up time. This often translates into major embarrassment for tailgating GT Johnny in the BMW and such vehicles rapidly recede into the mirror as the ‘power on demand’ facility is used. For best effect, remove the turbo badging… The author has achieved over 30mpg on sustained high speed running (up to 130 mph) in an FPT 2.3 somewhere in Europe, whilst a standard 2 litre injection regularly returned 38mpg on the M1. In contrast, local town driving in traffic jam afflicted Sunderland brings a 2 litre turbo consumption down to the low 20s, whilst the V6 seemed to return between 28 and 32mpg pretty much all the time, irrespective of the type of use.

Colours

SAAB 9000 colour codes
Type SAAB Name Generic colour Code
Solid Black Black 170
  Carrara Cream 233
  Cirrus White 153
  Embassy Navy blue 198
  Imola Red 240
Metallic Amethyst Purple-violet 258
  Beryllium Jade green 226
  Cayenne Copper 256
  Citrin Champagne gold 227
  Eucalyptus Green 235
  Le Mans Blue 229
  Midnight mica Blue (dark) 257
  Nocturne Blue 234
  Odoarado Grey 223
  Platana Grey 228
  Rose quartz Rose/pale lilac 202
  Ruby Red 242
  Scarabe green British Racing Green 230
  Silver Silver 268
  Sky Blue 252
  Willow Green 254

Colour choice is terribly subjective – even so, the author believes that earlier cars look best in Berylium, whilst CS models really suit Scarabe and Ruby.  The Anniversary in Amethyst is irresistible… Black is timeless (but requires commitment to maintain the lustre) and Le Mans looks great… when clean and polished to a fine shine.

Typical optional equipment

Leather upholstery by Elmo or Bridge of Weir (some with memory seats)
Alloys – various styles in 15 or 16”
Air conditioning: on demand cool air in the cabin (see CCS)
CCS (Climate control system) Set a temperature and the system does the rest
SSR (Sliding glass/metal sunroof) Power sunroof may/may not be fitted with a/c or CCS.
TCS (Traction Control System) a mixed blessing… later cars are switchable.
Wood kit: many cars have wood fascias but door fillets and console trim were extra.
Front centre arm rest
Various audio options: including CD auto changer, amplifier, RDS stereo cassette etc

Parts prices

Some parts are quite pricey and the high cost of units like engines and gearboxes means that good used parts command high prices. Used autoboxes can be had for £300-450 depending on model year, whilst engines can fetch up to £650 for late cars.  It pays to shop around! Timing chain replacement should be avoided at all cost, as the job at a dealer can cost up to £1500 because very often, the cylinder head needs to be removed.

Oil: use good quality semi synthetic and change at 6,000 mile intervals or at least once a year!  Do find out the percentage of synthetic polymers: 40% is fine, 5% is the absolute minimum and ensure the oil is to API/SH or SJ spec BUT check the vehicle history!  Retailers will NOT generally information about the percentage of synthetic polymer, so check the company website!  The author has seen cars that ran perfectly well on semi-synthetic oil start to leak furiously from just about every joint, plug and seal in sight when changed to fully synthetic oil later in life!  Expect to pay £15-40 depending on supplier.

Part SAAB (typical rrp) Pattern (non OE) part
Oil filter £8.64 £3.35
Air filter £28.70 £8.34
Windscreen n/a £150
Spark plug (each) £4.28 £1.85
Water pump £112 £46.44
Radiator hose £9.47 £7.58
ZF autobox filter kit £20.02 £9.48

Ultimately, SAAB parts are really no dearer than from other prestige makes and the many specialists that advertise in the Owners Club Magazine provide both OE and good quality alternatives at reasonable prices.  Do remember to factor in VAT and carriage charges (where applicable) so prices may be compared on a ‘like for like’ basis

Insurance

Body panels are quite expensive, and pattern parts were never available. Inevitably, a decade after production ceased, some body and trim parts are becoming harder to source, although there are no concerns where the running gear is involved. Just about anything can be found from specialist breakers with the possible exception of early TCS (Traction System) components.

Coupled with the performance, drivers under 25 may encounter steep premiums when trying to insure turbos. As with all vehicles, it pays to shop around but classic status for the 9000 is assured and lower residual values should mean that for the majority of drivers, premiums will be moderate.

Will it fit my garage? Will it tow a caravan? Can I fit a roof rack?

Before purchasing a car, it is worthwhile knowing whether it will fit within the family garage.  Lengths of 9000 variants vary slightly, with CD saloon variants being slightly longer than hatches.  Figures below are for the 1992 CD saloon and are for general guidance only:

Luggage capacity is impressive, even with the rear seats up (22 Cubic feet) but in the case of the hatchback, it is quite easy to fit a mountain bicycle, without removing the wheels when the seats are lowered (56.5 cubic feet).  Hatches are more versatile load carriers than saloons, purely because the 60/40 split rear seat offers more possible combinations of load and passengers. Of course, a roof rack may be fitted to the 9000  - the mountings are concealed beneath the rubber draught excluder strip that runs along the top of the door frame where the aperture meets the roof.  Such items are pricey accessories but good used roof racks do appear both in the advertising columns of periodicals and within the automotive sections of web sites like eBay (www.ebay.co.uk).

For towing, the author recommends the purchase of at least a light pressure turbo-charged car.  It should be pointed out that the additional weight will impose a load on the transmission.  This has implications for cars fitted with automatic transmission in that care must be taken to ensure the Dexron 2 fluid is changed very regularly.

R.Whiteman, © March 2009

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