Should I buy a Saturn car?

Consumer Reports News: October 14, 2009 05:08 AM

General Motors stopped building Saturn cars and SUVs immediately following the announcement that Penske Automotive Group would not to buy the rights to the brand. GM now plans to sell off the remaining 12,000 Saturns by the end of January 2010, shutting down the brand, much like it is with Pontiac right now. Saturn dealers are watching the calendar closely, and it is a safe bet that there will be significant incentives offered on these last vehicles. But should you purchase a Saturn now? In a word, no.
There are five Saturn models for 2009, but only the Aura has both performed well enough and been reliable enough to earn our Recommendation. (See all Recommended cars.)
Beyond our assessment of the product line, buying from a retiring brand carries certain inherent risks. For instance, upfront savings will most assuredly be offset by significant depreciation. (If you typically drive your cars into the ground, this may not matter much.) It is not uncommon to see GM vehicles carry $1,500 or more in rebates. How much more will they put on the hood to move the Saturns than the nearby Chevrolets? Another one to two thousand? It is very safe to assume the same amount is cut from the eventual trade-in value right from the start. We saw this with Oldsmobile and are witnessing it with Pontiac. Same will hold true for Saturn; it isn’t that different of a car company in the end.
General Motors has said it will honor Saturn warranty claims, maintenance, and repair needs at other, surviving GM franchises. However, best corporate intentions won’t make those dealerships more convenient, better stocked with parts, or better trained.
As we found in our investigations during the so-called auto crisis, while dealerships may perform work on models from other brands, there are practical limitations to parts inventory and technician training. Simple work like a routine service call is not a problem. For example, a Chevrolet mechanic who works on a Chevy Traverse or Malibu will find a Saturn Outlook or Aura familiar, they may not have the experience to tackle a problem with the Opel-sourced Astra or the low-volume Sky roadster. In such cases, even a warranty request would be deferred to another dealership.
Would you be able to fix a Saturn for years to come? Absolutely. It just may not be as convenient or inexpensive as in years past. What once may have been a quick service visit before work may require a day off work to travel to a neighboring town or county. And the likelihood to needing a repair is higher than average with the Outlook, Sky, and Vue, according to our reliability surveys.
In theory, parts will remain available, yet with the supplier network struggling during the recession and many vendors closing or going through bankruptcy proceedings, there are no guaranties. Parts that were once stocked by your local Saturn dealership may become scarce. Despite GM assurances about parts availability, remember that just last month, we all thought Saturn would continue for many years to come. Hard to say definitively what a Saturn ownership experience will be like in the next decade.
As always, consumers should enter the buying process with eyes wide open. With Saturn, there are simply better alternatives that are more reliable, have lower owner costs, and do not carry undue risks.
Jeff Bartlett
Unplugged: Saturn dealerships to close in four months
No Penske deal means end of the road for Saturn

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