Saab 2.0 and 2.3 L – Saab engines with nasty oil sludge problem

Saab has ten years ago extended warranties on its turbo engines made from 1999 to 2002 due to a nasty oil sludge problem. The poorly thought-out service recommendation for 16,000-km oil changes, using conventional motor oil or semi-synthetics, has ruined many four-cylinder Saab motors.

Oil Sludge
Oil Sludge photo credit

Sludge and coke (carbon) buildup on the very fine oil pickup screen in the oil sump can starve the engine of oil, resulting in complete engine failure. Experts suggest this may be due to the catalytic converter being mounted below the sump, cooking the oil at high temperature.

Currently, Saab recommends removal of the sump and doing a complete cleaning. That’s if the engine is still running. Then there’s direct-ignition cassette failures and cylinder-head gasket leaks to contend with.

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Affected models include the 2000-03 Saab 9-3 and 1999-2003 Saab 9-5.

Sludge Repair

This video is put up specifically for the SAAB Central Forum. It’s a head gasket replacement and sludge cleaning process for 2002 9-3 Viggen. Follow-up to this video is 3 months later there are NO leaks of any kind:

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Before Repair:

Goran Aničić
the authorGoran Aničić
For over 10 years, Goran Aničić has been passionately focused on Saab automobiles and everything related to them. His initial encounter with Saab cars took place back in 2003 when the first Saab 9-3 and sedan version were introduced. At that moment, he was captivated by the car's Scandinavian design logic and top-notch engineering, and everything that followed stemmed from that first encounter. Later on, through his work at the editorial team of the Serbian automotive magazines "Autostart" and later "AutoBild," he had the opportunity to engage more closely with Saab vehicles. In 2008, he tested the latest Saab cars of that time, such as the Saab 9-3 TTiD Aero and Saab 9-3 Turbo X. In 2010, as the sole blogger from the region, he participated in the Saab 9-5ng presentation in Trollhättan, Sweden. Alongside journalists from around the world, he got a firsthand experience of the pinnacle of technological offerings from Saab at that time. Currently, Goran owns two Saabs: a 2008 Saab 9-3 Vector Sportcombi with a manual transmission, and a Saab 9-3 Aero Griffin Sport Sedan from the last generation, which rolled off the production line in Trollhättan in December 2011.


  • So as you say Saab extended the warranty on those engines but is it a recent decision or that “warranty” is no longer available? Because I have a 2001 9-5 Aero that I had to buy another engine because of this problem and I still have the “old” one, is Saab going to fix my engine with this extended warranty?

    Ps: I already bought the car with this problem, and with the engine knocking so I already knew It had to be replaced :P

  • We had such problem once in the service with an old 9000, that came from Italy. So much sludge, that You can’t see the eight holes on the camshaft sprockets. After dissassembling and careful cleaning of the motor we changed piston rings, crankshaft bearings, balance shaft bearings and the oil pump. The engine wasn’t capable to reach the minimum idle oil pressure even after this refreshment operations. Otherwise such sludge issues were not a problem, because by us the people were changing the oil each 10000 at that period. Talking about Bulgaria, and the Scandinavia Motors service.

  • I have a 1992 9000 CSE auto, FPT. Silent Swedish rocket. This year had the insufficiently hardened balancer shaft gears, which I replaced, with the chains, in 2006 at 120,000 miles. I had to lift the cylinder head to reinstate the gasket properly at the timing end. The bores still showed the makers honing marks all over. The sump had not one gram of sludge in it. The whole bottom end of the motor was like it had done 100 miles, totally totally clean. I’d been using Shell oil. Not much guessing needed to work out that I still do use their oil. Years before, I owned a 99GL and for some reason (can’t remember the details) I did an engine strip. The bottom end was full of about 1/8″ to 1/4″ of hard black deposit – all over. Then I was using Mobil oil. At that point I switched to Shell (that was based on motorcycle experience from the 1960s).

  • The above article says years 1999 to 2002. Then in bold it says 2000-03 9-3. Does the problem end at 2002 model year or does it continue into 2003?

    • Steve – Just saw this post. What I heard from a very knowledgeable Saab-specialist dealer in the Twin Cities is that the engine issue extended to the 2003 model year. Saab redesigned the 2.3T engine for the 2004 model year. So this part of the post: “Affected models include the 2000-03 Saab 9-3 and 1999-2003 Saab 9-5.” is, I believe, accurate. I did not try to pursue any extended warranty coverage with my 2002 9-5 when the engine starved for oil pressure, I just found a buyer who had an engine he could swap into what was still a very clean and sound exterior shell.

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