Saab maintenance: cost, plans and service schedule

The aging Swedish brand is cheap to maintain but pricey to repair

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Swedish automaker Saab has always had a reputation for quirkiness. In the 90s, it made a car with no steering wheel. Then it made one with a roof that came off with the doors.

But by the time Saab went out of production in 2014, it was making decent luxury vehicles to rival the likes of Volvo and Acura. As a result, if you see a cheap used Saab a decade later, you might think: is it worth it?

To find out, let’s look at the realistic costs you might incur while owning a Saab, including routine maintenance, common repairs and how they all stack up to the competition from that era.


Key insights

Saabs are not too expensive to maintain thanks to the ready availability of replacement wear-and-tear parts like oil filters, brakes and spark plugs via sites like eEuroparts.com.

Jump to insight

A Saab’s maintenance schedule is very typical — that means oil changes every 5,000 miles and filter changes every 15,000 miles.

Jump to insight

Unfortunately, both the Saab 9-3 and the Saab 9-5 have commonly reported engine issues later in life that can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000-plus to repair.

Jump to insight

Neither Endurance nor olive were able to provide an extended auto warranty quote on a Saab, so your best bet to reduce repair costs is to schedule a pre-purchase inspection (PPI) and ensure you keep up with regular maintenance yourself.

Jump to insight

Are Saabs expensive to maintain?

To preface, let’s clarify the difference between maintenance and repairs.

  • Maintenance involves services that you have to perform on a regular basis just to keep your car running — things like oil changes, tire rotations, new spark plugs, new brakes and more. EVs typically require less routine maintenance, but you’ll still need new tires, battery coolant, inspections and more at regular intervals.
  • Repairs address unexpected issues. If your power steering stops working, your infotainment screen goes blank or your engine won’t start at all, these issues will require repairs.

To draw an analogy, regular dental cleanings are like a form of “maintenance” for your teeth. Procedures like fillings and root canals are like “repairs.” And just like with your teeth, routine maintenance of your car helps to reduce the likelihood and frequency of repairs. Hence the term “preventative maintenance.”

Like gas and insurance, the cost of maintenance is unavoidable, so it’s definitely worth factoring in the cost of maintaining a car before you actually buy it.

Thankfully, despite the newest Saab being over a decade old, maintaining a Saab is still relatively inexpensive. You can find hundreds of routine maintenance parts for Saabs on eEuroparts.com, all for pretty reasonable prices (e.g., high-quality Akebono front brake pads and rotors for a Saab 9-5 for just $162).

“You can maintain a Saab for as little as $500 per year,” Sean Kim, an experienced Atlanta-area mechanic, told ConsumerAffairs. “Repairs, on the other hand, are another story.”

Saabs are cheap to maintain because it’s relatively easy to source and install basic things like tires and brakes. But they’re expensive to repair for three reasons:

  1. They weren’t especially reliable to begin with: Even when they were brand new, Saabs were not considered the most dependable vehicles on the market. “Saab is notorious for having turbo and oil leak issues,” says Kim.
  2. Replacement parts aren’t cheap: Beyond regular wear-and-tear items like brakes and tires, replacement parts on a Saab (e.g., turbos, gaskets, cylinder heads) can be more expensive and trickier to find. “Proper parts aren't the easiest to source when major issues occur,” Kim says.
  3. Not all mechanics are Saab-savvy: Due to their precision engineering and a relative lack of parts, not all independent mechanics like to work on Saabs. And generally speaking, if a mechanic either needs more time or simply doesn’t want to work on the car in the first place, they’ll charge more for labor.

    “Saabs are not very common today and few modern mechanics know Saabs like they would the other major brands,” says Kim.

As a result of all this, the cost of owning a Saab can be quite high. RepairPal data (adjusted for inflation) suggests that the average cost of maintaining and repairing a Saab is $1,242 per year. Kim estimates it can reach over $5,000 if you end up owning a troublesome model with a litany of defects.

“Owning a Saab can be quite frustrating,” he warns.

So how does the cost of owning a Saab compare with other used vehicles in its class?

How Saab compares with other automakers

While $1,242 per year is still cheaper than owning a used BMW out of warranty, it’s a much higher cost of ownership than most used cars. Even luxury brands like Lexus and Acura (probably Saab’s closest rivals) are significantly cheaper to own long-term than the defunct Swedish brand.

*According to RepairPal

Granted, these are average, ballpark figures that represent each brand as a whole. Sometimes, one particular model within the lineup can have so many issues that it drives the brand’s entire average sky-high, even if the rest of its stablemates are relatively well-made.

Is that the case with Saab? Which Saabs are the least (and most) reliable?

Saab maintenance and repair costs by model

Data from RepairPal seems to suggest that the 9-3 is a bit more reliable than the larger 9-5 and the 9-7x crossover, which was discontinued in 2009. But none of these vehicles have an estimated ownership cost above $1,000 per year, which begs the question: how did the average for the brand skyrocket to $1,242?

*According to RepairPal

Our best guess is that RepairPal factored in two of the most commonly reported Saab problems at the brand level but not at the model level. Those two problems are:

  1. Engines dying on the 9-5, sometimes while driving
  2. Engine coolant loss on the 9-3

Both of these engine-related issues can lead to catastrophic damage and sky-high repair costs. You can reduce the likelihood of encountering either by sticking with the routine maintenance schedule recommended by Saab.

But what does that look like?

Saab maintenance cost and schedule

While we were able to find some old owners manuals via VintageSaabManuals.org, none of them actually showed us the Swedish automaker’s recommended maintenance schedule for its vehicles. Sometimes automakers do that if the schedule is posted in a separate, smaller manual, but we couldn’t find one.

Thankfully, Konstantin Jokić with SaabPlanet.com posted a routine maintenance schedule for a typical Saab online and it looks extremely normal. Saab recommends oil changes and inspections every 5,000 miles, air filters at 15,000, spark plugs at 40,000 and more.

Overall, you can expect to pay as little as $500 per year, but $900 is more realistic.

» READ: Average car maintenance costs

Saab repair costs

Circling back to the cost of repairs, it’s worth re-mentioning that the two most commonly reported problems with Saab on RepairPal are engine failure and coolant loss (which can also lead to engine failure).

Engine problems are also the most commonly cited issue with Saab on Car Complaints.

“In terms of repair costs, the only saving grace with Saab is that they were discontinued before modern automotive electronics were implemented,” says Kim. Fewer electronics means fewer electrical issues, which can be mighty pricey to fix on modern cars.

But even though Saabs may experience fewer electrical issues, their engine-related issues can cost an arm and a leg to fix. Engine swaps can cost $5,000-plus, provided you can find a replacement Saab engine — and a mechanic willing to perform the surgery in the first place. Even if all you need is a new oil pump, that alone can cost around $2,000 to fit an aging Saab 9-3.

To recap, Saabs can be very cheap to buy a decade-plus later, but there seems to be a reason for that — the market is relatively small for buyers who want an aging European vehicle with unpredictable repair costs.

If your heart is still set on a Saab, there are three ways you can mitigate your risks of inheriting an expensive lemon with hidden issues:

  • Request the CARFAX: A CARFAX will give you some idea of how well the previous owners(s) kept up with routine maintenance. If you see yearlong gaps with no service records, you’ll want to ask the owner about that or skip the car entirely.
  • Schedule a pre-purchase inspection: A pre-purchase inspection (PPI) is a $200 service where a professional mechanic combs through the vehicle and provides a detailed report of its current condition along with any red flags. Even if they only find minor issues, you can use the PPI report as a bargaining chip.
  • Consider an extended warranty: If an original factory defect causes a major issue down the road, an extended warranty may cover the cost of repairs. This could be a good investment on a used Saab, considering their most common issues are engine-related (and therefore very expensive without warranty protection).

But do extended warranty companies even cover Saabs anymore?

» LEARN: What is a manufacturer’s warranty?

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How can an extended warranty help?

Even the most basic, powertrain-only extended auto warranty can help to cover the cost of major engine repairs, which is why it might be a good fit for a Saab. Plus, many drivers find that extended warranties provide invaluable peace of mind well before they have to file any claims. There are pros and cons of extended auto warranties to consider.

WIth that said, do extended auto warranty companies even cover Saabs any more?

Well, your options may be extremely limited. Neither Endurance nor olive was able to provide us with a quote for any of our sample 2010 to 2014-model-year Saab vehicles, likely due to the high cost of parts and labor.

You may have better luck with some of our other best extended car warranty companies, but we wouldn’t get our hopes too high. In our experience, extended warranty companies tend to shy away from anything that’s old, niche or expensive — and Saab checks all three boxes.

In summary, Saabs were undoubtedly underrated vehicles for their time, combining Swedish luxury with precision engineering. But their age, rising repair costs and lack of warranty options make them a harder sell compared with more reliable used vehicles. If you choose to buy one for the love of the brand, just be sure to get a detailed CARFAX and pre-purchase inspection.

» MORE: Car warranty vs. car insurance


Article sources ConsumerAffairs writers primarily rely on government data, industry experts and original research from other reputable publications to inform their work. Specific sources for this article include:
  1. RepairPal, “Saab Repair & Maintenance Costs.” Accessed May 27, 2024.
  2. RepairPal, “Saab 9-3 Repair & Maintenance Costs.” Accessed May 27, 2024.
  3. RepairPal, “Saab 9-5 Repair & Maintenance Costs.” Accessed May 27, 2024.
  4. RepairPal, “Saab 9-7x Repair & Maintenance Costs.” Accessed May 27, 2024.
  5. Saabplanet.com, “Comprehensive Saab Maintenance Guide: Ensuring Longevity Across Miles and Kilometers.” Accessed May 27, 2024.
  6. CarComplaints.com, “Saab Overview.” Accessed May 27, 2024.
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