Speedometer acting sluggish
January 18, 2006 5:14 PM   Subscribe

My '97 Saturn sedan is having speedometer problems...it gets stuck on 31 mph and sometimes (after a smack) gets up to the speed I am going, but never goes below 31 unless I smack the dash multiple times, and even park and take the key out of the ignition! Any idea what the problem is and an estimate to the repair cost?
posted by psususe to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total)
Does your odometer still act O.K?
posted by notsnot at 5:44 PM on January 18, 2006

Response by poster: Yes...I am at 137K miles. It is not one of the electronic types either.
posted by psususe at 5:47 PM on January 18, 2006

not electronic..... perhaps the speedometer cable is loose. really.
My 20 year old toyota drives great - but for years I drove around with the speedometer maxing at 40 - even while driving on the freeway. At other times, the car would be perfectly still, and the cable would jump up to 20 or so.

I thought it was haunted, but changed the cable and everything worked out fine.

However - you can be parked with keys out of the ignition, and the dang thing still hangs? maybe there's some dirt or something in there somewhere causing it to hang.
posted by bradth27 at 5:58 PM on January 18, 2006

bradth27 is probably right. I had a similar problem with a Mercury Sable that turned out to be the cable, although a shop I took it to wanted very much to replace the whole integrated gauge array at considerable expense.
posted by moift at 9:34 PM on January 18, 2006

I meant to say also that it would "stick" whilst in park from time to time, although not reliably.
posted by moift at 9:35 PM on January 18, 2006

If the odometer is working normally, it's not the cable.
posted by AstroGuy at 9:47 PM on January 18, 2006

My friend had almost the same exact problem in his '97 Saturn Coupe. He was told it was a short in the circuit board, and it cost him $300 + labor.
posted by disillusioned at 2:00 AM on January 19, 2006

It's hard to judge whether the odometer is working totally normally, because its action is slow, compared to the speedo. It could be a sticky cable. That would produce the symptoms you describe, but the odo could still increment (though not accurately). It's also possible that the speedo head is sticky. That seems more likely.

The speedometer cable is tightly-wound steel strands with flats ground on its ends that fit into square holes at the driving (transmission) and driven (speedo) end. If the cable strands fray somewhere between the ends, or if the lubricant gets gummy, the cable can stick.

My experience with that was that the speedo would show a slow speed (maybe zero), and then twitch up to 120mph (where the peg was). The cable was winding up and releasing. If it's sticking at some reading when you aren't moving, it's probably the speedo head. The head is not directly-driven by a gear or belt; it has a sort of friction drive. If that gets weird, the reading will, too.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:00 AM on January 19, 2006

Sounds like the needle itself is sticky, does it look like it is touching the plastic in front or underneath? I have no idea what your instrument cluster looks like, but in aircraft it's general rule that you tap next to a dial to get a needle unstuck, not on the glass. Tapping the glass might push it in till it touches the needle and really stick it. Not possible in most cars though.
posted by 445supermag at 6:38 AM on January 19, 2006

Here is a forum on Saturn S Series issues. You may need to join, but for my L Series car, this forum has been very helpful and people who post on there are nice. But then Saturn owners tend towards "nice."
posted by Danf at 8:30 AM on January 19, 2006

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