Question about 1996 Saturn SL

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The idle pulsate when hot

I have a 1996 Saturn SL, after the car warms up the RPM increases and decreases about 1/8 of an RPM. This causes the car to heat up after a time. I’m not sure if this is a major problem or if it’s the sign of an upcoming problem.

The “services engine soon” light has also been on for a wile. It shuts of some time them while I’m driving it the car will slow down or buck and the light comes back on. I have checked the oil and its fine; I’m not really sure what could be causing it.

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  • Anonymous Aug 25, 2008

    My Saturn SL pulsates on start up with a high variation in idle and with service engine soon light going off and on periodically. Smooths out some as engine warms up sometimes

  • rstevetip Aug 25, 2008

    My 1996 Saturn pulsates with a high variation in idling and intermittent on and off of the service engine soon light. This decreases sometimes slightly as the engine warms up, but is becoming worse.

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That sounds like the start of a transmission problem. Get the code pulled from an auto parts store, they will do it for free. Then check the code.

Posted on Jan 22, 2009

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1997 Saturn SL-1 idles fast


The ECM maybe stuck, disconnect the battery and wait 5 mins then reconnect.

Other things that normal cause high rpm at idle:
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Increase then decrease idle when engine is cold especially


cold engine idle surge. (problem)
RPM range of surge not stated
300-700 or 800 to 1500? (range is critical to diagnosis)

bad fuel
running summer fuel in winter (running old fuel?)
needs a tune up bad, see the list in the operator guide.
idle speed controller,sticking or EGR valve same. (clean them)
location not stated, so cant guess about local air temps.?
no other symptoms, lack of engine power? etc?
was it ok last week, or better, when was the last time it was OK?
1week, 1year?
surge , causes, on a tuned engine might be:
1: too lean. so lean the ISC can not control idle. rpm low, stalling
2: too rich, flooding, stalling, spark plugs foul (look at them)
3: weak compression in 1 or more cylinders.
4: bad spark.
5: air leaks, in the plenum causing , ISC to lose control.
why high RPM?

especially?
well that means it fails hot too.
and there is a simple tests. for hot surge.
is engine fully hot? 180F and holds solid there?
say rpm is about 800
and you turn on head lights, heater fan and (not AC) and defrost.
the RPM must hold or the ISC is failing.
ISC -= idle speed controls. (all EFI has this function)

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What is Make, Model ,Year, and Engine?

Does this have a distributor?

Many GM's run a few degrees advance of TDC (Top Dead Center) on ignition timing.

If it has a carburetor, be sure to unhook and plug the vacuum dashpot advance line .

It sounds to me me like you're experiencing a retarded timing condition, which, among other things could cause a slower than normal idle.

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