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12-year-old Saturn is burning motor oil

Dear Car Fix: I have a 2000 Saturn LS1 that uses motor oil. I bought it used and wasn't told about the oil usage.

When I contacted the dealer about it, I was told that using one quart per 2,000 miles was within the acceptable range, according to GM. I thought that any time a car used motor oil, there was a problem. I like the car except for the oil usage.

How do I find out if there was a problem at the factory and GM just decided to allow these cars out because it was easier and less expensive to do that than fix the problem? How do I find out what the cause of the oil usage is?

-- R.J., Eden

Dear R.J.: Since Saturn is no longer being produced and the car is 12 model years old, let's focus on a solution to your problem.

There were no TSB's directly responding to your problem. Saturn does have a common problem with engines that have faulty oil control rings. Oil control rings "wrap around" your pistons and help control the amount of oil that assists in lubrication of moving parts within the engine. These rings are typically bound tightly around the pistons and, during friction, burn oil and send it out of your tailpipe. Punch the gas hard enough, and you will probably kill several insects along the way!

Second, and this is very serious, Saturn engines are equipped with a timing chain instead of a timing belt. Because of this, the engine is very sensitive to low oil levels. If your oil runs low, there won't be enough to lubricate the timing chain, and when the chain snaps, it ruins your engine -- and you will find yourself with a several thousand-dollar bill to get your car running again.

In addition, if the chain snaps while you're driving (which it usually does), you will lose all power in your engine, and it could possibly cause a serious accident.

All hope is not lost, however. If your car is paid off, or for whatever reason you want to keep the Saturn you're driving, there are a number of ways to fix the problem, and depending on the seriousness of your problem, eliminate the oil consumption issues.

Take your car to a trusted mechanic and ask them to perform an engine cleaning procedure, change the oil to synthetic oil and synthetic oil filter. Look at brands like Royal Purple and FRAM high-mileage oil filters.

If the problem persists, the only way to fix this is to rebuild the engine and that will probably cost anywhere from $1,500 to $3,000, depending on your local mechanic's labor charges, parts charges and sales tax.

Why does a car lose oil when there is not an obvious leak? If it's an older car, or a neglected car, it's possible that the piston rings are worn to the point that they are letting oil pass by and go into the combustion chamber. The oil is burned and passes out through the exhaust pipe. You won't see any oil on the ground but it will keep disappearing.

So you keep adding oil and the engine continues to be worn out prematurely. This is why basic maintenance is critical to the heart of your car -- the engine.


Dear Car Fix: I heard the dumbest explanation for rusty rotors on my daughter's 3-year-old VW Bug. It has only 30,000 miles on it and she was told she brakes too lightly when stopping and this is causing the rotors to rust!

Now she was told by the service adviser at her dealer that the rotors had to be replaced and as long as they were changing the rotors, [getting] new pads, to the tune of $600. I am not a professional mechanic, but it seems like a rip-off to me. I told her to get the old parts back so I can see just how rusty the rotors are. -- K.A., Amherst

Dear KA: Rust is common on a car's brake rotors, because these parts are exposed to rain, moisture, heating and cooling and can easily build up surface rust on the braking surface and components.

The good news is that rust on the brake rotors is not a big problem. There's little you can do to completely stop rust from forming.

If you see excessive rust build-up, which should only happen if you haven't driven the car in a long time, take it to a nearby open lot. Slam on the brakes a couple of times, making sure you're driving slow enough to do it safely, to remove the rust.

Brake pad and rotor replacement for the front and rear for your Volkswagen Beetle should cost about $800.

However, I always suggest getting three quotes and finding out exactly what the repair shop is giving you for the money so you can compare fairly.