Dear Tom and Ray:
Our 1996 Saturn SL2 (90,000 miles) is burning more than 3 quarts of oil between oil changes. The dealer suggests an engine tear-down to determine the problem. Most likely it's the rings or -- worst-case scenario -- engine block. If we go ahead with the repair, what is the success rate of this curing the oil-burning problem? -- Pam
RAY: The success rate is very good.
TOM: The only reason it's not 100 percent is that when somebody rebuilds an engine, there's always a chance that he might make a mistake. He could rebuild something incorrectly, break something else while he's in there or leave his pastrami sandwich in the oil pan.
RAY: That's why we'd recommend that you simply replace the engine rather than having your dealer tear it down and rebuild it.
TOM: Most Saturn dealers will install a factory-rebuilt engine for you for $3,000 to $4,000. Or you can go to an independent shop and probably get it done for between $2,000 and $3,000. "Factory-rebuilt" means that it's been built at a factory that does nothing but rebuild engines. These mechanics do it with dedicated machinery rather than by hand, and they tend to do it very well and very precisely. They even test-run the engines before they ship them. As opposed to your mechanic, who's going to test-run the engine in your car.
RAY: With a factory rebuild, you can be fairly sure that all the parts will fit well, and that there will be no parts "left over" after the rebuild is finished, as was often the case when WE rebuilt our customers' engines. In fact, we almost always recommend factory rebuilds for our customers nowadays -- in part, for this very reason.
TOM: The Saturn factory rebuild comes with a three-year warranty, too. That suggests Saturn is pretty confident in the workmanship.
RAY: There's one note of caution I'd sound, though: Before you put a wonderful new engine in this car, you'll want to have it carefully checked out to make sure the engine is not going to be powering a broken transmission in six months. Or that some other major component is on its last leg. So, ask your mechanic to inspect the car as if you were going to be buying it now, as a used car. Find out everything else that's wrong with it so you can make an informed decision.
TOM: If the engine is the only serious problem, then drop in a factory rebuild and drive it for a few more years. It's cheaper than new-car payments.