Passlock on Saturn '05 ION Workaround

This is a temporary emergency fix to the known ignition problem to the late Saturn ION Passlock Ignition problem. Note: At the end of February 2014, GM has included the 2003-2007 ION's on their infamous ignition switch recall and has sent out letters to affected owners.

By Krjb Donovan
Published: Jan 08, 2014 03:57 AM GMT / 
Updated: Jun 07, 2014 05:39 PM GMT

There is a known issue with the certain later model Saturn Ion ignition switches. The typically scenario is that in cold or unusual weather when you engage the ignition to start the car, all the instrument lights light up and then the "Pass Lock" (Lock Symbol) stays on. The car won't turn over. Apparently there was too much grease on the OEM ignition switch for a few years when they were produced and  variations in temperature or humidity may cause sufficient resistance to adequately conduct some electronic signal in the switch and your car suddenly thinks its being hot-wired/stolen by someone else instead of simply started by you. And thus the Passloclk engages mistakenly protecting you instead of starting. And it will stay engaged for 10 more minutes. This is documented on several car forums, including SaturnFans here.

The ultimate fix is to replace that part or to open up and remove the sludgy excessive grease and spray a lighter one on. But, what do you do if you need your car now or don't want to pay for a tow to the dealer for a fix?

This procedure may do the trick if the cause is extremely cold weather. Disclaimer: you do this at your own risk. But this procedure has worked three times without fail for me when my ION would not start. Given the sub-zero temperatures tonight from the polar vortex, and my commitment to cook for others but lacking a few ingredients, last night became the third time it was needed and worked.

Wait out the full 10 minutes for the Passlock timer to expire. Take your key, and heat the middle part to the tip with a Bic lighter for about 30 seconds. If you start to smell plastic heating up, its hot enough. Stick the key in the ignition. Wait 30 seconds. Take the key out, heat in the same fashion, and stick it back in the ignition for 30 seconds. Take the key out. Clean any soot off the key. Attempt to start your ION. If its like mine, it will then start.

I am not terribly proud of this fix - I really should order the replacement switch and swap it out (when its warmer). In my defense, my ION only had this issue 4 times in the last 8 years. But it has been a very practical workaround and thus worth sharing.

You probably don't need to use a Bic lighter specifically, but I haven't actually verified that. And if you switch lighters, you may have to heat the key less/more depending on the characteristics of the lighter.

If this is happening though repeatedly or in other weather scenarios, the real solution is replacement.

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