Why do my dashboard indicator lights randomly come on/stay on when I start/drive my car?

Tiny
SEAMUSSLASS
  • 2001 SATURN SL2
  • 180,000 MILES

The indicator lights on my 2001 Saturn SL2 sedan randomly come on and stay on from time to time when I start and drive my car. If I shut the car off and restart it, the same or different indicator lights may come on and stay on until the car is shut off again. The most common lights are the "fasten seatbelt" light, which will stay on either blinking or solid, even though my seatbelt and that of my passengers is fastened; the "security" "and "service engine" light also come on and stay on together, but not all of the time. Other times, no indicator lights are on while the car is running. I have checked the fuses for these things and they tested good. I have also tried changing the fuses, but the problem continues. More recently my automatic door locks are malfunctioning -- when I unlock the drivers side door, the outside handle will stay flipped up and the door latch will not engage when I try to close it. Today the locks were apparently clicking when I got home, but my driver's door would not unlock or open. I could open the passenger door but not the driver's door. My mechanic told me some months ago that all of this could indicate a problem with the alternator. He said that since it was "intermitant" I should wait until it fails completely! Six months later, the car is running fine, but the random dashboard lights and the lock problems continue. What is wrong with my car?

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Friday, January 6th, 2012 AT 11:49 PM

21 Replies

Tiny
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Indeed it could be the generator. Starting with the '87 model year, GM went from the second best design to the world's worst pile ever. Start by having it load tested with a tester that also performs a "ripple" test. If the ripple is high and the maximum output current is close to one third of its rated capacity, it has a failed diode. That is real common. The generators develop huge voltage spikes that can destroy those diodes and internal voltage regulator as well as interfere with sensor signals and the operation of the many computers on the car. It is very common to go through four to six generators in the life of the car. To reduce the number of repeat failures, replace the battery at the same time. As they age, they lose their ability to dampen and absorb those voltage spikes. Your old battery will work fine in an '86 or older car.

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Friday, January 6th, 2012 AT 11:59 PM
Tiny
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Just to add to this one I totally disagree with the alternator theroy. The older externally cooled alternators on the saturn S models failed commonly. But when they went to the internally cooled alternators in the later made 1998-2002 S models those alternators were really good and didnt fail that often.I have seen them last well over 200,000 miles. It sounds more like your body control module is failing. Which controls everything your saying is going crazy.

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Saturday, January 7th, 2012 AT 5:51 AM
Tiny
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Also what code numbers were read from the computer?Those would help also.

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Saturday, January 7th, 2012 AT 6:44 AM
Tiny
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Thanks for your answers. I will check these things out. FYI for saturntech9. No code numbers came up on the computer when my mechanic ran the diagnostic. However, the problem is sporadic, so it is difficult to have the mechanic witness the problem, since it happens randomly.

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Sunday, January 8th, 2012 AT 5:37 PM
Tiny
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Sorry it took so long to get back to you iam not getting email alerts letting me know someone responded when I answered a question. So did he scan the body control module for codes also?When the body control modules go bad they never set codes and tell on themselves. Some times you will get a code U1000 set in the ecm for not being able to talk to the body control module. But most of the time you dont even get that. So how often does it act up?

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Sunday, January 8th, 2012 AT 10:11 PM
Tiny
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No worries. I actually think your response time on this site is very quick! I think my mechanic just ran the basic computer diagnostic. I don't think he even suspected to check the body control module, because he was thinking it was the alternator/generator. I am curious how a scan of the body control module is different? Is this something any shop can do and what sort of fee (ballpark) would they charge? I have been seeing dashboard indicator lights go on and off at random for about 8 months. These are especially the "fasten seat belt" light, which blinks or stays solid while the car is running, and the "security" combined with the "service engine" light. This is the one that worries me because I am wondering if this is going to at some point disable the car from starting! I would love to solve this, but have done nothing so far since no one can diagnose what to repair.

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Tuesday, January 10th, 2012 AT 1:34 PM
Tiny
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Just an added note. The frequency of the dash indicator lights acting up is almost every day.

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Tuesday, January 10th, 2012 AT 1:37 PM
Tiny
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To scan the body control module for codes takes it takes a alot more advanced and expensive scan rather the basic one that just reads engine and transmission codes. The guy that did it for you I would ask if his scanner can read those codes and if he even checked for codes in the body control module. With the symptoms you have it doesnt sound like a bad alternator to me. Sounds totally like a body control module one thing I would try is if I was working on the car I would swap out the body control module with my used tester module to see if that fixed the problem. If it did then I have you put a new body control module in.

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Tuesday, January 10th, 2012 AT 1:51 PM
Tiny
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Thanks! This information is very helpful! What is the urgency of repairing this.I.E. What can go wrong in the meantime? Will I just continue to experience random dash lights, or can this affect the car running? I have had this car for 8 years and don't hope to have it much longer.

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Tuesday, January 10th, 2012 AT 2:02 PM
Tiny
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The body control module can cause the car not to start depending on what part of it fails. If the security light is coming on then thats what would worry me. So is there other problems with the car besides the dash lights coming on?You said you wont have the car much longer so I was wondering if there was a reason for getting rid of the car?The S model saturns are my favorite model I have a 1999 saturn SL2 with over 220,000 miles and I love the car.

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Tuesday, January 10th, 2012 AT 2:09 PM
Tiny
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Other recent problems include the random failure of the door locks (outside door handles stay in upturned position when electronic door opener is used. Door will not close, must manually push handles down; also driver door will not open at all although it seems to be unlocked. This problem is random too. My passenger door window stopped opening for about two months (its electronic) and then started working again. My air conditioning does not work at all.I ordered and replaced the a/c diode but that did not solve the problem. I am wondering if all of these things are connected to the body control module? I see a used B C module for my car online. I am wondering if a mechanic will install a part purchased elsewhere? As for larger problems, I have replaced many major parts on this car, most notably the transmission. I travel long distances for work in remote areas and always fear that my car will just die! I had a 1998 Saturn sedan that I purchased new and loved it too. However, my 2001 has not been so lovable or reliable.

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Tuesday, January 10th, 2012 AT 2:52 PM
Tiny
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The doors that very well could be the body control module but not the ac or window. The window is going to be the switch or the window motor most likely. You figure that out with a test light. The ac the first thing I would check is the pressure in the ac system to see if it was low. Too bad you didnt live in southern california or I could work on your car. As far as the body control module goes if you can use tools then you put used one in yourself. Just to try it and see how it works but keep in mind your mileage will change and show the mileage of the car the used body control module came out of. Which is no big deal because if it works then when you replace the body control module with a new one they will program the actual mileage of the car in. So what was wrong with the transmission that it had to be replaced rather then fixed?I have had to replace very few those transmissions are usually fixed with valve bodys and tightening the input shaft nut.

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Tuesday, January 10th, 2012 AT 4:52 PM
Tiny
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Good to know about the mileage with a used body control module. There was nothing wrong with the transmission in and of itself. I used to work for an Inn in a very hilly winery (but in Michigan). Was trying to reach work up a steep hill in a blizzard and could not see in a white out how poorly the drive was plowed, so got stuck in a snowdrift. Lots of tire spinning a push from a large truck later, I was free. However, the next day while driving home I heard an explosion under my car(!) And saw metal pieces flying about in the rear view mirror. I lost all power and could see transmission fluid leaking out under the car. The mechanic told me that the transmission "threw a rod" and that this sort of damage is seen when cars get stuck and the wheels spin excessively. My tran basically blew up. Thankfully at that time I had an extended warranty which paid for the bulk of putting a new one in.

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Wednesday, January 11th, 2012 AT 12:01 AM
Tiny
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Wow your lucky your warranty paid for that. Your roll pin broke in your differential and the pieces blew thru the transmission case.I have seen that before mostly in the winter time when I worked at the saturn dealer in upstate ny. People who spun there tires badly in the ice and people who rocked there car out of a snow filled driveway.

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Wednesday, January 11th, 2012 AT 12:23 AM
Tiny
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That used to be real common too with Chrysler's four-speed automatic. The little 5/16" bolt would break, then the large shaft would walk out until it caught on the case. If it happened at low speed, it would just make a clattering noise, but at high speed the momentum would grenade the case. Happened on my ******'s '95 Grand Caravan at 35 mph.

And you guys thought I went away!

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Wednesday, January 11th, 2012 AT 12:56 AM
Tiny
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We were hoping you did lol. Same deal with the saturns the roll pin breaks that holds the shaft that holds the spider gears in place and that shaft takes out the transmission. But it takes some shock and trama to break the roll pin.

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Wednesday, January 11th, 2012 AT 1:57 AM
Tiny
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Strange. They used to be able to build axles that held up to 426 hemis, 427s, and 428s, but I guess all those guys retired.

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Wednesday, January 11th, 2012 AT 3:12 AM
Tiny
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I feel lucky as the work cost a couple grand! It was a dramatic way to get a new transmission and I won't soon forget the sound it made or the stuff flying out behind the car! Believe I was going 55 mph. I bought the extended warranty when I got the Saturn and the cost was part of my car payments. I had traded in a Ford Taurus with a dead transmission.I noticed some slipping in the gears and the next day the tran went out completely. I guess the moral of the story is, if you can afford the extended warranty, buy it! It also paid for several other repairs on my Saturn. Wish it hadn't expired.

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Wednesday, January 11th, 2012 AT 9:19 PM
Tiny
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The main thing is you paid for the extended warranty and then some.

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Wednesday, January 11th, 2012 AT 10:04 PM
Tiny
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I absolutely did - several times over! Thanks for all of your help and information.

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Thursday, January 12th, 2012 AT 1:02 PM

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