Saab fuel pump troubleshooting and replacement

This detailed step-by-step write-up is about how I trouble-shot, and replaced my Saab 9-3 fuel pump. I wrote this article specifically for my car. The information can, and will, vary between years, engine types, markets, etc. But the general process flow should be similar to other old generation Saab 9-3 cars. But this information may also work on other makes and models. Just make sure that you research the specifics that apply to your car.

Someone else was driving the car when the break-down happened. The way the engine died, as it was explained to me, sounded like the fuel pump died. It could also have been the fuel filter clogging, or a number of other things. The tank was half full, so the car didn’t run out of gas.

I towed the car home with my truck, and started troubleshooting the issue.

Troubleshooting the Saab 9-3 fuel pump failure

The fuel pump fuse is located in the dash, next to the driver’s door.

First, I did a quick search on the Internet for common issues with Saab 9-3 fuel pump failures, and for some good and quick troubleshooting methods.

Since I suspected the fuel pump, I started there. First thing was to check if there was any power at fuse #14, located on the fuse board at the left side of the dash. The fuel pump is powered through this fuse. There was power at the fuse (and the fuse was good). That means that the fuel relay and all the other electricals prior to the fuse were functioning properly. Next thing was to check the pump. Usually you can hear the pump running when it is on. But I haven’t really heard it running before, and certainly not now.

I pulled the back seat off. It is just clipped on, I didn’t need any tools.

Under the seat, there is an about 4-inch access hole, just pull off the plastic cover. Through the access hole, you can access the electrical wiring connectors for the pump. The pump itself cannot be reached through the access hole.

The fuel pumps electrical connections are accessible below the back seat.

There are two sets of connectors, one with three wires, and one with four wires. It is the 4-wire connector we are interested in.

The two thinner wires on the 4-wire connector are for the fuel level sending unit. The two thicker ones are for powering the pump. Of those two power wires, the green/black is power from fuse #14, and the black one is ground.

Use a multi-meter

I attached a multimeter to those two wires, to measure the voltage. When turning the key on (and cranking the engine) there was power on the green/black wire. That means that there is power coming to the pump.

Next, I ran power directly from a 12V battery to the pump-side of those two wires, in order to engage the fuel pump. At this point, being so close to the pump, one would definitely hear if it is running. It did indeed run, but only for a few seconds, before dying out. It did not come back on, despite multiple tries.

So, it was definitely a bad pump. It is common for electric fuel pumps to fail. Not only in Saab cars, but many other mainstream car brands too.

The car has about 100000 miles, and I don’t know if the pump has been replaced before I purchased it at 95000 miles. I also know that the car has run out of gas at least once (not when I was driving!). Low fuel level, or an empty tank, can be hard on a fuel pump. The fuel immersing the pump helps it stay cooler.

Getting the parts for the Saab 9-3 fuel pump

Having an auto repair shop replace the pump would cost anywhere between $600 and $1200 dollars. Actually, any work on a Saab can be expensive, due to the quirky way the car is built. Parts may not be as readily available, and shops may not have experience working on Saabs. If you need to bring your Saab to a shop, I recommend taking it to a place where they specialize in Saab cars. At least here in the Portland Oregon metropolitan areas there are several great shops specializing in Saabs.

But really, I do love Saabs, more than any other cars. But I do not recommend buying one, unless you can work on them yourself, or can afford expensive repair shops.

It is recommended to replace the whole pump assembly, but they are around $300. When I replaced the pumps on my old Honda and Silverado truck, I replaced just the pump itself, keeping the pump assemblies, thus saving a money.

The local shops didn’t have the pump for my Saab, so I had to order it online. I prefer to support the local auto parts shops, even if the part prices are somewhat higher, as long as the prices are not outrageous.

I found a matching Bosch fuel pump online for about $60, and I also ordered a fuel filter. It is recommended to replace the filter at the same time as the pump.

New fuel pump and filter

Removing the tank

In order to replace the Saab 9-3 fuel pump, the tank has to be dropped on this car.

Many cars have access holes under the back seat for replacing the pump. If there is no such access hole, then the tank has to be dropped. Another option, which I found on the Saab forums to be quite common, is to cut an access hole above the pump. The issues to consider doing that is, that it could potentially affect the structural integrity of the car, causing a safety hazard in case of a car accident. Also, the tank is usually located very close to the floor. When cutting the access hole, you don’t want to damage the tank, fuel lines, electrical wiring, etc.

I left the automatic transmission in the park position, locking the gear on the front-wheel drive car. I applied the emergency break, which locks the rear wheels.

The Rear of the car was raised on blocks, using a hydraulic jack.

I raised the rear of the car about 10 inches, by placing blocks under the wheels, leaving plenty of space to work under the car, and have room to drop the tank. One needs to be extremely careful supporting the car properly, when raised, so It won’t fall. People have died, being crushed under their cars while working on them.

Use a repair manual

While doing this work, I consulted my car repair manual, and Saab forums on the Internet, searching for Saab 9-3 fuel pump replacement, in order to get the job done properly.

I disconnected the negative battery terminal. I had already disconnected the two electrical connectors, accessed through the hole in the floor. Next, I removed the fuel filter, after removing the plastic fuel filter cover. Be aware that the fuel might still be under pressure. An easy way to release the fuel pressure is to cover up the fuel filter line connector and the tools with a rag before loosening the connector. Also, have a bucket in place underneath to collect any fuel.

Haynes 1998-2002 Saab 9-3 Repair manual.

Next, I disconnected the fuel fill hose, and the fuel lines to the fuel evaporative system, and the two straps holding the tank.

On this Saab, there is a back-flow prevention valve in the tank at the fuel fill inlet. If there is fuel in the tank, it won’t flow out when disconnecting the fuel fill hose.

The less fuel there is in the tank, the easier the job will be. There is less weight, and less chance of any spills. My tank was half-full (or, like some people would say: half-empty…), and I didn’t have any good means of getting the tank emptied prior to the work.

Any fuel lines that are opened should be covered up so contamination doesn’t get into the fuel system.

Dropping the right-hand side of the tank first, so it can slide out to the right.

Dropping the tank

On this car, the tank can’t be dropped straight down, due to the exhaust pipe running below the left-hand side of the tank. Once the right-hand side is dropped far enough, the tanks slides out to the right of the car. The two fuel lines going to the pump assembly don’t have to be disconnected until the tank is on the ground at the side of the car. The short fuel feed line is already disconnected at the fuel filter end, and the fuel return line is long and flexible. Still, be careful not to kink or put strain on the lines.

Disconnect the fuel lines from the pump, once the tank is on the ground.

Once the tank is on the ground, and off to the side, the two fuel lines can be disconnected, by pulling the yellow tags aside and twist and pull up the fuel line connector elbows. The plastic elbows are very fragile, and they often break in the removal process. New elbows are only a few bucks, and some people buy them before starting the project, so they have them handy if needed.

Remove the threaded lock ring by rotating it counterclockwise, using a special tool, or tapping with a hammer
Remove the threaded lock ring by rotating it counterclockwise, using a special tool, or tapping with a hammer

Clean the top before removing pump

I used compressed air to blow off dirt and dust from top of the tank, before disconnecting anything. Once the fuel lines were disconnected, I removed the large threaded lock ring which holds the pump assembly in place. There is a special tool used to unscrew the ring. But I used a piece of wood and a hammer, carefully tapping on the ring counterclockwise. The ring is also fragile, so if you tap or twist too hard, it could crack or break.

The Saab 9-3 fuel pump assembly doesn’t come straight out. Carefully rotate it back and forth about a quarter turn, while pulling it up. Lastly, maneuver the assembly out carefully so you don’t bend the fuel level sensor floater arm.

 Now is a good time to siphon out the fuel from the tank through the pump assembly opening hole. Emptying the tank makes it easier to lift it back in place when putting everything back together. I saved some of the gas in a gas container. The rest I put in the tank of my other car.

Next, I covered up the opening on the fuel tank, so contamination won’t get in there.

Re-building the Saab 9-3 fuel pump assembly

Replacing the Saab 9-3 fuel pump unit in the assembly turned out to be more complicated than I thought. When I replaced the pump in the fuel pump assemblies on my 1994 Accord, and my 1997 Silverado, it was quite simple. The assemblies were open, with no covers and housings to remove. All I had to do was remove the strainer, pull out the pump, and push the new pump in place. It was, like said in computer terms, plug-and-play.

On this assembly, carefully twist and pull out the coarse strainer housing at the bottom of the exterior housing. Then push the four clips, and pull the housing off the assembly. Then pull the strainer off the pump. Pull the pumps rubber damper off the assembly. Disconnect the two electrical wires from the pump. No need to mark them, they are different sizes, and can’t be reconnected incorrectly.

The fuel pump housing needs to be disassembled in order to reach the pump.

What’s left to do is disconnect the vinyl fuel hose from the brass connector on the pump. I tried to heat up the hose with a heat gun. When pulling the hose off the brass, the hose broke. That meant that I had to go buy a new ¼ inch vinyl fuel hose from the local car parts store. I had trouble assembling the hose, and routing it, without kinking the sharp bends on the hose. That seemed to be the hardest part of the project for me. As I mentioned before, I didn’t have to deal with this when replacing the pumps on my other cars.

I ended up having to replace the black vinyl fuel hoses.

Re-installing the pump assembly

Once the pump was in place, I put all the pump assembly parts back in the reverse order, and placed the assembly back in the tank. There is an alignment mark line on top of the pump assembly, and on the tank. It is very important that those lines are aligned to each other, for the pump and fuel level sender to fit in and function properly. The pump tends to rotate when tightening the lock ring. Keep an eye on the marks, and re-align the pump assembly as needed.

Next, I connected the fuel lines, and placed the tank under the car, in order to lift it back in place.

Attaching the tank was fairly easy, pushing the tank up toward the front, and to the left, over the exhaust pipe. I re-connected everything, and tightened the straps.

The tank is going back in, the same way it came out.

From inside the car, I connected the electrical wires to the pump assembly, and tucked them aside.

Finishing and testing.

I installed the new fuel filter, lowered the car. Then re-connected the battery, and dumped the fuel from the container back in the tank. Cranking took longer than usual, since fuel had been drained out of the system.  Once the car started, it ran fine. I turned the engine off, waited a while, and tried to start again. The car started immediately! Since there was only a few gallons of fuel in the tank, I took my truck to the gas station to fill the fuel container, and dumped that in the Saab. Now I had plenty of gas to drive the Saab to the gas station and fill it up. Once I got back home, I parked the car on the driveway. After that, I checked for any fuel leaks, and tried to smell any gas. Everything looks good!

I spent two half-days on this project. It should really take only a few hours. But it was my first time doing it, and I did it slowly. I took frequent breaks from the heat (I did this outside, and it was a hot day).

I hope you enjoyed this write-up! If you have any questions, I will be happy to answer them. Also, any suggestions or ideas you would like to share, are very much appreciated!

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Mark Johnson

    Interesting sob story haha. Very useful for someone who owns this model 9-3

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