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Bob, Auto Service Technician
Category: Car
Satisfied Customers: 4087
Experience:  40 year GM Tech. +30 Certified. ASE Master Tech.(expired, retired) Medium Duty, Heavy Line, Retired
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2003 Saturn Ion: owners manual..diagram..trunk..light assembly

Customer Question

How do I change a tail light on a 2003 Saturn Ion? The owner's manual is NO help -- neither diagram nor instructions have anything to do with what I see when I open the trunk, and none of the accessible screws seems to have anything to do with holding or loosening the tail light assembly. It should be a simple procedure, and it's infuriating that I can't figure it out!!
Submitted: 10 years ago.
Category: Car
Expert:  Bob replied 10 years ago.

This is right out of the GM service manual so it may be no better than what you already have. It appears the only screws are on the inside and nothing prys off. It may bind in the 1/4 panel when you pull it toward the rear because of the guide pins. Best I can do, hope it helps. Thanks

Document ID# XXXXX
2003 Saturn ION


Tail Lamp Assembly and /or Backup, Sidemarker, Stop, Turn Signal Bulb Replacement

Removal Procedure

    Object Number: 856588  Size: SH

  1. Open the rear compartment.
  2. Remove the screws from the tail lamp.
  3. Pull the tail lamp rearward to disengage the tail lamp from the quarter panel.
  4. Disconnect the electrical connector from the tail lamp wiring harness.
  5. Remove the tail lamp and backup lamp sockets by depressing the locking tab and rotating the sockets counterclockwise.
  6. Remove the side marker lamp socket from the tail lamp by rotating the socket counterclockwise.
  7. Remove the bulbs from the tail lamp, backup lamp and/or side marker lamp sockets.

Installation Procedure

    Object Number: 856588  Size: SH

  1. Install the bulbs to the tail lamp, backup lamp, and/or side marker lamp sockets.
  2. Install the tail lamp and/or backup lamp sockets to the tail lamp. Rotate the sockets clockwise until the locking tabs are fully seated.
  3. Install the side marker lamp socket to the tail lamp. Rotate the socket clockwise until the socket is fully seated.
  4. Connect the electrical connector to the tail lamp wiring harness.
  5. Position the tail lamp to the quarter panel.

    Notice: Use the correct fastener in the correct location. Replacement fasteners must be the correct part number for that application. Fasteners requiring replacement or fasteners requiring the use of thread locking compound or sealant are identified in the service procedure. Do not use paints, lubricants, or corrosion inhibitors on fasteners or fastener joint surfaces unless specified. These coatings affect fastener torque and joint clamping force and may damage the fastener. Use the correct tightening sequence and specifications when installing fasteners in order to avoid damage to parts and systems.

  6. Install the tail lamp screws to the tail lamp.

    Tighten the tail lamp screw to 2 N·m (18 lb in).

  7. Close the rear compartment.

Document ID# XXXXX
2003 Saturn ION

Customer: replied 10 years ago.
Hi, Bob --
Sorry, but I get stumped at #2 "Remove the screws from the tail lamp." There are NO accessible screws at all in my car, and although the diagram with the thing you sent me does at least resemble the rear of my car (more than I can say for the one in my Owner's Manual!), it appears even from that, that the screws are INSIDE the plastic housing and thus how would you remove them even if you wanted to? It's crazy that this should be so difficult -- no, not difficult, literally IMPOSSIBLE as far as I can see. -- Howard
Expert:  Bob replied 10 years ago.
Hi Howard, I am really sorry that I don't have something more to offer you in the way of help. I sure do understand how frustrating it can be. We went through this on a Cad the other day only to find out that the bulbs are not even serviceable, they use high intensity led's and you have to buy a whole tail lamp for one burnt out (bulb) for lack of a better word. I really wish I had an ION I could look at for you, but don't I am going to opt out of the question, just in case someone else may have some information that GM does not seem to want to share. I can only hope someone else here will pick up your question and be able to help you more. Good luck with it and thanks, Bob
Expert:  Perry replied 10 years ago.
Hi, was just wanting to know if you have checked behind the carpeting near the tail lamp for those screws?
Customer: replied 10 years ago.
Reply to Bob's Post: Hi, Bob --
Sorry, but the straight-out-of-the-manual answer was of no help. The "remove screws from the tail lamp" instruction just make no sense if these alleged screws aren't there (or if they are, they aren't accessible). I had already tried loosening every accessible screw/bolt inside the trunk, with no success. It looks to me like the tail-lamp housing is inside a permanently-sealed compartment. Unless I'm missing something really obvious (always a possibility!), I don't see that I have any other choice but to take it to a shop (or dealer) and let them do it -- which is exactly the situation I was in before I signed on to your website looking for help. If your answer had been of some help, I'd be glad to pay the $10 -- but the fact is that it wasn't. Don't take it personally! -- Howard
Expert:  Bob replied 10 years ago.
Hi Howard, I really am sorry we couldn't be more help to you. Really wish I had a unit here I could look at, that may have helped. Please do not feel bad about not accepting. I would prefer that you did not anyhow. The whole idea being you accept when and if we helped. Which we did not. But the system sends out automatically generated reminders and sometimes I don't agree with that. As in a situation like this. I really do wish you luck with it and I'm sure there is going to be some really silly little reason that it is so difficult. Once you see it done you will probably think, jeez, all that for that? Anyhow I still want to thank you for letting us try. Wish you a great weekend. Bob
Customer: replied 10 years ago.
Reply to Perry's Post: Hi, Perry --
Yep, I did check behind the carpeting for screws etc. There's a kind of "ridge" that would seem to indicate the edge of a piece that would pop out if the appropriate screw(s) were loosened, but the problem is that it won't budge, no matter what I loosen. Thanks -- Howard
Customer: replied 10 years ago.
Reply to Bob's Post: Thanks, XXXXX XXXXX
I'm no auto genius, but for every car I've ever owned in 35 years, I've at least been able to do simple stuff like change burned-out taillights, headlights, etc. I bought this car new in 2003, and this is the first time I've had to change out anything -- and it just makes me nuts to think that I'm going to have to take it to some shop (or God forbid, a dealer, the closest one being many miles away). Best, Howard
Expert:  Bob replied 10 years ago.
I sure understand how you feel. Makes me wonder about the design team sometimes. One other fellow suggested maybe you look under the edge of the weather strips? Just another thought. If it makes you feel any better at all, you have at least 6 guys here scratching their heads too. Guess no one here has done an Ion tail light yet either.
Customer: replied 10 years ago.
Reply to Bob's Post: Thanks, XXXXX XXXXX
I went out to my car, to see if the "under the weather strip" idea made any sense -- afraid not. (Nothing under the weather strip except a metal ridge.) It actually DOES make me feel a little better to know that six smart car guys can't come up with a soluation. I'll try that line on the first cop who pulls me over for the burned-out light: "But officer, I've taken the car to SIX different mechanics, and NONE of them could figure out how to fix it!" Well, anyway, when I do get it fixed, by the dealer or whoever, I'll report back to you with what I learn! -- Howard
Expert:  Bob replied 10 years ago.
We would really appreciate that a lot. You may make life a lot easier for the next guy who has the same problem. If there is anything else we can do please let us know and if anyone out there sees the problem, they will jump in and assist. Thanks again and have a great weekend.