1998 SL1 electrical problem- won't start, will start, replaced fuel pump relay

I would like to find out what to do about my car, but I'm stumped.
I have a 1998 Saturn SL1, reliability is key in my car decisions.
Three weeks ago I got into my car and the clock was way off and all my radio presets were gone. The clock read 1:17 when it was about 10am. It appeared that my clock reset itself 1:17 before I got into the car or possible 13 hours earlier- couldn't tell. I knew I had an electrical problem, but everything seemed normal and my car ran fine for about 2 weeks. Last week my car wouldn't start in the morning. The clock said 1:00 and the presets were gone again. I turned on the ignition, but there was no noise. I called AAA, but their battery truck couldn't find the problem. They claimed the electrical system was fine, but it was only the battery truck, not a real mechanic. I towed the car to my local mechanic and he said he fixed the problem by replacing the fuel pump relay. When I picked the car up, the car wouldn't start. They kept the car overnight and when I came back in the AM it started fine when I stopped by before work. I asked what they did and they responded that they handn't touched it and from now on I needed to take it to the dealership!? (you'll have to trust me, I was being way too nice to those guys- they said they could no longer figure my car out.)
I took the car to the dealership and the dealer kept the car for two days and said there were no problems in the electrical system at all and no reason to replace the battery. Yet everyone I dealt with had experienced the car being dead and unable to start!
What could possibly be wrong with my car?
In July I drove to North Carolina on vacation and put in about 16 hours of highway driving. My suspicion is that I melted part of the covering of a wire and I occasionally get an electrical short.
I talked to my first mechanic tonight and he said he was convinced that MY REMOTE CONTROL DOOR LOCK SHORTED OUT THE CAR'S ELECTRICAL SYSTEM and caused it to appear dead and suggested I never use it again!!! I busted out laughing- that's impossible, right?
I did a search on Saturn Fuel pump relays and the problems are just like I experienced, but I'm not sure why the car was dead AFTER that was replaced and then mysteriously started.
thanks for any info,
Don
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snipped-for-privacy@hotmail.com says...

Yup sounds like an electrical problem. You might have some pinched wires. Try removing accessory fuses and relays to eliminate them from the circuits. Maybe check for a parasitic draw as you remove them one at a time. Btw what is the condition of the battery? A bad battery or one thats shorting out internally can cause some weird things to happen.
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Check the easy things first - are your battery cables nice and snug, and corrosion free?

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I'd start by checking the electrical ground connections in the car, from the battery to the chasss, to the engine, etc. If you lose your presets and time, it's because the voltage dropped low enough for long enough to cause the computer in the radio to do a reset.
This might take time - it's an intermittent problem, and those are really hard to find. But lose of the radio, plus the starting problem, sugessts a common factor.
As one other poster stated, start by checking the condition of the connections to the battery and so on.
BTW - Is the radio messed up when you get into the car, or does it get messed up when you try to start the car?
Fuel pump relay sounds like a shotgun diagnossis than anything real. Ditto for that remote control door lock (was this a Saturn system or third party?) Realize anything that shorts out a car's electric system is going to have to face the wrath of the battery, which will cheerfully supply lots and lots of amps to it - that's why they have lots of fuses everywhere on cars. If something was dead shorting the entire electric system long enough to kill the radio (And I haven't checked, but I'm guessing that'd mean a return to near 0 volts for about at least a second), you'd know because it'd either have popped a fuse, or smoked nicely. Of course, a short in the starting system (which is unfused) could do this, and the cables are thick enough that you might not toast them. So, I'd start by looking at the cabling from the battery to the starter and alternator, and checking it carefully for ANY deterioration.
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On Sat, 21 Aug 2004 19:43:56 -0400, Philip Nasadowski

It has been posted on some chevy groups that the side connectors to the battery can develope corrosion up inside the connectors where you cannot see it until you pull them open. Maybe worth a check. MR
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These were all good suggestions. THANKS!
I will check the battery very closely. The wires connecting to the battery in the 98 SL1 come in a cartridge-style box that fits on top of the battery that sheilds the whole package from rain, etc. They looked "ok" when I checked them out. I stopped repairing my cars myself about 10 years ago when things became computerized, so I'm not the most trustworthy mechanic.
I visited the beach after one of these incidents (sand and salt water) and it rained heavily the few days before the car wouldn't start, but then again the car started fine in the rain later.
I asked the dealer to do a full electrical check over two days and they found nothing.
both times I noticed the radio was messed up when the key was in the ignition- one time the car started, the second time the car was dead for 24 hours before the mechanics could find the problem.
The remote door is the original factory installation.
Don

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snipped-for-privacy@hotmail.com (D) wrote:

I'll tell you right now - this isn't going to be the fastest fix. It'll be simple ONCE you find it, but finding it's not going to be easy! Intermittent electrical problems are like that. the problem's generally something easy, but it's hard to find. Be persistent - it's in there.

They gotta be clean. They can look OK and still be bad.

Ahh, even WITH computers, a lot of the bassics still apply. The starting system's still the same, and the old rules about keeping bettery connections clean and tight still apply. Actually, they're more important today.

Oh, they won't. They never do...

I'm suspecting ground problems. Check from the battery's negative to everywhere where the wires go. I'd even consider removing, cleaning, and reinstalling (tightly, but don't blow things up!) the ground connections, wherever practical. While you're under there, get a good light and look at the thick red positive to the starter, for any signs of fraying, cracked insulation, exposed wires, etc.

Ok, then it's not what did it, in all likelyhood...
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