Howard's Volvo Maintenance

Key Maintenance Areas for First Time Owners

First, congratulations on purchasing your car! 2001-2009 5 cylinder P2 chassis Volvos (5 cyl s80, V70, XC70, S60, 5 cyl XC90) It is likely 100k+ miles now. As with all European cars at around 100k miles. There is a bit of work to address various weak points on the car. This car is no exception. So here is a quick list to check the health of the new to you Volvo.

First, read up on a quick few odd things on this car that you aren't likely familiar with from other cars. Know these few things to prevent major damage to this car. Read here

PCV

PCV system on this car clogs earlier than many other cars. It will be likely clogged between 50-100k miles. When clogged, the engine will have positive pressure inside that will push oil out of seals and seams resulting list of chain reaction repairs. The PCV system is a complex design and not a simple valve change. See here for more details.

Transmission

Another weak point on a used P2 Volvo is the transmission. Mainly is it because Volvo (and most European car makers) try to market life time no transmission service required. This is a huge mistake and the main reason so many transmissions have problems at past 100k miles. First thing to make sure is it has new ATF within last 30k miles. Also check the lower transmission torque mount bushing. it is likely broken. See here and here.

Timing belt and mechanical tensioner and rollers

These are interference engines and timing belt is due at 105k miles. The failure points are actually the rollers that seize when their grease leaks out and causing the belt to break. Definitely get this done if you are at or past this mileage. Read here.

Check Angle Gear (AG) Fluid level

Angle gear is what turns the transmission's output (parallel to the front wheel drive shafts) 90 degrees to send the power to the back wheels. Fairly common leaks here and the oil capacity is small. AG gear will be destroyed if all the oll leaks out. Read here.

Front Suspension

This Volvo like most European cars requires a bit of suspension work at around 100k miles. The front end generally requires lower control arm bushings, spring seat, struts, sway bar end links and maybe inner tie rods. Quite expensive unless already done or DIY.

 ETM

2001s (and I think 2002 non turbos) have a throttle body sensor that wears out between 60-150k miles depending on driving pattern. Failed sensor can leave you stranded. Read here

Ok, this list ought to get you down the road with good initial health check and preventive maintenance. There are other things to note and check but this is probably the main starting point to address the weak points on the engine, transmission and electronics. Again, congrats on the new to you car and many happy miles. If you take care of this car, it will take care of you. And vice versa :)

Do It Yourself Comparisons with 4 cylinder Toyotas+Hondas

I have done all the maintenance on our 2 Volvos as well as the maintenance on our 2011 Toyota Prius, 2007 Toyota Corolla, and father in laws 1999 and then 2003 Toyota Tacomas. Here is what I can say about the DIY repair differences

European cars is definitely not designed for service. They build the car in "layers" starting in the middle and add layers and layers of components on like a shell. The problem is when you need to service something in the inner layers, you end up having to "peel" the outer layers off and generally require more disassembly and reinstallation efforts.

4 cylinder toyotas and hondas on the other hand is definitely much simpler and "designed for service". They seem to route everything that requires service into a nice accessible location. When I pulled the rear rotors on the Corolla that rusted onto the hub, Toyota conveniently put a threaded hole there to "pop" the rotor loose from the rust. The transmission fluid lines runs in a nice open location for a full flush.

However, Japanese transversely mounted V6 engines is a different story. The rear cylinder banks are typically hard to access. Hybrids are also challenging because there is a lot of components buried inside. There is both a gasoline motor and everything necessary for an electric motor. But they generally place the high service items in easily accessible locations.

Anyhow, European cars are definitely more finicky and therefore people say they have "personality". But I've definitely come to appreciate the "design for service" of these Toyotas and Hondas.

Gas Mileage

With the rising gas prices, I thought I write about my mileage experience.

I run 87 octane on both cars. Can't tell much difference with premium gas in terms of power or mileage. I live in hilly Seattle suburb and neither engine ever pings. I guess all that engine electronic timing control is doing its job :)

On highway, both car gets near 30mpg. In mix city+hilly suburb driving, the T5 gets about 22+ and the V70XC gets 19+ for wife (she has shorter and more stop+go trips) and 20 for my work commute.

Had to fix the propeller shaft on the V70XC and while I had it out, it was only a FWD car. It gained about 1+ mpg just turning it into a FWD car. 

Modern European Premium Cars

A common question I see on the forums is people getting into used modern European premium cars for the first time asking about the maintenance cost. Here are some general backgrounds to familiar yourself with.

I'm sure you are amazed at "how much car" you can get for such a relatively low price when consider these used Euro premium brands such as Mercedes, BMW, and Volvo. The fact is they depreciate so fast for an obvious reason. Their maintenance cost can be high. Be cautious before you buy into the logic "For the price of a used Honda Accord, you can drive a used premium European car". This said, these Euro cars can be tremendous value if you are more knowledgeable about what you are buying and the lower cost repair options.
 
European cars in general have some significant maintenance items between 80k miles to 110k miles. On this car, these would include timing belt and full replacement of worn front and rear suspension components. These can easily cost over $2500 if you take it to the dealer's service department. Once these components are done, the car is generally in good shape for many more miles. Assuming of course, you do keep up with the regular services for this car.
 
Regarding the repair costs. Premium European cars are on high end of the price segments. This means EVERYTHING about it will priced accordingly. This include parts and labor. For example, hourly labor rates for your standard Japanese cars will be lower than the European premium equivalent. I'd say a good rule of thumb is everything is about 2X or higher compared to Honda or Toyota mass volume cars.

Next, premium segment cars have more standard equipments. This simply means more stuff can go wrong.

Premium segment cars also have to provide more advanced technology to justify the higher new car purchase price to their customer segment. This means newer engine, drive train, braking, and suspension technologies compared to the lower end segment cars. Just looking at history, we can see fuel injection, ABS brakes, 5 speed automatic transmissions, fly by wire throttle all got introduced in these cars first. And when you are an early pioneer, you get to work out the bugs. One of the key reason for the higher quality of mass market such as Hondas and Toyotas is their usage of highly matured technology. Maturity = cost less + high reliability. Perfect for the market they are after.

In general, I think European cars body style change every 7 years or so. But they will introduce new engines + drive trains in between, updating lots of other subcomponents and generally slightly update that beautiful exterior sheet metal once in this cycle. If you can afford the later ones, do that because they would have worked out more of the bugs. It seems to take at least the first 3-4 years of this 7 year cycle for them to work out the major bugs from what I have experienced (These Volvo P2s, Mercedes e320s)

So you are entering this segment for the first time? What should you expect?

I think the answer isn't the same for everyone. It depends on 2 things

  • What is your perspective. If you are expecting to maintain the same "low cost while generally neglect the car" nature of high quality low tech Japanese cars. You will probably be in for a shock. You definitely don't want to "neglect" premium European cars! It will cost you. But the good news is you are already reading this which means you desire for knowledge and info and probably not a "neglector" by nature.
  • If you can do some DIY, then you can save bundles of money owning these cars. A lot of DIY procedures are within the reach of reasonably average wrench turners. This said, these cars are also highly computerized these days. Many components require dealers special computers to set them up properly. For example, installing a new rear view mirror or radio on this car requires the dealer computer to "marry" them to your car! On top of this, some DIYs require special tools. For example, a simple oil change on European cars frequently requires more than the average tools. On this car, you need a special filter cover wrench. Last, there are parts you can only purchase from the dealer and your local Volvo dealer will add HUGE mark ups if they are like the ones near me. There are Volvo parts vendors as well as Volvo dealer parts departments that operate online now which can save big chunks of money.

Wear and Tear Items between 50k-100k miles

I once read on a older 5 series BMW forum... "If your wife doesn't divorce you on the grounds of repair cost between 80-120k miles"...

I think this is pretty much a fair expression for all European cars around 100k miles. The suspensions and some bushings all need replaced to get back that nice ride feel. It is also likely that you will be replacing the front rotors (2nd time around 100k miles) and rear rotors (first time around 100k miles) and timing belt. Ball joints on the tie-rods are likely worn as well resulting in steering play. Add to this some fluid replacements (steering rack, transmission, angle gear+rear differential on AWD cars). You are easily looking at $3000-$4000 at the dealer service department. Of course, prices drop quickly if you can DIY.

Aside from brake pads, oil changes that most people are familiar with. There are other parts that wears down and need changing in these periods

  • Brake rotors. These rotors thins down from use and don't have enough materials left to dissapate heat. So new ones must be installed after about 2 sets of pads.
  • Lots of bushings. This include upper engine torque mount, lower transmission torque mount, lower control arm bushings, Upper spring seats etc.. All common wear points on this car.
  • Struts and shocks
  • Some of the Inner, outer tie rods and endlinks will likely have play

FWD or AWD

I commonly hear 2 reasons for wanting AWD

  • I need it where I live (snowy country)
  • XC70 just looks so good! (My wife's logic so I know this one well!)

I can't disagree with these 2 logic really. If you need it, well, you need it :) Just keep in mind the following

More stuff to go wrong for AWD. For this car there are 4 additional major components

  • An angle gear that turns the transmission output 90 degress to drive a shaft going to the rear wheels. There is a common leak on this unit.
  • A propeller shaft that transfers the power to the rear drive train. There is a CV joint in the front end of this shaft that often fails due to proximity to the hot catalytic converter nearby.
  • There is a mechanical component to decide how much power to let through to the back wheels depending on how much the front wheel slips.
  • There is the rear differential splitting the drive shaft's power to the 2 wheels while making 90 degree turns. The seal facing the drive shaft side have a common leak.

These units have seals and joints that can leak and fluids that require changing. So make sure you really want AWD.

The angle gear has a common leak problem. If the fluids all leak out, this gear will probably be toast pretty quickly. See here.

The mechanical component that decides how much power going to rear wheels have 2 designs. One is called a Viscous Coupler (2001-2002 AWD systems) while the 2003+ has a Haldex unit. Without going into these 2 units in detail. Viscous Coupler seems to have had more problems historically. I haven't heard much about VC problems on these 2001-2002 V/XC70s. But they seem to have had problems in 2000 and older cars. I hear VC units are prone to failure if tires are not rotated on schedule (resulting in different wear and therefore tire sizes).

The other reason for choosing FWD is gas mileage. Turning more gears = lower gas mileage. People that have turned off the AWD (remove the propeller shaft or disable Haldex on the 03+ AWD systems) say 1-2mpg. When I took out my prop shaft... definitely more power!

Get A Good Volvo Independent Mechanic for Inspection

Should do this unless you already know this car inside and out.

Previous Volvo Owners

Volvo 240s was a great car. It lasted forever with some basic care. Naturally, Volvos built a reputation for longevity based on this history. I was told by a Volvo mechanic that the 240's engine was a basic farm tractor engine design! No wonder it was bullet proof. But you do sacrifice efficiency for something that operates at such a wide operating condition.

Are these new Volvos as good? I think the answer is yes and no. Yes they will last. No they will only last if you don't neglect it (which probably cost more money than maintaining the older models for longevity). These cars are simply a lot more complicated than these old models. 240 owners are likely going to be disappointed that the newer cars didn't retain the "runs for forever and nothing major ever breaks" quality of their 240.

5 Speed Automatic Transmission

This is the weakest point of this car and quite expensive if needing replacement. From reading these forums, while newer cars seems to fare better after received some updated mechanical design + improved transmission software. I still read about problems occuring. But also keep in mind, newer cars have less wear and tear in general which will also factor into people's experiences.

I still think it is kind of random luck on what problems you might get on this item. Read Transmission Issues for more info.

What can you look out for when you test drive? I'd say 4 things.

  • Certainly look at the ATF fluid on the stick for condition and if it smells burnt. See How do I check ATF level?
  • Test drive for 30min. Pay the owner some gas money if you have to. This is really important to check out the transmission. Here is the reason. These transmission include internal hydraulic systems that shift the gears. If the hydraulic system have leaks due to worn components, there will be poor shifts. Hot ATF is thinner than cold ATF and more likely to stress the worn components for leaks.

    To heat up the ATF, the transmission must be turning. It is independent from the engine temperature. As an example, using my diagnostic tool, I was able to see it took me 20+ min to reach 85C from room a already warmed up ATF at 60C. Once you have driven around in awhile, drive in city roads where there is a lot of start and stop traffic to put the shifting machinery into motion. Cruising on highway or country roads will make you feel great experiencing this fine European cruiser but do nothing to test the transmission.

  • After ATF is warmed up, on a flat parking space, shift from P to R and R to D and see if you get any significant shift delays or clunks. Shift delay usually indicate a worn internal hydraulic valves that require servicing (big $$$) . I hear people having consistent and frequent clunks who are also experiencing lots of shift problems.

Major Changes 2001-2007

2002+ redesigned the ETM. See here (except for 2002 none turbo V70/S60)

2003+ XC70 has the bigger (and some people say much more responsive) 2.5T engine. Variable intake valve timings are added to this engine.

2003+ XC70 has the Haldex AWD instead of the Viscous Coupling unit. See FWD or AWD

2005+ has slight exterior and interior updates. Exterior got some silvered surfaces and headlight lens became plastic (older glass ones crack when hit by rock). Interior got wood trim surfaces on the center console.

So if you are looking for an XC70, 2003+ would have most of the latest mechanical changes. 2005+ would have most of the latest surface changes.

2001 models are the first year and ones with most of the issues. Of course, they are also the lowest cost used car of this model which maybe the reason you are considering it.

Maintenance With Volvo Specialists

If you are use to take your car to Jiffylube, this car is going to need more than this type of maintenance. European cars have lots of specialists knowledge. What defines "good condition" or types of fluids are very different from your typical Japanese cars. Furthermore, there are information on how to maintain these cars that evolved from in the field experience. As you might imagine, this isn't written down anywhere in a Chilton's car repair manual (There isn't one available for this car). So maintenance means Volvo dealer repair (most expensive), Volvo independent, or DIY with lots of research on Volvo forums.

Taking it to jiffylube would probably consititute "negelect" on European cars.