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1983 Volvo 240DL only idles

Easy question: WTF is wrong with my 1983 Volvo 240DL (that they always give me parts for 242DL, doh!)?

I bought it in March, 2009, with 180k miles on it, but the maintenance log showed all service performed on schedule for the first 80k miles. It ran kind of rough at first (the guy I bought it from said it had a problem with number 4 cylinder), but after I got it tuned up it got about 21 mpg.

Over time I had the (in tank) fuel pump changed, motor and transmission mounts changed, timing belt changed, air conditioner system upgraded and charged and the front wheel bearings packed, but my total cost for the vehicle is still under $100/month average.

As time went by my mpg went down to about 15mpg and although it ran fine about 80% of the time, sometimes it would either ?jerk? at high speeds or die at an idle or when coming to a stop. Also sometimes it would barely accelerate, like topping out at 45 mph with either the pedal to the metal or while feathering the gas pedal. The guy who repacked the wheel bearings said he cleaned the mass air sensor and thought it was a good candidate for replacement to remedy one or both of those problems. I kind of confirmed that by finding out that if I turned the ignition off for a few seconds when it was struggling, then turned it back on, it would most often come back to life. I had been shopping for a replacement when a few weeks ago the current horror story sequence of events started.

The engine just died in traffic. I tried starting it numerous times and it would start, but then die as soon as I released the key from the start position to the on position. So I tried leaving the key in the start position and sure enough it kept running ? albeit with the starter still engaged and grinding away.

I had it towed in to a shop close to work I had previously used and whom I had reason to believe was trustworthy. They replaced the ignition switch (although I didn?t ask to see the old one or a receipt or anything) and it worked fine ? for about 15 miles that is ? when it died again with exactly the same symptom of only running with the ignition switch on.

That was a Friday night and I planned on taking it back on Monday, but Monday morning it started and stayed running ? GREAT ? except if I tried to give it enough gas to actually move the car it died. My neighbor, who is pretty savvy, suggested the throttle sensor or some other sensor or EPA thing might be suspect. So I instead had the car towed to a shop owned by a friend of mine who had done some of the previous work on it and he can?t figure out what is wrong.

The last time I talked to him he said the timing was off and he was going to do another tune-up, but he thought the water pump might be leaking because of corrosion on the rotor. It doesn?t make any sense to me and I don?t know what to do. He had told me he has diagnostic equipment so I can?t understand why he can?t figure it out. Is there any pattern here that can be detected as, perhaps, a known issue with this model or in general?


Spending $100 a month on repairs is a lot of money. When I sold my 1983 245DL and moved to a Camry I realized I had merely tolerated the car and gotten used to its quirks rather than really loving it. It was a money pit even though I did most of the work myself. My first suggestion would be to get rid of the car. It’s old, it’s got a lot of miles, and Volvos need constant–and expensive–attention. Should you choose to keep the car, I recommend going to the Brickboard discussion forum where there are people who know these cars in depth. You also would probably benefit from finding a mechanic who specializes in Volvos. You need someone who has the expertise to approach this systematically rather than guessing at possible causes.

I paid 300 for the car and in 24 months have less than 2000 in repairs - including 2 tune ups which any car might have and an A/C refurbishment which was for comfort as opposed to (arguably in AZ) necessity. I don’t know how to average much less than that for total cost, plus I love the damn thing (when it’s running good, LOL). I appreciate your advice, though, and when I do eventually get rid of this “Swedish steam roller” as they say on the Brickboard I will probably look into a Tempo, since I had great cost effectiveness with a Mercury Topaz. The final (or current) status is that the tune-up has it running quite well and the recurring/intermittent problem with the ignition switch running issue in another post is possible solved as well, due more to luck more than anything else. Thanks again.

I think you’re going to be facing a bunch of things with this vintage. If you really want to keep it you should invest in a Bentley service manual for the car. It’s much more detailed and helpful than the Haynes. I’m betting you could get one used. On this vintage the engine wiring harness is a known headache. It deteriorates due to engine heat, a flaw in the original materials. You’ll want to check the status of the wires coming out of the gray connector on the firewall. I used to find corrosion in the connector to the mass air flow sensor all the time. Other issues: the tips of the ceramic fuses tend to corrode and need cleaning/replacement. Exhaust system probably every couple of years. I’d definitely see what the #4 cylinder problem was. Oxygen sensor every 30K miles. The heater control valve would go out on my Volvos at about 80K miles, regular as clockwork. The coil on my '83 was very quirky and would often cause problems. Etc. A good source for parts is IPD in Portland, Oregon. If you want to devote the time to it, it’s not a hard car to work on, but it will require TLC, and it’s gas mileage and reliability will be only average at best.

Agreed. I’ve been googling things about this boat since I got it. One of the first things I had to do (twice) was replace the exhaust manifold donut. After the last application of lock-tite 5,000 miles ago it has been fine. I think that cylinder 4 problem had something to do with the extra heat barreling out because the donut (plus a tune-up and a dozen bottles of fuel injector cleaner). Anyway, in spite of the last few weeks’ nightmare, it is running great now. Just before the ignition issue I bought all new fuses and am going to clean the contacts and replace any old ones, even if they appear to be OK. I do have wiring issues like the radio comes on when I step on the brakes or turn on the lights with the engine off or the headlight lamp switch that burned to a crisp and needed replacing - so far so good on that one. I see the maintenance schedule calls for a new oxygen sensor every 50,000 miles - guess I should do that ASAP since it’s probably been 100.000 miles since last one. I will add IPD to my list of known suppliers and keep my eye out for all your other items. Fortunately I live 4 miles from work with a 45 minute public transit commute when necessary and my schedule is quite flexible, so I will be taking the TLC route for at least until next March when the tags expire, like $17 a year for tags is such a big ticket item, LOL. Thanks so much.