1988 Volvo 240 DL Losing Power

Let me preface this by saying I’m not very knowledgable about cars–so if it seems like I don’t really know what I’m talking about, it’s probably because I don’t.

I have a 1988 Volvo 240 DL station wagon that has been in my family since just before I was born. It has somewhere around 300K miles on it (the odometer broke 7 years ago at 250K). It drives around town more or less fine, usually. But sometimes it loses power on me. Usually this happens when I take it on highways, up big hills, in situations where I need to accelerate quickly, etc. It just starts to slow down, and I have to downshift and ease slowly through whatever stretch of road I’m on until I can get back up to speed (usually on a downhill). It’s not totally consistent–sometimes it has this problem, other times it doesn’t. The car will go through stretches where it runs fine, then I’ll have this problem on a highway, and then it’s a little more likely to happen for a period after that (even on surface streets). This has been happening in some form for a few years. When I first had the problem, it happened continually until I heard a terrible rattling in the engine. When I took it in, they found that a spring in the piston/cylinder had broken off and shot up, breaking the cap off one of the cylinders (sorry for the lack of a more technical explanation). When they fixed that, the problem seemed to go away for a while, but eventually came back (though there has been no rattling since). The most recent time, it had been running around town just fine. Then I took it out on the highway and really lost power–had to slow it down to 35-40mph going up a hill on a 55mph highway. For the rest of the drive it struggled up hills, even as low as 2nd gear. But on my drive home (about 1.5 hours later), the car ran smoothly (though I continued to baby it, and there were fewer upward hills). Since then, even around town it sometimes feels like it might lose power again, but it never becomes a huge issue because I haven’t demanded a whole lot of the car.

After that long-winded explanation, I’m wondering: could this be something as simple as spark plugs? Or is this definitely a bigger issue with the engine? If it’s a cheap fix, I’m happy to go for it, but if it will require putting several hundred (or more) into the engine, I’m inclined just to let it limp along until it’s finally time to take the car out back and shoot it. Figuratively, of course.

“could this be something as simple as spark plugs?”

You could help us answer that question by telling us how long (in terms of both miles and months/years) those plugs have been in the engine. In other words, the problem could be the result of lax maintenance, but since we have no knowledge of the car’s maintenance…

Other possibilities include:

A weak fuel pump (diagnosing this is complicated by the presence of two fuel pumps in old 240 series Volvos)
A clogged catalytic converter
Low engine compression (Has the compression been checked?)

It is also important for us to know if the Check Engine Light (CEL) is illuminated.

What can you tell us about both maintenance and the CEL?

Thanks for the response. I believe the spark plugs were changed in 2009, which would make them approximately 20,000 miles old (not totally sure about this since the odometer is broken).

I also believe that I had a fuel pump changed at that time. I don’t think I’ve had the compression checked. And lastly, the CEL is not illuminated.

Sounds like the Fuel Filter. There are two of they I believe. One Ceramic one near the gas tank and one in the fuel line in the engine compartment. If you changed the Fuel Pump and not the Filter this is probably your problem. Change the on in the engine compartment first. Also you might clean out your fuel system. If it has never been done, there is probably sediment in your fuel tank and you have that in your fuel line.


Could be a lot of things. But from the description, and the mileage, it sounds like a clogged cat to me. Easy enough for a mechanic to determine, yay or nay. If this were my car I’d bring all the routine maintenance up to date before proceeding, may save some $$ in diagnosis time on the clock.

I think the spring problem you mentioned may have been a broken valve spring. If it was expensive to fix, over $1000, that’s probably what it was. If so, it might make more sense to either junk the car, or replace the engine. A broken valve spring is pretty rare unless an engine is so worn it is about to give up the ghost.