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1991 Volvo 240 will Reverse but Stalls in Drive/Neutral

This is a 1991 Volvo 240 Automatic Station Wagon. The Check Engine Light has been on for at least 6 months, the timing belt was replaced 3 months ago , the battery is a month old, the oil was just changed, gas tank just filled and the odometer stopped at 259,000 miles before I bought it so it has well over 300,000. Yesterday morning it took a minute to start, which happens on occasion, but backed out and drove about a mile and stalled at a stop light. It finally started, after 6 false starts, and I turned around to go back home. It then stalled again but reversed just fine, so I got it turned around and drove in reverse the rest of the way home. It drove fine after a few hours but did the same thing today. Please help!!!

The check engine light has been on for 6 months and you’re asking why it doesn’t run right??

Take it to an auto parts chain store where they will read the “check engine” code for free. Write the code down in “P0123” format (letters and digits). Then post the code back here.

+1 to jesmed’s comment.

Seeing the CEL lit up–but not doing anything about it–and later wondering why a car is not running properly, is the automotive equivalent of a person ignoring chest pains and later wondering why he/she wound up with a massive coronary.

Cars, like people, rarely fix themselves, and both need diagnostic services once warning signs show up. In the case of the OP’s Volvo, the basic diagnostic services at places like Auto Zone, Advance Auto, and other parts stores are free of charge.

After the OP gets the diagnostic codes and posts them here, then some of us will be able to provide a substantive response.

OP’s Volvo is OBD1. Codes can be obtained from a diagnostic connector under the hood on driver’s side.

Also, I must say I’m having trouble wrapping my head around the fact that the timing belt was replaced three months ago, yet the check engine light has been on for six months…


That should have been flash codes. I don’t think the auto parts places will read those.

I agree with @LewisCannon

The parts counter guy at Autozone is NOT set up to read blink codes

Those generic OBD2 code readers are useless in OP’s situation

The procedure to retrieve blink codes is not the same on all cars

On this car, you might have to bridge 2 pins, or push some button to put it in test mode, etc.

Unless the guy happens to know the procedure, he’ll have to look it up on the internet

And once you have the codes, then what?

Code 26 means one thing for Volvo, but something else for Toyota

Now that my memory has been refreshed regarding the fact that this car is pre-OBD-2, it will not be as easy for the OP to get the diagnostic codes, and those OBD-1 codes are not quite as helpful as OBD-2 codes are, but the fact remains that this car will not fix itself, and the OP’s failure to do anything about the CEL for 6 months has just delayed any potential fix.

If the OP is not up to the task of getting those codes himself, then the next step is to take the car to a competent mechanic. Look for a foreign car specialist in your area if you want to avoid the extremely high costs at the Volvo dealer’s service department.

You can find the OBD I codes and the procedure for reading them out from the any over-the-counter Volvo repair manual that should be available at a well-stocked auto parts store or on Amazon.

After 21 years, the button that triggers the system and the socket that bridges contacts may be corroded, so getting flash codes may or may not work.

I drove a '91 240 for 300k miles, so I am familiar with its common problems. If it pulls OK but stalls at idle, I would check the air tube from the mass airflow sensor to the throttle body, and the hose that goes up to the idle air control valve. I would clean the throttle body, the airflow sensor, and the idle air control valve while I was checking tubing. You may not know what those things are now, but if you pull it apart, it won’t be tough to figure out, particularly if you buy a book.

If the idle speed is unstable, you probably need to replace the intake manifold gasket. That is not as hard as it looks. If you pull the intake manifold loose for any reason, take that opportunity to replace the rear water temperature sensor (the two-wire sensor that talks to the fuel injection). That sensor is tucked up under the intake manifold and is tough to get at until the manifold is pulled away from the head, especially on a California car with an EGR valve.

I would suggest looking for a vacuum leak in the EGR system, but I am betting that your EGR is completely plugged up with carbon by this point.

If the car is flooding out, pull the trigger wire off the 5th fuel injector (the cold start injector). This car will start down to 0F without that injector, and if the water temperature sensor has failed, that injector will operate when it shouldn’t, flooding the car.

If the flash code reading system is too corroded to work, you can clear the light by removing the negative battery cable for a moment.

Bookmark the Brickboard RWD (rear wheel drive) web page. Everything you need tn know is there.

P.S. I failed to address that fact that your car will go backwards but not forward, because I am not sure what to do with that information. The only reaction that your engine has to moving forward vs reverse is:

  1. the direction of stress on the engine mounts. Hard acceleration will pick up the passenger side of the engine if that mount has failed, but I would not expect that to stall the engine.
  2. this car has a non-telescoping drive train, so failed rear control arm bushings will push and pull the engine forward and backward a couple of inches total movement. This also should not cause a stall so far as I can imagine.

Sounds like the Mass Air Flow Sensor, Try unplugging it and see if it improves ( the car will still run poorly but should start fine) if it is get a new one( do NOT buy the aftermarket one! spend the extra money and get a Bosch), the Oxygen sensor should be replaced also. either of these two thing are the most common reason for the check engine light to come on on this car. This car will run forever if you take care of it…
if you want good advice from people who know volvos go here
Here you will find all the Check engine codes and how to read them

I am poor, not irresponsible. I had a mechanic check for reasons why the check engine light would be on shortly after it came on. He told me in older cars it could be a myriad of thing some of which could not be damaging to the car or how it drives. I have been saving up to get a more in depth diagnoses when this happened. Tomorrow it is getting worked on I will bring up the mass air flow sensor hopefully that is all it is. This is not my first Volvo, they are great cars when taken care of. Thank you to everyone who was helpful

I hope for your sake that it is not the mass airflow sensor. That is one of the more expensive things under the hood. My '91 wagon still had the original MAF sensor when I sold it at 300k miles. It was on its third oxygen sensor (though one was replaced unnecessarily), its third intake manifold gasket, and its third water temperature sensor. The first water temperature sensor was replaced when the car was only a week old.

It may not have much to do with the check engine light condition.
I’d check the transmission’s lock up solenoid or valve. Maybe that thing is stuck on. I’m not sure what an automatic would do in reverse under that condition but I’d imagine the condition is ignored in reverse.
In forward, a stuck lock up solenoid may very well cause a car to stall.

Usually they aren’t expensive or difficult to replace but your car is a Volvo. That’s an entirely different meatball…

I am no longer attempting to answer Volvo questions. One thing though is that people with no money should not drive Volvos. I drove my Buick to 500K miles but I would have been money ahead to have junked it at 300K. That would be my generic advice to not put any money into this one and find a replacement cheap GM, Ford, Honda or Toyota and enjoy. At this point a mechanic is your friend.