1995 Volvo 960: Good first car?

I have moved back home with my parents, and am now looking to purchase a car to get to school and back. My parents and I spent the entire day yesterday driving around to examine cars listed on craigslist. While we have gotten very good at buying used cars this way, this time we admitted defeat, because none of the 8 cars we had time to examine were really meeting our expectations.

The one car that we are still considering (and that I am most keen on) is a 1995 Volvo 960 with 138,00 miles. The price was good, however, the A/C doesn’t work. Specifically, the air never gets cold, and there is a buzzing noise that we think is something hitting the fan blades of the blower. The man selling it ended up with it through his foreclosure business, and so knows nothing about the history of the car. He thought the A/C did work, so maybe the air was blowing cold when he drove it last. The other issue we noticed was that the car had been in a very minor fender bender. The hood and the body were ever so slightly out of alignment, and there is a small dent, neither a big issue. But the air filter housing is cracked, which would let air bypass the filter. There was mild to moderate amounts of soot in the tailpipe.


  1. Are Volvo’s made in the mid 90’s reasonably capable of going 180k or 200k miles without many major repairs?
  2. Are Volvo’s expensive or difficult to repair?
  3. How likely is it that dirt could have gotten into the engine, causing more wear and tear?

We have a very good mechanic, and I did see that Autozone does supply parts which are not overpriced. My father has always done as much vehicle repair as he can himself to save money, and is pretty good at it. The engine bay is definitely one of the most spacious ones I have seen, everything looks fairly accessible. We will be taking it to our mechanic to check over, but I would be interested in your opinions.

So: could this be a good buy at $2500? Or do we need to keep looking?

In answer to your questions, 1) I’ve never seen a Volvo that didn’t need constant care and feeding, especially after hitting 100K. 2) They are more expensive than most other cars to repair. 3) If you don’t know the previous history of the car it is wise to avoid it. If it hasn’t been well cared for it could be hiding lots of possible problems, and from your description this one sounds like it already has issues that could be expensive to fix. Don’t let one day’s experience color your judgment. There are always cars available and you’re much better off going with something that has a better record for reliability. My own favorites are Toyota and Honda, but there are other good choices as well. Check Consumer Reports for good bets in used cars (the annual auto issue in April).

  1. No, older Volvo’s with mileages around 125K to 150K will need major repairs. They can go for more miles but there will be lots of big repair bills along the way.

  2. Costs per repair aren’t too bad for a DIY’r. Dealer prices are astronomical. The good independent shops that fix Volvo’s aren’t cheap but much less than a dealer. Some parts, ie fuel pumps, are very expensive. The pump for a '98 V70XC wagon was $900 (just for the part) and was only available from Volvo. That was 5 years ago so even more $$$ now. Electrical items on the 960 of those years were bad. Wiring, connectors, and switches all prone to failure and sometimes hard to track down the problem.

  3. Very likely, how much damage is impossible to determine.

I’d advise to keep looking. The thing with these old Volvo’s is the body and paint sometimes look good because these parts of the car are well made. Seats and interior might look good too for an old car. Yet, still a bunch of $$$ required to keep them going.

As the former owner of a Volvo, all I can do is to echo the statements preceding mine.
My Volvo was bought new and maintained meticulously, and yet, by 70k miles it was the least reliable car that I ever owned.

As I like to say, I owned a Volvo…once.

This is certainly anecdotal, but the Volvos I’ve heard about all had annoying problems. All problems are annoying but especially those that relate to systems that shouldn’t have any kind of issues. Volvos tend to have gremlin problems. For instance, a friend of mine has had to replace all four brake calipers //twice// with less than 70K on the clock. There’s no reason those things shouldn’t last. For 8 calipers to fail, there’s clearly a quality issue.
Instead, you’d be much better off to a Toyota, Honda or Subaru for a first car. Once you decide, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have the car inspected by a trusted mechanic.

As a more general piece of advice (you’ve already gotten GREAT advice on the Volvo), try to get a car 1996 or newer. That’s the year that OBD-II (the standard for monitoring some car problems by computer) became required. '96 and newer cars are easier to diagnose than older cars. Also, if you have to get it inspected every year, OBD-II cars are easier to do, at least here in Dallas. Older cars have to use special equipment, some shops don’t have it.

No. Listen to the advice.

Yea, it doesn’t look worth it. Thank you for the advice.

As a student living with your parents, a cheap and reliable econobox is what you need. A Volvo is about the LEAST desirable car for you. Please bring yourself up to date and realize that a lowly Toyota Yaris will give longer and better service than any Volvo.

I would look at a Hyundai Accent, Mazda Protege, Yaris/Echo, or even a Chevy Cobalt. All these are relaible enough as a student’s car and relatively cheap to fix if anything goes wrong. And Volvos no longer are significantly safer; all cars are safe these days.

A broken blower fan is a hazard. The defroster needs to work to operate safely.

Lastly a car with working AC is much better at keeping a clear windshield especially in the summer. Otherwise you have to use the heat.

Look for a Chevy Cavalier. You should find a 2003 LS sedan with auto transmission and around 100,000 miles for less than $3000. This is a private sale, and that appears to be what you are looking at. Add about $1000 for a dealer sale. A 2003 Ford Focus LX or LX Premium will be similarly priced. And they won’t be nearly as expensive to fix as a Volvo will. The price of parts doesn’t go down as old luxury cars age. Parts for a Cavalier or Focus will be low forever.

“1995 Volvo 960: Good first car?”

I have only 4 words, Hell No & Money Pit. For all the reasons mentioned above.

it might be a good buy at $250, but not $2500

The only redeeming feature of an old large Volvo is that it will protect you pretty well if you run into anything. I had two friends that owner older Volvo’s and they both carried shop manuals in the car because it wasn’t an issue of if they were going to break down, just where and when.

Agree with every one on the 960. Now a 240 is another animal, those things are tanks.

Any 17 year old car is a roll of the dice. Having a thorough inspection performed pre-purchase can improve your odds a bit but even that is no guarantee of a problem-free car.

I don’t have a problem with a '95 Volvo but would have a problem with a Volvo with a shaky history, non-working A/C, and soot in the tailpipe. With patience and footwork you should be able to find a much better car for that kind of money.