'98 Volvo S70 with blown head gasket - repair or not?

We’re the second owner of a 98 S70 with 175k miles that we absolutely love. About a year ago, our mechanic told us the car was “local only” because sooner or later, our head gasket would blow completely. Later has come.

The car can’t make it very far at all now before overheating and we can’t decide if we should part with the car or not.

Our local Volvo mechanic tells us that he can replace the head gasket for around $1500. With that comes a new timing belt, water pump, thermostat and a 12 month guarantee of his work. We know the service history of this car very well and can truthfully say that this problem (big though it may be) is the only real problem we’ve had with the car. In addition, we only need a car to drive around in town - a 20 mile range is sufficient.

The question is…

Should we pay to have this work done, or should we send our beloved car to her grave and put the $1500 toward another used Volvo?

Specifically, I’d love to hear from other owners who have had a head gasket replaced and if it’s been successful.

Many thanks,


Disclaimer: I know almost nothing about cars - so if you ask me a question, please don’t take my knowledge for granted. :slight_smile:

So you’ve had a leaky head gasket for a year and it’s been overheated repeatedly? I wouldn’t spend the money on an engine that has been abused that much. Start looking for another car, and next time get the problem fixed before it causes further damage. You should expect to get far more than 175k miles out of a well maintained engine.

forget the repair as you have damaged the engine by letting it go so long. Maintenance means to MAINTAIN and you didn’t and it has cost you. Sorry, repair would be a waste in my opinion.

I did this job on my cousin’s '99 S70. $1500 is dirt cheap. You cannot find this job cheaper. I charged my cousin $600 labor (family discount) , and it still cost us about $1100. The gasket kit was $160, the cylinder head reconditioning was $300, and we still needed fresh coolant, oil change, vacuum hoses, and little nic-nacs that always come with big job like this. This job can be bit tricky, too. That 5 cylinder engine needs some out-of-the-ordinary procedures to do the job correctly.

If you trust this guy and his craftsmanship, I’d jump over this deal in a heartbeat!!! You’d be hard-pressed to find a decent set of replacement wheels for $1500. And this car can probably go for a while, assuming everything else was working just fine. The aluminum block and heads are hard on head gaskets, and 10-years is about right for a failure.

If you had asked this question when you first got the “local only” restriction it would be easy to say yes,but now no. The price is very good,I question why the mechanic does not point out how putting money into a car that has been repeatly overheated is a great risk.

Speaking on the postive,the mechanic knows this car and is willing to guarantee for 12mths and 1500 is a good price. Is everything else good (paint body,brakes.tires,trans,etc)If it was 2000 no but 1500 is awfully good and you do like the car,you are free to proceed with the repair. Make it clear to the mechanic you WILL hold him to his word and if he has any reservations to speak up now.

I had a '98 V70XC Volvo, but never needed to put a head gasket on it. Mine had 210K miles when I sold it.

The key to this decision is the current condition of the motor. IF your mechanic knows the car’s history AND he feels the motor is worthy of repair the $1,500 is a far price. With a new timing belt and water pump and the guarantee you should be well covered for your needs.

I loved my Volvo too, but had numerous problems that made it an expensive car to keep on the road. You say you’ve had few problems with your Volvo. That’s why I’d repair a known good car.

I’d stongly advise you not to buy another used Volvo. You got lucky this time. The next Volvo is likely to cost you a lot more in repairs.

The age of your Volvo is working against you. Even if the new head gasket makes the motor sound again there are still a lot of old parts on your car. Down the road you could be looking at other costly repairs.

Now, with new car prices so reasonable it may be a good time to consider retiring the Volvo in favor of a new car.

I vote with thise that say it’s too late.

An unrepaired headgasket breech can and often does result in erosion through the path of the breech. That means milling of the head and perhaps even the block. Those would make the job definitely cost prohibitive. That gets expensive fast.

I probably should clarify something on this, just to be sure you’d give the same answer. When the problem started occurring about a year ago, our mechanic wasn’t sure what the problem was. The car overheated once or twice, but the main problem was the coolant was leaking and he couldn’t identify the source. He suspected that it might be my head gasket, but at the time, he wasn’t 100% sure. Jump forward 12 months and we now living in a new state and dealing with a new mechanic. The leaky coolant has continued, but had gotten worse. I was now adding coolant about every other week. Then the overheating began and this time it was occurring on a regular basis. At this point I shopped around and found a local mechanic who specializes in volvos. He looked at the car and said my head gasket was cracked. I have no doubt that this is true, as my previous mechanic suspected it, but he recommended I not spend the money on it in case that wasn’t the problem. The car has been overheating repeatedly for a couple weeks, but I have rarely driven it since this started unless absolutely necessary. Do you still think the engine has been too abused?

Where did the coolant that was leaking and you were replacing go? Did it just leak outside the motor, OR did it leak inside the motor? An external leak means the inside of the motor is probably OK. If the leaking coolant showed up in the oil, or as white smoke coming out of the tailpipe, not good.

When the car overheated, did it just raise the temp gauge a bit? Or, did it overheat more dramatically?

Your answers will determine whether the inside of the motor is ok and whether or not the cylinder head could be warped, and/or block cracked.

The coolant was leaking outside of the motor, not inside. I’ve checked the oil for any sign that it was mixing with the coolant, but the oil looks normal. I haven’t seen any white smoke coming out of the tailpipe either.

When the car overheats, the “normal” pattern is that the temperature raises gradually, eventually gets all the way into the red and then gradually comes back down. It typically doesn’t remain in the red for longer than two or three minutes. However, the last few times I’ve driven the car, I automatically set the heat to high and the blower to high in hopes of avoiding the overheating.

No one, and most certainly me cannot make a “long distance” prognosis for your motor. From your evidence presented the likely hood is the motor has not suffered a major overheating event. It also seems as if the coolant and oil did not mix together in either the crankcase or the cooling system. If a good mechanic who can see the motor assures you it is OK that should be good enough.

Many people report using the heater to bring down the heat from a overheating car. To me the extra heat disapation offered by the heater core is insignifacant due to the amount of heat that needs to be removed. Like bailing out a quart a minute when a 100 gallons a minute is comming in. But the reports exist.

Thanks for all the comments everyone!