Horrible Monday! 1997 Volvo 850


So about 9 months ago, my younger sister (18 yo) got into a car accident and totaled her car. My husband and I were nice enough to loan her his 1997 Volvo 850 GLT until she left for college (which is in 4 weeks). Yesterday morning, my dad saw fluid on the driveway from the car. They took it in this morning to our trusted Volvo repair guy and found out that the gasket of the engine motor blew off and the entire coolant system was contaminated with oil. It’s going to cost $4000 to fix it and it’s not even 100% guaranteed that it’ll be OK after fixing it. My question is how did this happen? I called my sister and asked if she hit anything or drove over anything and she said NO. What happened? The car is only 10 years old with about 120,000 miles on it. The a/c doesn’t work either, but that’s not a huge issue. If you guys have any advice or ideas, please let us know. Also, is it worth getting it fixed? Thanks in advance!


It sounds like your’re talking about a blown head gasket here.

The usual causes of a blown head gasket are an overheating engine followed by someone ignoring the temp gauge and continuing onward.
The other cause could be a lead foot, and doubly so since this is a turbocharged car.
Either one points to the driver being at fault.

If the wreck was the sisters fault then the Volvo should never have been loaned to begin with.

Without a hands-on examination, it’s possible the entire engine could be scrap and I would be hesitant to recommend a partial repair at this point.


The problem which is the head gasket blowing is not your sisters fault in any matter or fashion. Its a 10 year old car and thing can happen.

If the coolant contaminated the motor oil and it was driven for any period like this the engine is likely junk. Has anyone checked the motor oil to see if looks any different?


I agree 100%.

There is a good chance the coolant/oil mix has eaten the crankshaft bearings by now and the only way to tell is by getting dirty.


I have one thing to add. Does this car happen to be turbo charged? If turbo how sure is the mechanic that the head gasket blew?

The turbo is cooled by coolant and lubricated by motor oil. There are seals between the two passages in this smaller item that fail at some point in the life of the car. Its plausible that the turbo itself failed introducing the motor oil into the coolant.

Replacement turbo’s are not cheap but a lot less than replacing a head gasket.


It could be her fault. It might not be. You can blow a head gasket by over-revving the motor (but most cars prevent you from doing that). You can blow 'em by running too much boost (but unless she’s figured out how to increase the factory turbo’s output that didn’t happen either) (and if she has, it didn’t happen anyway because she’s a damn good automotive engineer :wink: )

Head gaskets can blow from age, and sometimes they just blow even in a new car.

You generally don’t blow head gaskets by hitting things or driving over things.

I agree with the other poster in that this could also be caused if you popped a turbo. Turbos also break from time to time - it’s a risk of having a turbo.

You can’t really blame your sister for this, but if they’re going to charge you $4000 for a head gasket job I’d rather see you get another car. You can replace your car for an identical one with less miles on it for 4 grand.


My sister’s definitely not an automotive engineer. I have sat in a car with her driving before and she’s doesn’t really have a lead foot. The car is a turbo though.

It’s just so disheartening b/c we thought this Volvo would last forever like my husband’s high school/ college Volvo 240 wagon. The car was 20 years old before they got rid of it. Are cars just not made the same anymore???

My dad is pushing for us to get a Japanese car like a Toyota or Honda.