The mystery volvo

Dear Click and Clack,

I have a 2003 Volvo S80. I have had intermittent problems where all of my gauges go dead yet the car still runs. This has happened approximately 5 or 6 times in the past 3 years. Each time I take it to my local volvo service department and each time they hook it up to their computer to “read the codes”, they can never draw any conclusions. They charge me a bunch of money doing software upgrades saying, “they hope it fixes the problem.” I can’t come up with any correlations as to when it happens. Sometimes if I leave the car off for a while it will go away but sometimes the gauges die again while on the freeway, can’t tell how fast I’m going. I want to sell this car eventually but can’t in good conscience unless I know the problem won’t be passed on to anyone else. Any ideas?

Thank you for any advice you can offer me!Heidi Tucker

Rather than sell the car trade it in when you buy another car. Whether or not you inform the dealer of the dash guages is your call.

Dash guages are now assembled in clusters with circut boards and numerous contacts and connectors. There is a circut board with a slight crack or a connector that is dirty that is the cause of the this issue. Since it affects the whole cluster it likely is a component of the main power supply to the cluster.

The fix is to replace the cluster as a unit. Very expensive if you get a genuine new part from Volvo. This is a case for a salvage yard used part. If you trade the car a dealer will buy a used cluster and install it. The labor is not a big deal as this comes out as a unit and it a matter of a few screws and connectors that snap in place.

If you want discuss this with a mechanic that knows “foriegn cars” and see what the charge would be for a used cluster to be purchased and installed. Of course the problem could be in the wiring before it reaches the cluster which should be evaluated before spending a bunch of money replacing it.

I agree with UncleT, trade it in, then it’s not your problem.

It has 76,000 miles on it, and is in good condition as far as the exterior/interior. I have been very anal about having it serviced regularly. What is considered a decent amount for trading it in? Also, any suggestions on how to find a good mechanic if I decide to have the cluster replaced? I live in Fayetteville, North Carolina. I really love my volvo aside from this issue but can’t decide if I should stick with this make or consider another. I am considering a mini van, any suggestions as far as another car to consider purchasing. Thanks so much for your response.


Heidi, I’m just not a fan of Volvo’s. They get very expensive to repair as they age. Yours is a 2003 and is now 7 years old. Being attentive to maintenance does not insulate you from expensive repairs with a Volvo. Everything will cost $1,000 and up if you take it to a dealer to fix. So far you’ve done well. I’d sell the car soon, before something else goes awry.

I came by my opinion on Volvo from personal experience. I Bought a '98 V70XC in 2004 and kept it until late 2008, It was 6 years old at purchase and I owned it 5 years. I spent over $2,000 a year not including new tires, brakes, and oil changes. Each repair I’d hope that would be the last one for awhile, but every 8 to 12 months something else would need repair. If you buy a Volvo you should sell it as soon as the factory warranty expires. I don’t think extended warranties are a good idea in general, but for a Volvo I’d say you’d definately get your money back from one.

As to your next car you said you’re looking at mini-vans. Reject any mini van with a trailer hitch installed. Trailing with a mini van is tough on the transmission and you don’t need a bad transmission. Of the mini vans most are pretty reliable. The worst repair records come from the Chrysler made mini vans, GM’s aren’t a lot better. Perhaps the best for the money is the Hundai mini van.

I am still trying to decide what to do with this car. A few other problems that I didn’t mention in my original e-mail are problems with the a/c not working. You can hear air pumping through but nothing coming through the vents. I have had it looked at at least 5 times, problem still not fix and I am charged every time I bring the car in. I am seriously considering looking into having a used cluster unit put in as one of your suggestions in regard to the gauges going dead. I am trying to find a foreign mechanic and I think the closest is over an hour away. How do I choose a mechanic? Secondly, do you think the a/c problem is also related to the cluster unit? Oh, I just had to have a new fuel pump installed 2 weeks ago…another $1000,00. I’m just trying to nurse this car along until I can pay cash for another vehicle. I’ve got at least another year or so before I can do that. I’m still desperate for advice so please share.

Get out of this car, it is just going to get worse. The best trade value would be from a Volvo dealer. Now Volvo is offering 5 years of total service (warranty and wear and tear both covered) so trade it for a new Volvo and sell or trade that Volvo when it gets close to 5 years old.

I DO NOT want another volvo as long as I live!! So, you don’t think replacing the cluster unit will get me by for a while? I need to look at other options besides buying a new car right now.


You’d have to find the cluster on e-bay and see if you can get it for a decent price. Then you have to find out what a shop would charge to switch it for you. Then you have to drive it for awhile and see if the problem recurs. The fault could be in the wiring leading to the cluster rather than in the cluster itself.

I’d just live with the problem until you sell or trade the car. If the guages fail just drive a little slower than the traffic around you. You can’t really know if you’ve fixed the problem until the guages fail and do not come back to life on their own. Then if you replace the cluster and the guages work you know it is fixed.

Don’t blame you for not wanting another Volvo. The motor runs, the brakes brake, and the steering steers. Until there is a safety issue just keep driving it because you’ll need the money for something important like a new fuel pump or suspension gizmo at some point.

I would take the car to Wardlaw’s Transmission or to Performance Peugeot (Mr William Moore). These two places appear as highly recommended in Car Talk’s Mechanics files and are in/near Fayetteville. Wardlaw’s transmission does more than just transmission work. Performance Peugeot is listed as also working on Volvo’s. I would give them a shot at replacing the finding a used cluster module and replacing it.

I had a 2004 S80. While looking for repair info on it, I read many complaints about the transmissions failing at 80-90K miles.

I would get rid of it now, and don’t look back.