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VOLVO 240:Headlights not working, smoke from under hood, car won't start now

Just last night, on the way to a friends, car started smoking from under hood, headlights went out (parking lights and dash lights still worked) , and there was a weird smell present. As of this morning, car will not start up at all. For the last few days, car has sounded weak at start up and a few times, we thought it wouldn’t start at all.

We just got our old battery replaced but it was with another used battery from a local shop(lucky there is a warranty). Since getting this battery, have had to jump our car three times in the last month, though never from a completely dead state.

Does the issue of no headlights, smoke, and the smell sound like it’s related to the battery being bad or is this problem a result of something else, like an electrical problem or (god forbid) the alternator?

Our car is a '93 Volvo 240 sedan

Hope someone may be able to shed some light on the problem, ty

A new battery for this car from WalMart would not be that much money so I don’t understand the used battery at all. Besides it is most likely not good now after going dead 3 times. Go to Auto Zone and have the battery and alternator checked.

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Read the post again.

One might think the OP doesn’t live in the U.S.


At this point I would probably want to find out what caused the smoke and the headlights to go out before throwing a new battery in that car. If that event was caused due to a short it is very likely still there and run down any battery in a short time… or possibly cause more damage.

You apparently had an electrical problem that fried something under the hood as well as damaging your battery. And the replacement. And that battery’s replacement. I would agree with Kurt that you need to do more here than replace the battery. And when you do replace it after repairing the problem, I would recommend not using a used battery. That’ll only exacerbate the problem and complicate diagnosis.

For the record, I reread the post and see nothing that suggests the poster isn’t or is from the U.S… But it doesn’t matter. My response would be the same either way.

Thanks for all of the replies.

We also suspect that the problem is electrical by now. Would it be possible that the problem is limited only to a fuse blowout rather than wiring?

Not sure what it was about my post that might indicate non-U.S. resident status, lol? I do in fact live in the U.S.

What needs to be done (and should be done with every vehicle suffering an electrical problem) is to perform a complete electrical system check. This would mean…

  1. Test battery.
  2. Test alternator output.
  3. Test starter motor current draw.
  4. Test for a parasitic draw.

Testing for a parasitic draw only means that the tester is verifying there IS a draw. That does not mean track it down which may take minutes or many hours.

It could be that the used battery is no good and/or there could be a draw due to melted wiring. The smell you noticed was probably burning wire insulation.


No, a blown fuse would not cause this problem at all. I agree you have a shorted wire somewhere. That could (should have) caused a blown fuse, but the blown fuse is only an indication that there is a problem, and is not the problem itself.

Remember that fuses are for protection of the circuitry and the wiring. A blown fuse indicates a problem.

I’m curious about what led Tester to come to the conclusion that the OP might not live in The US.

I think that there are a couple of different things happening here, but when the headlights don’t illuminate on a 240 Volvo, the first suspect is the relay that switches from high to low beam. It is toward the front left (viewed from inside the car) corner of the engine compartment. Look to see if the plugs on the relay are corroded and burnt, and listen to see if it clicks when you move the switch from high to low beam.

The second most common cause of headlights failing is the bulb-out sensor under the dash. It is a big round (orange as I recall) plastic device with a lot of wires going into it. I think this causes only the low beams to fail (if I recall correctly).

It is expensive, and not really needed for headlights since you can easily tell when one of your headlights goes dark, so the standard DIY fix is to find the three wires that control the headlights (one hot wire in, and two wires out to the individual headlights). They are all the same color. Cut them off the plug and wrap them together with a wire nut, bypassing the bulb out sensor.

The fuse that blew may be an excellent guide to what circuitry is defective.
Also, once you know what circuit might be bad, you may be able to get a copy of the schematic and the wiring diagram from a dealer’s parts window.

Or there may just be a shop in your area that specializes in automotive electrical systems.

Another thought regarding the charging system: On this car, it is critical that the ground strap that goes around the rubber mount on the alternator be intact and getting a good connection.

If the dash lights ever pulse as you drive, that indicates worn out brushes in the alternator. The normal fix is to replace the voltage regulator which comes with new brushes, but once when I was broke, a friendly parts man found brushes that would fit by trial and error and I soldered them in, so my cost to repair was about $2 instead of $80.

On a '93, you will likely need to remove the oil filter to get the voltage regulator off the alternator, and I think the two screws that hold it on the back of the alternator are Torx screws.

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I would just go with the facts.
93 Volvo.
used battery.
fear of expensive repairs like alternator? gasp!
I deduce a frugal owner.
might even have a backup Subaru on hand.

Since this all started w/a used battery replacement, I’d suspect something wrong with that as the first guess. If the wrong physical size battery is used, or it isn’t installed correctly, improperly oriented or the wires not routed to spec, it can cause the battery to short out against the under surface of the hood, or elsewhere. This would cause smoke and odors and various problems w/the car’s electrical system, including not starting. This could also cause an engine fire, so until it is resolved suggest to park the car outside, away from structures that could catch fire, and carry heavy duty gloves & a fire extinguisher in the car.

I shouldn’t even address you but your attitude isn’t appreciated. You know almost nothing about the person - me - posting with an auto problem. I don’t see anything wrong with someone trying to trouble shoot something wrong - reaching out for solutions - with their vehicle.
Isn’t that part of the point of having the Car Talk community here?

Maybe it’s something I’ll be able to fix on my own but I don’t know that, yet and am not that handy with vehicles - especially Volvos - at this time. Being afraid to ask questions never got me anywhere, either.

Go have your bad day somewhere else, thanks.

Well, actually, we suspect that the problem began prior to having the battery that was in the car when we bought it replaced with this used battery. We had to get the car jumped with the first battery too and had it tested at the shop, where we decided - based on a recommendation by a mechanic - to have it replaced. Due to our current financial situation, we had limited options for battery replacement, so we opted for the used battery. The shop it came from is a local one that has a good reputation, so we trusted the sale. Plus it has a warranty. However, it’s possible that it wasn’t correctly installed and that’s why this happened. Going to take a look at the car again today, based on some of the suggestions here. Thank you.

But even though the car won’t start, it still has some charge, since we are still able to operate the power windows. So, it couldn’t be the battery in that case ( or at least the terminal hasn’t been melted ) more likely it’s an issue with the wiring, no?

That seems most likely. The battery isn’t dead, just too weak to start. For example, the power windows are still operable ( just tested it today ).

Thank you, will look into those things.

Just curious, what happens when you turn the key, any click at all or just silence?