Volvo 240 problems

I have a 1989 volvo 240DL sedan with 181,900 miles on the odometer, 4-cylinder with automatic overdrive transmission and no owners manual. We bought the car through a local vehicle auction for $750.00, so I was not expecting to get away without any problems, but suddenly I have a few:

  1. Because there was no owner’s manual, I have to guess that the dip stick I am checking for oil level is the correct one (red handle), but if this IS the oil stick, where is the auto tranny stick at?

  2. The windshield wipers work, but no washer fluid comes out - checked the fuses, and they are all .K., so I think that it might be the fluid pump, Y/N?

  3. the interior fan doesn’t seem to blow very strong, if at all - I get air flow through the vent at speed, but bearly anything when standing still, and no noise from fan (again, checvked all fuses with none burnt out)

  4. to top off everything, my wife drove the car yesterday, only to return after work complaing about a burning smell and that it felt as though something was dragging when she backed the car up - the smell was like burnt plastic from somewhere near the back driver’s side wheel, but was unable to localize it, and found nothing hanging or caught under the car

  5. FINALLY, the last strwa - drove the car today without incident, but when I got a couple of blocks from my house noticed that the ‘Brake’, and ‘Battery’ lights came on flickering in time with the motor. Parked the car in the driveway and reved the engine, which dimmed the lights, but at idle they stay on and flicker.

i know this is a lot, but just need some insight from those wiser then i as to how to proceed. The car still runs fine, but i don’t want to end up stranded anywhere either. Thanks in advance for any advise out there.


Stop by the local auto parts store, many will check your battery and charging system for free. It may not be the problem, but you may be able to eliminate a few issues, or maybe find the problem.

I went to the APS (Autozone) yesterday and they said it may be the voltage regulator, but that I would need to remove the alternator for a bench test to confirm it, as the regulator is “part of” the altenator. Is this true? My experience (with older Fords at least) is that the regulator was a seperate piece. Still don’t know about the smell/dragging issues, as I have been unable to get bit to “drag” again, and the smell only returned once after the drive to work (32 miles).

You’ll need an owner’s manual to know what maintenance to perform, so you might as well find one now.

The burning smell could be a stuck brake caliper or an internally collapsing brake line that’s holding the brake on. The next time it happens, check (carefully) to see if one wheel is hotter than the others.

Do you have a good local mechanic? With an old Volvo, you’re going to need one.

  1. The tranny dip stick should be back right next to the firewall.
  2. Did you try clearing the spray nozzles with a thin sewing needle or a wire from a steel brush? Have someone stand next to the washer reservoir and listen for the hum of the motor pump when you pull on the wiper stalk on the steering wheel. If it hums, try pulling out the reservoir and cleaning the opening to the pump.
  3. There is no cabin air filter, but if a cat ever slept on the hood, the front of the AC evaporator will be matted with cat hair. If you have the control set to recirculate, a flapper door opens between the heater housing and the floorboard up under the dash. You can pull the plastic cover off the passenger side and reach in there with a brush and clean the dust/pet hair off the evaporator. If not all the fan speeds work, that means that the fan resistor has failed. I have never replaced one but I understand that it is fairly common and not difficult to replace.
  4. I agree that a draging sensation and burning smell is most likely a dragging parking brake cable. The parking brakes are shoe brakes inside the rear calipers.
  5. Flickering lights on this car means worn out brushes in the alternator. You don’t need to remove the alternator. You just need to lean over the passenger side fender and remove the two screws that hold the regulator in the back of the alternator. It is much easier if the oil filter is removed. If the brushes are only 1/4" - 3/8" long, they are worn out. If you are handy with a soldering iron, you can replace the carbon brushes for about $10. If you don’t want to fool with that, a new regulator complete with new brushes is about $60 on line.

May I suggest two websites - Brickboard (rear wheel drive forum) and Autohaus Arizona


Yes, try brickboard at and Turbobricks at A Volvo is called a ‘brick’ from the shape of the 100 series (140, 164), 240s, 260s, 700 series, 900/90 series, and the first seven years of the front wheel drive models.

You can find Volvo 240 owner manuals online. Many have scanned in Volvo owner manuals and the Volvo green shop manuals. See the sites above. If you desire a print version, a cheap solution is to contact your local import auto salvage yard. If you cannot find a 1989, an owners manual from a 1986-88 through 1993 Volvo covers most ubiquitous items for your 89. The specified power steering fluid may change.

  1. Yep, MANO is correct. Red handle is engine oil dipstick. The lower, a little harder to get to metal handle (or it may be a yellow plastic handle) is the automatic tranny dipstick. Refill with manufacturer specified fluids ONLY.

  2. We’ll assume you have some washer fluid in the windshield washer fluid reservoir? With the engine OFF, yet the ignition key turned to the first or second detente (illuminates dash lights), pull back on the windshield washer stalk? Here any noise from the washer fluid motor? If no, check the fuse that protects the windshield washer fluid pump (I don’t have manuals handy). On Volvo 240s, especially if you live in a damp environment, near the ocean, or in those area where one snowflake is greeted by 10 inches of road salt, the fuses can form slight corrosion. If the fuse is good, merely rotate the fuse in the socket. Oh, the Volvo 240 fuse box is to the left of your shin as you drive, right in front of the driver front door. A thin vertical door with a small handle at the bottom retains it. If the fuse is good, and you can use a voltmeter or multimeter to verify the windshield washer fluid pump receives +12 VDC, the pump is suspect and must be replaced (or I can rebuild it for you - ha-ha). A self-service or full service (more $) with a Volvo 240 in it will have the pump for you. These pumps have change little over the life of Volvo 240 manufacturing. Indeed, as MANO points out, you can use a steel pin or sewing needle to clear and align the two washer jets on your hood.

  3. The blower fan on your Volvo 240 is old and must be replaced. Expensive job if performed by a mechanic at 120$ an hour these days. Or maybe about 10-20 hours to replace the blower motor fan yourself. You can find replacements from places like fcpgroton,com, (if you want a Volvo OEM replacement AND Tasca Volvo parts charges only 10% above their wholesale costs), and may be best on price. See the Volvo sites brickboard and turbobricks for more info.

  4. A. Burning plastic smell? Was the blower motor on? Some blower motors in 240s blow continuously as they do in all American cars. As factory installed lubricant dries up, the blower motor can’t turn easily and may stop even though the motor receives power, so the internal blower motor parts get warm and even hot (to the point of some smoke escaping the motor and into the cabin through the vents.

    B. If you feel a dragging or rolling resistance as you describe, the brake caliper is not releasing when you take your foot off the brake pad. The other cause is as MANO describes, the parking brake on the side you feel dragging may not be release completely even though the handbrake handle between the front seats is down completely. Someone may have adjusted the parking brake cables too tightly and you can adjust the cables by removing the center console rear ashtray at the large nut inside there. The parking brake handle should not have resistance as you begin to pull it up but gain resistance quickly at about the 3rd to 5th click (even though you do pull it farther as you should). The other cause is the parking brake assembly in the rear of the side you feel dragging is not release completely allow the wheel to spin freely. You can adjust the rear brake pads to free up the wheel. If this does not work, and your 1989 Volvo 240 comes with alloy wheels that are corroded, you may have rust inside the rear parking brake assembly (or other, unrelated damage) that require wheel, brake caliper, and disc rotor removal to inspect the parking brake assembly and repair it.

  5. MANY is again correct. The alternator brushes have worn down. You, or your mechanically adept friend can remove the voltage regulator from the rear of the (usually) Bosch alternator, replace the brushes (get Bosch brushes ONLY), and reinstall the voltage regulator.

    Old Volvo ownership comes with greater satisfaction when you, the owner, can repair the vehicle yourself. Having to pay a mechanic 90-140$ an hour, whether an honest mechanic or not allow you to see the value of older automobile ownership.

    Hope that helps.


    MacDuff and his Volvos 240 three.

    “Newer is seldom better.”

    “Rear wheel drive Volvo FOREVER!”