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Volvos good or bad?

I hear that Volvos really aren’t as reliable as everyone says. But I love the way they drive. I’m in the market for a CHEAP older car. Should I go with an old Volvo wagon, or is that a bad idea?

It’s near impossible to make a recommendation on an older car, no matter who makes it. One does not know how it was driven or maintained so it could be a peach or a heartbeat away from the car crusher.
Normal wear and tear items are in-line price wise with other cars and odd parts that are needed can often be found cheap on eBay.

They’re not all bad either.

Bad and expensive both. Some used ones were rated well but not all. It varies from year to year. Everybody, collectively, can’t make a car buying recommendation. Get your own copy of the reference that has pictures in the Annual Automotive Issue. Consumer Reports recommandation beats everybody, collectively. Did I mention the pictures?

I would not suggest that they have more problems, but repairs do tend to be more expensive.  On any older car, the repair issues, are far more related to how the prior owners took care of maintenance and how they drove it than the make.  I would not rule them out or in based on the make.

There’s no such thing as a “cheap” Volvo.

I think your question is a little simplistic. The reliability of any older car depends on it’s previous maintenance. I’m sure there are are some old volvos that have been beat to death by idiots and others that are in very good condition. Volvos are certainly capable of a good long life, but they must be properly maintained. I would not buy an older one without a very good pre-purchase inspection and some maintenance records.

You do need to understand that even a “cheap” volvo is going to require some maintenance if you intend to keep it in good shape. I will cost more to maintain than a ricer/domestic because both parts and (competent) labor are more expensive. If you really just want the minimum cost per mile and don’t care what you drive, an old volvo may not be the best choice.

I don’t think Volvo’s have ever been a reliable. Maybe a little better then US made vehicles in the 70’s and early 80’s. Then the rest of the market passed them and their quality in the late 80’s and 90’s was inferior to most cars. Then Ford bought them and brought their reliability up to Fords standards. So Volvo is basically as good as a Ford. If you’re looking for a car that’ll be reliable for years and hundreds of thousands of miles…Ford is NOT even on my list.

I would only buy a pre-ford volvo, if I was in the market for one. Hopefully, there will be post-ford volvos available in the near future.

For maximum “reliability” (using the “consumer reports” disposable car definition of reliability) I would just buy some ricer (who cares which one?). Obviously, I would avoid domestics unless I was looking for dirt cheap transportation.

Volvos gained their reputation in the 50s and 60s for having tough, rust-resistant bodies, and near-indestructable engines. US cars were real rustbuckets at this time. By 1974 things stated falling apart, when high inflation in Sweden drove up the price and the newly introduced fuel injection and other advances all proved to be less than reliable. The 242, the square box on wheels, was the last Volvo worth the moeny in my opinion. A guy on my street has one in his driveway; he inherited it from an aunt (not sure what was in the will!)It still sits there rust free; not sure of the mechanical condition. Volvos still have good, safe bodies, and strong engines, but everthing else is sub-standard and very expensive to repair or replace. Where I live Volvo has changed into a status symbol for people with money who pull their noses up at BMWs. They usually are environmentalists. The fact that a Honda Accord or Toyota Camry is better in almost every repsect does not bother them; this group does no want to be confused by facts.

Volvos will still last forever if you keep putting enough money into them!!

A used car, any make, is only as good as the maintenance and owner driving habits allowed it to be.

When someone says that Volvos (or any other make) aren’t any good or whatever, then simply ask “How many have YOU owned?” and if someone claims to have multiple problems then those problems need to be analyzed to see if it’s a legitimate car problem or an owner inflicted one. It’s the latter in most cases.
(Example. See thread on problem van.)

If you want a cheap older car a Volvo is probably not a good choice. Yes, you can find cheap old Volvos, but they will be in pretty rough shape. The ones in good condition have a higher price tag. Now, the good part is that a lot of the problems with the old 240 series is their interiors fall apart. The seats are worn out, the interior plastic gets brittle and breaks, but the motor and transmission and body are all still solid. If you don’t mind a ratty looking interior, you might find a cheap but reliable old Volvo. But you have to ask yourself, if the previous owners didn’t keep the interior up, did they do the oil changes and other routine maintenance? So, it’s a crap shoot.

The only other good news is that you can generally find parts for 20 year old Volvos. The local junk yards around me generally sell old Volvo parts as soon as they come in, but things like tail light assemblies and mechanical parts are available from reproduction sources as well as Volvo themselves. I have found the repro stuff is generally 1/2 the price of Volvo dealer sources. My daughter has an old 240 that runs well, but it needs the occasional part or repair. I’ve always been able to find the parts on line.

With all that said, if I were looking for cheap and reliable, I’d be looking at Crown Vics or similar “grandma” cars. Yes, they are big, but they have built that same basic car for 40 years. They are pretty darn reliable and every mechanic in the country knows how to work on them, and the parts are easy to get. You will get a much newer and nicer Crown Vic than any Volvo for whatever price.

“Volvos will still last forever if you keep putting enough money into them!!”

…unlike ricers which will not have parts support after about 15 years.

…unlike ricers which will not have parts support after about 15 years.

Says who??? I’ve bought MANY parts for Toyota’s, Nissans and Honda’s that were 15-20 years old…no problem what-so-ever in finding parts for them.

Volvo’s got on the map here in the US with just TWO COMMERCIALS…back in the late 70’s early 80’s.

They had a Volvo wagon racing a Porsche…At the end of the quater mile…they were dead even. Then the commercial went to the radar gun showing the speed…

That ONE commercial was probably accounted for a 20% increase in sales.

Then later they came out with a commerical showing a volvo flying off a 2-story high building…And the ONLY part of the car that was damaged was the front end. The cabin was still in tact.

This second commercial probably accounted for another 20% increase in sales for Volvo.

In my opinion, Volvos have never been known for reliability. They are better known for being safe.

My advice is (1) get any used car checked by your mechanic before you buy, and (2) buy what you like. If you like older Volvo wagons and you find one that is in good shape, buy what makes you happy.

I know folks who have dumped late 80s hondas because the dealer no longer supported them for parts. Once you reach the point where you can no longer buy every parts from the OEM supplier, it’s not worth keeping. I don’t know if the ricers are as bad as the domestics, but neither of them has a long term commitment to parts support.


As you should know, I almost always agree with your opinions, and I do consider you to be in the expert category. However (you knew that this was coming, I think!) as the former owner of a '74 Volvo 242 GL, I can report that this was the absolute worst new car that I ever bought. By the time that I got rid of it at around 77k, the list of repairs that had been made was incredible.

Aside from the paint that became completely chalked within less than 2 years, despite waxing it, the electrical system was a veritable snake pit of problems, with major issues involving driveability, lighting, and instruments until the engine warmed up fully. Yes, I know that this was the result of a bad ground (or two), but nobody was ever able to find the source of the problem.

The transmission began leaking about 2 days after the warranty ran out, and I lost count of how many times I brought it back to the transmission shop to have the seals replaced.

The electric fuel pump used to last 12-13 months before stranding me on the road. The fuel injection system was probably devised by whoever began the Spanish Inquisition, as it definitely tortured me and stranded me on a couple of occasions.

Despite having changed the oil & oil filter faithfully every 3k, the engine began burning oil at about 60k, and by the time that I got rid of it, I could count on adding a qt. approximately every 600 miles. I used to add at least 1/2 qt. of transmission fluid at those 600 mile intervals also, due to the persistent leak.

In order to pass the annual emissions check, I had to have the engine specially tuned once each year. Unfortunately, the engine ran poorly and had very poor power output when it was tuned specifically for emissions, thus leading me to have it dinked with again after each annual inspection in order to have an engine that actually ran properly and gave at least adequate power.

Needless to say, I gave up on the dealership very quickly and I then relied on a couple of specialist foreign car mechanics in order to keep this rolling disaster area running.

Yes, it rode comfortably. Yes, the brakes were very good. But, its total lack of reliability forced me to dump that piece of junk by 77k. Only after I sold it did a co-worker reveal that his wife had almost identical problems with her '73 Volvo, so I tend to think that my experience was not unique.

Sorry to hear you had that many problems. At that time (1974) I worked with 3 engineers who had Volvos. The two older ones with the curved fenders (122?) were very good; the other, a 1973 or '74 242 had drivability problems; it would not hold a tune. Other than that the owner was quite happy with it.But he did not trust the fuel system, which gave some problems later on. Another colleague who married a Swedish women “had to buy one” to keep peace in the family. His was a 1975 Station wagon, which was OK except for the fuel injection system, which appeared to have a mind of its own as to when to function. He went through several fuel pumps. The car lasted 15 years, when his son finally crashed it. The body and engine held up very well.

Thanks, everyone!

My question was TOTALLY simplistic. I’m a moron when it comes to cars. Only started driving a few years ago. Truth be told, I just like Volvos, the heavy feel of the doors and the broad back window. I wanted someone to say, “if you buy year X you’ll be safe.” But of course that isn’t possible. Still, this was really helpful.

I’m leaning toward an older subaru wagon now, but will totally get my mechanic to look it over. Thanks!


The Subaru wagon can be just as problematic (or worse) as the Volvo depending on the year of the car.