Best of Deals Car Reviews Repair Shops Cars A-Z Radio Show

When did Volvos get their great reputation (and when did it stop being true)?

What was the last “real” Volvo that was truly a great car?
Was it the 240 series? This ran from the 1970s and ended in 1993, correct?
I still see a lot of these on the road, actually. Are these 240s DIY friendly?

Were Volvos considered the safest car at one time? If yes, when was this reputation formed?

Were Volvos ever considered bulletproof reliable tanks that would last to 300k?
If yes, when was this reputation formed?

Today, I assume Volvos are like any other decent car, but probably do not warrant their mythical “edge” after being bought and sold by Ford, Tata, etc. Now, probably just a designer label running off the reputation of days long gone. Is that somewhat accurate?

What was the last “real” Volvo that was truly a great car?
Was it the 240 series? This ran from the 1970s and ended in 1993, correct?
I still see a lot of these on the road, actually. Are these 240s DIY friendly?

Four cylinder stick shift Volvos were rock-solid cars…As they slowly moved away from those simple, reliable machines, their reputation started to erode…Automatic transmissions, emissions controls and air conditioning is simply not their forte…

I can’t answer your questions as to where their reputation for being indestructible tanks or even the safest cars on the road came from, but I can tell you I used to work on a guy’s early '90s 240 with a gas motor and five speed, and it seemed quite reliable for him and was easy for me to work on. He was, however, meticulous about maintenance and was just pushing the 200k mile mark last I saw the car. If they were more tolerable to look at, I wouldn’t mind having an old 240 in my driveway, however, I wouldn’t touch a five year old XC90 with a ten foot pole.

Safety has never been an issue. When cars were mandated to conform to certain standards and published crash tests were performed, the public just became aware that other cars were just as safe. The comparative reliability of Asian brand cars made it apparent that Volvos weren’t keeping up. They just didn’t improve.

The ‘box’ Volvos (140, 240) were ‘tanks’ that were very safe for their time, but were not exceptionally reliable, except when compared to some very unreliable models. Never 300k certainty. But they’ve been owned by rabid fans, many who maintained them extremely well, leading to long lives.

And they actually got caught faking the safety angle, they reinforced one so that when it was run over by a ‘monster truck’ it survived relatively untouched, in obvious contrast to the badly crushed domestics in the same commercial. They paid quite a fine for it.

There is always a bit of selection bias. People who want reliable cars, would maintain their cars better, so the cars would last longer.

Had 3 used Volvos,dont want any more,back when I had time to fool with them they werent too bad.But the leather was horrible and the plastics didnt hold up,Took a walk through a mechanics boneyard and it seemed the average lifespan was around 130K.I remember installing a radio in wifes 740 GLE(took all day,finally got it though-I remember when the igniter went out on that car ,(couldnt even find it) my Honda guy couldnt figure out what was wrong with it,so he had it towed across town at his expense to a guy that fixed European cars who got it going in short order,the 740 had 212K on it when I convinced the wife to get rid of it,still running strong-but I couldnt afford to fix the AC on it.Wife finally traded it on an old 240 wagon.with a 100K less on it(which should have went in the crusher-talk about a piece of junk) had Hondas ever since which restored my faith in cardom,had one brandnew 2000 Ford Focus which was less then stellar and I never want another car from a certain continent again-Kevin

Volvo made some great cars in the late '50’s and early '60’s. That’s when they earned some points for solid, reliable, and long lived cars. Their bodies and paint also held up when American cars were rust buckets in 2 to 3 years in northern states where winter roads were salted. They became popular in the NE at this time, and became the “professor” car of choice.

The safety reputation came along in the '70’s when Volvo added safety features to their cars before American makers did so. Doors with reinforcement, seat belts, shoulder harnesses, cargo nets, crush zones, body roll cages, head restraints, etc. All these items were in Volvo’s way before most other manufacturers. MB was the other safety leader, but MB cars were out of most peoples price range. Saab also was a safety leader but quirky cars otherwise that had limited appeal. So, Volvo became the affordable car that was safe and lasted a long time.

Volvo’s decline in reliability seemed to coincide with their emergence as a luxury car. The luxury features were more likely to break and need repair, power windows, AC, and more complicated electronics such as ABS. I think they started making some bad cars in the late '90’s. They were safe, pretty, with great bodies and paint that resisted rust. The interiors came with wonderful seats. The mechanical parts however started failing soon after the warranty period and the repairs were expensive. Volvo expected the luxury buyers to pay for expensive parts and higher than average labor costs. In the 2000’s rather than fix things, it just got worse.

The new reputation Volvo is earning is “a great car to buy new, bad car to own once past the factory warranty period.”

I’m sure they were safe vehicles back in the 70s, and so was SAAB for that matter(see the recent SAAB thread for a video tribute to SAAB), but the rest of the world caught up to them; just like Honda/Toyota reliability. Now, they’re just status symbols.

I agree with Uncle Turbo’s post, except for his statement that Volvo’s quality decline began in the late '90s.

I won’t bore everyone with yet another laundry list of the incredible mechanical issues that I had with my purchased-new, meticulously-maintained '74 Volvo 242GL, but suffice it to say that the car was badly assembled, from mediocre-quality components. Only after I began complaining about the multiple issues with the car did my friends and associates reveal that their early '70s Volvos were also rolling disaster areas. For some reason (perhaps embarrassment), they had been totally silent about their problematic Volvos until I opened my mouth.

So, while Volvo might well have been producing very durable and reliable cars in the '50s & '60s, that was most definitely no longer true by the early-mid '70s. I held onto the car up to the 77k mile point, simply because it was still cheaper to keep repairing it, rather than buying a new car, but if I had been financially able to get rid of it sooner, I probably would have dumped that POS by ~60k miles when the really major mechanical problems began. However, the electrical issues existed as of day one!

And, I should point out that Volvos of this era were not luxuriously equipped, nor were they marketed as luxury vehicles. They were marketed as ultra-safe, extremely durable vehicles, and that marketing theme was only half-correct.

In the '70s, Volvos were still far safer than almost all other makes of automobile, but that advantage began to evaporate by the mid-'80s, and was totally gone by the '90s. Once that advantage disappeared, there was no reason to buy one, IMHO.

What was the last “real” Volvo that was truly a great car?
Was it the 240 series? This ran from the 1970s and ended in 1993, correct?
I still see a lot of these on the road, actually. Are these 240s DIY friendly?

Just some decoding for us non-Volvo folks:
200s = 1974 - 1993
850 = 1992 - 1997
700s = 1980s - early 90s*

S70 = 1998 - 2000
V70 = 1997 - present
S80 = 1998 - present
S40 = 1995 - 2012
S60 = 2000 - present

Based on initial research, it seems like pre-1995 (ie: 200 series) was the glory days of Volvo.
Maybe I’ll go find a 1980s era 240DL to use as a weekend beater.

Just to clarify, today, Volvos are just as safe as any other car, correct? Is it safe to say their safety advantage was gone by the 1980s (same as most other cars), yet the safety reputation has lived on for another 30 years.

I suggest that you re-read my earlier post, regarding my '74 Volvo 242GL.
Unless you are a well-heeled masochist who does not need reliable transportation, I suggest that you avoid one of these cars.

I did read that but 1974 might be a far cry from 1988 or 1992.
Just as good reputations stick long past they are still true,
in your case, a bad reputation may have stuck long past that was true as well.
Many people do say that 1980s Volvos were reliable and built like tanks.

If you want an inexpensive weekend beater that is safe, consider a 1990s pick-up like an F-150.

I don’t equate ‘sturdy hunk of iron’ with ‘truly a great car’. And certainly 1980s 240s had their share of problems. But if you like it, have fun, there’s quite an enthusiastic owners group out there.

I used to service a 200 series Volvo for a guy (late 70s model from a hazy memory) and it was pretty easy to take care of. The car was apparently bullet-proof in spite of much neglect. He had purchased the car from his brother in law who put about 160k hard miles on it before washing his hands of it and according to the BIL it needed little during that time.

However, neither party seemed to think much of a very subtle roughness at idle which a compression test revealed to be caused by valve leakage on 2 cylinders due to tight valve lash.
If the lash issue had been headed off with regular inspections this problem would not have surfaced and once surfaced there was no cheap way out because the exhaust valves were burning a bit. Adjustment of the lash fixed nothing because the damage was done.

The current owner, when given the news, kept repeating the mantra “But it’s a VOLVO! They’re supposed to be good for a million miles!”.
He never did accept the fact that this was an owner inflicted problem, not the fault of the car, and swore off Volvos forever.

I think Volvo gained its reputation from the PV 544 series imported in the late 1950s and the 122 series which came next. I had two colleagues each of whom owned the 140 series and these colleagues had some real problems with these cars and finally traded them. One traded for a Chevrolet and I don’t know what the other colleague finally purchased. From the experiences of my colleagues and the fact that the nearest Volvo dealer is 60 miles away, I never really considered the make.

Most Volvos that I’ve seen are really well built. Nice thunk when you close the doors and well appointed interiors. Most of them look like new. The only problem is that they are unreliable and most of them are parked because they don’t run. That alone ruins their reputation for me. I don’t need a sculpture on my driveway or in my garage. I think most people feel the same way.

I bought new one of the last model years 240 Wagons. My experience might not be typical but I count it as one of the worst cars I’ve owned. In less than 70K mi a sway bar link broke, the MAF failed, there were problems with the brakes and it left me stranded due to a sensor failure. It was also the worst car I ever owned to drive in the snow. Worse even than the two pickups I’ve owned.