Talk me out of buying a Volvo
June 17, 2011 8:06 PM   Subscribe

Volvo 240/ 740/ 940 as a beater car. Bad idea for someone who can't do their own repairs?

Posted for a friend:

I need to buy a used car and can afford something under $2k. After spending some time going through AskMe posts, I've decided on either a Corolla/Prizm, Civic, or a Volvo (240, 740, or 940). The Corolla and Civic seem like excellent choices, very reliable and cheap to repair, but I'm in love with the Volvo 240. They're supposed to be very reliable, but I've read that they can be fairly expensive to repair.

I'm out on my own for the first time in my life, have a low paying job and it would be difficult to afford expensive car repairs. Should I just let go of the Volvo and go with something that would be easy to repair, or is the Volvo equally as cheap/easy to fix?
posted by ellighi to Shopping (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The wife is driving a 1990 240 wagon, she swears that it is the last car she is buying. It has 254,000 miles on it, the mechanic we use states it will go a half a million.

that said, it is not a cheap car to repair. We've taken thew " if we can live without it, don't fix it" approach. The air conditioner has been removed, one window doesn't go up or down, little things we just live with (or without).

The darn thing is bullet proof.

As for your question, car repairs are not cheap, it really doesn't matter what brand you have, if you have to take it in, it will cost you money...
posted by tomswift at 8:17 PM on June 17, 2011

Are there any local mechanics near you that specialize in older Toyotas vs. Volvos vs. Hondas? That might make the decision for me, knowing that you're gonna need parts, and you're gonna need to know someone who knows where to get old parts. If you don't do the repairs yourself, you'll depend on cheap, honest labor.

My first car was a 1984 Volvo 240 and it was great, a standard and baby blue, with some rust accents. My family had a '92 wagon and then a '9 wagon. The cars were tanks, but did need frequent minor repairs due to age. Are you dependent on the car for work? If you are, keep in mind that the cost of repairs will likely be doubled if you have to rent a car frequently, if you can't get a ride from someone or walk or ride your bike.

But, all of those cars are known for their reliability, but all cars are going to have some issues come up due to age.
posted by shortyJBot at 8:18 PM on June 17, 2011

um, '97 wagon. It was not a Volvo Henry Ford created, unfortunately.
posted by shortyJBot at 8:21 PM on June 17, 2011

The 240 is pretty easy to work on, and unless you're getting specialty parts, it shouldn't be much more expensive than the Toyota or Honda to repair. But man, it will last forever if you take decent care of it, and maybe if you don't. It's just one of those things.

As far as talking you out of it: beware of any existing electrical problems, which are relatively time consuming to diagnose and fix. Rust can be an issue, too, depending on where you are.

But you know, YMMV.
posted by swift at 8:33 PM on June 17, 2011

I had an '87 240. I was so in love with it. It lasted less than a year before a wiring problem, which was apparently mysterious and unfixable, ended the affair. I was devastated and carless. Save your money and your love. Don't get a Volvo.
posted by your mom's a sock puppet at 9:09 PM on June 17, 2011

The Volvo 200-series is cheap and easy to fix — they built them for nearly TWENTY YEARS without major changes. Parts are pretty easy to come by, even at the local junkyard. They're about as technologically advanced as a farm tractor (and I mean that in an endearing way.)

A $2,000 car is a big risk, no matter what brand it is. But, you can still be picky. Choose something that appears to have been maintained well (receipts, logbooks, etc.) over something that has a supposed reputation for reliability. Hondas, Toyotas, and the like will fail just the same if the owner has been neglectful.

And on that note, choose something you will love to own, drive, and maintain. If a 240 excites you more than a bloody Toyota Corolla (and by all means it should excite you more than some cheap commuter appliance), go for it.
posted by bhayes82 at 10:49 PM on June 17, 2011

Be prepared for lousy gas mileage relative to Corollas or Civics. (Unfortunately, also be prepared for little power, even compared to Corollas or Civics.) Be prepared for more expensive parts relative to Corollas or Civics. Older volvos are built small; I'm 6'2" and couldn't get the seat back far enough to be comfortable, and could rub my head on the ceiling if I didn't try not to. I miss my '93 240 for aesthetic reasons, but my wallet is happier.
posted by Kwine at 11:05 PM on June 17, 2011

At the age of 18, the only car that my father would allow me to buy, citing safety reasons, was a Volvo.

I had a 1980 244 DL that broke down constantly and stranded me in various inconvenient places, requiring my father to frequently come to my rescue. That same year, his Christmas gift to me was a AAA membership.

One night, a car crashed into my garage, breaking the garage door and hitting the back of the Volvo. Looking at the car, the only damage that could be seen was a broken tail light. Turns out, the car was totaled . . . the entire frame had simply shifted . . . without a dent.

I continued to drive it until a friend was selling her Toyota Corolla so that she could buy a sports car. I loved that Corolla.
posted by ainsley at 11:12 PM on June 17, 2011

I had an '86 240 wagon for several years, and now have a '94 940.

The big problem I had with the 240 was rust, which started out as merely cosmetic but became a bigger problem over time. If you shop for a Volvo, I'd suggest getting one with a very clean & solid body.

Repair costs will be high if you have to go to a dealer or an upscale independent shop. I do my own minor repairs, and I live in a college town where there's a very affordable garage that specializes in quirkier European cars.

Fuel economy is the other significant issue I was going to mention. My wagons are in the high teens to low 20's range, as I do mostly short trips around a small town. If you drive a lot, a car that gets good mileage can have a significant impact on your financial comfort. For example, if you drive 200 miles/week then at $4/gallon a car that gets 30mpg saves you $13.33/week over a car that gets 20mpg. That's more than 2 hours of minimum wage work that the more efficient car saves you, and it makes an even bigger difference if you've got a longer commute.

While the Volvo charm is not lost on me, the only reason I own one is because the wagon is a decent compromise between a commuting vehicle and a pickup truck. If I didn't need to occasionally haul things like lumber, tools and gardening supplies, I would stick with a Corolla / Civic sort of thing.
posted by jon1270 at 2:23 AM on June 18, 2011

I drive a 1990 740 right now, my sister drives a 1988 240, and my father drives a 1992 240. At any given time I have driven all of them (my father is mad for volvos). I have also bitched and complained about all of them - when I've stalled out, couldn't get it started. (My current issue is that the check engine light comes on all the time but the sensor isn't reading that there is a problem. I have gotten very good at check the sensor goods & taking off the battery terminals!)

That said, they are at about 20 years old and all drive well (or good enough). They are tanks! I've been in two accidents (the 740 & the 240), no injuries. Both cars are still going and will probably never die.
posted by firei at 5:09 AM on June 18, 2011

In Sweden, perople try to stay away from old 200 series Volvos because of the rust, especially, they say, in cars from a bunch of years when they introduced environment-friendly paint (I forget which years those are).

Both from a rust and a safety perspective a much better choice would be the station waggons of the 740-940 type (apparently the sedans were made somewhere else and have more problems). Obviously, the 900 series being the newer kind of the two, you'd find more 'modern' features in one of those; especially an early version of their side-collision reinforcement system SIPS, was installed in newer versions of the 900 (I think after '93, but I may be wrong a year or two) and is worth looking for. The level of recurring technical problems reported by the Swedish car-testing agency for the 700-900 models used to be very low in comparison, but I have no idea how these cars have kept up during the last five or so years, their being out of production for a long time and getting all older and all that...

I drove a 945 for years and the only repairs I had were maintenance things like breaks and exhaust system, and relatively simple stuff like a broken alternator (got a new one second hand), and a leaking oil pan (ditto). Technically, they're relatively simple. I never had a repair that took more than a day (apart from the one time I gave my key to someone else and he backed my car into a concrete pole). The'yre reliable; if they¨'re kept in order, they do the way-below-freezing-point-no-problem-with-starting thing really well -- and they are boring like hell. My car tech: "this is a car that won't get tired, it's you who will get tired.

(preview: the check-engine light thing is a typical bug. My car dude has a trick to make it go away...engine always been good)
posted by Namlit at 5:14 AM on June 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

After I encountered a Ford Expedition with my first 740 wagon (he left on a back board, I called my wife, cleaned the armour out of the back and yanked my stereo before the tow truck guy showed up) I kind of became a believer in Volvos. If you keep on top of the oil level the engine tends to go forever, but after that, every model tends to have it's particular issue.

If you don't twirl your own wrenches (or sometimes, even if you do) Volvos can become very expensive very fast. That being said, every so often a coworker tells me what they're paying for a simple brake job on a Ford minivan or the like and I find myself wondering why I'm doing the research science and not fixing cars.

There is a pretty healthy Volvo community out there so, if you're willing to have a go at some of the less complex repairs, you can find the information you need out there.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:42 AM on June 18, 2011

As others have said, rust is a big factor, so by extension, where you're located is also important. If you're in a southern state where there isn't much ice, and thus road salting, then you're more likely to find something with fewer bodywork problems than somewhere like Chicago or Pittsburgh. If you are in the icy north: people regularly travel south for used cars, and if you can find a car which spent a good chunk of its life wintering in the warmth, that's useful too.
posted by holgate at 8:30 AM on June 18, 2011

I have a 1985 244DL I bought a couple of years ago from the original owner. The only problems I've had so far involve the tail light wiring being knocked out by the spare I failed to resecure in the well after getting a new tire (I bought fuses and bulbs before realizing the tire had done the damage, so I drive around with spares now,) and that it sometimes doesn't start after a heavy, prolonged rain (water gets into the distributor cap?). Letting it dry out solves that problem, but I bet there's a crack in the cap, and that it could be replaced w/o too much expense.

We paid $2k on the nose for it, but my wife works with the previous owner so I don't know if we got below Bluebook or not. Interior has flaws, ie.e, cracked dash. Paint job is faded.
In the South, so winter weather not the issue it is elsewhere.
posted by trondant at 3:32 PM on June 18, 2011

I had a 1983 760. I loved it. I could do repairs, but parts costs 5-7x more than for comparable cars. If you can't do repairs yourself, DON'T GET A VOLVO.
posted by The Giant Squid at 9:14 AM on June 20, 2011

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