Should I buy a 1989 Volvo Station Wagon for $1800 CAD?
May 21, 2013 8:48 PM   Subscribe

[Used Car Filter] My neighbour is selling his 1989 Volvo 240 DL Wagon for $1800 CAD. I currently own a 2009 Chevy Cobalt. We only want one car. Should I shed the Coby for the Volvy?

I have a two-year old and a newborn. Insurance for the Cobalt is $232/month. According to the BCAA (provincial auto insurance for province of British Columbia, Canada) website, the Volvo will be around $220 / year. According to amateur internet searching, the Volvo is roughly better than half as good as the Cobalt in gas mileage. This is the extent of my knowledge of the difference between the cars.

We only intend to use the car for weekend tasks and vacations. I don't know how to fix cars, but maybe I could learn. My father and brother-in-law know a lot about cars. If I were to be completely honest, apart from the savings in insurance and space for the kids, my personal sense of style is way more on the vintage Volvo side than the new Cobalt. This is really a two part question: 1) Am I crazy to get rid of a new(ish) car for a would-be clunker and b) if not, what kind of questions should I ask the seller of the Volvo? Advice please!
posted by Catchfire to Shopping (36 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My first reaction is "no way, no how, should you buy a 1989 vehicle over a 2009 vehicle", but in attempting to formulate a reason I'm coming up with one thing:

My Dad knew how to fix cars. My Dad drove old Volvos. I think if he looked back at the time he spent fixing those cars he'd have preferred that he'd been spending it doing things with his kids. There's car fixing you can share with your kids, and that's great, but not when it's your primary vehicle.

Other reasons: Crashworthiness came a long way in the 20 years between when those cars were built. So did mileage (as you know). And handling (ABS brakes didn't bring much to the actual safety party, but stability control sure did). You noted "savings in insurance", you did not mention capital costs which are probably more than offset by maintenance costs.

Style is a big motivator. Given your use cases, think about what you'd do if you go to use the car for weekend tasks or a vacation and it doesn't work. The $200 a month savings in insurance will go a ways in car rentals.

And if you're really only going to use the car for weekend tasks or vacation, can you use the parking space for something else and ditch the car altogether?
posted by straw at 8:59 PM on May 21, 2013

Best answer: My wife is driving a 1990 240 DL Wagon, she's owned it since about 1991 (bought it used). She owned it when I met her in 1996, I told her then that she really needed to trade it in on something newer..... Over the years it's been driven for a year or two by a couple of the kids while they were in college. The car currently has about 260,000 miles on it, she drives it about 10 miles per day, once in a while it gets a 60-70 mile trip. She swears that she will never buy another car.

Now, here's my thought on it. The engine is pretty bulletproof, we have a good volvo mechanic that has been servicing this car for almost 22 years. Last summer my wife was planning to drive it from Michigan to California and back and the mechanic stated that he wouldn't hesitate to do so. BUT... it was over 100 degrees and the thermostate died in Chicago, she ended up renting a car for the rest of the trip. He still says it's good for another 200,000 miles at least.

You will find that Volvo aficionados will tell you that the 240 is about the best car ever made, but there is no getting around that parts and pieces will fail. We have three working windows, getting the other one to function will cost me about $600 in a new wiring harness and labor...we elected to not care if that driver's side rear window ever goes down again. Once in a while it has an electrical glitch and the battery won't charge...stranding us here or there. Not a biggie if you're not 100 miles (or more) from town.

Questions to ask... look at the service record... regular oil changes? Have belts been changed? hoses? Most important, take it to a good volvo mechanic for a check up, check the compression and the usual diagnostics. The 240 is a great car, I love driving the monster... we call it "the shoe box", the kids call it the "lead sled" (typical Volvo grey paint). And, if you decide not to buy it, let me know where it is.... I would actually be interested!
posted by HuronBob at 9:00 PM on May 21, 2013

$232/month for insurance on a compact car seems excessive to me, even with comprehensive and collision coverage.
posted by zsazsa at 9:02 PM on May 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Replacing a four year old dependable car with a 24 year old question mark to save $1200 on insurance and feel a little more "stylish"?
You have two young children who are dependent upon your good judgement.
Would you construct a time machine in order to book passage on the Titanic?
You're not buying that Volvo, either.
posted by Pudhoho at 9:05 PM on May 21, 2013 [11 favorites]

You want to trade a 4-year-old car for a 24-year-old car? The Cobalt is much safer (airbags, ABS, crush zones, etc), much more reliable, and much more efficient for fuel. The Volvo is likely to be a money pit for repairs. The Cobalt should be fine for two small kids, especially if it is a 4-door sedan. If you want to save some money, eliminate the comprehensive coverage on the Cobalt. In a few years when the kids are older you might begin to think about a bigger car.
posted by JackFlash at 9:06 PM on May 21, 2013

Best answer: Volvos are great. I bought a 2001 V70 T5 wagon as a weekend/vacation car a few years ago and love it. 240DLs are, of course, classics.

Speaking as a Volvo owner, however, you should in no way replace a 4-year-old Cobalt with a 24-year-old Volvo as your single car. Despite Volvo's legendary engine and body reliability, you will invariably have problems at the periphery, with the heater or fuel system or the seats or the accessories or the starter. Sure, you (or a certified Volvo tech) can fix those problems, but how many of those problems do you want to have?

Something incredibly stupid will happen with any car that old. My classic Volvo memory is from back in high school years and years ago when my best friend wasn't able to get to school because the seat belt starter interlock in his Volvo failed and wouldn't recognize that he had plugged in his seatbelt and thus prevented him from starting the car. While my Volvo has started every single time, let's just say that the times when the security siren got stuck on, the rear seats got stuck in the down position, or the skylight shattered when I shut the door - let's just say that there have been a few surprises, and none of them have been standard change-your-brakes or change-your-alternator type things.

Should you buy an $1800 CAD Volvo as a *second* car to play with? Sure! Should it be your only car when you have a newborn and 2 year old? I really don't think so.
posted by eschatfische at 9:12 PM on May 21, 2013 [7 favorites]

1) Am I crazy to get rid of a new(ish) car for a would-be clunker


the Volvo is roughly better than half as good as the Cobalt in gas mileage.


This is a stupid idea. And i say this as someone who almost bought one of those cars, and eventually bought another even older one.

first of all, watch this.

And besides that, my coworker loves these cars and used to drive one every day. They are tanks and fairly reliable, but they get crap gas mileage. They're also expensive and annoying to fix when they break(expensive parts, somewhat hard to do repairs = either hard to do on your part, or expensive to pay a specialist volvo repair guy the hours to fix). It's true that they don't break often, but meh.

A car this old is starting to be actually old now. It's where 80s cars were in old-ness when i got my first car in the early 2000s.

You will not save money on insurance when you factor in the money you'll spend on gas.

I would trade my cool old car for your car in a second. I would miss the coolness, but i'd still think you were getting shafted.

I would only make this switch if i had like, lost my job and absolutely needed a car to make my life work, and i was trying to pocket the difference in sale price Vs purchase price of this car to keep myself afloat for a couple months while i transitioned in to a new job or something.

There's also something to be said about how you're going from a new, moderately decent not really economy but "bread and butter" corolla type car, to what's really seen as an old car now. And not old like driving a vintage mustang or something, old like, poor person junker. Your kids friends, and their parents, and all kinds of random people you encounter will make all sort of class judgments on you for driving an old car that it doesn't seem like you're driving for the sake of it, but out of poorness/necessity. This is shitty, but it's true.

I genuinely think this is a shitty idea. And this is coming from someone who, if my car was wrecked today, would probably go out and buy one of these volvos. Keep your current car.
posted by emptythought at 9:24 PM on May 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Do not do this. I would normally never, ever recommend a non-Corvette Chevy over anything. But this decision should be pretty clear. Unless you're a Volvo mechanic...
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:34 PM on May 21, 2013

I would say no for the safety factor alone. I begrudgingly got rid of my 1990 Toyota Corolla a few months ago; it ran like a top, still got good fuel milage and had easily another 100K miles in it, but it also had no airbags or ABS or traction control and was built to safety standards now 23 years old. I had that car for 15 years and we had a lot of memories wrapped in it, but compared to modern safety equipment and how much I value the life of my wife and child, it was no contest.
posted by bizwank at 9:42 PM on May 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

Strike One:
I have a two-year old and a newborn.
You need a car. A safe, reliable car.
Strike Two:
I don't know how to fix cars, but maybe I could learn.
This would be practical only if you were already a gearhead, or married to a well established gearhead, or living with a gearhead, or happen to be owed a lot of money from a gearhead. Assuming that you can pick things up as you go from fixing a car known for extravagant catastrophes (see above), that is older than several countries in Europe is, uh, not realistic.
Ball one:
My father and brother-in-law know a lot about cars.
Do they work on cars? Do they work on vintage cars, specifically Volvos? Do they live near by? or is this just a connection to possibly useful expertise. Too nebulous to really make a call.
Strike Three:
my personal sense of style is way more on the vintage Volvo side than the new Cobalt.

When you're in the car, driving it, with windows that don't roll down and unsalvageable interior deterioration, how does that sit with your personal sense of style? You want to be seen rolling up in this beast, but, that's from the perspective of other people. That perspective, of course, should not be anywhere close to a final consideration of car buying (when you have many other, non personal stylistic concerns)?

So, my Dad, (who "knows a lot about cars" but can't/doesn't change his own oil) gave me a bit of sage advice when I got my current car, which I don't entirely love... "Sometimes you get a car because you know it's the right thing to do for need-type reasons not want-type reasons. When you do that, you just tell yourself that one of the needs for getting the car you don't WANT is so that in the future, you will be able to get the car you want."
If that baby has 200,000 more miles on it, she'll be there, in some form or another in another 5-10 years when you'll have more leeway to indulge your wants.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 9:47 PM on May 21, 2013

Hi there! I drive an old beater car! Like the Volvo 240, it's a car that is known as a reliable, bulletproof, drive it into the ground make and model. My car is more than 15 years old, and it has amazingly low miles for its age.

I cannot tell you how much time spent in my car is occupied with thoughts like these:

Oh man I can't wait to buy a newer car. I bet it'll have power door locks AND windows!

Oh man I can't wait to buy a newer car. Then I can stop worrying that the SRS light is on for Reasons and not just a fluke like I convinced myself after some internet research.

Oh man I can't wait to buy a newer car. I bet it won't have this weird electrical problem that isn't really an issue RIGHT NOW but could be tomorrow for all I know.

Oh man I can't wait to buy a newer car. Hey, what's that weird rattling noise?

Oh man I can't wait to buy a newer car. With all the new-fangled security features, I bet I could stop using The Club.

Oh man I can't wait to buy a newer car. When I do, I'm definitely getting one with XM radio.
posted by Sara C. at 10:21 PM on May 21, 2013 [5 favorites]

The engine is pretty bulletproof [but] you will invariably have problems at the periphery, with the heater or fuel system or the seats or the accessories or the starter.

I drove three (or possibly four, they aren't particularly well-differentiated in my memory) Volvo 240s, from when I got my driver's license in 1995 until early 2010. I've driven literally hundreds of thousands of miles in those cars, and I certainly loved them, but I don't think I'm ever going to own another.

The engines are bulletproof, but unfortunately the rest of the car is not. In addition to the problems already noted, the air conditioner compressor bearings seize, requiring, at least, a reconfiguration of the belts. The blower motors, which are nigh-impossible to extract from their redoubt above the heater core, tend to fail, making a horrible, incredibly loud squawk whenever the fan is on. The auxiliary fuel pumps do this thing where they don't exactly quit, but weaken to the point that the car intermittently stalls on the hottest days of the summer, only to recover after a couple of hours in the shade (I think it has to do with fuel vapor forming in the line). The automatic transmission's overdrive dies, effectively limiting you to 50 mph. The driver's seat slumps to one side around mile 200,000, giving you a furious backache. And these are just the things that I had to fix more than once.

I don't know how to fix cars, but maybe I could learn

Here's the problem with your cost projection: you're discounting all other costs of ownership besides insurance. One or two repairs per year could easily eliminate the $1000 insurance savings you're going to realize. Mechanics that know them tend to be expensive, and while there's an active aftermarket for 240 parts, they can be both dear and hard to find. More than once I pulled a part from the junkyard (or bought it in advance on eBay) and delivered it to my mechanic to save money. Being able to do your own repairs can help to keep the cost of ownership down, and Volvos are a joy to work on--they just have acres and acres of open space around the engine (I would just stick two quarts of oil, a funnel, and a bottle of antifreeze up by the battery), but understand that every time it breaks you'll need to be prepared to drop everything and fix it before you drive again, or pay the mechanic. I was up past midnight on more than one freezing night installing a new brake line or water pump because I needed the car the next morning. I also always had at least one semi- or non-running parts car to act as a donor, a strategy which most successful Volvo owners I know employ.

the Volvo is roughly better than half as good as the Cobalt in gas mileage.

Finally, though, this is what did it. when I was able to commute to work mostly by bike, it didn't matter that the Volvo was only averaging 16-20 mpg. When I had to take a job 70 miles away, the lousy fuel economy just killed me--I was suddenly spending $600/month on gasoline, an amount that would more than offset your insurance savings, let alone any other costs. I now own a 2008 Kia, and besides making me feel old, poor and uncool, it is just a dream after more than a decade of Volvo ownership. It's more reliable, more efficient, less expensive to fix, and it has side curtain airbags and an auxiliary jack. A Kia.
posted by pullayup at 10:49 PM on May 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

Of the over 30 cars the I have owned, 3 of them have been volvo 240's. The turning radius is nearly impossible to beat. I wouldn't hesitate to use one of the wagons in a heavy duty demolition derby. The seats are comfortable, and without a leadfoot the automatic transmissions aren't the worst thing in the world. That said, it would be worth your time to check in with experts at IPD and look at their top 10 240 problems list here. They are fairly close to you and a wonderful resource.

In your case, I would offer $1000 cash and buy the car if you have the coin. Keep your Cobalt. Have the wiring harness on the 240 completely re-done, refresh everything you can yourself, and hell, have that sweet little volvo redblock motor rebuilt tp the factory specs. You'll get at least another 300k miles out of it. They certainly are bullet proof, so if you can spend a little bit of time and money getting it dialed in, while keeping the Cobalt, I certainly think you will come out ahead.
posted by Bohemia Mountain at 10:50 PM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Caveat - I daily drive a 1966 Land Rover in Los Angeles traffic and do all my own repairs. as we say... YMMV
posted by Bohemia Mountain at 10:55 PM on May 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Have the wiring harness on the 240 completely re-done

My experience is that by 1989 whatever caused the wiring harnesses to fail had been resolved--the only ones I had to replace were from the mid-80s. Definitely do a little research on this before going ahead, it's a nightmare of a job to do yourself and expensive to have done by a mechanic.
posted by pullayup at 10:55 PM on May 21, 2013

Oh, and it's easier to change the Kia's brake pads. Game, set, match.
posted by pullayup at 11:07 PM on May 21, 2013

I am a huge Volvo fan. I don't think they're that hard to work on, but I have tools and a lot of experience fooling around with cars, and I still spend a lot of time on the Volvo XC forum trying to get information and figure out what I've got going on, and that's for a '99. And, yeah, parts tend to be more expensive all things considered. Oh, and you don't already own a complete set of mechanics tools? And one of those OEM diagnostic scanners? And.... You get the idea.

As you're only car, not a good plan. Some variant of Bohemia Mountain's plan isn't the worst I've ever heard, though. Not by a long shot.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 1:47 AM on May 22, 2013

Oh by the way, a colleague had also heard that those engines are bulletproof (and took good care of her Volvo), but her engine had a massive problem, was essentially trash.
posted by ambient2 at 3:08 AM on May 22, 2013

Skip the idea of working on your own car: with a job and two growing kids, you don't have the *time* to start learning in time for it to be useful.

My kneejerk response is, keep the Cobalt: a 24-year-old car (with who-know-what corrosion under there) versus a 4-year-old car with things like airbags and child-restraint points? No contest. But what the heck, take the Volvo to your own mechanic and pay him for an evaluation: what kind of condition is the engine in, what kind of condition is the body in, what maintenance does it need and when. Find out what the Volvo would actually cost to run --- I have a hard time believing either that the insurance on it would be THAT much lower, or the milage on a 24-year-old car THAT much better; plus what would regular maintenance on it cost compared to the Cobalt?

Maybe get a couple quotes and see about lowering your Cobalt's insurance costs instead.
posted by easily confused at 3:19 AM on May 22, 2013

I wouldn't get the Volvo as my only car. As a handy second car to use as the family pack mule, though?...yeah, sure. But, that's not your plan.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:12 AM on May 22, 2013

We drive a 2002 Chevy Cavalier. We missed the child seat latch system by about one year. Installing a car seat into a vehicle with the latch tiedowns takes seconds. Having to thread the seatbelt in... Ugh, that takes forever to get the damn things stable. You don't want to go older for your primary vehicle.
posted by caution live frogs at 5:15 AM on May 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

Phone an autoplan agent because I don't think your projected insurance cost on the Volvo is correct. IE: My 89 Storm with nothing but 1 million liability was $77 a month and I've got Road Star/no claims for 20 years. Heck my 50 year old tent trailer is $58 a year for basic insurance.

easily confused: "Maybe get a couple quotes and see about lowering your Cobalt's insurance costs instead."

BC has government run insurance; there isn't much you can do in the way of shopping except for add-ons. Everyone pays the same basic insurance rate subject to what the car is and driving experience.
posted by Mitheral at 5:54 AM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

If this car is your only vehicle and decides to self-destruct shortly after it changes hands, it might become difficult to exchange daily pleasantries with your neighbour.
posted by bonobothegreat at 6:32 AM on May 22, 2013

You, like me, are in your 30s and remember when a Volvo 240 was basically the car to have if you were practical, safety minded, and wanted a reliable car with a better a reliability track record and better mileage than its American-made and European competitors. Driving a Volvo 240 said, "I may not prioritize style and coolness, but quirky looks and practicality are its own level of cool." I totally understand where you're coming from.

But that was 25-30 years ago. The Volvo 240 is now a vintage model whose heyday was more than a generation ago. Several technology cycles of reliability, safety, and mileage have gone by since then, and a Volvo 240 is the impractical choice, now. Want to buy it as a second car because it is the car you wish you had when you were 16? Great, go for it. But if you want a practical car that is not that expensive to maintain and will be a good, solid reliable choice for your family, that is the Chevy Cobalt, which is truly the Volvo 240 of our time.
posted by deanc at 6:46 AM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I used to drive an old volvo in college, I think it was a 1985. What I remember is that the a/c which I believe was put in after it was manufactured used to break a LOT and was expensive to fix. Even when it did work, it wasn't that cold, apparently in Sweden they don't really use a/c which is why the manufacturer did not install them.

I did have engine problems and when I did I had to find someone that knew Volvos, not just any mechanic and even if the mechanic was going to give me a deal on labor, the foreign volvo parts were expensive.

In general, while I loved that it was a tank and I just loved the way it drove, I was glad to get a newer car.
posted by heatherly at 7:14 AM on May 22, 2013

I drove a '91 740 in 2006 and 2007 when I was fresh out of college and basically broke. I look back on that car fondly, but thinking of all the weird little things that went wrong with it and the cost to repair them, and the fact that they kept coming, well, I wouldn't want to drive that car again.

Here's an idea: if what you really want is a lower insurance rate ($232/month does seem very high unless you're a new driver - and I live in a place with notoriously high car insurance rates), and you can't shop around, maybe trade in your Cobalt for a mid-2000s Civic or something like that? You'd probably save on insurance but wouldn't give up much on reliability or safety or annoying old-car repairs, especially if you find one with low mileage.
posted by breakin' the law at 7:44 AM on May 22, 2013

How exciting. I have had cars at least 20 years old, by choice, most of my life. There is no evidence to suggest that classic car are less safe than modern ones. The absence of air bags and electronic suspension controls might lead you to think that but the insurance premiums tell a different story.

In terms of fuel consumption, the insurance saving will easily fund that and more.

Yes classic cars need more maiintenance than a new one but classic cars do not depreciate at the same rate. For example, I imagine your current car will sell for half what you paid for it in 3 years time. If you maintain the volvo it will be worth at least what you paid for it, probably more and unless you buy a total basket case repairs are unlikely to exceed the depreciation you would otherwise suffer.

The only downside is reliability because components do fail. However there is no reason why a well maintained classic should not be as reliable as a more modern car. The key is regular inspection and remedy, something you will need to learn how to do.

You shouldn't buy your neighbours car straight off though for a lot of reasons. The first thing you do is sign up to a Volvo owners club online and learn a lot about them. In particular what to look for when you are buying and which are the most desirable models. You then go and have a look at as many as you can, this augments your knowledge and helps to gauge the market price. If the car is so rare that there are none to view find something else because parts and servicing will be a nightmare.

My final words of warning are that once you are bitten by the classic car bug a cure is impossible. My name is Ben it has been 11 months since I purchased a practical classic.
posted by BenPens at 8:24 AM on May 22, 2013

I currently own 3 Volvo 240s - my daily driver (a beat up 88 wagon), my wife's daily driver (a nicer 93 sedan) and a beat up 89 sedan that I need to get out of my driveway. I taught myself how to work on cars by learning on these and love them, BUT: it isn't easy, it's often a pain in the ass and it WILL take up a decent amount of your time and a not insignificant amount of money. Some repairs are cheap and easy... others, I would charitably describe as harrowing and soul-crushing: rusted, seized fittings on 25 year old brake lines? replacing shredded suspension bushings? DOING ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING WITH THE HEATER CORE???


Another caveat: my wife and I don't have kids, and neither of us has a long commute. If either of those things changed, I would definitely be considering a more modern and safer mode of transport... and definitely one that gets better mileage.

In your situation, I would have to recommend against making that 89 240 your only car. but if you could possibly have 2 cars and use the 240 as an occasional driver, it would be a great project/learning experience. If you can get into that sort of thing. Also, you should know that the 240 isn't that exciting to drive, and is in no way fast... so if you're interested in something that will satisfy a need for a fun driving experience, you may want to check out a sportier car as a project.

writing this post might actually make me re-evaluate my masochistic car-owning tendencies... thanks, metafilter!
posted by sluggo at 8:42 AM on May 22, 2013

There is no evidence to suggest that classic car are less safe than modern ones. The absence of air bags and electronic suspension controls might lead you to think that but the insurance premiums tell a different story.

Man I love a lot of classic vehicles (I mean I'd probably give up a minor body part to drive an E-Type in BRG) but this just isn't true. Vehicle deaths in total (despite increasing miles driven); Vehicle deaths/mile driven; and per capita vehicle deaths have all been on a steady decline since the 60s. Vehicle deaths per mile driven have been indecline since the mid 30s. The NHTSA has extensive documention and reporting on this trend. Some of this is of course attributable better trauma care, seat belt enforcement, highway design and impaired driving regulation but much of it is due to safer cars. One was twice as likely to die per mile driven in 1989 then you are today.

Sure you probably can find a 20 year old vehicle that outperforms a new vehicle (a lot of newer light trucks in particular, despite misinformed popular belief, have horrible crash ratings) but in general you are better off in a modern car (and so are pedestrians). New cars are so much better than older cars that the NHTSA has had to move the goal posts at least twice on what constitutes a safe car.
posted by Mitheral at 11:25 AM on May 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

the Volvo will be around $220 / year

No, it won't. You were misquoted.
posted by whyareyouatriangle at 7:24 PM on May 22, 2013

Re the quote, my 15 year old Japanese compact car which is worth about $3000 is about $500 a year.

So I think they were probably misquoted, but not by much.
posted by Sara C. at 7:26 PM on May 22, 2013

Response by poster: You guys are the greatest. Lots of great info and advice here. I will abide the consensus and keep the Cobalt, but will consider purchasing the beautiful gorgeous dream clunker to sit on the street and look awesome. Thanks to all -- especially those who didn't judge me for admitting I think about style sometimes.
posted by Catchfire at 8:56 PM on May 22, 2013

I love Volvos, but no, I would not do this. The Cobalt will save you money over the next several years due to reliability and repairs/maintenance; and it sounds like money is a factor. In addition, the Cobalt is safer.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:18 AM on May 23, 2013

I don't know if you have ever actually owned a bona fide old car, Catchfire, but here is the problem: everything, sooner or later, needs to be replaced. Everything. And there is nothing more annoying than a car where the air conditioning doesn't work, or the radio is a bit quirky, or the windows roll down only if you press the button juuuust right, or the passenger side rear door doesn't open, which means everyone in the back has to go out the driver's side, and so on. Stuff you didn't even know could break in a car breaks. The owners of these beaters always seem oh-so-amused at the little quirks and the way they've learned to manage them, but for everyone else, especially the owner's family, it's actually a bit of an ordeal. Also: non-moving parts break. The interior back door handles on those Volvos dry up, crack, and can get chipped. Like literally, you (or more likely, your child) will be able to dig your fingernails into it and chip off the plastic/insulation/whatever.

I'm not saying don't get the "dream car" you wanted in your teen years, just accept that it is a personal project you need to take care of if you want to keep it in good working order, rather than in a state of "will pass inspection if I pay the mechanic in cash"-roadworthy.
posted by deanc at 8:13 AM on May 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have a 16 year old Volvo wagon and adore it. The thing is unbelievable - nothing kills it. However, I wouldn't do the trade you're considering. If the insurance is really an unsolvable problem (although really, it seems excessive - are you sure you can't do better?) you might consider dumping your current car for something in between - older than the Cobalt, perhaps, but not as old as the Volvo.
posted by walla at 8:25 AM on May 23, 2013

Response by poster: I have owned an old car before. My 1988 Ford Tempo was the first car I ever owned. I drove it across the country and back. I kicked the muffler off in Prince George BC because it was dragging on the ground. It had a manual transmission but liked to shift for itself every now and then just to see how it felt. I eventually sold it for $35 to a junkyard. I could have got $50 for it, but it needed a flatbed tow to come and get 'er.

For those asking about insurance, there's nothing I can do about save minor jostling on deductibles. BC has provincially relegated insurance so there's no competition. Mine is so high because I stupidly lived in a city where I didn't need a car for several years in a different country, so I let my license lapse. Apparently there are lots of ways bureaucracy likes to punish you for this.

Anyway, thanks for the comments again. I'm sticking with the Cobalt. HuronBob, if you want the contact info for the Volvo, let me know!
posted by Catchfire at 3:28 PM on May 23, 2013

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