By on June 2, 2011

Michael writes:

My mom’s 1998 V70 with 215k miles is starting to leak coolant, with no major puddles on the ground.  I told them to look at the oil to see if there were any signs of the coolant in the oil.  I personally think the time with the Volvo is almost over as the dealership (an independent dealership) said that its time was slowly approaching about a year ago, but they couldn’t promise how fast.  My mom loves this car and my dad likes it too.  Her requirements are preferably station wagon, heated leather seats, and automatic.  They live in Michigan so it gets cold.  AWD is not a necessity, and she knows that snow tires work just fine.  She does haul a bike on occasion, so it must be easy for her to haul the bike without having my dad there at all times.

She loves her Volvo and would like another if she could find one that would be reliable.  I recommended the Outback, especially the 2005 and later models.  What are other possibilities?  Their budget is around $15,000 or less.  They tend to drive their cars into the ground, so reliability is more important than the badge.  What should she look at?

Steve Answers:

This is a very tough call. On the used side I tend to encourage folks to keep their vehicles. Your post doesn’t mention anything about where the coolant is leaking. I would like to know about what the mechanics did find and whether there are any rust or powertrain issues.

A new low mileage engine would cost perhaps $1500 at most if or when it’s needed. Throw in some new shocks, a detail, and any other minor issues and she may need only about $3000 at most to keep it for another five years. If it’s been garaged and diligently maintained, it’s definitely a consideration.
A good wagon replacement for a Volvo V70?  A Ford Freestyle Limited loaded up with perhaps 50k miles on it. You have the exact same underpinnings as the far pricier Volvo XC90 with plenty of interior space and excellent fuel economy. If she likes a more enclosed feel like her old Volvo she may also go for the Ford Flex. It’s a bit pricier than the Freestyle. But it has a very high level of features (just like Volvo’s had in days of yore) and has a stellar reliability record.
Sajeev Answers:
Steve, as per usual, is right.  The Volvo is probably just a few weeks and a couple grand away from being a nice and reliable driver for your mom. Think of that trip to the mechanic as a spa vacation for your ride!  Too bad that doesn’t work for most people.
That said, the Freestyle (or Taurus X) is a good alternative.  The Outback is a good choice, but they aren’t a homogenous grouping like said Ford.  Some need timing belt replacements, some get really upset if you don’t follow oil changes to the letter of the owner’s manual.  And some require premium fuel, which is a concern to some.  It is hard to know which one you will recommend to your Mom, make sure to Google up the goods before pulling away from the seller’s lot.
My choice? None of the above.  The Chevy Malibu MAXX does it all: wagon, leather and heated seats in LT trim.  Unlike the sedan, the outside styling has gotten better with age. While the interior is pretty terrible for the OCD car nut, every non-Volvo discussed here isn’t exactly inspiring in that arena.  And if anyone in the family has a penchant for performance motoring, get the SS model. Like many half-baked treats from GM (from the Corvair to the G8) the MAXX deserved a better fate.  That baby had some legs to it.
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47 Comments on “New or Used: MAXX-ing out Mom’s Next Wagon...”


  • avatar

    prev gen Mazda 6 wagon

  • avatar
    colin42

    Following on from yesterday’s review .. Mazda 5 (old style) – Not sure if the heated seats are possible or the older Mazda 6 wagon -either way buy one from a state where the roads aren’t salted and get the underside protected to prevent the “rust issues”

    As for the outback – it depends on mileage the 3.0 H6 drinks premium (aka 20 – 22mpg highway) but has a timing chain, the 2.5 (non turbo) gets better mileage (26-28mpg?) on cheaper juice but has a timing belt which are not cheap to replace

    Although not popular around these parts consider the Mitsubishi Outlander – the split tail gate makes loading stuff easy = the bike can stand up in it and it handles really well (with the V6 at least). The downside is the the plastic fantastic interior

  • avatar

    I’ve got a thing for the Malibu MAXX myself–a good budget buy, as they’re pretty cheap.

    I own a Taurus X, but it’s probably a larger car than she’s looking for. And the Flex is even larger.

    I’d also look into the Mazda6 wagon. I don’t think they have the same rust issues as the smaller Mazdas, though definitely check closely.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    I’m not sure Subarus age very well. There are too many reports of head gasket failures and the like to make me comfortable recommending it for a drive into the ground vehicle.

    I like the Taurus X recommendation if you can find a good used one. They didn’t sell very well when new and thus might be hard to find, but they do provide a massive amount of bang for the buck used.

    Another interesting choice might be a Toyota Venza, which is basically a Camry wagon. A good used one under $15k might be tough to find though.

    • 0 avatar

      Subaru fixed the headgaskets on the 2.5 back in 03. You can easily get one of the updated models for 15k.

      Why, exactly, Subaru decided to kill the EJ22, which was the best motor they ever made, I don’t know. It wasn’t even significantly down on power compared to the EJ25.

    • 0 avatar
      Franken-Subie

      The head gasket issues were limited to design defects in the gaskets affecting models from 96-99 and 00-03. I happened to have had two high mileage cars from both of those periods that didn’t fail, but that might just be luck.

      • 0 avatar
        TOTitan

        Subaru’s have head gasket problems from the beginning. We bought a new one in 1974 and the only problem it had was that the head gaskets failed…..repeatedly. As soon as the warranty was up I got rid of it and have never considered owning another one.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        My BIL has the gasket eater, but at 130K, his are still OEM…not sure if this plays a part, but he is a very gentle driver…mileage and long component life is his thing. As for versatility, the Outback is a great choice.

  • avatar

    I’d say either an 05-09 Outback limited or LL Bean Forester would be your best bets here. Just avoid the 6 cylinder models.

    If you can find one, the Lexus IS300 wagons are pretty nice, too.

    • 0 avatar
      Acubra

      Why avoiding an H6? The 05-09 6-cylinder is the best engine Sub’s had for ages. No timing belt hassles, vibration-free, spins easily, eerily quiet. And very, very reliable. MPG is slightly worse than for 2.5i, but you get so much more.

      • 0 avatar

        Because the turbo exists. The turbo makes more power, gets better mileage and it’s a lot easier to fix than the H6, which is wedged in 300XZ level tight. Also, the flat 6 requires premium, despite not making much power.

      • 0 avatar

        I agree. My H6 has been worth it all the way. First of all, it does very well at getting the car to move, and has more than enough power on tap. Second of all, its very very smooth, refined and overall a pleasure. Yes, its a bit hungry, but not having to worry about the cost of a turbo or a timing belt is well worth it. I’m glad to hear someone references it as one of Subie’s most reliable engines.

      • 0 avatar
        KitaIkki

        The new 3.6L H6 no longer requires premium. The turbo still does.

  • avatar
    MrWhopee

    Malibu Maxx? Eeewwww! Just look at the thing. I suppose they’d be cheap. Were they reliable? Then again it isn’t that difficult to out-reliable a Volvo. And your mom probably isn’t looking for a good looking vehicle, though while the Volvo isn’t exactly stylish, it’s quite a pleasant looking vehicle. Unlike the Malibu Maxx.

    Too bad they haven’t made an Accord or Camry wagon for a while now… The last Camry wagon is a direct alternative to a Volvo wagon.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    When in doubt, buy a Chevy. I too, liked the Maxx, but I wanted an Impala and bought one instead.

  • avatar
    Franken-Subie

    I’d pick up a used Legacy 2.5i Ltd wagon. The cabin on the 2005+ Legacy’s/Outback are nice enough. The EJ251/253 engines are pretty damn reliable, albeit they need their timing belt replaced every 90k or so. Even that should only cost $300 or so, if you avoid a stealership. Regular gas is A-OK, as well.

    The 4EAT transmission isn’t the most sporty but it’s generally considered to be bullet-proof- it was used in the much more powerful and heavier Nissan Pathfinder. Even though AWD certainly isn’t a necessity, it can be nice in the winter.

    I personally despise the CVT in the Freestyle, which would take that car off of my list.

    • 0 avatar

      Nissan Terrano/Pathfinders had weak trannys

      • 0 avatar

        Surprisingly, they do pretty well in Subarus. Even auto equipped WRXs had the 4EAT and they don’t have too much trouble.

        The great thing about Subarus is how modular they are. Most Subarus from the first gen Legacy up to the current gen Impreza use basically the same 4EAT automatic, so if it goes out, finding another one in good shape is a pretty trivial matter.

        Same thing with lots of parts, actually. My old 99 Impreza didn’t have the brake power I wanted on it, so I swapped on brakes from a H6 Outback. Took me all of two hours and improved the thing tremendously.

  • avatar
    musicalmcs8706

    Michael here. She ended up replacing the V70 soon after I sent this in. The coolant was leaking into the oil and a little over a year ago we were told that the motor was starting to go downhill. I think it was something to do with the compression, but I don’t recall exactly. She looked at the XC70 and the XC90. I suggested the Taurus X and she liked the looks of it. Our credit union has an auto center with a lot of fairly new Volvos with good deals on them as well. They had a 2007 V50 T5 with exactly everything she wanted. They spent a bit more at $17k, but the V70 was taken in as a trade.

    My mom LOVES her new V50 and says it’s her favorite car that she’s ever had. This summer my dad and I will find some used wheels for snow tires for the winter so she’ll be all set when the first snow hits!

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      I’m glad to see that your mom, on her own took account of something that none of the comments mentioned — the interior and especially the seats! Volvos have great seats and, IMHO, pretty nice interiors overall. Some of the recommendations here have . . . how shall I say this? . . . “basic” interiors, with seats to match. While I can’t claim familiarity with all of the seats in the suggested cars, I kinda doubt that many of them are up to Volvo’s standard. Yeah, the Freestyle/Taurus X may be the same as the XC70/90 underneath, but inside it sure as hell ain’t. If you’re buying a sports car that you would not expect to spend more than a few hours at a time in, these things can be overlooked. But, if you’re not . . . go for the interior and the seats.

      Also sounds like your mom’s old Volvo had head gasket failure if there was coolant in the oil. An expensive repair.

      • 0 avatar
        musicalmcs8706

        She and my dad often have to make long drives to see me and for vacation. I live five hours away and you just can’t beat the Volvo seats! My Impala is quite comfortable on long drives, but compared to Volvos, my “boat” can’t compare.

        My parents did not want to do an expensive repair on a car that was worth about as much as the repair, or less…

    • 0 avatar
      Darkhorse

      Good move! We bought a 2004 V70 (non-turbo) two years ago after our 2003 Chrysler T&C was totaled. Haven’t had a problem to date though I hear a lot of complaints about Volvo reliability. It has a trailer hitch that we use for a bike rack. That with a car top carrier allows us to to take two adults, two kids, two dogs and four bikes (or sets of skis)to the beach or the mountain while averaging 25 mpg. Great car, too bad they quit making it.

      • 0 avatar
        stroker49

        Volvo quit making V70, you gotta be kidding. Always one of the most sold cars here in Sweden. When I heard that V70 is not sold in USA I was in awe. Volvo’s wagon is THE Volvo. It is a shame America has forgot how great, beautiful and convenient a wagon is. Despite the fact that America invented the wagons and has produced so many fine wagons in the past.

      • 0 avatar

        On board their Stroker49. The latest gen V70 is especially good looking, but sold so poorly in relation to the XC70 (which we still have).

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Good to hear you took your mechanic’s advice and got while the getting was good. In the old days it might have made sense to keep fixing that old car but in today’s world if you are paying someone to fix it it just doesn’t pencil out. Make sure you tell your mom to keep that mechanic he tried to get her out of the car before it went to far south rather than selling her on fixing the car which could have meant some good profits for him.

      • 0 avatar
        musicalmcs8706

        Oh there’s no question that we’ll keep going to that place! A few of the Volvos my parents looked at we had them inspect and they gave my parents all the details. The only reason they don’t work on my car is that they only work on imports and I drive a Chevy…

      • 0 avatar
        GiddyHitch

        I’m not sure that I agree with that logic, Scout, especially when the cost of repair and rehab is $3000 (as Steve estimated) versus a replacement cost of $17000 in the form of a newer V50. Granted, she could have gone cheaper, but she didn’t Cash is king, as they say, and that extra $14000 could have been put to work to help fund a replacement when the V70 turned into a pile of dust. People get hung up on repairs that exceed the value of the car, but that should only be a consideration if you plan on selling it or totaling it before the cost of the repair is fully depreciated.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    Freestyle/Taurus X is the closest thing to the current Volvo since it is a Volvo.

    Now is the time to replace the Volvo that is for sure, it’s still running and driving so it can be sold/traded in for some value. Wait much longer and it may no longer be a running driving vehicle and then you get stuck between a rock and a hard place. You either end up selling it for a fraction of what it is worth now or spend more money than it is worth fixing it and then end up married to the vehicle and end up “forced” to throw more and more good money after the bad money that put you underground in the first place.

  • avatar

    I’m glad to see the strong recommendations for fixing the car; especially one which seems to be well-loved and otherwise reliable. Even if you have $15,000 cash-in-hand, it makes more sense to spend $5000 restoring the car to like-new condition, and putting the left over cash into something else.

    Keep the V70. It gave you 215,000 miles before it developed a leak. Put 2 grand into it and call us in 100,000 miles. :)

    • 0 avatar
      musicalmcs8706

      They thought about it, but my dad also has a car with over 200k on it that’s running strong and they have to drive a lot as they’re out in the country. Also, the independent mechanic who is fair and honest was leery of doing much more as they’ve been the one doing the work and knew the car too well ;) And because I live 5 hours away, having a reliable car for long trips is high on their priority list!

  • avatar
    gottacook

    We own both of the classic Subaru wagon shapes – an ’03 Legacy and an ’06 Forester (both 5-speeds, naturally) – and I would probably recommend the standard-engine Forester. The ride is a little bumpier, in part because of the shorter wheelbase and higher ride height, but the visibility is unequaled (although that in the Legacy is quite good) and many comfort options are available as part of the Premium package; that is, the L.L. Bean need not be the only version considered. An ’06 or ’07 Premium with not-too-high mileage/wear would cost less than $15K by now, based on our own searches last fall.

  • avatar
    Acubra

    As usually, SAAB 9-5s have been overlooked…

    • 0 avatar
      stroker49

      Yea, also great seats and a good car. You see loads of SAAB wagons here in Sweden. You are missing so many great cars over there. V70 is not sold, Skoda Superb? Skoda Oktavia wagon? But VW Passat is sold I guess? Hey, there is still one great wagon produced in N.A Chrysler 300C wagon. You see quite a few of them here in Europe, many with diesel engines.

      • 0 avatar
        colin42

        Nope – 300C wagon aka dodge magnum went out of production in 2008

        VW passat just been replaced with North America Passat (no wagon)

        Current model Available wagons: (excluding cross over / hatchbacks / mini vans etc)

        VW Jetta
        Hyundai Elantra (I30?)
        Acura TSX (Honda Accord in Europe)
        Audi A4 & A6
        Merc E class
        BMW 3 series
        Saab 9-3 Combi

        I might of missed one or 2

  • avatar
    Morse

    Before seriously considering the 2005 – 2009 Outbacks, you might wish to
    educate yourself on one of the common complaints that owners are calling
    Ghostwalking. It sounds like the problem can be overcome by carefully
    ensuring the rear alignment is correct for the load carried, along with
    proper tires and possibly sway bar change etc. Good luck digesting all of the
    meat in the thread.

    http://www.subaruoutback.org/forums/66-problems-maintenance/11267-2005-2009-outback-dangerous-ice.html

  • avatar
    stroker49

    The 300C Wagon is still in production for the European market (also Australia?) but they are assembled in Austria. You don’t have BMW 5 Wagon nor Mercedes C class Wagon? Well, then you HAVE to go by trucks and lorries!

  • avatar
    DenverInfidel

    I have an 06 Maxx SS, and just recently got rid of an 02 V70 XC. I would not buy another Maxx simply because of how terrible the build quality is. Countless annoying things have broken. Power locks, the exterior part around the door lock literally fell off, it leaks water, interior switches break, etc etc. And now we have the infamous GM steering clunk, among countless other rattles. Its actually been reliable, just annoying.

    The best part for us was how much room there is in the back for a carseat. Tons of leg room, and its very comfortable and safe overall. But beware the SS as its a gas hog and not much faster than the base engine. Avoid the SS and just get an LT or LTZ if you go that route.

    The slope on the back kills the wagon part, nowhere near the room of a boxier Volvo. Classic GM. Great idea, but you wonder how it could be screwed together so badly. I wish they could have kept the model longer and gotten it better sorted out.

    I am a huge wagon fan, and unfortunately we are limited to overpriced, high-maintenance euro’s and subarus. The Mazda6 wagon is probably better if you can find one. I am keeping my 94 accord wagon until the wheels fall off.

  • avatar

    Having been through most of the cars that are being suggested, and now driving a 2004 v70 awd with 200k that has just had the ORIGINAL brake pads replaced (lots of hiway miles) I can’t believe that anyone who needs a car for long drives would have any other car. Had a BMW, MB, SaaB, and others. SaaB actually had seats so bad my faithful companion needed neck surgery.(will not comment on TransAm convertible, bad mid life crisis choice – but lots of fun for an hour) Volvo allows drives from cornfield hell in Illinois to Keewenaw Peninsula (8 hours) and Mississippi Delta Blues cruises (12 hours) non stop with no pain. Either fix the current Volvo or get a slightly newer one. Nothing else is even close!

    • 0 avatar

      makes me feel better about putting $6k into my ’02 v70xc to bring it up to snuff. the haldex awd system can be problematic (mine got destroyed by aamco – long sad story) but otherwise these are just great cars. there is nothing on the us market now that is better. the current gen v70xc’s are too high off the ground and have a fat rear. the v70xc has bloated into a cuv whereas the previous gen v70xc was basically an awd wagon. the turbo t5 on my 2002 is smooth and moves the car briskly with 197 hp. the controls are perfectly laid out. i intend to keep mine for a long time.

      if i had to get a new wagon today, it would probably be the v50. i rode in one about a week ago. the only thing i don’t like is that it’s a little bit small. the back is nowhere near as big as the 70 and the hip room is noticeably narrower. also, i read (here?) that volvo is planning on pulling the v50 from the us. the xc60 is ok but it’s a little too much of a utility vehicle for me. the proportions are wrong: small greenhouse, big butt and too much front overhang.

  • avatar
    musicalmcs8706

    Thanks everyone for these suggestions! Like I said in an earlier post, she did replace it with a 2007 Volvo V50 T5 and loves it. She even said to me “It’s my favorite car I’ve ever had!”

    These suggestions were almost exactly what I said to my parents when they started looking :)

  • avatar
    calhounje

    Finally a post I can relate to. I’m a car enthusiast but have been relegated to driving a 2004 Chevy MAXX which I refer to as the “divorcemobile”. The car is complete s*it in every way but one; It has been so steadfastly reliable and enduring of my willful mistreatment that I’ve come to love the thing. With 120k it’s only slightly crappier as the day I got it with 60, and it drives exactly the same, which is to say, like crap. My dog fits in the back, I don’t care when the kids run it into things (its surprisingly bouncy) and all it asks for is tires and oil. Best of all, potential girlfriends with latent gold-digger tendencies are immediately re-cycled back to match.com when they see my ride.

  • avatar

    Fix it. I have almost the same car and most of the leaky coolant issues are either the expansion tank cap or the heater core, and luckily both are very easy to replace. No dash removal needed for the core. I replaced every hose and the expansion tank when I bought it for around US$200 total.

    You can buy parts online everywhere at decent prices and there are a couple of brick oriented lists you can get huge amounts of info.

    And if everything else fails, there are lots of those being junked this days so a replacement engine should be really cheap.


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