By on June 15, 2012

This is now the second time Project Volvo has tried to kill me. The first time, I was turning left into a Scion dealership to go peek at an FR-S. All of a sudden, the steering locked up, and I looked down to see the dashboard lit up like Malmo synagogue. A few hundred yards down the road, an F-Series was bearing down on me. Luckily, the Volvo started up, and I drove off without having to test the brand’s legendary safety systems.

The next day, I picked up a 2012 MX-5 press car and forgot all about the stalling issues for the next week. It dawned on me that getting a CAA Membership might be a good idea too. Not that I followed through with it or anything. That would make too much sense. Of course, it came back to bite me in the ass right after I returned the MX-5 to Mazda Canada.

The car stalled at the very first traffic light, with the idle fluctuating like Charlie Sheen’s  moods before sputtering and then dying. While coasting, the car ran smoothly, until I entered the on-ramp to the busy 401 freeway, where Project Volvo promptly died and wouldn’t re-start. The steering was locked up, but somehow I made it on to the shoulder without being sodomized by an 18-wheeler.

A $247 tow later, and I was at the mechanic. Right after the tow truck put the car in the ground, he jumped in and the car fired up promptly. The idle was still fluctuating, and turning the A/C on only exacerbated the problem. It turned out that in addition to the dirty throttle body, something was amiss with the A/C. My mechanic theorizes that one of the seals may need replacing, and that is causing the compressor to activate frequently, putting a fair amount of strain on the engine. So far, his estimate is roughly a couple hundred bucks, either for a new seal or a re-charge, and the throttle body cleaning. We’ll see later on this afternoon what the real issue is.

At least the smell is gone.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

114 Comments on “Project $1500 Volvo Leaves Me Stranded...”


  • avatar
    28-cars-later

    I think the turning incident was the car showing a bit of jealousy and it reminded you if your commitment to it instead of the cheap floozy you just had to check out… but in all seriousness thankfully you didn’t make the six o’clock news for a freak accident and it sounds like she’s not down and out, just needs some professional attention. Good luck and God speed.

  • avatar
    RobAllen

    My cars always act up when I go to pull into a dealership. I remind them they’re going for an oil change or we’re picking up someone now. Of course since I’m selling my Versa, I use my wife’s car for dealer hopping.

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    I have, so far, missed this whole thing in my cars, except for one, and that was traced to a very bad carburetor. My ’78 Fairmont’s carb was so bad it caused the air filter to clog up pretty rapidly to the point it wasn’t getting air, so it’d stall.

    I’d smack the bajeezus out of the filter, put it back in and vroom, it’d start, that is, until it clogged up again – and it never had any fast idle on its own when cold.

    The new carb fixed both issues, not not the excruciatingly slow performance, nor the fuel economy though.

  • avatar

    I feel your pain. I recently bought a $900 Infiniti G20
    with which “there was nothing major wrong”. It stranded me in Denver,
    Seventy miles from home. One $250 tow home, and two weeks of
    analysis later from an independent pro, the verdict was a bad
    coolant temp sensor, most likely caused by the owner’s addiction to
    pressure washing the engine.

    • 0 avatar
      28-cars-later

      A $900 G20 you say? Assuming this car isn’t missing a door or two I’d say that’s worth the price of a $250 tow and two weeks of aggravation as it should serve you well for the money.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      The coolant temp sensor is one of the primary culprits for problems with poor running on the SR20 (powerwashed or not), along with the IACV and the fuel pump.

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      Well, at least he wasn’t lying (so far) about “nothing major” being wrong.

      Annoying as hell, but pretty minor, as problems go.

  • avatar
    Geekcarlover

    I’m assuming you’ve already checked, but I’ve had two cars with similar problems. Stalling at acceleration/deceleration especially in curves. Both times it was a bad fuel filter.

    • 0 avatar
      28-cars-later

      After experiencing a similar problem years ago, I’ve added the fuel filter to my preemptive maint list when purchasing used cars. Much like infrequent transmission fluid changes, no first owner ever seems to change the fuel filter.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      Replacing the fuel filter is a good call. That may help to address the stalling.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        A clogged fuel filter starts by limiting RPM, but won’t leave you stranded intermittently or give you a choppy idle. Sounds like a bad fuel pump or a bad connector.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        Clogged fuel filter –> inadequate fuel delivery. Inadequate fuel delivery –> engine no worky.

        I’ve had this very same stalling issue and fixed it by replacing the fuel filter. But the rough idle is probably unrelated, and the fuel filter replacement is not likely to fix that.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        Simi clogged fuel filters just reduce flow, but fuel pressure remains constant. Nothing choppy or intermittent about it. A filter won’t stall the engine until it’s close to 100% blocked. If it’s clogged enough to stall the engine, it won’t let it restart at all. It will gradually limit RPM from redline down to zero but that can take months or years, but you’ll definitely notice the loss of power and acceleration long before that happens.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “My Clogged Fuel Filter Causes Stalling & Hesitation – If left unchecked, a clogged fuel filter can cause stalling and hesitation in your vehicle.”

        http://www.ehow.com/video_12213888_clogged-fuel-filter-causes-stalling-hesitation.html

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        You can go ahead and swap in a new fuel filter until help arrives, it’s not a bad thing. It’s good maintenance if anything. Change the PVC and air filter while you’re at it.

        Remember, it stalled on Derek and wouldn’t restart. Your fuel filter would need to be pretty well clogged to keep it from starting. If the filter was that clogged, it wouldn’t have started so easily in the first place, much less kept up with traffic.

        A clogged fuel filter is a good guess for the average driver and auto parts stores don’t mind the business.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        Solving Intermittent Stalling Problems

        “On fuel injected engines, cold stalling can also be caused by conditions that upset the air/fuel mixture. This includes vacuum leaks or unmetered air entering the intake manifold downstream of the airflow sensor, a faulty throttle position, MAP or oxygen sensor, dirty fuel injectors, or low fuel pressure to the injectors (weak fuel pump, faulty fuel pressure regulator or ***restricted fuel filter***)”

        http://www.autotap.com/techlibrary/solving_intermittent_stalling_problems.asp

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        Yes a clogged fuel filter can cause stalling, but if it’s refusing to start, it would have to be close to 100% blocked. How was Derek able to accelerate normally and keep up with traffic between stalling episodes if it was that blocked? It wouldn’t have been able to move if it did start.

        Now a clogged air filter can also cause stalling, but either one would have to be extremely packed with contaminants to prevent a start. They wouldn’t be intermittent problems at that point.

        Would you ever need a tow home if you just needed a fresh air filter?

  • avatar
    philadlj

    Do you know the state of the Volvo’s ignition switch?

  • avatar
    jaydez

    Ummm… i doubt the AC is causing the problem. I had a Jetta in high school that acted simmilar to this. I’d have the alternator load tested.

    Also, if it’s fine when on level ground but not in turns and going up a ramp, have the fuel pump checked.

  • avatar
    cacon

    Be prepared for bad/faulty (not necessarily all, but one or many):

    – IAC Valve
    – Crankshaft position Sensor
    – Throttle Position sensor
    – Worn out vacuum hoses

    Those are the ones that mostly cause idle engine problems.

    Good luck!

    • 0 avatar
      bills79jeep

      x2 on this advice. I had a rough idle on my Cherokee, and cleaing the throttle body/IAC really helped.

      All I can think about when I read this series is my GF’s 2001 C70 she used to own. I became a part-time Volvo tech for a while there. For the limited amount of miles it had, >90k, it was terrible. Wayyyy too many problems for a car that new. I have a feeling articles similar to this one will continue to appear. Best of luck!

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    Bad gas perhaps?

  • avatar
    TEXN3

    I’d think purchasing CAA or AAA would more than cover the price of the next tow. I pay $6/month through State Farm for roadside assistance on my 98 Acura, haven’t needed it so far but since I don’t drive more than 50 miles from home with that car, it’ll more than pay for a tow job.

  • avatar
    dejal1

    Question Of The Day: Do You Ever See Yourself Buying A Used European Car… Without A Warranty

    So, do you have a cutoff point where you say screw it?

    Your $1500 car was a $2635 car as of 5/29/2012
    Now it is a #2882 car.

    • 0 avatar
      tuffjuff

      I have to wonder what kind of person this appeals to (aside from one with no sense).

      Dumping several times the price of a car’s worth into fixing it still leaves you with an old, usually unattractive, usually still probably not reliable car. At what point do you say “forget this” and pony up the $150/month payment it will take to get an $8-10,000 used car that won’t die on you all the time?

      People have different tastes, I understand that. But man…. this is exactly why, if I buy pre-owned, I buy certified with a several year warranty pre-owned.

    • 0 avatar

      And a $3500 car can easily become a $5000 car…and so on and so forth. There’s always a bargain involved, though I agree some kind of “stop loss” is necessary.

      • 0 avatar
        tuffjuff

        I get what you mean, but if you’re spending $3,000 on a car that’s worth $1,500, all in the course of… let’s be generous and say the first year, you’re spending $250/month on a car that’s worth fifteen hundred bucks. You still have who knows what kind of repairs that are probably going to come up, after all, why else did the car cost $1,500, along with reduced reliability and all the other pitfalls of owning a 15 year old car with presumably high mileage (this is a car that, if bought new, would run $35-40k+ (the cheapest XC70 I can find within several hours of me is $44,500 on the lot) so to be so cheap it’s safe to assume it’s in bad condition, i.e. has problems or has high mileage).

        Pick up a decent $8,000 used car (I’ve found Buick Centurys, Acura TLs, a current gen Malibu with 100k miles, quite a few current gen Impalas, a 2005 300C, etc), have much less miles, much more features, presumably much more reliable, look nicer, and after a few years of paying $250/month at a low APR you’ll be done and with no payment.

        A few years of $250/month for a decent, not going to break all the time car vs the equivalent of $250/month for a year, with more break-downs to come? Hmmm…..

        • 0 avatar

          With all due respect, those would be at the bottom of my list when I think of “reliable, decent cars for $8,000″. Given fuel prices, narrow streets, tight parking spaces and the fact that most of my driving is in town and not on the highway, I can’t think of anything worse than say, a 300C. My uncle has a 2005 Century and it might be the single worst car I’ve ever driven. I’m not sure where you got $3000 either. The car was bought for $1500, and I’ve included the repairs since then, plus the cost of the car for a “grand total”. I’m still doing far better than Edmunds is with their ’96 ES300

          http://blogs.insideline.com/roadtests/Vehicles/1996-lexus-es-300/

      • 0 avatar
        dave504

        The point is that you obviously don’t have the slightest idea how to work on a car, so having a project car is utterly pointless when you are always depending on others to do the work. You can’t even perform the most rudimentary troubleshooting and the fact that you have posted three or four entries about this without so much as an engine pic leads me to believe that you don’t even know how to open the hood (but we did get a nifty shot of a bottle of Febreze).

        TTAC doesn’t really “get” project cars – this whole series is lame pics followed by how much you spent for someone else to do the dirty work instead of the steps you personally took and parts you had to buy to fix it yourself. Maybe you should spend less time with Baruth and more time with Murilee.

        • 0 avatar

          Dave, there’s no place for your ignorant, disrespectful comments here, or in Sajeev’s Scorpio thread or elsewhere. Your comment history is long on sarcasm and condescension and short on insight or valuable remarks. Dissenting opinions are welcome, but do so in a respectful manner or you won’t be invited back.

      • 0 avatar
        tuffjuff

        “Your $1500 car was a $2635 car as of 5/29/2012
        Now it is a #2882 car.”

        My bad for reading this, rounding up to three grand, and going with the assertion that a cheap, old car will do nothing but cost you money.

        I didn’t say “go buy a last gen 300C”, and personally wouldn’t. The fact is, you can get all sorts of vehicles for a short, low-interest loan that will for a long list of reasons be a better idea than a $1,500 beater than keeps breaking down.

        And my bad, I wasn’t aware the Buick Century was the worst car of the decade. Since all domestic cars are utter sh*t, why not a 2004 Camry, or a 2005 Accord? Both for eight grand.

        My apologies for trying to bring up a valid point after fighting the other point in your favor. I know you have other things to do – like threaten people who point out how you aren’t actually working on this car, just paying a ton of money to tow it from destination to destination.

        What a shame – AB was great until they broke their comment system, and TTAC has an functioning comment system but kind’ve lacking elsewhere.

        Enjoy.

    • 0 avatar
      cfclark

      A thousand dollar car ain’t gonna roll
      ‘Til you throw at least another thousand in the hole
      Sink your money in it, and there you are
      The owner of a two thousand dollar thousand dollar car

      (Bottle Rockets, “Thousand Dollar Car”)

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    Just proves the point “You get what you pay for”.

  • avatar
    ringomon

    I’m enjoying this series as a diary in the life of a car and it’s owner. Nothing like unscripted drama.

    Admittedly I’m also enjoying a little schaudenfraude as a firmly entrenched member of the ‘buy a reasonably priced new car and keep it until just before this stuff starts happening’ club.

    • 0 avatar
      Patrickj

      I’m a member of that school as well, but have to admit that we’ve now owned my wife’s 04 Subaru a couple of weeks (and about $2000) too long.

      I think I’ve now got her talked out of it, though.

    • 0 avatar
      Ben

      I’m getting the same level of enjoyment, but I’m coming from the point of view that I used to have just as much fun with my cars when I was a poor student as I do now when I can afford to buy them new. I’m cheering project volvo on simply because I’m honestly considering going with a beater as my next car so I can stop living vicariously through Murilee.

      I’m also cheering for the volvo over the lexus, but that’s simply because I always go for the underdog.

  • avatar
    Crosley

    If you’re going to own something cheap, some sort of auto club type membership is almost mandatory for the towing fees. It’s money well spent.

    My problem with owning older, cheap cars is I just no longer have the time to deal with hassles like this. Repairing them isn’t usually the hard part.

    I used to be able to pride myself on how little I would spend on a car, but now I’m forced to endure rapid depreciation on new(ish) cars to keep everyone in the family happy.

  • avatar
    segfault

    How did you get rid of the smell?

  • avatar
    KixStart

    Derek,

    You should phone Car Talk while you still can. They love old Volvo questions.

    When you say the steering “locked up,” do you really mean “locked up and will not turn no matter how much torque you apply” or just “stiff because the power steering pump stopped spinning?”

    If it’s truly “locked up,” that’s very strange and strikes me as extremely dangerous.

  • avatar
    MrWhopee

    Why do you think Volvo put so much emphasis on safety? The engineers know the car might do this! ;)

    • 0 avatar
      MrWhopee

      Hey, how come I can’t edit my comment anymore? I think the edit comment feature is broken!

      Anyway, I used to have a Nissan Maxima that did this with alarming regularity. Engine just went dead suddenly, for seemingly no reason. Thankfully it never happened while I was making U-turns. It always started right up too. Never did find out why it did that.

  • avatar
    greaseyknight

    What concerns me the most is that when the car stalls, the steering locks up. I don’t have any first hand knowledge of Volvo’s, but this sounds like something is amiss with the computer and or the wiring, and something is causing the computer to lock the steering column. A damages power feed, or ground could be the cause. The fact that the A/C turning on makes the problem worse could mean that the extra power draw is putting more stress on the already damaged circuit. I doubt that the frequency of the A/C has anything to do with the problem, as it should be able to run continually and not effect the idle. It could be a host of things, but I kinda doubt a mechanical issue would cause steering wheel to lock up when the motor died.

    Check out ScannerDanner on Youtube, he is an expert at diagnosing electrical issues in cars.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      “What concerns me the most is that when the car stalls, the steering locks up.”

      He may just mean that the steering becomes next to useless when power is lost, since the power steering pump isn’t pumping when the car stalls.

      If he means it literally, then it could be the ignition cylinder — the car behaves as if the key has been removed.

      • 0 avatar
        cfclark

        We (my wife and I) had this happen with our Caprice wagon, almost 20 years ago now…there’s a known issue with the B-body steering columns that causes the steering to more or less jam. This same flaw comes in handy for people wanting to steal your B-body. The Olds dealer to whom we had the car towed (we were on a road trip) recognized the problem immediately and had it fixed in a couple hours–because they had the failed part sitting around from another B-body steering column repair.

        This is one of a few things that give me pause when I think, “hey, wouldn’t it be cool to have an old B-body Caprice again?”

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        In this particular case, I think that Sfvarholy (comment below) is onto something. Heavy key ring, used for prolonged periods –> damaged ignition cylinder due to the excess weight. The resulting problem can often be intermittent, so the car will start and run much of the time, but then stop for whatever reason.

      • 0 avatar
        28-cars-later

        I have heard of the heavy key weight theory before, can’t say I’m convinced but I suppose its possible.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        http://www.snopes.com/autos/techno/heavykeys.asp

  • avatar
    NormSV650

    Fluid and filters as I mentioned previously. Change them all then drive on the highway for an hour or so to loosen up all the crud from urban driving.

  • avatar
    sfvarholy

    This is a fairly common problem with the 850’s. My 850 Turbo wagon never did it, but a buddy’s did it all the time… he had enough hair-raising incidents that he quickly saved enough money to buy another car.

    The ignition switch should be on your list of possible problems. A worn switch will cause the engine to cut off, particularly when turning and especially if you have a heavy key-ring.

  • avatar

    Ahhh the Volvo injection can of worms. Been there had it happen. Mine turned out to be similar. Fire right up, idle, touch the throttle and it would die. Turned out to be a bum mass air flow sensor. But that was a older volvo with LH v2.2 injection. But be prepared it may be anything from a faulty fuel pump relay, main relay, or Fuel pump on down to a bad CT sensor. This is one of those drivibility things where. Plug in a laptop and dive until it happens. I know just had to do that to my 93 Legacy, had a intermittent miss that I finally tracked down to a bad position sensor. Nothing like watching the ignition dwell and stuff suddenly go to some wacko number then it would miss.

    Now the steering locking up .. is that like locked with the key out locked or like driving a 5 ton truck with no power steering heavy. Because if it locks and you can not even turn the wheel start there.

    The AC will not have any effect on the random dying, he is blowing smoke up your ass. BUT! If the fuel pressure is low, or if the idle air control valve is gummed up/failed/stuck in one position. Turning the AC on will cause it to die because of the extra load. It is very important to have fuel pressure with in specs because even in closed loop with the O2 telling the injectors to trim if the fuel pressure is low or varying you will get all sorts of odd things happening from rough idle/stall to rich condition because the fuel is dripping and not atomizing ect ect ect. Always check fuel pressure and volume before you dig in and start changing sensors out.

    • 0 avatar

      don’t think you can easily plyg a laptop into one of these. i’d love to do it on my volvo but preliminary research leads me to believe that it is prohibitively expensive. i would love if someone here can show me a cost effective way to do this…

      • 0 avatar

        Well there are a few ways. Most of the hand held scanners (around the 180 dollar range) Work well but do not give real time information. I have heard good things about http://www.obdcom.com But there are other options still.

        There is the VOL-FCR and software. But here is a good link on the volvospeed with software and such. http://volvospeed.com/vs_forum/topic/141129-compilation-obd-hardware-software-compatibility/page__p__1882007__fromsearch__1#entry1882007

        But really you want the VOL-FCR because it will do many more things than a standard USB to OBDII reader. Such as read and clear climate control, ABS, SRS, Transmission and other Volvo specific faults. And you also would be best off using a serial to OBD than USB to OBD (Boy am I glad I kept my old DELL!)

        And from what I have heard. (I got to talking with a friend of mine) That you can use a cheap USB to OBD cable and the Vol-fcr software if you set your USB ports to COM1 as a virtual port. But with out a VAG COM Type cable you cant mess with ABS and SRS. Something about the communication chipset.

        Here is the Vol-FCR site. http://www.ilexa.co.uk/acatalog/volfcr.html

        But from what I can tell by doing a bit of digging. Get a cheapo VAG COM <— (apparently these work better because of the interface chip apparently the VAG KKL 409.1 is one of the better ones and they are only 20 bucks) cable off ebay, snatch a copy of VOL-FCR somewhere shady and have fun. Do NOT forget to make sure that the VOL-FCR software will work with your car. Check the models it covers. But I know it will work with this one that happens to be having a large issue.

        Now to communicate with a 89 to 94 Subaru, that is a totally different ball of wax that can be found here. http://www.surrealmirage.com/vrg3/b10scan/ But it is free and I use the boot image, works just lovely on all my early Subaru Legacies.

  • avatar
    stuart

    Props to Derek for telling us the Truth about his used Volvo. Now the peanut gallery is responding with jerked knees:

    “Serves you right for buying a used European car.”

    “I had a problem like that, but mine was completely different. Let me tell you all the pointless details…”

    “You should have [bought a towing membership][bought a car like mine instead]…”

    “You need to check the [widget] first, before you do anything else.”

    In the meantime, TTAC registers lots of page views and rabid discussions, and I think that was the point of the exercise.

    Well played Derek!

    stuart

    • 0 avatar
      replica

      What else are we supposed to say? I’ll use a meme to mix it up a bit.

      “I know that feel bro.”

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      In fairness to some of the commenters, “$250 tow” replied to with “you know, AAA will pay for itself contra even *one* of those” is *good advice*.

      It might be knee-jerk, but he’s the one who paid $250 for a tow that a $100 AAA membership would have given him for “free”, right?

      • 0 avatar

        It’s correct and I even mentioned it occurred to me to get a membership, but I didn’t get around to it – and it bit me in the ass.

      • 0 avatar
        stuart

        Whatever. I’m not worried about Derek’s tow bill, and I doubt he’s bothered by it either. I’m just pointing out that we’re all “playing our parts” in this little drama, and Derek wins thrice: 1) he gets to play with the car he wants, 2) he gets a bunch of highly technical advice, some of it applicable, 3) he gets page hits, that somehow translate into $$$ for TTAC and himself.

        I’m not suggesting anything is wrong here; I’m just impressed by how cleverly Derek has managed this situation. Really!

        FWIW, I drive a crappy old European beater, older and uglier than Derek’s car, and it stranded me *twice* this week. Derek is clearly smarter than me; his car is newer, nicer, and with every failure, he’s grinding both edges of his own axe. I’m envious!

        Again, Derek: Well played!

        stuart

  • avatar
    sfvarholy

    Derek made a smart choice buying an 850. Sure, it’s a foreign car, but there is terrific community support for these cars and when Volvo engineered these vehicles Pre-Ford, they did a tremendous job. The 850 is almost as bulletproof as the 240.

    The usual cause of this issue is a worn ignition switch or failing fuel pump. The pump should be able to be changed out without dropping the tank. There is either an access panel under the rear seat or you are able to easily open one up.

    It almost will never be a computer problem.

    If it hasn’t already, your odometer will stop moving the numbers on the dashboard. The computer, however, will continue to record and accumulate the accurate mileage. You’ll just have to jumper and read the LED flashes under the hood.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      Anybody who has an old car that they want to troubleshoot will have to buy a scan tool. Without one, you are going to be doing guesswork. Now a lot of online sources can help you make that educated guesswork, but a few missed diagnoses can pay for the tool. Such a tool allows you to see in real time the very parameters that make your car run, or not run.

      • 0 avatar
        mkirk

        Most of what I consider “OLD” is OBD1 and will flash codes via the check engine light. Also, most any old pile of crap will have a highly dedicated online forum full of people that have already had your issue.

        The Land Cruiser and Miata both have very active forums, but so do some of my more obscure rides. My Saturn SW1, the bubble Caprice, and my old Ford Ranger, the mistake S-10, and especially my old 68 Cougar all had nearly as active an online community.

        When I did have post 96 stuff I had an OBDII program and adapter for an old laptop. This was most handy in that I could hook it up and drive while recording the datastream…very useful for diagnosing intermittent problems or tuning if thats the direction you want to go (I never did).

        Lastly, this is why every old car on the road should be an early 90’s GM TBI Small block powered vehicle. I never spent more than a couple hours diagnosing one of those in the rare event it actually needed diagnosing.

  • avatar
    cRacK hEaD aLLeY

    Throw parts at it. Fuel pump, Relay. Fuel filter. Crank Position. The Other Relay. Then the MAF. Then the key ignition. New battery. If not fixed, throw more parts: coils packs. ECU and new harness for transmission module.
    When it still stalls, trade it in on a lease of a 2012 Malibu with OnStar. Drive it for 4 years. Repeat. Perhaps lease a 2017 Accord this time.

  • avatar
    SOF in training

    A little AAA story-
    I’m in the Seattle area, my daughter is doing an internship in the Denver area. Her car won’t start. Failing to diagnose it over the phone, we decide it needs a tow.
    I thought I recently got a letter from AAA with my renewal – find it, and discover that it is saying I need to renew, not that it did automatically. So I go online, rejoin (adding her to it), call my daughter with the new AAA#, and she gets her tow. I think she may have gotten an AAA discount from the repair shop too, as the bill was less than they said over the phone. -Bad battery cable-
    So – with a smart phone, you should be able to join CAA-AAA from the side of the road and get your tow, it seems.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    A thousand dollar car, it ain’t worth nothin’
    A thousand dollar car, it ain’t worth $h!t
    Might as well take your thousand dollars
    And set fire to it
    A thousand dollar car ain’t worth a dime
    You lose your thousand dollars every time
    Oh why did I ever buy a thousand dollar car

    A thousand dollar car is gonna let you down
    More than it’s ever gonna get you around
    Replace your gaskets and paint over your rust
    You still end up with something that you’ll never trust
    A thousand dollar car, its life was through
    ‘Bout 50,000 miles ‘fore it got to you
    Oh why did I ever buy a thousand dollar car

    A thousand dollar car ain’t gonna roll
    ‘Til you throw at least another thousand in the hole
    Sink your money in it, and there you are
    The owner of a two thousand dollar thousand dollar car

    …if a thousand dollar car was truly worth a damn
    Then why would anybody ever spend ten grand
    Oh why did I ever buy a thousand dollar car

  • avatar
    jadnhm

    Derek, I have a 1998 V70 as a DD (mine has AWD and an auto) and I have had a few bouts with stalling like this.

    It has been different things at different times:

    – once it was the wires powering the fuel pump had ‘worn out’ at the point where they travel through the fuel pump assembly. Your FWD car has the fuel pump in a much more sensible location than the AWD cars, and the corrosion /shouldn’t/ be as much of a prob for you, but you might try pulling the access hatch and wiggling the wires while the car is running the see if you can make it stall. If so you’ll prob need a new fuel pump assembly. If you want the shadetree hack to repairing the assembly, get in touch with me.

    – The main fuel pump relay is a major source of complaint on these cars. The capacitors are kind of crappy and wear out with age from getting too hot. FCPgroton.com sells a decent aftermarket one for ~$40 and it’s worth grabbing one for piece of mind.

    – PCV lines often crack, esp if they’ve been replaced with regular vac lines that can’t take the oil vapours. There are also many rubber ‘elbows’ that have the same problem. I would do an intake test of some kind. The volvo manuals suggest blocking off the intake at the MAF and introducing compressed air through a vac port at about 4 psi and listening for leaks. A standard smoke test would work too but you’ll have to pay someone for that. Vac leaks are DEADLY on this car.

    – on the subject of PCV – the PCV oil separator under the intake manifold is a real potential for problems. Though probably not causing stalling, if you see vapour coming out your oil dipstick tube with the dipstick removed you likely need to refresh the PCV system. Online parts dealers sell complete kits, but the work is pretty time consuming (~5+ hours)

    – There are like 5 different EVAP systems on these cars depending on where the car was originally sold, etc. Get some confidence in your evap lines, prob with a smoke test. I found a big leak in the ‘vent’ line on my charcoal canister (there were 3 lines on my cannister which BTW was stamped with a GM logo – go figure)

    – clean your throttle body really really well – actually you should probably remove it and get a new TB gasket too.

    I’m happy to buddy-up and share any of the experience I’ve been through with my own volvo wagon.

    • 0 avatar
      KalapanaBlack

      I would bet money that it’s the absurd PCV system on this thing. I looked into a $1000 ’94 850 a few years back that heavily burnt oil and became intimately familiar with the PCV system. I couldn’t haggle the $400 off of it I felt was necessary for me to take the risk on the PCV and ended up buying a very reliable ’95 Infiniti G20.

      To the guy up there complaining about the minor thing on his G20: it was a $900 car. Did you really think there was nothing wrong with it?? And that’s not a bad thing to have break, other than the tow.

      While I’m on the subject… the author really believed the mechanic when he said it was the A/C?? This is series is becoming less about a cheap project rally car and far more about how mechanics can swindle not-particularly-savvy owners.

      • 0 avatar

        Not a minor thing. Thing is I was in a bad neighberhood, down by the stadium at night,
        right next to the topless coffee shack Twin Perks. Drunks were fighting outside the nearby Denny’s.

        The G was pretty good after this very hard-to-diagnose, two week-to-complete repair, plus
        new shocks (i put them in), $300 in exhaust work, and some welding
        in the trunk.

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks. It was cleaned today.

      • 0 avatar
        shawa1221

        Derek,
        If your steering column is really locking up like when you have the ignition off and key out, you might be experiencing some intermittent issues with the anti-theft system. Its not unknown to happen with 850s. I expect this is why some people in the comments have mentioned what the condition of the ignition tumbler is in.

        Camshaft sensor is also a known issue for loss of injector pulse

  • avatar
    mitchw

    Git yer wrench, Derek. A new ignition switch for your 850 costs only 58 dollars, Amurrican.

    http://www.fcpeuro.com/products/volvo-ignition-switch-850-940-960-760-9447803?gclid=CLCqo7n80LACFYFo4Aod1GJ9Yw

  • avatar
    skor

    $1,500 dollar cars are never a bargain if you have to pay someone else to fix them. The only time a $1,500 car is a bargain is you can do the repairs cheaply yourself, or if the car runs reliably as is. If you can get a year’s worth of driving out of it, without paying someone to work on it, you’re ahead of the game, otherwise bite the bullet and finance a new econobox.

    • 0 avatar

      Why would I finance a $15k or more brand new car over x number of years when it would sit idle while I’m driving press cars or taking the subway to work?

      • 0 avatar
        skor

        First off, I don’t know what your personal situation is. Generally speaking, for the person who needs a reliable car to get to work, the the $1,500 car is not a solution, unless they have the time and ability to repair it themselves on the cheap. I’ve got old cars. I’ve got a Cadillac Seville that I bought for $1,500 with 52K miles on the clock, but I do all the repairs myself. Check out the Cadillac hack that I submitted to Piston Slap.

        http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/05/piston-slap-the-cadillac-hack/

        Total cost out of pocket about $65. This would have been a $600-$700 dealer repair.

        Last fall I fabricated and replaced all the brakes lines, which were badly rusted, for about $60 worth of bulk brake line, fittings and fluid. This would have been a $600-$700 brake shop repair. It only takes 3-4 $600 repairs before a bargain car is no longer a bargain. Most people would be better off with a $200 per month note payment.

      • 0 avatar
        replica

        Because I can’t take the subway to work.

  • avatar
    RickC

    Check ALL the engine grounds (likely to be several) before you spend big bucks. I had a 960 that had the same nasty habit. Turned out to be a bad ground wire

  • avatar
    el scotto

    I’ve some financially rough time in my life. Times when I’d been happy, very happy, to own a $1500 Volvo. Food for thought.

  • avatar
    Zombo

    Frankly I’d rather have seen a series on an early 90s Accord or Civic or late 1900s/early 2000s VW.Volvo,even those not nerdy station wagons are just butt ugly with the exception of the classic P1800.Old Volvo wagons are passed down to college students from stodgy parents .Safely built , but a mechanical nightmare when it gets older . A series on an old (non-nerd mobile) car that cost the least amount to buy and keep running would have been better.And yes that means Japanese cars!Next time get something old yet fairly reliable and not an old fart box mobile.You can make up the reliability difference between Asian and European by getting a higher mileage vehicle since an old Volvo wagon is meh squared to most drivers!

    • 0 avatar
      shawa1221

      Personally I think a MK3 or MK4 VAG product is far more of a heathen than a volvo 850/V70. But that is up for argument, I also have never owned a VAG product.

      On the early 90s accord note, my girlfriend bought a 1993 honda accord wagon automatic for $1300 with 160miles in january as it was what she could afford. All it has needed was a passenger CV shaft. I did the cap, rotor, plug wires, and plugs because I am picky. It does 23.5 mpg on the highway at 80mph with 5 guys in it! Just completed a 1200 mile trip with no issues.

      My car is a 99 civic ex 5 speed with 225000miles. I bought it in july 2009 with 165000 miles for $2300. It has NEVER left me stranded. I have replaced quite a few parts due to wear and me being picky. I am lucky to have a father who has been an automotive machinist with Carquest for 20 years who I can get parts through.

      I think Derek should have gotten a nice v70 T5 wagon stick shift. There is one on kijiji about 1hr from him for $900 OBO, throw a manual boost controller on it and see how much boost it takes to bend a rod.

    • 0 avatar
      Marko

      You’re right, my family had both RWD and FWD Volvos – and none were a paragon of “bulletproof” longevity, not even the 740. Nice when new and after being fed $, but problems tended to be $, especially at the dealer. 940s are the most reliable Volvos from what I’ve heard. That said, I saw a brand new C30 R-Design today, and that is one beautiful car. I hope I can buy one before they stop making them!

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      While I agree, a series like that would just get boring.

      It’d just be “changed the oil” here and there, on in my case “fixed a cheap aftermarket speaker installation the previous owner did”.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Bwaaaahahaha, Hondas and Toyoyas aren’t nerd mobiles? Bwaaaahahaha the brown lace ups of the automotive world? Bwaaaahahaha. Well engineered, well built, and oh so dull. Bwaaaahahaha

  • avatar
    tekdemon

    Derek, maybe you really should try to DIY some of this before it’s a 6000 dollar project car. I live in apartments and park in open lots and I would find friends willing to let me use their driveways. Didn’t always work out but it was usually cheaper anyway even if I had to abort and take my parts with me to a mechanic since I already had cheaply obtained parts and I picked a driveway in close towing distance lol.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      You or I would track down the problem through a process of elimination and resourcefulness. I’d start by checking the fuel pressure, spark and so forth. I’ve always been a DIY’er because I couldn’t afford shop rates, parts markup plus towing. It wasn’t an option in my early years of driving. Today it’s a hobby.

      It looks to me that Derek is better at making money than spending his weekends trouble shooting, chasing parts and grease wrestling old Volvos. Hey, more power to him.

      • 0 avatar
        skor

        The point of this experiment, was to see if a $1,500 used car could be used as reliable transportation. This was not about it being a hobby project, where the bottom line is not an issue. So far, this experiment seems to be a failure. This $1,500 car is quickly turning into a $3K car.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        I wouldn’t call it a failure just yet. We don’t know what the repair bill will be or if it’s just there for a diagnosis. If Derek wasn’t near home base, he had no choice but to tow it to the nearest garage.

        Now choosing an old beater Volvo as reliable transportation might need to be looked at.

        • 0 avatar

          Nor would I. I posted an update on the FB page. It was a dirty throttle body. And yes, I was literally on the other end of the city and didn’t feel like driving a stalling-prone car on a busy freeway. Some may call it cowardice or a waste of money. I would disagree.

          I think it’s pretty premature to jump on this as a failure when this is the only thing so far that’s gone wrong. I think most of it stems from the contempt that I’m somehow a lesser breed of car guy because I chose to have a mechanic do the work rather than spend hours trying to diagnose and fix it myself. TTAC and my other obligations outside of that make the “pay the $70 and get it done properly and quickly” option much more appealing.

      • 0 avatar
        skor

        This was not meant as a personal attack, I’m sorry if that’s how my criticism came off. I don’t mean to imply that you’re not a “real car guy”. Baruth has extensive track driving experience, I don’t. I don’t think Baruth has much experience turning wrenches, but I still think of him as a “car guy”. Being a car guy means more than just being able to turn wrenches.

        You posited the following: A $1,500 car can be used as reliable transportation, and, as such, a real bargain. In all my experience, I’ve almost never seen a $1,500 car that could be used ‘as is’ without some work. If you have to pay someone to do that work, it’s no longer a bargain. It is a bargain only if you can apply sweat equity. That’s my point. A $1,500 dollar car stops being a real car and starts being a hobby when you start sinking a lot of money into it, especially if you are paying someone else to do the work.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      At Skor: Well most $1500 cars that are reliable were generally brought for less and fixed within the budget, and they’re usually Japanese.

      I don’t trust Volvos, they may make great mileage but they will cost a lot to keep on the road should anything break.

  • avatar
    mkirk

    Just dont get sentimental. I have a 4000 dollar Land Cruiser with a New, shipped from the Toyota Mothership in Tokyo short block and a rebuilt by a legendary Toyota guy everything that attaches to said short block. Now I have like a 10,000 dollar land cruiser (and I have done every bit of work short of the head rebuild myself) that is probably worth 6k or so.

    In the grand scheme though, there are a lot of people waaay more upside down than me, and I’d drive the truck anywhere in the world, but in retrospect it may have been better to start over. Course if I drive it another 10 years (I fully expect to) then I’ll be ahead, or so I tell myself.

    Anyway, I don’t look at my cars as investments. Would a 10k used car be as reliable as my truck, maybe…maybe not.

    However, when buying an old used vehicle I do it with the assumption that I will have to replace the engine in the near future. Sometimes I get lucky, sometimes not. The Cruiser has cost me an engine and front differential to date. But I wouldn’t trade it. It would cost me 30k at least for something new that is as capable.

    NEVER buy a 1500 dollar car unless you can wrench on it yourself to include operations that require pulling the motor.

  • avatar
    red60r

    Alcohol-diluted gasoline ate up the rubber tubing in the fuel system in my ’97 850-T5 wagon. Every summer during its last few years of service it reeked like a distillery. Then some %$$&^@#^% in a 7-series BMW put it out of its misery with a 30-mph rearender. (Uninsured, he then skipped town leaving my insurance to clean up his mess.)

  • avatar
    MadHungarian

    In this thread there are about two dozen possible causes suggested for what is happening, down to things as mundane as how many other keys are on the driver’s key ring, but I do notice a common word appearing time and again — the word “sensor.” IMO, if you are gonna drive beaters, and if you want to have any prayer of being able to do any useful repairs at the side of the road with a small tool kit and a stash of basic cheap parts you can keep in a small box in the trunk, the secret is to get a car dependent on as few “sensors” as possible to run. Go pre-1973 and you won’t even have an EGR to worry about. When you buy the car put on a good rebuilt carb (usually not expensive). Carry a spare set of ignition parts with you (points, condenser, rotor, cap, wires), a spare fuel pump and filter, and maybe a voltage regulator or starter solenoid. You’re good to go.

    The only real problem with this approach is that it is getting very hard to find cheap pre-1973 cars in that sweet spot of condition, well into “good driver” range but not collector/show quality.

  • avatar
    IronEagle

    If you don’t have them I would get some tools. When they have sales you can get Craftsman sets at Sears for 50% off with all the sockets and wrenches you’ll probably need. With those and a good manual you’ll save so much money on labor. If it is something too complicated you can get help on the internets or through a local club probably. Good luck with your ride! It is a great feeling to get a job done with a couple hundred extra or in my case $800 on a timing/water pump job labor cost in your pocket!

    • 0 avatar
      skor

      I may be wrong, but I believe the author of this article is over 30 years old. Sorry, but I’ve never seen anyone become a good mechanic who started after the age of 30-35. I started working on cars when I was 14. All the other guys I now who are good at turning wrenches started when they were in their teens.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        I think Derek is 25.

        He has also made some comments before about working on his Miata and posted a picture of it up on jack stands with the wheels off. So I would guess that he has at least some basic tools and mechanical knowledge. It seems he either didn’t have the time to deal with the Volvo on his own right now or figured that the problem would be over his head.

        • 0 avatar

          Re: the Miata, aside from the oil changes and tune-ups, I put in new coilovers, the clutch slave and master cylinder, a new top (granted it was just a matter of swapping the frames with the vinyl top already on it) and the rotors, pads, lines and calipers (two needed to be replaced over the life of the car).

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “aside from the oil changes and tune-ups, I put in new coilovers, the clutch slave and master cylinder, a new top (granted it was just a matter of swapping the frames with the vinyl top already on it) and the rotors, pads, lines and calipers (two needed to be replaced over the life of the car).”

        If you don’t bathe in antifreeze, don’t put gear oil on your corn flakes, and don’t use a clay bar in the shower, then you aren’t a real car guy. I mean, paying a mechanic for repairs after your car breaks down away from home…who in the hell does THAT?!?! And everyone knows that tow trucks are for wimps.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    I have never paid more than 6 K$ for a car. My 88 528e with 117k miles on it cost me 500$. It had a minor left front hit, that broke the headlight and tweaked the bumper. Most of the visible damage was minor and I had a parts car of the same color to to get stuff from. Ten months of structural repair, and 300$ worth of tuneup parts, later it is a reliable daily driver. I DIY as much as possible. Still running well 5 years and 60 K miles later. I just did a 300 mile trip in my 600$ Ranger and plan a trip to Toronto with it a couple of weeks. Fixing the Ranger took me 3 1/2 months and 800$ in parts to sort it out. I didn’t have a radio on the trip , so I just listened to the noises and vibrations. No real bad ones, the 4.0 OHV motor is fine,the driveline and suspension doesnt seem to consume fluids too badly. I had a couple of plugs out and they looked OK. Starts easy and runs steady. Shifts smooth, and clutch is great. It should, everything is new from the rear main seal out Brakes are mostly new from master cylinder
    outwards too. There was a rotted section of frame under the LF cab support, just aft of where the SI front end is bolted to the frame. I was ship fitter, carpenter, and I grok geometry in structures. So frame and and unibody issues dont faze me. My methods are slow and primitive, but sound.

  • avatar
    Perc

    What model year is this?

    The inline-5 was updated for 1999 with a new fly-by-wire throttle body that usually will fail at some point. Both from soot buildup and failing electrics. Sounds like this might be your issue. If it’s got a normal cable-operated throttle I have no idea.

    The AC cycling on and off quickly sounds like it’s low on refrigerant. It might just have a slow leak that can be “fixed” by recharging, or it could be a serious leak that needs to be repaired before you can recharge it.

    • 0 avatar

      I have a ’99 base S70 4spd auto (not the tempermental 5spd), a hand-me-down from my college years. My mechanic serviced the original owner and so it was a confident buy for $3000 in 2009. 380,000 km on the odo, and it’s still running great (but it does require biannual checkups that come with parts replacements due to normal wear and tear). Still, they don’t make them like they used to and until I get a four-digit repair estimate I’ll probably keep driving it.

      Derek, if all else fails, maybe it’s got something to do with your fuel choice bugging out the anti-knock sensor. More often than not I put 91 octane in the tank. The manual calls for it, and I hear a difference when the car’s running on it. It returns 10L/100km in mixed highway and city driving.

    • 0 avatar

      I have a ’99 base S70 4spd auto (not the temperamental 5spd), a hand-me-down from my college years. My mechanic serviced the original owner and so it was a confident buy for $3000 in 2009. 380,000 km on the odo, and it’s still running great (but it does require biannual checkups that come with parts replacements due to normal wear and tear). Still, they don’t make them like they used to and until I get a four-digit repair estimate I’ll probably keep driving it.

      Derek, if all else fails, maybe it’s got something to do with your fuel choice bugging out the anti-knock sensor. More often than not I put 91 octane in the tank. The manual calls for it, and I hear a difference when the car’s running on it. It returns 10L/100km in mixed highway and city driving.

      • 0 avatar

        P.S. The CAA Gold membership is totally worth it.

      • 0 avatar
        skor

        Whaaaa? Fuel grade will not cause a knock sensor to shut down the engine. If the sensor detects knock, the engine management computer will retard the timing until the knock is gone. If the advance is at the retard limit, and knock is still detected, the “check engine” light will be set.

  • avatar
    petedmeat

    I’d put money that one of the lights that lit up on the dash reads ETM (Electronic Throttle Module).
    Volvo, in their infinite wisdom, put a fly-by-wire throttle body manufactured by Magneti Marelli on the V70/S60s of that era. The big issue with it is a mechanical potentiometer strip that senses the position of the throttle body module itself. There is a little wire brush that rubs against a plastic/metal strip. Eventually, this wire brush wears grooves into the plastic/metal strip and starts giving false readings to the ECU.

    Cleaning the throttle body may temporarily patch this by changing the throttle profile of the air/fuel (cleaner = more efficient flow. more efficient flow = using a slightly different portion of the potentiometer strip). However, the only real solution is changing the part itself.

    Now, you’d think simply running to the junkyard and grabbing another throttle body would be the best way to go, but no, you can’t. The throttle body is ECU locked to the car meaning you cannot just replace the part, you also need to get it programmed by the dealer.

    Fortunately, there is one easy solution out there. A Canadian company called XeMODeX re-manufactures the ETM utilizing a digital, non contacting potentiometer. They also can program the part to your car if you include the VIN number.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    Oh boy, welcome to my wonderful experience with beaters. There are several reasons that could be causing this:

    Bad Fuel Filter

    Bad Fuel Hoses

    Badly Timed Idle

    Dirty Sensors

    An Injection hose with a leak

    I’ve learned from 2 old beaters that fuel injection is just a pain compared to a decent carb (’89 Tercel). And the injected beaters had less mileage on them (an ’84 Mustang and a ’90 Horizon).

    To be honest, you really should not have brought this thing. Complicated beaters are complicated headaches.

    Whats funny for me is that my ’84 Mustang had that same knack for stalling at the worst times, at least twice it almost turned me into meat for a Ram.

  • avatar
    WildcatMatt

    It’s funny, I’ve had an AC issue and situation where my ABS/TRACS lights come on spontaneously on my ’97 850, which has me investigating a lot of the same things mentioned by others in this thread. Nice timing, that.

    Hope your gremlins are easily traced!


Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Subscribe without commenting

Recent Comments

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff

  • Contributing Writers

  • Jack Baruth, United States
  • Brendan McAleer, Canada
  • Marcelo De Vasconcellos, Brazil
  • Vojta Dobes, Czech Republic
  • Matthias Gasnier, Australia
  • W. Christian 'Mental' Ward, Abu Dhabi
  • Mark Stevenson, Canada
  • Cameron Aubernon, United States
  • J Emerson, United States