By on December 27, 2008

Back in 2006, I sold a frugal friend a Volvo. He paid $2500 for the conservatively driven 1995 Volvo 940. It had all the records. Top quality tires. Volvo OEM components. A true cream puff for the true enthusiast. As fellow classic Volvo aficionados, we actually kept up with each other over the years. Him for advice and updates. Me because I enjoy the company. Unfortunately, two years and 45k miles later, his wife used a telephone pole to permanently customize the front end. The insurance company cut him a check for the original purchase price. With that money, he could have easily bought a car from a smorgasbord of good used cars in today’s market. But he didn’t… here’s why.

He knew the car. Pure and simple. Everything from the brutally simple timing belt on the B234 engine to the taillight bulbs designed for easy replacement (with good reason). My friend became a frequent visitor to Brickboard.com. He id all the maintenance he felt comfortable doing himself. Over time, he understood the car’s virtues and its shortcomings. This ‘classic’ Volvo, created with maintenance and durability in mind, had earned his respect and loyalty. The knowledge paid off this past Tuesday with a new-to-him 1993 Volvo 940 Wagon. It went at a public auction for the princely sum of $600.

Simplicity may be a bullshit word used to justify overspending. But it’s a brilliant word when it comes to cars. A well- built car that can be easily maintained by the owner will cost less over the long run. Think about it. At a time when our economy is contracting worse than a mother giving birth, it pays to find cars that are simple and durable.

So what should you go for? If safety, family commuting, and features galore are your thing, I still prefer a 1994 to 1995 Volvo 940. It combines the best virtues of a car that was built to last two decades while offering modern conveniences, safety and features.

If you need an economical commuter on the cheap, a late 90’s / early 00’s Mazda Protege or Saturn S-Class would be worth the investment. A Metro may be cheaper, but it’s a deathtrap on wheels and overpriced compared to these two. Civics and Corollas suffer the Toyonda syndrome of being insanely overpriced. But can be worth the premium if you’re a long -term keeper.

Midsized and Toyonda? The 1992 – 1996 Toyota Camry 4-cylinder is my personal favorite. A noted car magazine of the time thought so highly of it they wrote, “With a car like this, who needs a Jaguar?” Unlike Jaguars of any time, I’ve seen these cars go north of 250k with stunning regularity at the auctions and wouldn’t be surprised at all to see them eventually replacing the classic Benzes and Volvos as the common old daily driver 10 years from now.

If you find Camrys too pricey (and beware of the heavily accented jerkwads who rebuild them for a living), consider a conservatively driven domestic. Most Buicks, some Oldsmobiles, the 3800 V6 non-supercharged Bonneville, and Ford’s Panther platform cars are among my personal favorites. The interiors may not be for the import enthusiast, but the powertrains often represent the best of Detroit. Which can be pretty damn good.

Finally when it comes to trucks, I like virtually anything that doesn’t have the names Dodge or Powerstroke on it. Ford’s 2.3L 4-banger is a well known workhorse. But Toyota’s 22-RE engined pickups are probably the toughest 4-cylinder ever made. I put one up on Craigslist recently and it seemed like half the Latino immigrants in the area gave me a call. Pickups can actually look crappy but be well maintained. A car. Perhaps, but not as common.

Oh, and one other thing. If the Chrysler you’re considering doesn’t have the name Jeep or isn’t a minivan with the 3.3L V6, forget it. Older Kias are ‘Killed In Action’, and I rarely see a Saab that doesn’t justify the four lettered name.

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37 Comments on “Hammer Time: Survivalist Edition...”


  • avatar
    Ingvar

    One of the reasons that Volvo is such a popular car in Sweden, is not only that it is a swedish brand, but that the dealer and service network was so expansive and well cared for. I don’t know how it is nowadays, but parts and servicing for a 240/740/940 was appx 50% of their competitors in their days. A 240 wagon is the swedish equivalent of a Ford F150 truck standing behind the shed, and any farmer could mend them. Volvo thus became popular not only because of vast supply, but because servicing and maintaining the cars was so much cheaper than for any other car. That and the superior quality actually made prices for used cars rise, prices for used Volvos was inflated for a very long time. A Volvo wagon was almost mandatory for families with children. Now you can pick them up dirt cheap.

  • avatar
    KalapanaBlack

    3800 V6 non-supercharged Bonneville

    The failure rate as a percentage of total production might be low, but there are so many L36 engines out there… Take a look in a junkyard, and a huge percentage of the 3800 Series II-powered vehicles will have their engine compartments toasted. The rest of the production run is most likely still running. It’s bulletproof, otherwise.

    Case in point: my aunt and uncle bought a brand new 1999 (last year of the H-Body Bonnevilles) SLE. It was dark green with a tan leather interior. The SLE was the loaded “luxury” Bonneville, basically an SSEi without the supercharged engine.

    10,000 miles on the clock, sitting in the driveway (thankfully not in their attached garage), it caught fire. Totalled.

    Replaced with a 2000 Impala LS with the same engine. I noted the irony, but thankfully nothing has happened with the Impala.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    Kalap… the 3800 V6 is among the most popular engines of choice for auctioneers, remarketing professionals, and domestic dealers in my neck of the woods

    You can buy them with about 80k to 100k on them for next to nothing at the auctions (about $3000 to $3500). Drive them until they hit 250k, sell for $1500, and repeat.

    They will give you about 28 mpg to 30 mpg on the highway (about the same as a midsized Japanese 4-cylinder from the 1990’s), can run at about 1400 rpm’s at 65 mph all day long, and are perfect for folks who do lots of highway driving.

    In fact, I almost bought a 2005 Grand Prix model last night with 134k on it for $1800. It needed a few hundred in body work, and that was about it. Unfortunately the bank wanted me to pay $3375. No sale.

    However I did get a 2000 Olds Silhouette for only $900. Seems to ride and drive perfectly fine.

  • avatar
    Deepsouth

    I second your strong feeling about Ford’s panther cars. Yes, they are dated. Yes, they are car barges. Yes, driving the crown Victoria resembles a state trooper. However, they offer V-8 performance, rear wheel drive, owners often report mid 20’s highway mileage,a roomy interior and trunk. I feel it’s one of the best used car values out there.

  • avatar
    Rev Junkie

    A great car to get is a 5th gen Accord (’94-’97). My dad owns one with 180k on it, and it is completely solid. The interior is extremely well put-together, the shifter is sweet to use and each shift amplifies the feeling of solidity with a thunk. The engine is torquey, it gets 30 mpg, the steering is nicely weighted, and it feels as if it could go another 100k with nary a problem. It seems much better put together than my Civic, and would recommend that Accord as the best daily driver money can buy.

  • avatar
    Stingray

    Sadly, I don’t live over there, but I always find these articles useful and insightful on the cars.

    And I see domestics recommended generally as a good value. Of course, not all models.

    Modern cars are not built with maintenance and durability in mind anymore…

  • avatar
    jaje

    My daily driver is an ’89 Honda Civic hatch. Pretty much one of the most bulletproof fuel efficient cars ever made. Plus I used to race one and know how to work on them so that I can do any and all repairs myself – and new and used parts are fairly cheap.

  • avatar
    highrpm

    Some of you folks are being much too kind on the 3800 GM engines. Remember those warping plastic intake manifolds, the short-life water pumps and EGR valves? These are not bulletproof engines.

  • avatar
    iNeon

    ^^^ That’s the 3400.

    Dodge Rams are horrid trucks. Our family has one, and it only has 250,000 miles on it. The stupid thing continually needs humongously expensive parts like radiator caps, tires and we just replaced the water pump on it.

    Can you believe that?!?!?! A water pump needing to be replaced at 250,000 miles!!!

    There is a reason the domestics are failing, and it’s because they can’t build a fargin water pump that that lasts over 250,000 miles. This is simply bananas.

  • avatar
    kablamo

    The Toyotas and Hondas do have a higher initial price point, but that hasn’t been a problem in my experience.
    If you intend on driving the car into the ground, there’s always one that somebody thinks is on it’s last leg (but isn’t) available for a few hundred bucks.
    If you get a 9-10 year old model, you can clean it up inside and out and sell it for within $1000 of the original purchase price 2-3 years later (provided you didn’t overpay to begin with).

    At least in Honda’s case they tend to be a bit more fun to drive than a Saturn, Toyota or even Mazda Protege. I’ve often heard the Volvos are good fun though, so I won’t contest that!

  • avatar
    50merc

    iNeon: “Can you believe that?!?!?! A water pump needing to be replaced at 250,000 miles!!!”

    It’s simply shocking. What’s worse, something else will probably go bad in the next hundred thousand miles. Trucks just don’t last any time at all anymore.

  • avatar

    SL
    An excellent article as usual.
    I almost regret selling my Protege but the arrival of our second kid made me replace it with a 6 wagon.
    Some of the vehicles listed are a bit old for those of us in the rust bound regions of North America.
    Have you got a few more recent suggestions?

  • avatar
    moawdtsi

    After watching this vid, I’ll stick with something a little newer and safer, even if I have to pay more since occasionally I have to stick a couple of car seats in my vehicle. The ford taurus is pretty highly rated in the safety dept and are dirt cheap. That’s always an option.

  • avatar
    Omnifan

    The 3800 engine (non-supercharged) is simply the best yestertech engine GM ever produced. Yes, the plastic intake manifold had a coolant problem (easily fixed with a piece of stainless steel tubing) and yes the water pumps don’t last forever (but are easily changed without a uttering one four letter word). But they run forever, get 20 MPG city in a full size car, 33 on the highway. And they’re comfortable to cruise in. Series III was the best engine yet, with an aluminum upper intake to solve the problems.

    Possibly the 8th wonder of the modern world?

  • avatar
    derm81

    Although a gas hog, the Jeep Cherokees with the AMC Straight 4 engine were bulletproof. I believe that it was specifically designed for use in the Cherokee but I could be mistaken. My dad’s 99 Cherokee reached 250,000 miles on it with no major repairs except the emergency brake. The Cherokee was very easy to work on and the interiors, although plain, were designed to be durable. How Chrysler fucked the Jeep name up, I will never know.

    Now, the first generation Saturn S Series is, from what I have heard, a reliable vehicle. My next door neighbor is a mechanic and sees a wide range of vehicles on a daily basisi. He owns Hondas, but swears that the older model Saturns are some of the most reliable cars on the road. I see a ton of early 90 SL models on the road here in SE Michigan. They seem to be a good first car for a kid in high school. As a matter of fact, the first car I had ever seen with 300,000 plus miles was a 1993 SL.

  • avatar
    friedclams

    Wow, I feel so validated! I have a 2001 Protege AND a 1996 Olds with the 3800 Series II! Both cars are awesome in their own way and very easy to work on. The parts for the Olds are practically free and omnipresent at the wreckers.

    FYI I found a junkyard in Cleveland that specializes in only 3800 engine parts, they have huge stock, are cheap, and ship promptly. I can post more info if anyone likes.

    Also, I owned an early 90s Saturn and it was crapola.

    Great advice Steven.

  • avatar
    jconli1

    I had a 240 wagon (B21FT, though) and despite the rest of the car staying solid, poor college student me couldn’t keep the turbo up. Sold it at 200k to another brick enthusiast, who ran it well past 300 without doing anything to it. Go figure.

    Now, like most ex-Volvo people I know, I’ve gone to Subaru. Seems like pre-02 Subarus carry on the 70s-mid 90s Volvo mantra of solid, safe, and (relatively) simple. That 2.2 boxer is more or less bulletproof and easy to take to at least 200k.

    Perhaps just because of its Japanese origin, it doesn’t quite have the feel and aura of a 240 (Volvo or Benz for that matter), but my ’98 Impreza is a tank, and thus far has soldiered well into the mid 100s without any costly surprises, or even the minor nickel-and-diming habit the Volvo developed by this time.

  • avatar
    wstansfi

    Growing up in the northeast, I have to disagree w/ you about the volvo being a safe car, unless you’re talking about the newer all wheel drive versions. The rear end on those wagons would slide out on a few leaves or pine-needles in the summer and fall, and in the winter you could forget it. That may be well and good for the enthusiast that enjoys sliding around corners at all speeds in all conditions, but put a few kids in the back and you’re freaking out every time you touch the accelerator. Sure, it was a status symbol of the suburban soccer mom in the 80’s and into the 90’s, but they quietly hated them.

  • avatar
    fredtal

    I had 2 VW Beatles for about 7 years, one ran the other for parts. Plus I had an extra engine and bunch of spares. I bought it all for $500. Cheap and easy to work on. I miss it but I got a good job and so can afford a “nice” car. Even if it costs me thousands more.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    The most important ingredient in all of this is the prior owner. In baseball terms, the prior owner serves as the pitcher for all the prior innings of the car’s existence. Unfortunately even if you buy the best quality vehicle, it won’t matter much if the prior owner was a shmuck.

    Ingvar is right. The RWD Volvos were not only amazingly well built for their they time, they were just about as common in Sweden as 99 cent sodas are in the USA.

    Rev Junkie, I do like the 1994 – 1997 Accords. At a time when everything was getting bigger, Honda wisely decided to keep it smaller and far more simple. A 4-cylinder / 5-speed is a great combination that should easily last over 200k. Any other one though is not as durable as a 4 cylinder Camry typically will be. Honda has always had issues with transmissions in anything of that timebut the Civic, DelSol and the sadly discontinued CRX. The V6’s aren’t my cup of tea in either model. But I do like the space in the hearse like wagon Toyota had at that time.

    For everyone else… I’ve found that the quality gap between domestics and imports has been grossly overplayed if you’re looking at cars from a durability standpoint. Every manufacturer has weaknesses that they will not only hide from the public. But also carry forward to multiple generations. As a company, I don’t really see any of them offering more than a couple vehicles that are truly the best in class from a durability perspective.

    With rare exception (VW, Land Rover, Saab, Suzuki, Kia) the quality gap is not tangible enough to prioritize one vehicle over another. Montereys are seemingly just as durable as the Odysseys/Siennas, Fusions are holding up just as well as the Camry/Accord, and even Dodge is just as capable of building a 200k+ truck as Chevy and Ford.

    The greatest differences lay with the actual tactile quality of the interiors and the willingness of the manufacturer to warranty and maintain the vehicle as it should. In otherwords, those of you opting for a Chrysler or BMW in the future may want to get as much background information as possible about the vehicle before buying it.

  • avatar
    confused1096

    The old Aerostars with the 3.0 V6 (also found in the Ranger) are another good bet. Not the prettiest thing on the road but they are sturdy and rear wheel drive. Both of mine lasted well over 200K before I traded them in…both still ran okay at trade.

    The Nissan Maxima is another that’s bullet proof and easy to find cheap.

    While I’ve had no problems with the 3800 V6, the automatic transmissions attached to them have been problematic–at least in the cars I’ve owned.

  • avatar
    Jimal

    I have an ’85 Volvo 240 wagon I picked up last month as a winter crasher. The thing is I LOVE it. After dealing with all the complexities of my prior car (’03 Golf TDI) the Volvo is delightfully simple to work on and maintain. It has also been great in the snow. Studded snows help, but even on the old worn out summer tires I didn’t get any indication the car was a handful.

  • avatar
    KalapanaBlack

    iNeon :
    December 27th, 2008 at 1:15 pm

    ^^^ That’s the 3400.

    Dodge Rams are horrid trucks. Our family has one, and it only has 250,000 miles on it. The stupid thing continually needs humongously expensive parts like radiator caps, tires and we just replaced the water pump on it.

    Can you believe that?!?!?! A water pump needing to be replaced at 250,000 miles!!!

    There is a reason the domestics are failing, and it’s because they can’t build a fargin water pump that that lasts over 250,000 miles. This is simply bananas.

    Gotta say, I know someone at work who just replaced his 200,000+ mi ’96 with the old 360 V8 with a sub-10,000 mi 2008 Big Horn crew cab. He swears by Rams. I believe he may have had one before the ’96, too. The old one was getting to be too much of a fuel drinker, and he needed the extra space (it was a 2500 4WD regular cab long bed, the new one is a short bed four-door). I’m pretty sure he picked the new one up for a song, and they still gave him $3500 for his old one at the Dodge dealer!

  • avatar

    Steven,

    How common are $600-$1000 700 and 900 series Volvos? I really liked the 760 Turbo I had (until it dropped a valve) and my daughter needs to replace her Ford Tempo because the shifter stabilizer bar is broken, it’s an obsolete dealer part and she’s got a 5speed so there aren’t any at the junkyards.

    I’d love to have a turbo 745 or 945. Have always like Volvo wagons (though I’ve never owned one despite having had, let’s see, I think 4 bricks of one kind or another).

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    I can find at least a few of them a week. The 945 is obviously the most common and also is still well supported at all the automotive recycling centers. You can also take a look at the impound lot auctions listed in the community paper to see if you can get a spare car, or even restore one. I recently bought a 1994 940 Sedan for $350 and resold it for $1400 after about $100 worth of work.

    The 740 and 940 have many interchangeable parts. The 760 is often times it’s own bird. Finally you have the 960 model which has a 2.9L engine that Porsche helped develop. That’s not a good thing. Although they are great riders, they do require a lot more upkeep and can have some very expensive repairs even with a healthy maintenance regimen.

    The 940 and 850 would be the two best. My choice would be a 1994 or 1995 940 or a 1997 Volvo 850. The later vehicle would be a far better fit for someone in their 20’s.

  • avatar
    roadracer

    Wow, never heard of a Saturn S-class before. Sounds like a limousine when you put it that way.

  • avatar
    JoeEgo

    +1 for the 3800. Our 2000 Grand Prix does the job even if it suffers from occasional interior issues. Father-in-law’s LaSabre (last year they were made) pulled 35mpg from the Grand Canyon back to Los Angeles with 5 people and a trunk full of their week’s luggage and two wheelchairs.

    Now if I can just convince my wife a sedan will do the job as an upgrade then we can get a G8. She’s hot to those Lambdas though. GM really does have a chance to be a profitable car company. Here’s hoping the company and union can pull heads out of each others’ asses.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    1997 Volvo 850

    Yikes Steve! Back in ’98 we had to buy a new car; I kept pushing for the Maxima SE, my wife had always wanted a Volvo. So I said ok fine (it was going to be her car), but I want something tried and true like the then just-discontinued S90 or V90, but no, she thought the S70 was a better fit for her (oddly enough they were just about the same price).

    Biggest piece of crap ever – at 80k it needed a complete a/c system, ABS system, and had several electrical gremlins. Oh and went through unique headlight bulbs like water. Took a bath on it and got a Toyota.

    The car was as solid as a tank, but God I wished I had pushed harder for the S90.

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    I’ve gained a new appreciation as of late for the late 124 chassis Mercedes (particularly the ’94 & ’95 E320 sedan, wagon, and cabriolet).

    Unlike more recent Mercedes cars, these seemed to earn their luxury status primarily through build quality rather than lots of electronic doodads. A good friend had an E320 wagon with 280k miles on the clock. The Tex interior looked like new and the car was still as quiet and solid on the road as the day it was new. I picked up an E320 cab and likewise, I like the simple nature of the car.

    Granted, when things do break on a Mercedes the parts will cost a lot more but other than a few known weak spots they should last a long time if maintained properly. The E320 had some issues with insulation on the wiring harness but most of these have been replaced by now if the car is still on the road.

    Perusing Craigslist, it looks like $5k will buy you a really nice and relatively low-mileage E320 sedan with the Cabriolets closer to $15k… but remember that they cost about $86k when new back in 1994. The buy-in price is higher than your Volvo, but in a few years you could probably sell one for about the same price so the ownership cost should still be low.

    While I appreciate a lot of the technology on newer cars I do have to wonder what something like an I-drive equipped BMW will be like when it’s 10 years old. Since everything including the radio and climate controls work through the computer screen a failure will likely make the car a throwaway. My old (’01) pre-Idrive 525iT had enough failures in the auxiliary systems to scare me away from the newer models.

    Oh yeah, another honorable mention for a solid and simple car would be the Porsche 911 Carrera (’84-’89). These were the last iteration of the originl 911 but with more modern Bosch fuel injection. They had no power steering, no power locks, no radiator or coolant hoses to fail, and were built like tanks.

  • avatar
    detlef

    wstansfi

    Growing up in the northeast, I have to disagree w/ you about the volvo being a safe car, unless you’re talking about the newer all wheel drive versions. The rear end on those wagons would slide out on a few leaves or pine-needles in the summer and fall, and in the winter you could forget it. That may be well and good for the enthusiast that enjoys sliding around corners at all speeds in all conditions, but put a few kids in the back and you’re freaking out every time you touch the accelerator. Sure, it was a status symbol of the suburban soccer mom in the 80’s and into the 90’s, but they quietly hated them.

    It certainly does stand to reason that the Swedes would engineer a car that handled like garbage in its native environment and then continue to build it for twenty years, doesn’t it? Citing the driving capabilities of suburban soccer moms (in any weather) proves the opposite of the point you’re trying to make – with these cars, it’s the driver’s skill and judgment that make the difference, and unskilled or unthinking drivers can make any vehicle a handful in snow.

    After driving several 200-series Volvos, I finally picked up a ’94 850 Turbo wagon with 192k on it for a song four years ago. I’ve put ~120k on the car since I bought it with minimal issues (a fuel pump failure at 250k, and easily fixed in a parking lot with extremely basic hand tools), and unlike the 200-series cars the 850 has no rust on it despite spending all but three years in Minnesota and Wisconsin. The car came with heated seats, dual-zone climate control, traction control, three-mode transmission, sunroof, and a six-disc CD changer. All still work like new. The cargo capacity is simply astounding, the mileage is reasonable, and even the leather has held up extremely well. I’m definitely looking forward to the next 300k miles.

    As for the 3800-powered vehicles, I advised my dad to buy a clean secondhand Buick LeSabre off an AARP member for rural commuter use. He’d been thinking about getting something Panther-based, but the extra mpg of the Buick swayed him. When he wants to drive a great RWD V-8 domestic he just fires up the ’60 Buick in his shop. Buick doesn’t make that awesome Nailhead anymore, but a turbo’d or blown 3800 is the next best thing.

  • avatar
    V6

    i have a 1989 Nissan Maxima and it’s great. comfortable to drive, reliable as hell and i can even change all sparkplugs myself without having to remove the intake manifold

  • avatar
    CommanderFish

    On Chryslers:

    You’d love to think that they’re all just utter garbage, don’t you? Here’s a list of people that will disagree with you:

    http://allpar.com/old/club/index.php

    Mopars of all varieties make it on there.

    As far as transverse FWD Chryslers go (what I know first hand), even the infamous Ultradrive/41TE really isn’t that bad of a transmission. There were problems with the very, very early ones (it was one of the first electronically controlled transmissions ever) but I’ve had 4 of them since (92 Voyager, 99 Voyager, 98 Breeze, 06 T&C) and I have never had a problem. Don’t use Dexron 2, kids, ATF +3 only.

    The 2.0L (My Breeze has one) and it’s amazing head gasket is not a problem for somebody who’s buying a used 90’s Chrysler now. Most Neons and Breezes from that would have had said head gasket problem are either 1. in a junk yard or 2. have gotten it replaced. With the 1998MY and up, the problem is nonexistent. The bad ones have weeded themselves out. Bonus: This problem NEVER existed on the 2.4L, it was limited to the 2.0L

    The same thing goes for sludging 2.7L’s, too. Only 2001 and 2002 Intrepid/Concordes had this problem (even though the 2001/2002 Stratus/Sebrings also had this engine, it never seems to come up in those). After that and you’re good to go. Also, many people who own 2.7L’s from those select years say that the problem can be avoided by following what the manual says (oil changes at 3,000 miles, I believe it says, and no synthetic oil)

    So, since you can get the average FWD Chrysler for an even bigger steal than most domestics, and the problems at this point are merely reputation, it may be worth a look.

  • avatar
    armadamaster

    GM’s B-bodies shoulda been on that list with the Panthers. 1991-1996’s can be had for cheap on Craigslist these days, are even easier to work on, and the parts are even cheaper than the Panthers.

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    On Volvo engines. Consensus being that the four-cylinders are almost indestructable, mainly the “redblock” series, B21 to B230 fitted in 240, 740, 940:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volvo_B21_engine

    The PRV V6 engine has a somewhat bad reputation, as fitted in the 260, 760 and 780:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PRV_engine

    And the “modular” engine, inline 4,5, and 6-cylinder, as fitted in almost everything from 960 and 850 up until now and beyond:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volvo_Modular_engine

    So, I don’t back Steven Langs impression that the straight six fitted in the 960 has a bad reputation. On the contrary, my impression is that it is fairly good. I have to lay the verdict open on that one.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    My verdict’s based on what the Brickboard, Carsurvey, Edmunds, and a long long list of what other actual owners have to say along with what I see at the auctions.

    The 6-cylinder and 5-cylinder are as different as night and day. The former requires a very hefty level of maintenance and is $$$$ to maintain. If you break the timing belt in one of those deals it’s nearly $3000 in repairs and the timing belt intervals on them were variable depending on the year. In fact, Volvo changed the timing belt design every year for the 960 from 92-95. As a daily driver they are uneconomical and I do not recommend them.

    The 5-cylinder is one of the best engines from the mid-1990’s and is virtually bulletproof if maintained appropriately. A mid-90’s Volvo 850/S70 turbo wagon can get over 30 mpg and thankfully, Volvo saw fit to not fit the engine with aluminum heads or give it a belt change that requires Alldata or a factory manual.

    I actually had a friend of mine fly in from Keene, NH for a 13 year old Volvo turbo and he absolutely cherishes it. The 2.4L 5 cylinder is very well designed and is for all practical matters the last good engine Volvo made.

    CommanderFish, Chrysler didn’t get the head gasket problems with the Neon licked until 2000. The replacement head they use is actually an exceptional piece. But you’re really comparing an enthusiast perspective and most folks are decidedly on the non-enthusiast scale. Simply put, 95+% of the population will never delve deeper than what the mechanic tells them. My purpose for writing this artile is to simply keep them from the mechanic.

    The 2.7L and 3.2L engines both have the same issue with the 2.7L being far more prevalent. If you can show me how and Chrysler redesigned that engine for the Intrepid/Concorde I would gladly reconsider my position.

    But most folks at the auctions literally walk away from either of these models, or other Chrysler products, that have the 2.7L or 3.2L. I even had a 1999 version that was exclusively owned by the Salvation Army and was religiously (pardon the pun) given oil changes every 3k. It still blew the head three months later.

    Chrysler’s electronic transmissions can be mostly handled by adding a cooler and changing the fluid every year. Even with that, I still wouldn’t expect them to last for the life of the vehicle. Although I will say that the Chrysler minivans were definitely the best of the 1990’s, and the 2001 to present models have been among the better minivans out there in terms of value. I would have no qualms with recommending a 3.3L V6 short wheelbase minivan that was made in the mid-2000’s.

    The recent decontenting of Chrysler’s products is a scary thing for me to behold and I simply don’t recommend them anymore. I will say that Chrysler deserved a better ending than the one that seems to exist at this moment.

  • avatar

    DaveM: Re Volvo 850s
    We bought a ’95 850 sedan almost new (it was the loaner for 6 months with 5k miles) and it is now at 250000+ miles. Just put in a new radiator. Had to re-do the AC about 2 years ago and paid way too much for that. Otherwise, it has been pretty reasonable to keep and maintain since we stopped using the dealer and found a Volvo mechanic nearby. It has never stranded us, but the latest thing to make us think twice: the throttle got stuck wide open during the last ice storm. Went to start it up and it ROARED to life. Couldnt get it loose til this weekend when the temps went into the 50s. Gonna be more careful with it now, but wont stop driving it! Still get 29mpg in mostly highway driving.

  • avatar
    Johann

    It is a total myth that bigger cars are (always) safer! Yes, it holds water when you compare a big 2008 car with a small 2008 one, but a small modern car is much safer than an old big one. Look at this UK video from the Fifth Gear programme:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=86M_fV-1yKY

    Or just do a Google search for “Volvo vs Renault Modus Fifth Gear”.

    That 940 might have been safe in the early 90s but it certainly is not anymore.

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