The Northern California Volvo 240pocalypse Continues!

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
the northern california volvo 240pocalypse continues

The San Francisco Bay Area once had one of the world’s highest Volvo 240 concentrations, but a number of factors are conspiring to send vast numbers of Swedish bricks to The Crusher in recent years. How many? Let’s take a look at the 240 inventory I spotted yesterday at a high-turnover East Bay wrecking yard.

Keep in mind that this particular yard (which is owned by a steel company) keeps a car in the inventory for about two months before crushing it and shipping the result straight to China. Here we have 13 Volvo 240s, which will be replaced with a similar number two months from now, and the process will continue until they’re all gone.

This has gone on at a dozen or so Northern California junkyards, day after day, for the last five years or so. Here’s the same junkyard’s 240 inventory about a year ago.

Why? The last 240 s rolled off the assembly line nearly 20 years ago, which means most of them have six-figure miles on the clock and frequent repair needs by now (the temperamental electrical systems, the 240’s only serious weak point beyond the stodgy image, tend to get flakier with each passing year).

However, the rise of the Toyota Prius among those who want to make a political/lifestyle statement with their cars has likely been the main culprit. During the pre-Prius era, the Volvo 240’s image of safety and frivolity-free Scandinavian stoicism made it a big hit in NorCal (despite the brick’s drunken-sailor-grade thirst for fuel)… but the Prius came along and the 240s got sold to those who couldn’t afford the annual $1,500-$3000 in repair costs from Sven The Volvo Mechanic when the usual 25-year-old-European-car problems cropped up. High steel prices mean a typical broken 240 is good for $400 in cold cash from the scrapper. Next stop, The Crusher!

Because plenty of folks still swear by the old Volvos and would sooner ride a mule than get behind the wheel of a damn Toyota, there will always be some of them roaming Bay Area streets. If you can do your own Volvo repairs, you’ll be assured of plentiful and cheap junkyard parts for at least the next few years.

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  • Night_Sailor Night_Sailor on Aug 14, 2011

    I have two Volvo 240's. They both get 32.5mpg on the highway. I an anxiously awaiting the back ordered LRR Michelin tires which I hope will give me 34 mpg. Both are 5 speeds, a blast to drive, are invisible to cops. When they see me the worst I get is a warning. Driving fast, I think they can't believe I'm able to exceed the speed limit. The wagon is long enough to sleep in, and I'm 6'4"--a huge asset on a long trip as I like to drive until I have to stop and sleep. Also, while I now live in Connecticut, when stationed in Sacramento serving in the US Air Force, there was a guy making a living rebuilding these car in Antelope. He was selling one every 1-2 weeks in the Bay area. I am surprised they are being crushed because they are still very popular cars. The values on these are actually going up from what I've seen. Many are well maintained. I just spotted one for $4000 near me, and if I had the money, I'd jump on it, just for a spare car. I am putting power corvette seats in it next for more comfort on longer trips. If I keep mine long enough I won't be putting a V-8 in it, instead a TDI with a six speed--I think I can my mpg up to about 44 with that combo. I would restart production of these cars if I could with a few modern conveniences. That is a bit hard to justify since the gas engine will go 1 million miles.

  • Distorted Humor Distorted Humor on Jan 25, 2013

    We where the "Volvo" family - '86 240 wagon, '89 and '90 Sedans, Great cars, the '86 ended up getting old around 1999 and the engine was getting hot after 260k, my dad wore out the '90 seat by 2000, and the '89 ended up with a Window-wiper motor failure, and when i could not source that part for less then 300, and the car was worth around 500 at most, i traded it in for a new car, That and they where getting thirsty for gas so i wanted something with better mileage. All of them got 250k+ miles.

  • MaintenanceCosts What a bizarre idea. Keep it legible. There's absolutely nothing wrong with A4E, Q5E, etc. At this point the Q5, Q7, and A4 in particular are such well-known brands that it's just dumb to monkey with them.
  • Ajla After the success this sort of thing brought Infiniti and Cadillac I can see why Audi is joining in.
  • SCE to AUX A plug-in hybrid requires two fuels to realize the benefit of having that design. This is where the Volt fell down.It could be either:[list][*]A very short-range EV[/*][*]A long-range ICE with mediocre fuel economy[/*][*]An excellent mid-range vehicle that required both a plug and gasoline.[/*][/list]If you wanted a short-range EV you got a Leaf (like I did). If you wanted a long-range car with good fuel economy, you got a Civic/Elantra/Cruze/Corolla. In my case, we also had an Optima Hybrid.I'd personally rather have a single-fuel vehicle - either gas/hybrid or electric - rather than combine the complexity and cost of both into one vehicle.
  • Bobbysirhan The Pulitzer Center that collaborated with PBS in 'reporting' this story is behind the 1619 Project.
  • Bobbysirhan Engines are important.