The Northern California Volvo 240pocalypse Continues!

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

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.

Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

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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.

  • Varezhka I have still yet to see a Malibu on the road that didn't have a rental sticker. So yeah, GM probably lost money on every one they sold but kept it to boost their CAFE numbers.I'm personally happy that I no longer have to dread being "upgraded" to a Maxima or a Malibu anymore. And thankfully Altima is also on its way out.
  • Tassos Under incompetent, affirmative action hire Mary Barra, GM has been shooting itself in the foot on a daily basis.Whether the Malibu cancellation has been one of these shootings is NOT obvious at all.GM should be run as a PROFITABLE BUSINESS and NOT as an outfit that satisfies everybody and his mother in law's pet preferences.IF the Malibu was UNPROFITABLE, it SHOULD be canceled.More generally, if its SEGMENT is Unprofitable, and HALF the makers cancel their midsize sedans, not only will it lead to the SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST ones, but the survivors will obviously be more profitable if the LOSERS were kept being produced and the SMALL PIE of midsize sedans would yield slim pickings for every participant.SO NO, I APPROVE of the demise of the unprofitable Malibu, and hope Nissan does the same to the Altima, Hyundai with the SOnata, Mazda with the Mazda 6, and as many others as it takes to make the REMAINING players, like the Excellent, sporty Accord and the Bulletproof Reliable, cheap to maintain CAMRY, more profitable and affordable.
  • GregLocock Car companies can only really sell cars that people who are new car buyers will pay a profitable price for. As it turns out fewer and fewer new car buyers want sedans. Large sedans can be nice to drive, certainly, but the number of new car buyers (the only ones that matter in this discussion) are prepared to sacrifice steering and handling for more obvious things like passenger and cargo space, or even some attempt at off roading. We know US new car buyers don't really care about handling because they fell for FWD in large cars.
  • Slavuta Why is everybody sweating? Like sedans? - go buy one. Better - 2. Let CRV/RAV rust on the dealer lot. I have 3 sedans on the driveway. My neighbor - 2. Neighbors on each of our other side - 8 SUVs.
  • Theflyersfan With sedans, especially, I wonder how many of those sales are to rental fleets. With the exception of the Civic and Accord, there are still rows of sedans mixed in with the RAV4s at every airport rental lot. I doubt the breakdown in sales is publicly published, so who knows... GM isn't out of the sedan business - Cadillac exists and I can't believe I'm typing this but they are actually decent - and I think they are making a huge mistake, especially if there's an extended oil price hike (cough...Iran...cough) and people want smaller and hybrids. But if one is only tied to the quarterly shareholder reports and not trends and the big picture, bad decisions like this get made.