Piston Slap: Dusting Off Love for a Swedish Meatball

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap dusting off love for a swedish meatball

James writes:

Hey Sajeev, James here (well duh.) I’m at a conundrum of logic-versus-emotion and I need someone to talk me out of this idea. My current car is an ’07 Accord EX sedan, 4-cylinder, 5-speed, low miles (like 42k, hardly broken in.) It’s a great car – costs almost nothing to maintain,comfortable, great shifter, good gas mileage. The only thing is, I don’t actually… well… like it.

I’ve always had a thing for turbocharged Swedish cars (oh lord.) My last car was a beautiful Saab 900 SPG that blew up in dramatic fashion despite me throwing a frankly insane amount of money at it while I owned it. Thus the appliance-like Honda now.

However, I’ve always had an attraction to Volvo T-5 powered cars, in particular the 850 and S70/V70 (first-generation). My first car was a non-turbo 850 auto sedan, and I always said I’d have kept it if it had a clutch pedal or a turbo motor. I seem to have come across the perfect T-5 and I’m considering selling the Honda, buying the T5, and investing the rest of the money somewhere more useful (than a depreciating asset I don’t like all that much.)

The car’s a ’98 V70 T-5 wagon with a (rather rare) 5-speed transmission. Just got a new timing belt, tensioners, and rollers like a month ago. It’s totally stock except for a set of 17″ V70R wheels, it’s got just over 100k miles on it, and from the pictures it looks immaculate. I know the weak spots on these cars (mainly the rear main seal, clutches, ABS pumps) but this one has records since new and has been Volvo-nut maintained. It’s also worth about 5k less than my Honda, which would be a useful chunk of savings for me since I’m pretty young. So from my optimistic standpoint it seems win-win – get a car I’ve always wanted that seems perfect, and save money on insurance, while putting away some money in savings. But maybe I’m just creating my own logic to justify buying a 14 year old European turbo wagon. What say you?

Sajeev answers:

I think you’d be almost as happy upgrading the dampers, wheels/tires, swaybars on your Accord, with a better (value) car in the end. But hey, what the heart wants, the heart sometimes gets: those older turbo Volvos are quirky, cool and fairly reasonable to wrench on. So let’s give it a chance, and pull in TTAC’s own Swedish Surgeon, Alex Dykes.

Alex Dykes answers:

James, you managed to pick one of the best years for the V70 T5. The only thing better than a 1998 T5 wagon with the 5-speed manual is a 2000 V70R with the 5-speed manual grafted to it. As you have probably researched, the 1999 and 2000 V70s had a problematic drive-by-wire throttle. By sticking with ’98 models you can keep the maintenance cheap and cheerful. The major S70/V70 quibbles tend to be the ABS controller which can be repaired rather than replaced, the soft OEM upper engine mount wears rapidly, the door trim panels “bubble” due to some questionable adhesives being used and the T5 can chew through caps and rotors in as little as 15,000 miles.

Compared to your ’07 Accord, I’d probably take the cheap Swedish hauler if you like some wrenching. The S70/V70 is incredibly easy to work on, the 5-cylinder is a funky engine that quickly earns your love, torque steer be damned! And FWD wheel hop is pretty fun in the T5, which it will do aplenty while laying down some rubber.

Since you say it has about 100,000 miles on it, be sure the previous owner has changed the timing belt AND the tensioner. The ’98 models used a hydraulic tensioner that must be changed at 70,000 miles. Since Volvo’s T5 is an interference engine, broken timing belts are the only thing that stands in your way of many carefree miles. IPD sells belts and all the tools you need to make the change. Be sure the climate control works properly before you buy, flashing lights mean the blend doors are sticking. If the door panels show any signs of the pleater “bubbling” then know that the only solution is new door panels from Volvo at a couple hundred a pop (ask me how I know). My 1998 S70 T5 is still running, now on it’s third owner (friend of mine) and has just crested 280,000 miles with it’s original engine, turbo, and transmission. The clutch finally gave out around 250,000 miles. If the V has been well treated, then it’s only barely broken in. Buy it, get your self a set of Torx sockets and burn some front wheel rubber.

Send your queries to mehta@ttac.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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2 of 20 comments
  • Diseasel Diseasel on Apr 19, 2011

    James's story sounds really familiar, and I get the feeling that I read it somewhere on the interwebs within the last six months or so. Was it here at TTAC?

  • Durailer Durailer on Apr 19, 2011

    Get the Volvo, when it turns into a money pit (which could be many miles from now), your heart may long for another quirky and less troublesome drive. My '99 S70 base had 200k miles on it, still drove like new, anyone that's taken a look underneath the car complimented me that it still looked factory new. My only complaint was the need to top up oil mid-cycle, and that the A/C compressor clutch would overheat and disengage. I wish I didn't have to give it up but my girlfriend wanted to drive a much newer car. So I say... follow your heart!

  • Tassos Chinese owned Vollvo-Geely must have the best PR department of all automakers. A TINY maker with only 0.5-0.8% market share in the US, it is in the news every day.I have lost count how many different models Volvo has, and it is shocking how FEW of each miserable one it sells in the US market.Approximately, it sells as many units (TOTAL) as is the total number of loser models it offers.
  • ToolGuy Seems pretty reasonable to me. (Sorry)
  • Luke42 When I moved from Virginia to Illinois, the lack of vehicle safety inspections was a big deal to me. I thought it would be a big change.However, nobody drives around in an unsafe car when they have the money to get their car fixed and driving safely.Also, Virginia's inspection regimine only meant that a car was safe to drive one day a year.Having lived with and without automotive safety inspections, my confusion is that they don't really matter that much.What does matter is preventing poverty in your state, and Illinois' generally pro-union political climate does more for automotive safety (by ensuring fair wages for tradespeople) than ticketing poor people for not having enough money to maintain their cars.
  • ToolGuy When you are pulled over for speeding, whether you are given a ticket or not should depend on how attractive you are.Source: My sister 😉
  • Kcflyer What Toyota needs is a true full size body on frame suv to compete with the Expedition and Suburban and their badge engineered brethren. The new sequoia and LX are too compromised in capacity by their off road capabilities that most buyers will never use.