Rent, Lease, Sell or Keep: 1998 Volvo S70

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang
rent lease sell or keep 1998 volvo s70

Some folks in the industry believe that Toyota has decontented themselves out of the top tier of quality. I don’t know if that’s true… yet. But I do know that they are not the only non-domestic manufacturer to have gone down that path. Not long after Mercedes turned the W124 model into a glorified Taurus, the Swedes begin sauntering into the path of cheap redesigns.

The goal as always was profit. To make the cheaper product (the 1998 Volvo S70) resemble the better one (the much loved 1993 – 1997 Volvo 850). The outcome became very profitable… for me.

Rent: Back in the 2003 to 2005 period I began to see Volvo S70’s all over the dealers auctions. ‘Engine Needs Service’ would almost always be announced for these vehicles. Why? Volvo had a nasty defect with the Throttle Body Control Modules that would make the Volvo’s engine as buggy and jerky as a 240 running on old gas. Not a good thing given that the cheap(er) S70 still cost over $30k when new.

Volvo decided to have a recall. Not one of those grand, “We should tell the world and honor our commitment to our customers’ recalls. More like a, “Our sales are diving. So let’s milk the public, plead ignorance, and not repair the vehicle until we absolutely have to”, recalls. For that 2003 through 2005 period I almost always had a Volvo S70 in my fleet that was traded in for peanuts by the prior owner to Carmax or a new car dealer.

One visit to a friendly Volvo service advisor and those engine defects mysteriously disappeared. Eventually other dealers caught on. But there was almost always a steady stream of $2000 to $3000 retail licks for me during that entire period thanks to the Volvo S70.

Lease: The one I bought last week was a 1998 model. 118k, cloth interior, non-turbo, $2500. It has no electric throttle body at all which is a good thing since Volvo dealers no longer offer free repairs for the factory defect.

The 1998 model year was by far the best of the worst as S70’s go. Due to the lack of throttle issues, and no five-speed automatic. The later weren’t defective at all. Toyota even sourced a similar five-speeds from Aisin for their 2003 Camry. It was just that Volvo decided to lie their teeth off when they told customers about their wonderful ‘lifetime’ transmission fluid. . For these reasons and many, many more, I will not be renting or leasing this cheaply bought S70.

Sell: Are you ready for the list? OK then. Deep breath. ABS Control Modules. Constant brake jobs. Defective Steering Racks. Inoperative odometer clusters. Speakers that are constantly on the fritz. Seats that rip, tear, and decompose with age. Cheap glue that turns the door panels into pale shriveled banana peels. Hypersensitive check engine lights. Oil leaks. Leaking heater cores. Strut towers that eventually rest and rub against the frame due to cheap factory shocks. Bad EGR valves and A/C compressor clutches. Leaking condensers…. and the electronics of a typical old Volvo. That’s just a partial list.

There are three things that will hold up in an S70. The engine. The transmission. The safety of the chassis. These can be great family vehicles in wagon form for those three reasons if you are willing to deal with dozens of if’s.

Keep: If’ you want a car loaded up with all the features of a true luxury car, and consider weekend wrenching a truly great joy in life, this car may be for you. Especially if you want to opt for a GLT Turbo, R, or T5, model. Manual trannies are as rare as hen’s teeth for S70’s. Even as rare as finding a turbo model for sale that doesn’t leak like a sieve. You want a durable Volvo wagon? Opt for the 850.

As terrible as all this sounds, I did keep one. Back in 2006 I had a 2000 Volvo S70 wagon with 100k that I bought for about $4500. It went everywhere for two years. Even a 2000 mile road trip through the Southeast U.S. where it yielded 30.5 mpg in mostly highway driving. I’ve always loved how these wagons were packaged with a family first and foremeonst in mind. But once the transmission started giving the occasional jerk from reverse to drive (five-speed auto defect), I wholesaled it. I didn’t lose any money. But it would be far from the last time I would see them at the auctions.

By late 2010 I started seeing these orphaned children at public auctions instead of dealer sales. The public auctions are where every 2.7 Liter Chrysler, Northstar Cadillac, and Volvo S70 goes to die. Tis a pity really. They all had so much potential. None more so than the last cheap Swede. At least it came from an older brother with a helluva record in the Volvo 850. Check here.

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  • Dave M. Dave M. on May 20, 2011

    I've posted this several times over the years, but here goes. Our new '98 S70 was a tank, perhaps the most solid, comfortable car we ever owned. Slow (5 cyl), but a great car to drive. Then came the repairs...the constant light bulbs, electric gremlins, rotors, etc. By 70k, it needed the ABS and a/c replaced. We took a bath and traded it in for a Toyota. 1. Wished we had sprung the additional $3k for the last year of the RWD S90 2. Still haven't learned our lesson on European cars.... If I'm not mistaken, '98 was soon after Ford took over Volvo, so they had little to do with its development and reliability.

  • Dahammer Dahammer on Nov 17, 2013

    I liked the 1998 S70 so much, I bought two. I had just been laid off in September 2009 and my ex boss drove out of my driveway with my company provided F-150, along with my blackberry, my laptop, and files. It was a Friday afternoon and raining, I stood there like Chuck Connors in the TV show "Branded". I picked up my first S70 in October of 2009 with 72,000 miles for $3,200 and it now has 135,000 miles. In three years my repairs have been a set of tires, brakes, struts, and a rear torsion bar. A few bulbs, and an occasional check engine light, which I extinguish, it appears after a few hundred miles, it is something about a mass air leak. The car is not a screamer off the line, but it gets me onto the highway. There are a ton of videos on YouTube showing so it yourself repairs, there are a few message boards that also have information about repairs. I bought a second one a year later for $2400 with 89,000 miles. Admittedly, this one was unloved, and required a little more attention, but I was able to put 45,000 miles on the clock before its last ride to the junkyard. I think the S70 is the perfect combination of safety, performance, economy, utility, comfort and there are a ton of used parts in salvage yards. I feel much better with my kids driving this car rather than something from an Asian brand.

  • Tassos ask me if I care.
  • ToolGuy • Nice vehicle, reasonable price, good writeup. I like your ALL CAPS. 🙂"my mid-trim EX tester is saddled with dummy buttons for a function that’s not there"• If you press the Dummy button, does a narcissist show up spouting grandiose comments? Lol.
  • MaintenanceCosts These are everywhere around here. I'm not sure the extra power over a CR-V hybrid is worth the fragile interior materials and the Kia dealership experience.
  • MaintenanceCosts It's such a shame about the unusable ergonomics. I kind of like the looks of this Camaro and by all accounts it's the best-driving of the current generation of ponycars. A manual 2SS would be a really fun toy if only I could see out of it enough to drive safely.
  • ToolGuy Gut feel: It won't sell all that well as a new vehicle, but will be wildly popular in the used market 12.5 years from now.(See FJ Cruiser)