New or Used: MAXX-ing Out Mom's Next Wagon

Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
by Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
new or used maxx ing out mom s next wagon

Michael writes:

My mom’s 1998 V70 with 215k miles is starting to leak coolant, with no major puddles on the ground. I told them to look at the oil to see if there were any signs of the coolant in the oil. I personally think the time with the Volvo is almost over as the dealership (an independent dealership) said that its time was slowly approaching about a year ago, but they couldn’t promise how fast. My mom loves this car and my dad likes it too. Her requirements are preferably station wagon, heated leather seats, and automatic. They live in Michigan so it gets cold. AWD is not a necessity, and she knows that snow tires work just fine. She does haul a bike on occasion, so it must be easy for her to haul the bike without having my dad there at all times.

She loves her Volvo and would like another if she could find one that would be reliable. I recommended the Outback, especially the 2005 and later models. What are other possibilities? Their budget is around $15,000 or less. They tend to drive their cars into the ground, so reliability is more important than the badge. What should she look at?

Steve Answers:

This is a very tough call. On the used side I tend to encourage folks to keep their vehicles. Your post doesn’t mention anything about where the coolant is leaking. I would like to know about what the mechanics did find and whether there are any rust or powertrain issues.

A new low mileage engine would cost perhaps $1500 at most if or when it’s needed. Throw in some new shocks, a detail, and any other minor issues and she may need only about $3000 at most to keep it for another five years. If it’s been garaged and diligently maintained, it’s definitely a consideration.A good wagon replacement for a Volvo V70? A Ford Freestyle Limited loaded up with perhaps 50k miles on it. You have the exact same underpinnings as the far pricier Volvo XC90 with plenty of interior space and excellent fuel economy. If she likes a more enclosed feel like her old Volvo she may also go for the Ford Flex. It’s a bit pricier than the Freestyle. But it has a very high level of features (just like Volvo’s had in days of yore) and has a stellar reliability record.Sajeev Answers:Steve, as per usual, is right. The Volvo is probably just a few weeks and a couple grand away from being a nice and reliable driver for your mom. Think of that trip to the mechanic as a spa vacation for your ride! Too bad that doesn’t work for most people.That said, the Freestyle (or Taurus X) is a good alternative. The Outback is a good choice, but they aren’t a homogenous grouping like said Ford. Some need timing belt replacements, some get really upset if you don’t follow oil changes to the letter of the owner’s manual. And some require premium fuel, which is a concern to some. It is hard to know which one you will recommend to your Mom, make sure to Google up the goods before pulling away from the seller’s lot.My choice? None of the above. The Chevy Malibu MAXX does it all: wagon, leather and heated seats in LT trim. Unlike the sedan, the outside styling has gotten better with age. While the interior is pretty terrible for the OCD car nut, every non-Volvo discussed here isn’t exactly inspiring in that arena. And if anyone in the family has a penchant for performance motoring, get the SS model. Like many half-baked treats from GM (from the Corvair to the G8) the MAXX deserved a better fate. That baby had some legs to it.Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to , and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder.
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  • Calhounje Calhounje on Jun 03, 2011

    Finally a post I can relate to. I'm a car enthusiast but have been relegated to driving a 2004 Chevy MAXX which I refer to as the "divorcemobile". The car is complete s*it in every way but one; It has been so steadfastly reliable and enduring of my willful mistreatment that I've come to love the thing. With 120k it's only slightly crappier as the day I got it with 60, and it drives exactly the same, which is to say, like crap. My dog fits in the back, I don't care when the kids run it into things (its surprisingly bouncy) and all it asks for is tires and oil. Best of all, potential girlfriends with latent gold-digger tendencies are immediately re-cycled back to when they see my ride.

  • Fix it. I have almost the same car and most of the leaky coolant issues are either the expansion tank cap or the heater core, and luckily both are very easy to replace. No dash removal needed for the core. I replaced every hose and the expansion tank when I bought it for around US$200 total. You can buy parts online everywhere at decent prices and there are a couple of brick oriented lists you can get huge amounts of info. And if everything else fails, there are lots of those being junked this days so a replacement engine should be really cheap.

  • GregLocock Two adjacent states in Australia have different attitudes to roadworthy inspections. In NSW they are annual. In Victoria they only occur at change of ownership. As you'd expect this leads to many people in Vic keeping their old car.So if the worrywarts are correct Victoria's roads would be full of beaten up cars and so have a high accident rate compared with NSW. Oh well, the stats don't agree.
  • Lorenzo In Massachusetts, they used to require an inspection every 6 months, checking your brake lights, turn signals, horn, and headlight alignment, for two bucks.Now I get an "inspection" every two years in California, and all they check is the smog. MAYBE they notice the tire tread, squeaky brakes, or steering when they drive it into the bay, but all they check is the smog equipment and tailpipe emissions.For all they would know, the headlights, horn, and turn signals might not work, and the car has a "speed wobble" at 45 mph. AFAIK, they don't even check EVs.
  • Not Tire shop mechanic tugging on my wheel after I complained of grinding noise didn’t catch that the ball joint was failing. Subsequently failed to prevent the catastrophic failure of the ball joint and separation of the steering knuckle from the car! I’ve never lived in a state that required annual inspection, but can’t say that having the requirement has any bearing on improving safety given my experience with mechanics…
  • Mike978 Wow 700 days even with the recent car shortages.
  • Lorenzo The other automakers are putting silly horsepower into the few RWD vehicles they have, just as Stellantis is about to kill off the most appropriate vehicles for that much horsepower. Somehow, I get the impression the OTHER Carlos, Tavares, not Ghosn, doesn't have a firm grasp of the American market.