By on January 10, 2012

Steven writes:

Sajeev and Steve,

Ok guys need some advice, I am the owner of an 2001 Volvo XC wagon with 166,000 on it, I have owned it about 2 years and drive about 40k a year all over the North East for work. It is paid off but in the last 6 months I have put about 4 K in it, new tires, new brakes all around water pump, T belt, new moon roof (do not ask), the previous owner replaced the tranny at 110k and put a new cat convertor at 100k.

I get about 23 MPG on the highway and the car has great seats, all work done at my indie, my questions, based on how much I drive do I keep it and drive it into the ground or get out now and put my dollars into something else. If so what? This is what i would like, safe, better on gas, four doors decent backseat, no SUV, no CUV, must be at least FWD, nothing from the big three excites me at all, would prefer auto and relaible. I have thought about a VW TDI but have heard horror stories about VW. I like Saabs and would get another if the deal was great, prefer used,depreciation is my friend. I prefer a auto that I want to drive to one that gives no joy to drive. I also take some clients out from time to time so it needs to look good as well. In the past I have had Saabs, Infinity, Accords, Audis, Budget is 20 k max. Thanks for the help!

Sajeev Answers:

You didn’t say you liked/disliked your ride, which is a problem.  Maybe you love it, and want our approval for keeping it until the body rusts away to nothingness.  Or maybe you have passive aggressive hatred, as you are a SAAB fan and actually loathe every moment in a Volvo.

Hard to tell, as the smart money is usually in keeping the rolling set of problems you currently own, even if old-modern Volvo problems are far more terrifying than old-modern Honda problems . Then again, you mentioned wanting an automatic car that gives no joy to drive. Put your money where your mouth is: dump the Swede and move to a nicely depreciated Lexus, Infiniti, Cadillac, Lincoln, etc.  The depreciation/value king of the bunch is probably the Lincoln MKZ/Zephyr, and their Fusion based parts are stupid cheap to keep running till the end of the world. A Lexus ES or IS would give you much more style, snob appeal, etc…but you don’t seem like that kinda guy.

Here’s the big problem: you already spent a ton on this hooptie! Dumping it now isn’t exactly the brightest idea, unless the right buyer willing to pay top dollar shows up.  Odds are they shall not, so you need to keep it for 6-12 months to get some bang for the buck.  Hope you don’t need too many other wear items replaced, or that no more surprises creep up in the meantime. It is, after all, a modern car from Europe…in America!

Steve Answers:

Volvo XC70’s have a lot of issues. The transmissions usually conk out between 90k and 120k due in great part to Volvo’s marketing of their transmission fluid as a ‘lifetime fluid’. The Camry and Altima from this time period were also given similar fluids and transmissions. Those manufacturers recommend replacement every 70k for a unit that usually hauled about 700 fewer pounds than the XC’s.

As a result, Volvo XC70 transmissions are hideously expensive at the junkyards. This ‘prestige pricing’ also goes for any software upgrades to the electronic throttle module which is now just outside of it’s extended warranty period for your car (10 years or 200k). The upgrades usually cost over a thousand dollars and can only be done at the dealer.

Add into this money sucking mix a bad record of glitch ridden electronics. Mediocre gas consumption. Expensive AWD systems. Expensive parts in general. Anything good for these XC’s? Well, a small plus are the seats and with 166k, it may just bring around 4k to 5k due to the uniqueness and all wheel drive.

I would sell it right now and move on to better things.

Since you do a lot of driving, I would opt for a car that has plenty of space and excellent seats. Does a newer Saab 9-5 work for you? Would an older Infiniti be a better bet? I wouldn’t rule out a Lexus GS. But then again I don’t have your tastes or your posterior.

So just find what you like and leave it at that. The B&B will offer plenty of input on the ‘buy’ side. Good luck!

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48 Comments on “New or Used: An Old-Modern European, in America…...”

  • avatar

    Get an used Outback wagon !

  • avatar

    Depreciation? It cost you 4k to keep the Volvo going for 6 months, It will very likely cost even more to get it from 160k to 200k over the next 12 months. It would be far cheaper to just buy a new Camry Hybrid.

    • 0 avatar

      Oof, you’re really reccommending a Camry Hybrid to a guy putting 40k miles a year on his car? Not to mention the fact that he’s better off with a better all around car than the hybrid (I doubt many of the miles are stop and go city driving which is the only place the hybrid cost savings comes into play). Plus he’d be completely vaporizing his factory warranty in absolutely record time.

      I’d say he should get a new or year-old low mileage Hyundai Sonata if he fits and it’s comfortable on the freeway for long periods (I don’t really know, personally). If he’s really looking for luxury I say he should spring for the Hyundai Azera.

  • avatar

    Keep it for mostly winter car. It costs for utility and you have the most practical. Then pick up a Saab 9-5 4-cylinder that has been over by someone who knows what to look for in a decade old car. And enjoy your 30% increase in highway mpgs.

    I can kiss 40 mpg in my ’00 9-5 with manual transmission 80% highway.

  • avatar

    Very few cars are as exciting to drive as a Saab 9-3. Having said that, I wouldn’t own another one if you paid me. I would lay my money on an Infiniti G37.

  • avatar

    A friend of mine is an indie who specializes in Volvo. He does ABS controller modules, head gaskets, and other very expensive repairs where Volvo is the sole source for certain parts. Toss in MAP sensors and other CEL nickle and dime repairs (if only they cost a nickle or a dime). He earns quite a living keeping a few on the road.

    I would swallow some pride and get a domestic for lower maintenance costs. Consider a Panther.

  • avatar

    Funny how many people say “dump it” when he just did all the expensive stuff!

    Having been a Volvo owner, in particular this platform, I can tell you that you’ve just done and paid for most of the expensive stuff. The t-belt (if this was the first t-belt, you’re lucky the engine didn’t grenade before now!) and water pump were the big ticket routine maintenance. The sunroof was a freak, that’s generally not an issue. The brakes are done and at 40k miles / year, should last you a while as I’m assuming you do mostly highway miles. Tires should also last you 50k given the mileage / year.

    Two things you need to look out for if they haven’t been done: bushings and the PCV / flame trap. The P2 bushing set tends to wear at about 50k – 75k mile clip, so you may be in need of control arm or subframe bushings. Neither of these are terribly expensive, but they’re not cheap. The flame trap is Volvo’s term for the oil vapor separator. If that has not been done, you need to do it. Again, it’s not all that expensive, but you will see a tremendous uptick in performance and consumption if it’s never been done. Your engine is likely choking if the flame trap is original. A Volvo indie has likely done hundreds of these and can whip through one in about 5 hours plus parts.

    All in all, there aren’t too many current vehicles that meet your description of your needs at your price. In this case, as long as you like the car and can live with it ,it should treat you well for another 2 years easily without serious maintenance costs. Figure you’ll spend another $2k in the next 2 years. A lot less than a car payment.

    Check out the volvo sites for better info. A quick search should turn up the most popular one. Good luck!

  • avatar

    I hate Saabs with a passion, but you like them.

    You are in the Northeast. Herb Chambers is dumping the inventory.

    9-3s starting at $19, 9-5s from $25.

    You are going to blow through any warranty real quick anyways @ 40K a year.

    The only thing I’d be concerned about is the emissions warranty.
    Who’d pick up the tab for that?

  • avatar

    I think the OP is right-on. TDI Sportwagen.

    Although the very low depreciation of TDIs present a unique situation. The used TDI market prices are insane. So since the OP is keenly aware of depreciation, in this case it may make more sense to buy it new, since the ‘sucker’ in this transaction is the guy who pays 70% of MSRP at 36,000 miles — not the ‘typical’ depreciation sucker.

  • avatar

    I like how Steve states that he doesn’t want anything domestic and wants FWD and somebody suggests a Panther anyway.

  • avatar

    It sounds like the moon roof was an accidental damage but shouldn’t you have asked yourself these fiscal questions BEFORE doing new tires, new brakes new water pump, new timing belt?

    As for what to get, you are describing a Toyota Avalon to me, well except for the joy to drive part. Avalon is purely a long legged highway cruiser that is super safe and comfortable and reliable.

    • 0 avatar

      I was thinking Avalon as well or how about a 2010 Caddy DTS, 29,000 miles, heated and cooled leather seats awesome highway cruiser, asking price $25,995. A good “take a client out to dinner” car.

  • avatar

    The 2001s have issues. Many of the tranny issues aren’t due to the fluid per se, but to a neutral-stop feature programmed into the tranny, which was problematic and quickly removed for the post-2003 models. The fluid does indeed need to be changed; I have an ’04 S60 and changed the fluid at 110K miles. I would do it every 80K from now on.

    I believe the ETM issue was for the previous body-style only, the 99-2000 models.

    You’ve got a trusted indy mechanic which is crucial for these cars. You’ve done the expensive stuff.

    In short, these are good cars but the year you’ve got is a troublesome one. The latter years, particularly 2004-2007, are very reliable, capable cars; I think Steve is being too harsh on them as a whole. The picture included with the post is of a post 2005 model (you can tell by the brush guard design in the front bumper). My advice would be to keep it as you’ve just done the major work. With a recently installed tranny you’re good to go for some time yet.

  • avatar
    Jeff Waingrow

    If someone’s going to put 40,000 miles on a year, might it not make sense to buy a car with a long warranty and keep it for the warranty period and then move on to the next one? I’m thinking Hundai, even if the model you choose is a bit over budget. After all, it’s your total expenditure through the years that matters more than just the initial purchase price. Am I missing something here?

  • avatar

    +1 to what Wallstreet said – get an Outback. Specfically, look at the previous-geneartion 3.0R. It’s basically your Volvo XC, minus the pricey repairs. I actually have the 4-cyl turbo version with the 5-speed manual, and it’s a lot of fun to drive and fairly reliable as it approaches 80k miles, but you said you don’t want a manual, so I’d opt for the smoother power delivery of the flat-6, which will be a better match for the automatic.

  • avatar

    Though SexyCpotatoes and jmo disagree with each other, their suggestions were the first things that came to mind for me – either a late model used Sonata or a new Camry Hybrid. At 40,000 per year his 23 mpg Volvo uses 1739 gallons of gas per year. At $3.50/gallon, that’s a fuel cost of $6086/yr. A Sonata that returns 33 mpg highway would use 1212 gallons per year and would cost you $4242 in fuel a year. At $4.00/gallon, the difference between the two cars is more than $2000 per year. The Camry Hybrid, Sonata Hybrid and new Ford Fusion hybrid would be harder to justify on pure dollars and cents. Let’s say you get 43 mpg highway on any of these which is probably a bit of a stretch, that means you’d use 930 gallons to drive $40,000 miles. At $3.50/gallon, that would be a total fuel cost of $3,255, roughly $1000 less than the non-hybrid Sonata. It would take about a decade to make up the difference in price on fuel cost alone.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m not really arguing for the Toyota hybrid in terms of fuel efficiency, but rather that it’s hyper-reliable.

      • 0 avatar

        And I’m arguing against the increased purchase AND repair cost of buying a Hybrid ANYthing. I don’t know if Hyundai has a mileage limit on their Trade-In Guarantee program, but considering the mileage this driver’s car is likely to see, he may be better off gettin a Sonata or Azera, getting the trade-in price guarantee and then trading it in 3 years later (with 120k on it) for a new one.

        The differences between a Hyundai and a Toyota at this severe service schedule are the warranties and initial purchase prices. The Hyundai wins on both counts, getting 2.5 year warranty versus a 1 year warranty on the Toyota (when mileage is run up so quickly like he is planning on doing).

        Either vehicle will likely last him many miles or years of service as long as he maintains it according to the service schedule. The Hyundai won’t be worth anything if he keeps it 10 years and neither would the Toyota with 400k miles.

      • 0 avatar

        And I’m arguing against the increased purchase AND repair cost of buying a Hybrid ANYthing.

        All evidence indicates repair costs costs for hybrids are far below average.

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      Good point on doing the math. The OP spends a lot of time on the highway to rack up this kind of mileage, which is not where a hybrid really shines. His ideal solution would be a diesel, if there were one that was otherwise reliable. VW products are certainly question marks in that regard.
      The fuel mileage he reports from his Volvo is really pathetic, considering that my 10-year old Saab wagon regularly gets 31 mpg on the highway under just about all conditions. Could AWD extract that much of a penalty? If so, he should considering doing without. Or does the Volvo have some mechanical issue which is causing it to suck gas like an SUV?

      The issue with Saabs is the issue with all orphans — parts. Right now I’m trying to replace a cracked tail light on my 2002 Saab wagon (a hit-and-run in the parking garage). The biggest dealer in metro DC reported to me that it had no idea when it could get the part . . . apparently Saab’s parts distribution channel in the U.S. is in complete disarray. After looking at about 10 online sites, I found one with what I wanted in stock. If you buy a new Saab, consider that the parts channel has hardly been filled for this model (even if it was working) and there are zero sitting around in salvage yards to cannibalize.

      As I’ve posted before, I found the new Focus a very comfortable and capable highway ride; and a decent model is well within his budget. I know, I almost bought one before deciding to keep my current car a while longer. Disadvantages: back seat is kind of small, the DCT transmission I (and my wife) found kind of annoying and may pose reliability issues. OTOH, if the OP drives stick, the Focus’s clutch/tranny combination is one of the slickest I’ve driven in 40 years . . . and my wife agrees.

  • avatar
    Chicago Dude

    I’d keep driving it until the next major repair bill and then look at the current generation V70/XC70. The FWD versions will get mid to high 20s MPG on the highway and you get all that you are familiar with combined with a nicer interior and, according to Mr. Karesh’s website, better reliability.

    They are getting into that $20,000 range – by the time your current vehicle actually needs to be replaced you should have a decent selection in your price range.

  • avatar
    Sam P

    2005-2008 Subaru Legacy Wagon.

    One of the rare Subarus that can be considered a very good looking car. 4-speed automatic seems primitive, but will go to over 200k if you change the fluid regularly and don’t abuse it. AWD, too.

    You could also go with a new 2.5 liter Jetta Sportwagon. A friend bought one for $21k brand new. I’d avoid the TDI, I looked at some of them as a potential purchase but the VW forums show lots of fuel system issues in the 09+ Jetta TDI.

    • 0 avatar

      As I suggested earlier, the 3.0 H6 Outback or Legacy has a 5 speed auto and gets about the same fuel economy as the 4 popper, but with more power. No pesky timing belt to replace either. The 3.6 H6 in the new Outback is even better.

  • avatar

    I think you should get a late model 4-cylinder sedan for $20k or less and keep your Volvo as a back-up (if you have room). When the weather turns nasty, drive the Volvo.

  • avatar

    I must be missing something – who in their right mind suggest a new Saab? What happens if he dings a bumper – get another new Saab for parts?

    • 0 avatar

      If he gets a 9-3 that won’t be too much of a problem as the current body has been in place since 2008. I would shy away on buying a new 9-5 for that very reason, however.

  • avatar

    Your ride probably won’t get any cheaper to maintain. To that end here’s another list of possibilities based on your criteria:

    1. Suzuki Kizashi AWD
    2. VW Jetta Sportwagen
    3. Subaru Outback (not very gas thrifty, though)
    4. Toyota Venza
    5. Scion xB

  • avatar
    fred schumacher

    I find it amusing to see how much people are willing to spend on a “reliable” car but will not consider a Detroit product, especially if they drive a high number of miles per year.

    I bought a beater 2000 Grand Caravan with 155,000 miles on it a year ago for $2,200 and immediately put $1,200 into it. I’ve put 30,000 miles on it, have averaged 23 mpg over all (better on hwy), and have had to do nothing but oil changes. It should be good for 300,000 miles.

    When I farmed in North Dakota and lived 300 miles away in Northern Minnesota, I would average 45,000 miles per year, most of them on frost-heaved two-lane roads. I would buy a beater high miles Mopar minivan (with the 3.3 liter) for $1,000 to $1,500, drive it 75,000 to 100,000 miles, at minimal maintenance cost, and then park it in the woods and get another.

    Meanwhile, my son has gone through two blown head gaskets on two different, supposedly reliable, Subarus, and has spent $3,000 on repairs in the past year. Chaque un a son gout.

  • avatar

    Since you’re currently driving a Volvo wagon, I would also recommend looking at the Jetta TDI wagon. My first reaction to your $4000 worth of repairs on a 23 MPG car was “are you on glue?” Look at and you’ll see that people are getting some decent economy numbers with the newest TDI wagons (although not as good as the older ones). The High pressure fuel pump issues seem to be a lot lower than previous years but there’s still a chance that the crappy US diesel will kill the system.

    And if you really want a Jetta TDI wagon and don’t want new you could always look for an A4 Jetta wagon. They’re rare and are getting older, but nice cars and the good old ALH engine powered them. They used a rotary injection pump so there’s no such thing as HPFP issues to worry about. The A4 Jetta wagons also came with the BEW engine briefly in 2004-2005, which was the Pumpe deuse/unit injector engine.

    You can always check this place, they seem to have some nice used TDIs:

  • avatar

    Previous generation 9-5 is a solid car, in 2.3l form will easily get mid-30’s on the highway, more if you’re light on the throttle.

    I reckon with Saab’s issues, you’ll find one for far far cheaper than a late model hybrid.

    Keep up with service and the car will go many trouble free miles.

  • avatar

    The engines are pretty stout on that model and will run indefinitely as long as you don’t overheat it and keep the fluids fresh.

    If the AWD does fail you can just pull the drive shaft and drive it as a FWD only wagon.

    2001-2002 model years of the V70/C70/XC70/S60 shipped with weak transmissions – Volvo used Aisin-Warner automatics (same supplier to Lexus and Toyota). The later model years seem to have few issues with their AW supplied transmissions. Since yours was already replaced you should be fine – just change the fluid every 2 years/30K miles with the proper Toyota IV spec fluid (yes you can get the fluid at the Toyota dealer). Some enthusiasts have switched to Redline D4 Synthetic transmission fluid without any known issues.
    IPDUSA has a DIY transmission fluid drain kit for Volvos.

    IPDUSA also sells an ECU tune to get significantly more power from the Light Pressure Turbo engine and many people claim better mileage with the power increase.

    With all the money you already spent just keep driving it until the engine OR transmission dies (again).

  • avatar

    If you drive 40K miles a year you should change the transmission fluid every year – the Toyota IV ATF (Volvo ATF for these 5 speed automatics is the same thing just overpriced) fluid is NOT synthetic and suffers from the effects of heat degradation noticeably quick. Otherwise switch to Redline D4 and change the fluid every 2 years.

  • avatar

    Volvos are terrific cars, but they require attention. Yes, all cars do, and Volvos forgive some things, but they have their quirks. I drive a ’96 850R wagon with 198K miles on it. It’s cost me about a grand and a half in repairs in the 18 months that I have owned it. (I bought for $2500 from a Volvo car guy.) I’ve done preventative maintenance like A/T fluid changes and replaced the radiator, put on new tires (regulars and snows), fixed a few oil leaks, a right front C/V boots and few other minor things.

    What I have learned is an independent mechanic who knows these cars is crucial. My guy is worth the price of gold, but charges a lot less than any dealer. He owns a similar car, knows the Volvo quirks and takes the time to tell me what needs help today or in the future. These cars will last A LONG time, if you keep up with them. Any car will, of course, but the advantage with your car is you already know what has been done. Unless you dislike the car or just live in plain fear of auto failure, keep it. Reap the benefit of the money you’ve spent. Volvos of your vintage had more reliability problems than average, but the good thing is that most have been fixed already on your car. Enjoy the great seats, utility and classy ride.

    P.S. — the extensive bulletin board system for Volvos is also critical. Many problems have been documented and folks have found the answers. I know they have saved me more than few dollars with stuff I can do by myself.

  • avatar

    4k in 6 months? Ouch.

    My choice would depend on my confidence in the car. If it was high I’d stick with it a bit to get the benefit of the cash I just dropped to keep it going. If it was low, I’d look at the cash as an investment to have it running when I sold it.

    I’d say if your confidence in the car is low, ditch that dumpster fire and hit the lots to do some test driving. I’ve seen brand new Saab 9-3’s going for 19-20k. On the used side, a CPO Acura TL might fit the bill just fine.

  • avatar

    I’m with Sajeev – keep your fingers crossed for 6-12 months to get some value out of your recent expenses, then move on. The scary thing is that except for the moonroof, all of that money went into scheduled maintenance. Almost half of it went to consumables (brakes and tires) that you need to buy on any car at regular intervals. So even after all this work, you are still a candidate for whatever common repairs and design shortcomings this Volvo has.

    I think you should stretch the budget and buy new. You say depreciation is your friend, but I don’t think that is true in this market. You drive too many miles for a heavily depreciated car – my guess is you need the car on the road and downtime for repairs is a problem. Cars 1-3 years old are a terrible value in this market.

    As others have said, a new Sonata looks like the best solution. It sounds like a good enough car on its own merits, plus it has the long warranty. You should be able to land a GLS for just under $20k.

  • avatar

    ok Folks, OP reporting in, this was original posted in Aug, but this is what I did, The Volvo is a good car what was done in repairs was a lot of cash but it was really all wear items ( the sunroof cost I DID not add into the 4 k!) Only the water pump was a unseen repair, but I could not swing the gas a month in the $600 range and the up keep so it had to go, it went to my daughter who will get drive it next year. I took the leap and bought a Jetta TDI wagon, in three months and 17,000 miles no issue ( I bought new bc used TDI were a fortune) No complaints so far, thanks for all the feed back.

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