By on May 29, 2012

Now that the Hyundai Genesis Coupe has gone back and our track day video is complete, Project $1500 Volvo is back in my sights. As promised, the purpose of this series will be to document what you can get as far as a cheap car goes, and like Project Debt Free over at Edmunds, we’re going to document the experience. This week sees us catch up on the various expenses that have cropped up since purchase – and there’s been a few bills to pay. Still, it doesn’t look bad after a thorough wash, does it?

When I bought Project Volvo, I knew it needed a few things to pass our inspection process, but the damage turned out to be relatively light. A new outer tie-rod, new parking brake shoes and a cable as well as rear brake rotors as pads. Total price for parts, labor, tax and the safety certificate ($75 alone) was $423. No, I couldn’t have done a cheaper or better job myself.

The car was officially road worthy according to the Ontario government, but a few issues remained. First, the front tires, while within spec for the inspection, were about one millimeter away from disintegration. The rears were a bit better, but I decided to bite the bullet and replace all four. My local tire shop had Kumho KU25 high-performance all-seasons for $113 per tire mounted and balanced. With sales tax, it came out to $512. I could have found something cheaper on The Tire Rack, but ordering to Canada is a pain, and I’d still have to get them installed. I also didn’t want to wait any longer if my younger brother was going to be driving the car and riding on nearly shot tires.

The final issue is one I’m still grappling with; cigarette smoke. I knew when I bought the car that the previous owner was a cigar smoker, and initially thought it wouldn’t bother me. I was wrong. When my younger brother came home reeking of tobacco (he’s a fitness nut and doesn’t smoke) simply from driving the car for half an hour, I knew I had to take action. Getting a detailing crew to steam clean it seemed like the most obvious idea, but I decided to take the Steve Lang route and try a “frugal” DIY solution.

Cigar(ette) smoke is actually a physical residue; steam cleaning the car would result in gross looking brown gunk being released from the cabin, but it would probably cost well into the three-figures. Having owned old cars before, I know that they all have their smell, so minimizing it as much as possible would be acceptable. I left the car with the windows down for a week – the smell was so strong that I could smell it from six feet away) and hoped that fresh air and sunlight would take their course. A good car wash, combined with periodic Febreeze spraying (the plastics and vents get wiped down, while the carpets get saturated with the stuff) has helped quite a bit. I’ll give it another week and see how things turn out. Overall, the interior is in good shape for 162,000 miles over 14 years.

Next up is the body work. This is the major flaw of Project Volvo. The car is in great shape mechanically and the body and frame are largely free of rust – but stone chips and scrapes have ravaged the front end and rear bumper, ruining the whole “wouldn’t be embarrassed to drive it” element. A cheap re-spray job is inevitable, but not right now.

So far we have:

Car: $1500

Taxes/Fees: $195

Tires: $512

Repairs/Safety Inspection: $423

Febreeze: $5

Total (as of 5/29/2012): $2635

Still a good deal behind Edmunds and their Lexus. A ball-park quote for the re-spray came to $400. A tune-up isn’t needed (according to my mechanic) and the timing belt has another 50,000 miles to go before a change. Considering I am lucky to drive 5,000 miles a year on my own car, I should be in for a pretty painless experience. I’ll likely do the front rotors and pads, and I suspect the shocks and strut mounts may need a change at some point. For now, all appears to be going well.

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89 Comments on “Project $1500 Volvo: What you REALLY Get For $1500...”

  • avatar

    This is the problem with buying a car that cheap. They always needs stuff. You would have been better off buying a $3000 car in the first place.

    The smoke would have been a deal-breaker for me. I am sorry, but it is one of the worst smells on this planet. I actually prefer Sulfur.

    • 0 avatar

      Every $3000 car.. scratch that. Every $5000 car.. scratch that. Just about every used car older than 5 years old needs something.

      I think you are off to darn good start with this Volvo.

      Do some google searching. There are some chlorine based chemicals that work really well on smoke odor. You car will smell like a swimming pool for a few weeks but that eventually dissipates.

      • 0 avatar

        I agree that this is a good start.

        I paid $1750 for a 2001 Elantra in September 2009, with 138k miles on it. I’ve probably put another $2500 (and my own labor) into it since, and it now has 176k miles. It’s supposed to be a beater car, but I want to get many more miles out of it. Fortunately, it has become much less needy lately.

        2001 Elantras are still going for over $5000. Some have lower miles, some don’t. But I know what I have, and suppose it may be better than starting at $5000 and spending another $1500.

        As for the smoke, spending the 3 figures to clean it out might be worth it.

    • 0 avatar

      Having already taken the “buy the best car you can afford” and “buy a crappy car and fix it up” routes in my life before, I made a careful analysis of all the alternatives. The $3000 cars were $3000 because they were T5 models, and they came up their own host of problems that would have been a nightmare. Plus they require premium gas. They easily would have ended up being $5000 cars to to be decent. They all had faulty ABS modules too.

      My predictions show that this is going to be most cost effective in the end. Hopefully I’m right.

      • 0 avatar

        What’s the headliner like? I had success removing a smoke smell using one of those rental “steam” cleaners from the grocery store and thoroughly vacuuming the carpets and headliner. I think your Febreze route is only going to mix smoke smell with Febreze smell.

      • 0 avatar


        The idea that one might write off a car because it requires work is silly. You just build that into the predicted cost.

        A $1500 car can eat a lot of maintenance and upgrade dollars before it costs more than a $5000 car (with the additional $1500 it’s going to need as well).

        That said, planning on cost = purchase price for any cheap car is foolishness.

    • 0 avatar

      I disagree – I would rather buy a $1500 car and do $1500 in work to it than buy a $3K car. At least I KNOW what has been done and to what standard, and *I* chose the parts quality level.

      This car seems to have all the mechanical fundamentals in good shape, though I too would have taken a big pass on a smoke pit car. You really, really need to have it professionally cleaned, and even then you may never get cigar stench out. The first owner of my ’02 Cherokee smoked in it, and even though that was only the first two years of it’s life and the second owner did not, I can still smell it at times!

      • 0 avatar

        I agree with krhodes1. Even with spending $3K, you know a lot of stuff needs to be done. The cheaper car can be the better value, and you know what quality part where chosen. When I bought a cheap Reliant, I knew the previous owner only changed oil, the timing belt, and a few MAP sensors. The timing belt was off a tooth which I recognized as the no power problem. I reset the T-belt, changed ALL the cooling hoses, t-stat, drive belts, struts/shocks, brakes at all four corners, and all fluids. Spent the weekend on it but the car was now running like new and 100% reliable. I guess this would be quite a bit more costly with this Volvo as the parts are likely far more expensive. But the logic holds.

        Cigarette smell is tough. I was given my mother’s Sable, which replaced the Reliant after a 1/4 million miles of trusty service. Alas, mom was a smoker and the car stunk. I scrubbed the interior leather, steam cleaned the carpets, replaced the front mats, and used carpet fresh on the seats and carpeting. Fabreeze was sprayed on the headliner. I repeated the process a few times and got the smell out. You would never know a smoker owned the car for 10 years. Except for one condition. Rainy, damp weather will sometimes bring out a bit of it, especially when the car first heats up in the sun after the rain and humidity. It sometimes catches me by surprise and depresses me as I lost her due to lung cancer.

    • 0 avatar

      When I got my first job detailing cars, we had this disinfectant called “Hospital’s Choice”. We could take them most heavily smoked-in cars, open the doors and spray the entire interior with that stuff, and in a matter of minutes, the smoke smell was GONE!

      I have no idea if that stuff is even available today (this was in 1996), but it would be worth checking out.

      • 0 avatar

        Try Odors Away, from Chicago IL. The hospital stuff. Just a drop takes care of that peculiar putrescence.

      • 0 avatar

        Baking soda works amazing. Cigarette smoke, spoiled cheese (from dropping a hot sandwich), and the musty, I-left-the-top-down-and-it-rained smell all came right out. I filled up an empty cat food can and left it under the driver’s seat- within three days it was completely gone.

      • 0 avatar
        Downtown Dan

        + 1 on baking soda… Sprinkle baking soda on all the carpets,leave it for as long as you can, and then vacuum it up with a powerful mini-vac.

        For general interior cleanup, I cannot recommend Simple Green enough.

      • 0 avatar

        I’ve had really good luck with this. It came from an uncle who is a heavy (2+ packs/day) smoker. Get a cardboard box, sized based on how bad the problem is, go out and pull some grass out of the ground or put some fresh grass clippings from a lawnmower into the box, park the car in the sun with all windows closed, and the box full of grass will absord the smoke smell. I’ve used it to great effect time and again, being a closet smoker with anti-smoking nazis for parents.

        It may take a couple of treatments to get all of the baked-in stuff out. Just park a box in the back of the car for a month and everytime you normally park it, it’ll be working.

      • 0 avatar

        I’ve never found grass clippings left to rot in the sun to smell great…

  • avatar

    Sounds good so far. It’s really too bad about the smoke. I hate that stink, and I might well have passed on the car for that reason alone. I hope the cheap route works to eliminate it (or, more accurately, reduce it to an acceptable level), but I am skeptical. Good luck.

  • avatar

    I know hotels use an ozone system that seems to work well in getting cigaret/cigar smells out.

    I don’t know how much it costs to rent or to get the process done. Just a thought.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      My truck when purchased used had apparently been owned by a smoker. The dealership had steam cleaned the interior and I could only tell when the truck sat for long periods of time. I put a little power plug ionizer in the power outlet and it has really helped things.

      • 0 avatar

        When I lived in an aptartment, my neighbors smoked, and it would seep through the walls. I got one of those ionic air filters, and it did a fantastic job getting rid of the smell. However, I assume it is only effective for removing the smoke particles from the air and won’t do anything about the cause (particles stuck in fabric, seats, etc.).

        I get ill from smoke exposure, and when I’ve had to use our work trucks that have been smoked in, I always get sick. That is a major reason I dislike buying used.

    • 0 avatar

      Small versions are available that plug into the car lighter. I don’t know how effective they are, but they seem to get good reviews online.

    • 0 avatar
      Felix Hoenikker

      A co-worker bought a one year old Chrylser 300 in 2007. It was owned by a NYC detective who smoked like a stack. The used car dealer had it cleaned, but basically just covered up the tobacco stink with a perfume smell. The combination was worse than just the smoke. I provided him with an ozone generator that we has on site for other purposes. Juist a few overnight sessions completely eliminated the smoke smell.
      Try it.

    • 0 avatar

      In my considerable experience (6+ years in rental cars, you can imagine), all the detail shops use these o-zone things and they work temporarily, but it always comes back in some form due to sun and time. Usually shops only charge around $150 to leave it in for 24 hours, but it just doesn’t work long-term.

  • avatar

    Not only does tobacco smoke stink, it’s residues are very hard to remove and can ruin electronics and cause glues to disintegrate. Drooping headliner fabric is often caused by cigarette smoke dissolving the glue holding it in place. I will NEVER buy a smokers car…period.

    • 0 avatar

      I recall reading somewhere that the chemicals absorbed from the smoke can cause health issues similar to second-hand smoke. This is a similar article:

    • 0 avatar

      Tobacco smoke is Hell on electronics. When I was doing sound engineering work in clubs/bars the pots, sliders and amps would all have major problems from the smoke exposure. Was constantly sending out equipment to be professional cleaned because of all the gunk that would build up inside – never mind the years I’ve shaved off of my life and the hearing damage.



    • 0 avatar

      @Ubermensch……Agreed. I had a Firebird convetrible. The first ownwer and his wife were overweight smokers. I spent a fortune on that interior. Rebuilt the seats, replaced the inner liner, out of the top,and steam cleaned every inch of it.

      It still stunk!

  • avatar

    As a former rental-car “management trainee”, I can also recommend dryer sheets under the seats to help soak up some of the stink. Messier, but also somewhat effective, is a box of baking soda dumped into and then (after a time) vacuumed out of the carpets.

    • 0 avatar

      You don’t have to dump baking soda all over the place, I once bought a clunker at auction that was almost full up with cigarette ash. After a good vacuum out, I left a couple of those Arm & Hammer refrigerator baking soda boxes in the car. Within a few days the smell started to shift.

  • avatar

    I love this series. Two months ago friends were about to donate an 850 wagon they inherited but didn’t want. I was looking for a used car and they offered it to me instead. After years of leasing I’ve got no car payments.

    The previous owner was also a smoker. What helped is using coffee grounds to absorb the smell. I left a gallon size bag full for 3 days and vacuumed the headliner thoroughly. There is a trace of odor, but I no longer smell like cigarettes. Starbucks or just about any coffee shop will give you grounds for free.

    Mine has been great so far. Parts have been far cheaper than I expected on Ebay, and I found an affordable mechanic to get it back in shape.

  • avatar

    After plucking my 1998 S70 from the field in front of my parent’s house, the first hot summer day made me remember that this was in fact the car all of my siblings and I drove in high school. The myriad of smells that emanated from every sun-baked porous surface in the cabin was enough to make my eyes water when combined with the heat, humidity and 2 years of field mouse infestation. You could smell the car by standing next to it with the windows closed.

    I tried everything mentioned in this article plus about 6 rounds of steam cleaning, replaced the cabin air filter, took apart the dash sprayed the HVAC vent system with a diluted bleach and ran the fan on high heat for an hour or two and that made it bearable. What finally worked was borrowing an ozone machine from a buddy. One round of that and the smells were almost all gone.

    If you get the chance, I’d recommend the ozone machine treatment. The stuff is beyond toxic and carries with it a host of warnings, but as long as you exercise caution and follow the instructions, the car will smell almost like it did when it was new.

    • 0 avatar

      The mouse smell is no joke.

      Our Miata had a nest in the trunk. I ripped out all the carpeting and then took pool shock (chlorine bleach) and soaked the bare trunk floor. Then I went to the coin op car wash, rinse. Repeat. Then I hosed down all the carpets and put everything back together. The process was tedious and gross, but I believe the smell is gone.

      Every now and then, I catch a hint of mouse, but nothing like before. And I believe I am far more sensitive to it, having had to clean up the ordeal. Mice suck.

      • 0 avatar

        We had a Subaru GL growing up that the mice loved. I don’t know exactly how many we removed from that thing over the years, but the two worst were the one that died on the fan shroud and somehow the fan hit its tail and went ‘click-click-click’ every pass of the fan blade. Dad reached down there to see what it was hitting and almost had a heart attack when he put his hand on it. The other was a mystery as to where it died – we ripped apart the dash trying to find it, removed seats, peeled back carpeting, etc… only to find a week later that we’d placed a 5-gallon bucket full of tractor chain into the hatch and it just happened to be underneath that.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    A great start Derek!

    Here are a few things that may help you out a bit…

    1) Get a wet vac… a decent carpet cleaner and a wet vac will get rid of 90+% of the remaining odor.

    2) Wipe, wipe wipe… A good wipe once a week will get out a lot of the smell It’s important to over-saturate areas of heavy exposure and let them sit for a bit. I don’t know how easy it is to remove the vents on the 98 thru 00 models. But if they are easy i would strongly suggest doing so and wiping through.

    3) Febreeze doesn’t work in the long run. An ionizer is a great help. In the end, you may want to bite the bullet and have it professionally done.

    Your Volvo has an orphaned Swedish sister at my lot. I bought it for $330 and have about $800 in it now with a new clutch as well. Tires are new (and good). It was probably my best buy as of late.

    I’ll leave it up to your imagination as to what it is. Long story short, I don’t think this is nearly as good as yours… but hey… it runs.

    All the best!

  • avatar

    Take out the seats, isolating them to see how bad they smell. I’m thinking it’s mostly the carpet as the seat are leather. Leather conditioner? Pull out the carpet and hit it with a pressure washer. Something like 2,400 PSI, shampoo then hit it again. Pre-washing overnight wouldn’t hurt. Dry in the sun then scratch-n-sniff. Check the sound insulation and toss if necessary. What’s the headliner made of?

  • avatar


    I’m enjoying this feature.

  • avatar

    Do you have a cat, Derek? Because if you do, then go buy a bag of the cheapest coffee you can find, then pour into Spookie’s empty litter box. Next, put the box of beans into the car and tape the windows and doors shut. Wait a day. Did it work?

    (just kidding about the tape, my man. And forget about drinking the coffee afterward.)

  • avatar

    Take a gaze at the Brickboard for general help, and all around Volvo stuff.

  • avatar

    When you going to start from scratch and change all of the fluids and filters?

    I went over my similar priced 2000 9-5 5-speed 116,000 mile sedan and the most I added to the price was $800 Eibach/KYB shock/struts and a detailed $120 alignment. Everything else was $30-75 a pop to bring it up to date minus alternator and water pump which wasn’t needed at the time nor is it 14,000 miles later.

    You need the car to be dependable so don’t go cheap on preventive maintenance.

  • avatar

    I have kind of soured on buying used- the time/cost utility is starting to not add up for me. 0% financing and low down +warranty seals it for me.

    I have bought beaters, and yes tires you need with any car but tallying up the time & repair cost on a car that I want to get rid of makes me want to buy new. I also know insurance will be more, but I like everyone says the majority of cars under 5k have problems-
    I know I have one- for me its about $2100+ a year (175 a month I budget for)every yr (maxima) in repairs and I drive under 12k km with a sunk cost of 3k, 7 yrs ago.
    Sometimes I go for 8-12mos, needs nothing then tierods, brakes, bearings, cv’s, shocks, waterpump, battery, alt, wiper motor, ignition, starter, rotors, exhaust, etc. Something, plus with new you get better safety, mileage, looks better, drives better.

    I don’t have to drive to work and when I go somewhere (roadtrip) I just rent.

    Buy new. (didn’t used to be this way) I am just putting this off because I would really like to (and could) overspend on a new car (looken’ at you new boxster).

  • avatar


    1998 volvo v70 alternator- over $300
    2012 Porsche boxster alternator- $288
    2012 ford focus – $288
    2012 volvo s80 l6- $288

    buy new.

  • avatar

    I’m seriously considering a cheap used car to drive around town and such, so that I can keep the miles down on my new car. I’m giving some serious thought to a 2002 PT Cruiser for $3000. It has a few miles (170k), but the body is in good shape and everything seems to work. It will need tires and a wheel bearing. I want to have it looked over before I pull the trigger. It’s hard to find a decent car around here for cheap, and this is so far the best I have found.

    Now before anyone starts suggesting an import, please remember I live in northern Michigan, so what import cars there are (and there aren’t many), are quite expensive, and many mechanics won’t touch them.

    Aside from that, thoughts?

  • avatar

    For removing the smell try the ozone generator, as others have mentioned, this might be the only way to get to those places you cant scrub. Let us know what works.

  • avatar

    Try Dr. Color Chip for the paint issues. It isn’t the same as a new paint job, but it is way cheaper and even works on road rash.

  • avatar

    Good choice avoiding the T5. My 850 NA (normally aspirated) has over 240,000 miles and is running strong. It has been a good car, the shock mounts in the rear and front have been wear items (should have been more robust in my mind). The seats are great, and it is nice to have an 18 gallon tank for range. Glad to see the headlamp wiper are gone, more trouble than they are worth. I replaced one motor and gave up after that.

  • avatar

    I have a neighbor who has been unemployed for over two years (his wife works fortunately.) He’s taken to flipping lower end used cars and recently bought one of these Volvo wagons home. I had no idea you could buy them so cheaply.

  • avatar

    Out of curiosity, what makes the rear brake job so un-DIY-able compared to the front, which you’re planning on doing?

  • avatar

    My personal recommendation for getting smoke smell out if you don’t have a steam machine:

    Make a solution of pleasant smelling shampoo and warm water. Use dish soap if the smell is really bad, use Simple Green if the smell is UNBEARABLE.

    Working a small section at a time, wet the carpet/headliner just enough to saturate it. Brush the area using a soft bristle brush until you can see a grungy lather. (If working on the headliner, use a mild solution, be gentle and work quickly to avoid ruining the glue and getting saggy headliner syndrome)

    Use a wet/dry shop vac and suck all the liquid out. (again, be gentle with the headliner)

    Repeat with plain water to rinse.

    Roll down the windows and leave the car in a sunny place to dry out.

  • avatar

    Anybody else notice that most of the in-car smokers seem to be women at commuting time? I’m guessing they rarely do it at home or work.

  • avatar

    Considering the smell and shape of that Volvo I dunno if $3000 was really worth it.

  • avatar

    $1,500 dollar cars with issues are worth buying if:

    1) They are still road worthy despite the issues and you don’t mind the faults….bad A/C, cosmetic issues, etc. This type of car is best to drive “as is” without putting any more work into. If you get a year’s worth of driving out of it, you’re ahead of the game.

    2) They are not road worthy but can be repaired. In this case:

    A) The car should have decent body and interior.
    B) Required parts are cheap.
    c) You have BOTH the time and know how to DIY.

    I would stay away from cars that have both bad body/interior and mechanical issues. It’s not worth it. I would most definitely not pay a pro to repair a $1,500 car if the repair was more than $300-$400.

  • avatar

    All true about the smoke smell in a car. My kids drive my Mom’s older Civic and even after 6 years every now and then you can still smell the butts in there. Very, very gross. About 24 or so years ago the airlines started banning smoking on the planes. While this was partly a service issue, nobody was happier about it than the maintenance folks at the airlines. You would not beleive what the smoke did to the innards of the airplanes – sometimes causing replacement of parts that cost thousands of dollars during overhaul plus unimagineable amounts of cleaning, some of it on parts never intended to be cleaned at all. While I really, really beleive in freedom I have never and will never understand how smoking tobacco became a symbol of it. <>

  • avatar

    You can really hit paydirt if you find a high-mileage car in which most of the work is already done.

    A 150,000 mile car with new brakes, struts, bushings, etc is probably a better deal than a 70,000 mile car on its original everything, because all that work is going to come up soon. And the mileage drives the purchase price down no matter what the condition. The idea that a car is “used up” after a certain mileage still prevails even among those who know better.

  • avatar

    Off-topic, but is there any story to that sweet Dodge van in the background?

  • avatar

    About the smell. My wife once lost a half litre carton of coffee cream under the driver’s seat. For a month. The smell was increadible yet she didn’t think to check under the seats for the offending source. Anyways, the sour rancid smell was quite the challenge. After doing a quick Armour All-ing of the leather seats and plastics, I sprinkled baking soda into the carpets and left the car with the windows down overnight. Vacuumed the car the next day and placed clothing dryer sheets under the floor mats and seats while continuing to leave the car parked (in our garage) with the windows down for the next week. The smell had all but vanished after 7 days. Not bad, eh?

  • avatar

    Hay Derek,

    for the odor and stains i used to rely on this.

    Scotchgard 1014R 14-Ounce Fabric and Upholstery Cleaner.

    It works well on my car as well as my sofas.

    If the odor persist try to use this.

    3M Air Conditioner Coil Cleaner & Disinfectant Foam.

    They are bit pricey but surely works, read the F***ing manuals these stuffs are tricky!

    Then under the rug equally disperse generous amount of baking powder. Leave them for few weeks, then vacuum them up before dispersing fresh baking powder.

    This should work anything from cars to basements to cabins.

    For anything else that can be washed and dried under the sun, dry Canadian weather surely is a big advantage.

    0.5 cup of dawn dish soap, a 0.25 cup of tide ultra and 0.5 cup of bleach mixed in with at least 5 liters of warm water or more if its too soapy.

    Soak them then wash, then wet dry vacuum them before drying.

    If you have pollen allergy or if its winter, use a small closed room / closet use a space heater set to max and air dehumidifier. This works very well if you have to air dry something too large for laundry dryers like rugs, seat cushions, sofas and beds.

    Cheers :)

  • avatar

    My Alfa 164 suffered a from a decomposing flesh smell from some critter that climbed into the fender sheet metal around the firewall. I picked up a bottle of highly concentrated Ozium. I sprayed it into the gaps with a garden sprayer. The smell was gone after several applications.

  • avatar

    Typically timing belts have a time as well as mileage trigger for replacement – doubt it will be 10yrs (if you keep the car that long!). No doubt one of the Volvo sites will know how long is unsafe.

    • 0 avatar

      I looked into an old 850 a few years ago. The timing belt isn’t particularly hard on these, but is crucial – interference engine. I once knew a guy who knew a guy, and had a new timing belt put on my ’96 Galant for $180, parts and labor. Did GREAT work, too. He came highly recommended, as he’d dealt with the pitfalls of interference designs before.

      He’s located about 5 miles on the OTHER side of Clendenin, WV. Which is only helpful if you live in Clendenin, WV. LOL.

  • avatar

    $1500 cars need $1500 worth of parts and labor. You’re getting close, but the car looks pretty good. Scratches on the bumper are annoying to look at, but when you think of your investment, you’ll smile. When I bought my 2 year old car with a couple of bumper scratches on the front, I’d start thinking about how to fix them until I remembered I only paid one half the original price of the car. Then I’d smile.

    The only really annoying thing about cheap cars is that once you’ve fixed the obvious items and start driving it, annoying minor problems will start to crop up and occupy your free time.

  • avatar

    I know someone who had a rental house that the tenants left reeking of smoke and wet dog. They sprinkled coffee everywhere and after a bit the smell was gone.

  • avatar

    Just buy new and keep it forever. IF you can…

    We bought a 1984 Chrysler E-Class in 1986. That was one beautiful car documented on here in past posts. The original owner was a smoker, but I scrubbed down the interior including the headliner and successfully removed most traces of the smell. Eventually, of course the headliner fell apart, but after it was replaced, the car smelled as good as it looked.

    Yeah – smoke is a pain, but it can be gotten rid of if you take the time and are thorough.

    • 0 avatar

      My friends and I go back and forth on this one all the time.

      One buys gently used, aiming to pay cash… Think $12-18k .
      On buys new, yet reasonable cars and keeps them 5-7 yrs minimum… Generally nothing more than $25K.

      And I flop around. I’ve done both and I’ve bought the $3k beater. If you can keep the new car long enough, and you’re happy enough with it… IE it does w/e was important to you, OR if that “gently” used car makes it another 4-6 yrs, OR if that beater that you put you a little work into that cost considerably less ran you 1-2 yrs: It never really seems to matter. It’s w/e brought you the most enjoyment through ownership, even if that means needing to get under the hood once a month or so.

      That said, I get tired of having to fix stuff. Paying for it OR doing it yourself. And there’s an added level of complexity when you don’t want to be the guy that drives something perceived to be trashy, or unreliable. Worse yet if that beater makes you the unreliable professional.

  • avatar

    Derek, I don’t know how toronto you are (i.e. Missisauga v. Scarboro), but I… er… know a guy who just has his tire rack tires shipped to an installer in Niagara Falls NY, jumps over, gets them installed (and a tank of gas, and the onsale Autozone oil/filter combo), and drives back over.

    Also works using RockAuto and CBIUSA. Or so I hear.

  • avatar

    Forget the baking soda, get some GAC (granulated activated carbon) from a pool store.
    Lay down a nice thick coat on the floors and anywhere it will stay put. Leave it for a few days and then vacuum it all up. You could probably put some in a mesh bag and stuff it into the HVAC system if you can pull up the cowl for the intake at the base of the windshield.

  • avatar

    I wonder if there is a correlation between heavy smoke smell and lack of upkeep in a car?

    I say this because I am a smoker (yes I know) and I never get anything but compliments on the interior of my cars. I do a quick clean (vacuum, upholstery cleaner, wipe the dash, clean the windows) of my car every week. Nothing fancy and takes 30min to a hour.

    So if even the most basic upkeep prevents the smell from building up, how much interior neglect has a car seen if it smells so bad the stench is rubbing off on people? From my experience, the cosmetic upkeep is often indicative of the mechanical upkeep. Maybe smelly cars should be avoided like the plague?

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve been in smokers’ cars that were so foul you could barely stand spending a minute in there, and I’ve seen ones that you could barely tell were smoked in. I think that how it’s been smoked in is a factor. Did the smoker roll down the window, clean out the ashtray regularly and generally keep the car clean, or did they ash all over the place with no regard to the car? I definitely think it makes a difference.

  • avatar

    I’m confused as to your initial choice of vehicle. If you really wanted to go cheap cheap – I’m not sure I would have picked a Volvo. Having owned 3, I can attest to the quality of the vehicle and certainly safety is unsurpassed. However, when it comes to maintenance, any of the foreign “luxury” brands are going to kill you in parts costs. Struts, brakes etc are all going to be significantly more expensive then comparable parts for a Honda / Toyota.

    As far as odor removal – go to your local home depot – they have this mesh bag w/ lava rock in it. It honestly works. Leave it in your car and it will absorb odors. “recharge” it by putting in the sun for a day. It completely removed the smell of nasty bout w/ the flu that one of my daughter’s had in the back of our minivan.

  • avatar
    old fart

    Don’t forget the PO was using the HVAC system so the cigar tar is all over the heater core and evaporator. I’ve seen some almost totally clogged with tar and dust, and any foam in the car will keep the smell locked in . I had a car once from a dog owner and no matter what I did opening the car on a hot summer day the dog was back – Good luck !

    • 0 avatar

      Not just the heater core and evaporator, but the fan and all the ductwork. A commenter mentioned the smell coming back on damp days. That’s when the moisture activates the residue in the ductwork, and the defroster puts it in the cabin. I’d hate to think what it would take to physically clean the residue from the air passageways, but maybe some of the suggested methods will work.

      The electrics inside the dash are the last refuge for the residue, and it’s really tough to clean that out. Apple refused to perform warranty work on an iMac because the owner smoked, and it was darn near impossible to clean it out without shorting out the computer. Derek, you may have to live with trace amounts of cigar smell, because removing the last of the residue will be impossible.

  • avatar

    These are all great tips – I’ll have to try some of them on our Prius, which smelled pretty heavily of smoke when we got it, despite quite a bit of detailing by the small outfit we bought it from. The cigarette smell now competes with the dog smell, after carrying two wet labs it’s hard to get out either smell, or the fur.

    What bothers me more than the smoke are the cigarette burns everywhere. It’s really a shame, but someone even stubbed one out in the headliner, and in the seat between the driver’s legs, and in the door rest, and the center console. I can only surmise that the former owner was slovenly and negligent with the interior. The ‘stealership’ had covered them up with what appeared to be facial concealer, which lasted a few weeks before the black char started to show through again. I’m rather appalled that this is considered acceptable! The mechanicals seemed in good shape though, and the fact that the PO had written the oil filter code and the correct quantities of oil to use for changes with and without filter were encouraging signs.

  • avatar
    Downtown Dan

    Derek, re: the respray– any chance you could get away doing a DIY localized paint job instead of a whole-body respray? That seems much more cost-effective.

    I’ve had luck with respraying a bumper myself– grind off the old paint, and give it a good scrub with steel wool and then wet/dry sandpaper. Then apply adhesion promoter (2 coats), primer (3 coats), sand the primer with fine 600 grit sandpaper, apply the paint (3+ coats), and seal it with clear coat spray(3-4 coats). Total materials cost was about $40. Keep the sprays light to ensure that the paint doesn’t run, and I think you’ll see good results.

    • 0 avatar

      Whole body re-spray? God no! It’s just the bumper, hood and fender that need doing. Best case scenario is my friend has an impromptu spray booth and has done this stuff before. Cost will just be materials. Worse case is I will get a crappy re-spray from a bodyshop I know. That will be about $400.

  • avatar

    Our CR-V was owned by a smoker. After trying to vacuum and baking soda, someone said to put white vinegar in a bowl in the car, park it in the sun and after a few hours, the smell would be gone.

    It worked.

  • avatar

    I’ve successfully used tea tree oil mixed with vinegar to get rid of mold/mould. Not sure how well it would work for a car interior, but it worked well in our basement when we first moved in. Even just water mixed with vinegar would probably work as a non-chemical spray. Good luck with your stinkmobile. :)

  • avatar

    Go to the LeeValley store (there is one at King West and Bathurst) in Toronto and buy yourself a few small bags of lava rock or volcano rock. This stuff works wonders, with pulling odours out of rooms and interiors permanently. Put them under your front seats and keep them out of direct sunlight(direct sunlight re-charges the rocks and releases captured odours). Put them under the seats, re charge the next day (to release odours) outside in sunlight. Repeat for a week or two. It will get cigar, cigarette and even body odour smells out permanently. I use to drive for a taxi/airline cab service in Toronto in the early 90’s. This was our secret.

  • avatar
    volvo driver

    One thing you might want to consider is checking the thermostatic intake at the bottom of the airbox. These non turbo volvos have a dual intake with one large pipe going to the front of the grill and a second smaller pipe to the exhaust manifold. A small thermostat adjusts a flap between the 2 intake pipes so the engine is always gets a minimum of 20c air temperature. When this thermostat fails it always goes to the hot air only side. Intake temp goes through the roof, the engine looses power and eventually the MAF sensor is damaged. Its also very likely that the car will fail emissions. Most mechanics don’t even know this thermostat exists but its usually dead by 100k miles. The replacement part is cheap but most owners simply prop the air flap into the cold air side with no negative effects.
    It looks like this.
    Most of the volvo forums have a write up on how to do this job.
    I have a 96 850 manual wagon with 230k miles on it. Congrats on the new car.

  • avatar
    Lynn E.

    Your Volvo looks great. I hope you continue to have good luck with maintenance. Since I jam bicycles into my cars the little nicks on your bumpers wouldn’t bother me.

    The 2 best decisions I made were always buying a car I could pay cash for and with enough left over for possible maintenance.

    Even though I have owned 3 VW lemons I still saved money (and learned a lot about auto repair). My last 4 cars have been Toyotas and my tools now get used for bicycle repairs.

  • avatar

    Im a bit jealous that you found a 5 speed P1 wagon, I would certainly clean out the PCV system before it grenades, my experience has been to buy the cheap car, apply the parts and labor and then you end up at the same price point as the better ones but now with new parts rather than ones wiht 50% of their life gone, try a spray from Canadian Tire called CHOMP to get the smell out, I had a 50 year old tractor engine fall over in my 740 and dump oil all over the place, it took away the stains and smells even when the car sat in the sun

  • avatar

    Maybe I missed an earlier entry to this series, but will other people be driving it regularly too? Maybe your little brother?

    This isn’t much of a test of what you can get if you are lucky to put 5,000 miles on it in a year. You won’t know if you have a serviceable daily driver unless you actually use the thing. I think you need to find a way to triple that mileage for this experiment to mean much.

  • avatar

    Derek, would it be possible to create an article with a list of all the techniques of removing the smoke smell suggested by the B&B?

    It may help many of us in the future. Thanks.

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