Everything Wrong with My $5,000 Volvo

(Repost for the evening crowd) Last Friday I bought a manual 2005 Volvo V50 T5 with AWD and 177k miles. I’m very happy with it, but my favorite kind of Oppo post is the brutally honest disclosure following the purchase of a vehicle where the warranty is but a distant memory. So here is every unflattering detail I’ve been able to find about my new car and its history. After this nice picture of it, that is.

Definitely the car’s good side

And also after a little background on how exactly I came to be its third owner.

How I Bought This Thing

I found the car listed on FB marketplace for $5,000. I had the car inspected at Volvo Cars Seattle on 2700 NE 55th St, which it turns out is the same place where it’s been serviced for the past three and a half years. The inspection turned up warped rotors, a tendency to pull to the left, a broken fog light & enclosure on the passenger side, an advisement to flush the coolant because it’s “only” rated for five degrees Fahrenheit, and uneven wear on the tires (6 mm tread on the FL tire, 5 mm on the FR, and 8 on the rears). So, pretty good!

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Satisfied with the results of the PPI, I took the bus up to Seattle with a cashier’s check for $5,000, which basically meant I couldn’t negotiate on price. I met up with the owner and took it for a short test drive: a few miles down I-5 and back, and a short neighborhood drive including some of those speed bumps with cutouts. I shifted into and out of each gear twice, never had any issues with the clutch, didn’t hear any concerning noises, confirmed the warped rotors, and used those speed bumps to make the suspension on each side go through at least a few inches of travel without warning signs.

After the test drive, we transacted the sale rather quickly. I wish I had taken more time with it. He handed me a printout with a high-level summary of the service history at the Volvo Dealer, but I didn’t look at it at all before we closed the deal (I had gotten a CarFax the previous night, but this had much more detail). Given how many interesting things I found in this summary, I should have read it before agreeing to buy.

Mechanical/Driveability

The only issue that I notice when driving is that slight pull to the left, even after the alignment I had done right after purchase. Volvo warns against adjusting anything besides toe on the front wheels, and the caster on the driver side and camber & caster on the passenger side are all out of spec:

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There’s uneven wear on the front tires, with the passenger side one being more worn, likely due to this alignment issue. My hope is that rotating the wheels from front to back will mitigate this, though I’ll probably end up getting a new set of tires for it soon.

Exterior

The only functional problem with the exterior is that broken fog light:

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Not only is the lens shattered, but the bulb doesn’t work either (though the bulb itself is not shattered).

But while the car looks great on a cell phone screen or from across the street, walk up close and many blemishes become apparent.

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In the first photo I posted after buying it, you can see a few spots near the hood gap where the paint has come off, both on the hood and on the front bumper:

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There are lots of tiny nicks in the paint that go down to the primer, with a few going all the way to the metal. They’re all over the vehicle, but it seems to be the worst on the front quarter panels. Here’s a close-up on the driver side panel, which also has a small but deep scratch & dent:

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The last issue in the front is significant cracking in the paint on the front bumper:

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Moving to the sides, there are some white spots on the passenger rear door and quarter panel. They appear to be on top of the paint, so I’m hopeful they’ll wash off:

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There is a matching dark spot on the driver side rear quarter panel, along with another sizable dent:

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Continuing to the rear, but back over on the passenger side, the fuel door has a chip and a scratch:

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All the way at the back, the rear bumper has chips in the paint ranging from smaller than a dime to a one that’s a few inches long:

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Finally, up on top, the clear coat is peeling away in a few spots on the passenger side roof rail. The worst spot is at the front:

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And the back has its own large spot, along with a few small ones:

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Interior

The only functional problem with the interior is that the glovebox lock doesn’t work. Meh.

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The upholstery is made of Volvo’s T-Tec leatherette, in off-black. It’s in decent shape. The biggest problem is this chunk missing from the outside bolster of the driver’s seat, along with a few cracks on the seat bottom:

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There’s some mild waviness on the seat bottom cushions in the front two seats from the material stretching out over the years.

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There are some small stains/marks on the upholstery, but I’m hopeful that most or all of them will wash out with some mildly soapy warm water.

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Then there’s the stains on the headliner, which I’m less hopeful about:

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But who looks up at the ceiling when they’re driving? Not me. The worst ones are over the second row anyways (probably from the Previous Owner’s four young children).

The dash and door panels are all in good shape. But the center console fascia and door puller trim all have some dents and scratches:

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And there’s this area on the center console that looks like it’s been melted somehow:

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Update: CodyVella pointed out that this is right below the ignition, and lines up with the mark next to it on the dash, so this is due to keys dangling from the ignition swaying back and forth while driving.

All the way at the back, the weather striping around the tailgate has cracks and missing chunks:

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Finally, the only interior issue that annoys me at all is that some of the foil on the Volvo emblem in the steering wheel has peeled off:

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My Car’s Sordid Recent Past

Nothing I’ve talked about so far has any bearing on the car’s ability to move your butt from one place to another, which is arguably the primary function of a car and probably what you’re worried about after you buy a 14-year-old European car. Obviously I can’t give you much firsthand experience with this, since I’ve had the car less than a week. But the previous owner gave me a printout from the dealer summarizing all the work he’s had done on it, and oh what a tale that is!

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Since November 2015, my car has had at least three repairs performed to fix a check engine light, and three other major incidents that did not throw a code. I don’t understand everything in this summary, so I’d welcome any theories or deeper explanations you could provide.

November 19, 2015

PO brought the car in due to an isolated incident where the doors would not unlock with the remote, and after getting inside, he “had to wait several minutes for the car to start.” It’s unclear whether it was cranking and failing to start, or not even cranking. Once the car started, PO stated that “random” error messages were shown on the dash. I don’t know if he drove it right then, or let it sit for a while and then it was fine the next time. The car was inspected but no repair or service was performed.

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I have no idea what could have caused this. It’s clearly some sort of electrical wonkiness. In my line of work, the standard explanation for this sort of transient electrical phenomenon is “cosmic rays,” but I’m sure some of you have better guesses.

March 29th, 2016

PO reported a momentary CEL: “was on and is now off.” Who knows how long it was on for, or if it was only on once. The right motor mount was replaced. Maybe that was the cause of the CEL, maybe it wasn’t. All I know for sure is that three months later he brought it in again.

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June 29th, 2016

This time there was no CEL, but coolant was leaking in the engine bay, and PO reported that the oil level had been one quart low as well as a “plastic” smell in the bay. He topped off the oil and added water to the coolant tank as needed.

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The coolant tank was replaced along with the right inner CV boot (which is on the same side as the coolant tank). This explains the leaking coolant, but the oil consumption is still a mystery to me. They looked for an oil leak but don’t seem to have found anything. Could this be related to the transient CEL from about three months prior? Or maybe this is a coincidence? Does it sway your opinion to know that it was about three weeks before the CEL went on again?

July 21st, 2016

The car took an emissions test and failed. I’m pretty sure that the reason it failed is because the CEL was on, because three weeks after this failure, it goes back to the dealership with the CEL on.

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August 12th, 2016

The car is brought in with a CEL. The driver front control arm and both rear sway bar link rods are replaced. Two weeks after that, it passes emissions testing.

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Now, I’ve heard of bad motor mounts causing CELs, but I didn’t know that suspension issues could cause a CEL. But no other work is listed by the dealer, and there’s nothing else in the carfax before the emissions test. So I guess the suspension repairs fixed it?

After this difficult summer for the car, a good six months pass, before:

March 16th, 2017

The car is brought in due to running poorly, though there’s no note of a CEL. PO states it’s been doing this since he got it back from the 165k mile service two weeks prior. It “sounds rough,” struggles going uphill, and according to the PO, went from half a tank of gas to a quarter tank over 20 miles(!).

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Now here’s the really perplexing thing about this to me: there’s no work listed to resolve this issue. And the only things they did in the 165k service, besides inspecting things, was replace the cabin air filter, replace a tail light bulb, and change the oil & filter. I have absolutely zero idea what happened here. Maybe they somehow messed something up in the 165k service, recognized that, and didn’t charge him so they didn’t even put in the paperwork? But what could you do when inspecting the vehicle and doing such basic replacements that would cause it to run so rough? I dunno. I’d love to hear any theories anyone has.

February 1st, 2018

Whoo, nearly a whole year later with nothing going wrong! But now it has a CEL again. It’s not crystal clear from the paperwork, but it seems like it’s due to a leak in the evaporative emissions control system, because there’s a note that there are “no concerns with driveability” due to the CEL. And because of the next two events of note. The only other work done was changing the oil & filter.

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August 27th, 2018

The car is now due for another emissions test. It fails.

August 30th, 2018

PO brings the car in, and it has a CEL. I’m guessing that this is the same CEL from February, and this is why it failed the emissions test. This time, a replacement gas cap is ordered. The front brake pads and the low beam headlight bulbs are replaced. A few days later, it passes the emissions test.

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Those are the highlights from the part of the car’s history that I have firm documentation of. For the first nine years of its life, all I have to go on is the carfax report.

My Car’s Murky Distant Past

I know that not every place reports to carfax, so I don’t put a whole ton of stock in the service history it reports. Though maybe I’m just trying to convince myself of this, because if the carfax is exhaustive, that means that the First Owner waited for 7k-10k miles before changing the oil a few times, almost certainly on conventional rather than synthetic. But the carfax only shows it being serviced at the dealer, and none of those are just an oil change; there’s always a mileage milestone or other problem accompanying the oil changes. So I’m hoping guessing that the FO took it to some other place when they only needed the oil changed, and brought it in to the dealer for the major mileage-based servicing.

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The only really interesting thing that shows up in the carfax for the FO’s ownership is that the ECU was reprogrammed just under three months after purchase. Firmware update? Maybe. At the same time, the all-in-one CD player/head unit/amp was reinstalled. Related? Coincidence?

The notable repairs/replacements in this time frame are:

  • Rear wheel bearings replaced at 70k/4.5 years (I remember reading about wheel bearing failure being fairly common for this model)
  • FO backed into a parked vehicle, resulting in “minor damage.”
  • Fuel pump replaced at 95k/6 years
  • A/C compressor replaced at 108k/7 years
  • Timing belt replaced at 120k service as recommended

Next Steps

Most of these “problems” are not really problems. But there are two things I am addressing right away:

  1. The floor mat on the driver side was some complimentary Goodyear mat that was clearly designed for an automatic, because the clutch pedal would get stuck in the grooves about a third of the time I fully depressed it.
  2. The broken fog light. It does make me a little sad whenever I can see it while walking to the car.
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I’ve ordered replacements for both of these from IPDUSA, and I’ll be picking them up tomorrow.

Beyond that, I have vague ideas but no definite plans. At least two tires need to be replaced “soon,” but I’ll probably be getting a full set (currently it has Goodyears, and I dislike Goodyear for that whole RV tire debacle). I’m not sure when I’ll be replacing the rotors, but it’ll probably be before the four-day road trip over and back through the Rockies this summer (not that I plan on using the brakes too much — in the words of my ex, I am “addicted to engine braking”). And one way or the other, I need an AUX input in before mid-May.

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Now You Know Everything

Well, that’s everything bad I could find out about my new car. Overall, I’m very happy with it, and I’m interested in a morbid sort of way to see what happens next. It has behaved itself pretty well for the past few years, but who knows how quickly the other side of the bathtub curve approacheth. Whatever happens, I’ll be sure to keep y’all updated with more detail than any sane person could possibly want.

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