Tuesday, January 17th 2006

Avoid Volvos of Model Years 1999-2002

My parents were looking at getting a new (used) car. Being Volvo people, they started looking at S80s and V70s from around 1999 and 2000. They found one fairly quickly, a light blue S80 2.4 (140 bhp) [se], MY 2000.

Being a Volvo guy, I tend to regularly hang around VVSpy.com. I asked in the S80 forum whether anyone knew which model year was best, knowing that Ford introduced some cost-cutting measures for the car some time around 2001.

Thankfully, I was enlightened on the Volvo ETM problem (now there’s an understatement). Apparently, Volvo introduced an electronic (or fly-by-wire) throttle in all cars from model year 1999. Only, Volvo obviously had no clue how these things should be constructed, and so used a design which partly consisted of metal fingers moving over a polycarbonate surface with every move of the throttle. This infallibly leads to erratic throttle behaviour, including spontaneous accelerations and loss of power. After some time, the engine will die on you – somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 miles usually. (That’s between 80,000 and 160,000km.) Here’s a list of affected models and years.

So what?, you think. All modern cars have problems, right? Well it wouldn’t be so bad if Volvo accepted responsibility for this problem and either recalled all affected cars or repaired the part for free at first sign of a problem. (So that you wouldn’t have to experience your car dying on you while overtaking on the motorway.) But they aren’t doing that. In Sweden anyway, and the US, Volvo are replacing the part – but only if the car outputs the right error code. Thing is, this won’t happen until the ETM has broken completely and the car comes to a complete stand-still.

Ok. So you’ve had your complete brake-down, after driving around worrying for a year-and-a-half. You get the part replaced for free. Is the new one any better? No. Several reports indicate the opposite – that the replacement part is even worse, failing at around 20,000 miles/32,000km.

The best bit is this: Volvo knew, even before the first cars were sold with this design flaw, that more than 9 out of 10 ETM units would break before 100,000 miles/160,000km. Remember, we’re talking about a part which shouldn’t have to be replaced at all during the lifetime of a car. Some dealers will claim (when you want it replaced under guarantee) that this is a wear-and-tear part. However, nothing is mentioned about this in any manual…

There is (was?) a class action law suit against Volvo in the US, for having issued a secret guarantee. Volvo were replacing the part for free, but only if the customer was annoying enough. Not telling all affected owners about the free replacement is illegal.

If you want to read more about this, see Don Willson’s website. If you’d like to follow the whole investigation into the matter from the very start back in 2004, read this thread, all 37 pages of it.

As you may have understood by now, my parents changed their mind about the S80 they had looked at. When speaking to the dealer, they were very understanding and said that it’s important that you feel you’re making the right choice, etc. However, they didn’t in any way acknowledge the ETM problem. Guess they’ll just have to sell that car to someone less well informed. Well, at least, by now it won’t be you 🙂

So much for Volvo being committed to safety.

No Responses to this post:

  1. xeen says:

    haha. ever read/watched fight club?if it’s cheaper to pay some lawsuits than calling all (affected) cars back, they won’t do it, even if people could die becvause of this (I’m not referring to Volvo). Though this is only a book or film, I tend to believe this. In teese timers of lobbyism, who would care?xeen

  2. David Naylor says:

    “if it’s cheaper to pay some lawsuits than calling all (affected) cars back, they won’t do it, even if people could die becvause of this (I’m not referring to Volvo)”Sadly, that seems to apply to Volvo too, these days.

  3. Anonymous says:

    It is so easy for so many of you to be the professer of second guesser.Wake up and quit being babys!! WORRY? about the car breaking down,the problem is being taken care of.Look at the over all product…. Volvo has alwaays built a great car,some years had there problems,but guess what they are just that cars built by men and women shit happens,quit crying!!Toyota has it’s own little dirty secret: The engines in the Camary and actually several other cars in the line have a secret recall if the customer bitches enough.The fix? Toyota replaces the engine free,so stop concentrating on what you find wrong and give a little credit to volvo for all they do that is right,or go buy yourself a toyota and enjoy…OOOOOOOh what a feeling!!

  4. David Naylor says:

    Hey, I’m a Volvo guy if ever there was one. It takes quite a lot for me to write something negative about Volvo.But what’s the point of buying a car which you know is safe overall, but you’ll never dare do any overtaking in because the engine might die? There’s just no point, since you more or less know that the car, at some point, will die on you. I don’t see how that makes me a crying baby.See the subtitle of my blog?Yeah, that says “Volvo”. That doesn’t mean I constantly write Volvo down. That means I’m a Volvo fan. However, I still want Volvo to take their responsibility and live up to their reputation and claimed central values.