If there were a Twelfth Commandment it should have been, “Thou shalt not buy a used European luxury car unless thou art prepared to pay for the maintenance and repairs.”
In 2015 I had a $4000 offer from my dealer on 2005 CR-V. The Honda seemed to be holding up well despite 240,000 trouble-free miles and ten years of New England winters. Nonetheless, it was hard for my wife to get in and out of, and I was (probably incorrectly, in retrospect) anticipating some high mileage repair that would force my hand. Why not trade in the car while it was still worth something?
A brand new car was not in our budget, but I kept my eye on the dealer’s used inventory. I was specifically watching for a used Honda Crosstour, which ticked the box of all wheel drive while sitting lower to the ground. Despite the awkward styling and oddly-shaped cargo area, I wanted to stick with a Honda given my experience with the CR-V. However, none were in the offing.
What did come up was a relatively low-mileage 2010 Volvo XC70 3.2. The pictures showed a gigantic cargo area, and I began to think about how easily something like that could accommodate our cat show travels, auction finds, old furniture, and so on. I also knew the Volvo reputation for comfortable interiors and imagined that it would make for much more relaxing long-distance travels.
I arranged for a test drive and the Volvo interior was everything it was purported to be. If it felt positively luxurious compared to the CR-V, it’s because it was. The seats positively cradled me. I took it home that night for my wife to try as both passenger and driver and she approved, as well. The next morning, I drove back to the dealer and the papers were signed. I never saw the CR-V pop up in their used inventory. I suspect with that kind of mileage it went straight to auction.
I was happy to be behind a V-6 again. While the 235-horsepower 3.2 liter engine ate up the highway miles without fuss. I wasn’t going to do smoky burnouts, but the engine was just powerful enough to keep the wagon from feeling sluggish. Its strength lay more in passing than quick acceleration.
Quiet and smoothness were the Volvo’s forte. In many ways it reminded me of my old Bonneville, if the Bonneville had more road-hugging weight and were filled with cotton balls. Within a few weeks of buying the car I got my first warning in years from my local police for going twenty over the speed limit. The Volvo was so smooth (almost a bit disconnected) that I had no clue that I was going any faster than I ever had in the CR-V. Thanks to officers who give the locals the benefit of the doubt on state roads. I suspect that I would have gotten a ticket if I was one or two towns over. After that I kept a much closer eye on my speed.
It felt even more secure than the CR-V in the snow, probably due to the weight and lower center of gravity. The extra power didn’t hurt, either. Despite the excellence of the New Hampshire plows there were some storms where even they couldn’t keep up.
I was driving home during one particularly bad white out. I probably should have slept on the floor at work, because the only way I was staying on the highway was by following the taillights in front of me at about fifteen miles per hours. As I approached my left exit I could see that the plows had left a bank of snow in my path, high enough that a few small cars were stuck. I was determined to make it home, so I pointed the Volvo at the exit, hit the gas, and it plowed through, getting hung up just long enough to think, “Oh crap, I might not make it.”
We sometimes shuttled elderly family members to Christmas parties and such so they wouldn’t have to drive at night or on icy roads. The heated rear seats came in handy and they remarked on how smooth and quiet the trip was.
At first I brought the Volvo to the Honda dealer (free State inspection) but it soon became clear that despite their advertising to the contrary they really weren’t equipped to deal with something that wasn’t a Honda. I started bringing the VXC70 to the local Volvo dealer and found service prices that were a bit higher for stuff like oil changes, but not crazy.
As with my previous cars I wanted to adhere to the service schedule as best I could, and that was when I was shocked. The big service intervals would run hundreds if not thousands of dollars. I became good at picking the necessary items and bypassing the “nice to have” ones to keep the costs down. “Oh,” I realized, “The people buy these cars new can afford this so it’s not a big deal for them.”
I searched for an independent repair shop that dealt with European cars in the hopes of getting a better price and maybe a more honest view on what was truly necessary, but none of them returned my calls. Odd.
There were minor issues. The retracting mirrors were iffy in cold weather and I eventually just turned off the feature. The housing and latch for the retracting cargo cover cracked in the cold weather, rendering it unusable. I found a color-matched replacement on eBay.
On one trip to Connecticut to visit my father we heard a scraping noise as soon as we pulled into our hotel. Sure enough, part of the exhaust was hanging down. Since I grew up in the area I knew that there was a Meineke shop a few miles away. I made an online appointment for first thing in the morning. They said a dealer would really have to deal with it properly, but understanding that we were many miles from home on a Saturday he managed a very solid patchwork repair for only a few hundred dollars.
That repair actually held together very well for the better part of a year, until at a regular service appointment the dealer told me that I truly needed to deal with it. Which I did, to the tune of a few thousand dollars. I was a little surprised that this would be the thing to cause me grief on a car from a Swedish manufacturer that you would think had toughened their vehicles for cold weather. Maybe Ford influence? Either way, it was an expensive hit.
At this point the XC70 had about 140,000 miles on it. We had begun shopping for a replacement for my wife’s 2001 VW Jetta VR6. It was a fun little car and had only 80,000 miles on it. My wife was wasn’t driving that much due to her disability so the miles were piling up very slowly. If we were lucky she put 3000 miles a year on it. That said, it was very much starting to show its age.
We test drove new VWs, mainly Jettas and Golf wagons. I wanted her to have a new car, but the prices weren’t within our reach. We could have pulled it off with a lease, and maybe with her limited driving that would make sense, but we really didn’t want to get stuck having payments forever.
In the end we made the practical choice. She would take the XC70. Between her limited driving and cat shows we would keep mileage and maintenance to a minimum, and hopefully forestall any more expensive repairs. We began taking it to our local shop in town for regular service. Despite the occasional complaint (“I hate Volvos!”) they’ve been doing a good job keeping it on the road.
Meanwhile, I wanted to find a daily driver that was rock solid and inexpensive to maintain. Something where I could pile on the miles and not worry so much. Another CR-V? Not so fast. Stay tuned for my final COAL.
Good read. I’m quite attracted to these – the 2.5 turbo is most common in Denmark.
Just one comment: it’s an I6, not a V6.
Ah! You are correct. I should have double-checked.
“daily driver that was rock solid and inexpensive to maintain”.
Toyota Corolla. Any age.
I’d avoid the 1998-2002 oil burners.
You are definitely not the only one here with experience going underwater on a maintenance-needy European car. For me, that experience was with a Saab 9-3 turbo, which was a really fun car, but one I just couldn’t afford to keep. If I knew more about wrenching myself at the time, I’d probably still have it, problems and all.
I have had one of these for over 3 years. Mine is a 2008 with a 2.4 litre 5 cylinder diesel engine, which weren’t sold in the US. The only trouble I have had with it is with the air conditioning. On 4 occasions a stone has come through the front grill, piercing the condenser and resulting in complete loss of gas. Other than that the car has been trouble free. Beautiful interior, and plenty of power from the diesel, although it is a bit noisy under acceleration. Economical too, I can get 700-800 kms from a tank. These were $60,000 when new, although mine is worth less than $10,000 now. It’s covered 137,000 kms, and I intend to keep it for a while to come.
Rocks through the AC condenser are also a problem on Hondas. The quick and easy fix is to zip tie some aluminum “chicken wire” to the opening. I have done this on several cars. It looks better if you paint it black and put it inside the bumper but this picture gives the general idea.
It’s paid for and we’re not putting a lot of miles on it, so we’ll keep it as long as we can. I feel kind of bad because I know my wife would like to drive something a bit smaller that handles more like her old Jetta. Now that she’s had a knee replaced I think a small CUV would be perfect for her. But both of our cars are paid for and I don’t anticipate replacing them too soon.
“If there were a Twelfth Commandment it should have been…”
Aren’t there only ten commandments?
You might not want to know the Eleventh…
The eleventh is, “Don’t get caught.”
Or is the Eleventh “Thy shall not covet used European luxury cars out of warranty.” ?
In my earlier years I was only really interested in European makes, and paid my dues, financial and otherwise. Owning older ones. I spent a few years in the auto business, and it cured me of that. A Toyota or Honda may not be very interesting, but they tend to hold together very well, in addition to retaining more value, longer.
I’d love to hear some more details on those exhaust repairs because that just seems like astonishing amounts of money.
Volvos attract absurdly high repair expenses it seems. As a long time car collector and auto-wrench, I’m a relative newcomer to Volvo ownership. Both a good friend and I have bought excellent P80 Volvos cheap that were ‘totalled ‘ due to ridiculously high repair costs. One previous owner was quoted $3000 (with sales tax) for front struts and control arms. We found about three hundred dollars on Rockauto parts and an easy afternoons work fixed the issue. There’s no justification for $3000 except for greed and market forces.
Unfortunately we found this pattern repeated itself frequently. The P80 platform, and older Volvos are delightfully easy to repair and maintain, by design, yet owners seem to get fleeced on repair costs regularly. Very high dealer parts prices can’t be blamed entirely because high quality aftermarket parts are inexpensive and widely available.
Of course newer Volvos are more complex and perhaps warrant higher prices. But as a whole, in my experience, high Volvo service costs are often unjustified
Looking through my service records, I can’t seem to find the exhaust repair, but I did find something else I’d forgotten. In 2017 they replaced a noisy blower motor at my request ($729, about 50/50 split on parts and labor).
It also failed the State inspection because the rear trailing arm bushing was falling apart. That was about $900 in labor and $200 in parts.
And the brake vacuum pump was leaking. Repair kit $70 and $200 in labor.
Add an oil change and that was a $2000 hit in one visit.
Maybe they had me marked as a pigeon. Based on how they treated me on other occasions, I don’t think so.
The trailing arm is about $60 . Can’t imagine where $900 in labor comes from.
Pump kit $57.59. https://www.tascaparts.com/oem-parts/volvo-repair-kit-31401556
Looks to be about an hour at most in labor. https://youtu.be/IhJvEyTi2yM
I have a feeling you’ve been making somebody’s boat payment.
Re: Crosstour: I just don’t get the dislike of it (or the Venza) and its low sales/used car availability. Both are, IMHO, far less ridiculous looking than the CUVs that followed.
Crosstour flopped because the rear seat space is comical compared to the sedan. Why bother?
Also, the wheel wells intrude into the cargo area in a big way. The sloping rear make it problematic, too. Why didn’t they make it a wagon?
Also, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but do find many of the styling choices on the Crosstour… odd.
Consider yourself lucky you could have bought a used Audi and really got fleeced for repairs, I know somebody who did, Meanwhile I just change thed oil and filters on my Citroen and it doesnt give any trouble the right European car is worth owning but there are sevedral to steer clear of.