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.