1990 Volvo 240 DL 2.3L Eco-Tractor
Drivetrain of a tractor, body of a vault
When purchased, the car required the following (all prices include labor):
Stage 0 tune-up ($15, did it with help from my family).
New passenger control arm, bearings re-packed, and wheel studs ($300).
New driver's side strut ($400).
New tires all around (brought a used set for $100).
New piece of exhaust ($100).
Rear wiring to the hatch had cracked; fixed with a piece of wire that caused the "bulb out" warning to display when the brakes are pushed, worked fine otherwise (free).
Used wiper motor, installed in the garage ($20).
Over the course of several months:
Countless bits of trim ($20, installed myself).
Fuel pressure regulator ($50, installed myself).
New flame trap, various engine hoses ($13, did them myself).
Speedometer and tachometer inoperative, previous owner BBQ'd the unit somehow. Replaced with a new speedometer ($50, installed myself), tachometer had 149k on it.
New battery ($80, installed myself).
From purchase the car would stall out upon starting unless if you applied gas for a minute. I removed the instrument cluster, and checked the wiring. Somehow I inexplicably fixed this. Afterwards the car started no matter what (free).
Cruise control wouldn't work; adjusting the wiring fixed it (free).
Aftermarket radio inoperative along with 3 speakers in the car, radio fixed by adjusting the wiring, and a used $10 set of old speakers.
Rear wiper and windshield squirters never worked, didn't bother to fix.
Interior cracked above the dash and little age-related issues.
This might sound like a lot of work, but I did only pay $700 for the car; surprising it needed so much with just 108k on the odometer (real mileage was probably 122k); total cost of ownership was $1858.
The car never had anything go wrong with it once I fixed everything; it was reliable and would run all day. Surprisingly it had no leaks other than a tiny oil leak above the engine.
Gas mileage was an acceptable 28 MPG highway given the car's age and tank-like aerodynamics. Seemed slightly better than a '92 Volvo 240 sedan I had at one point; probably the longer gear ratios.
Handling was less "direct" than what you get on a 240 sedan, but both cars are kinda boaty until you start replacing bushings and struts. You really can't judge a car's handling based on a battered old example.
The car was pretty quiet on the highway, more so than my sedan. The steering can be a little too precise at higher speeds, coupled with the boxy body.
Be it sedan, wagon, coupe, whatever body style you get, Volvo 240s don't exactly have a measurable 0-60 time, you just hammer the gas and hope the car agrees with you.
Perhaps the strangest part of the car's performance is the brakes; the car's slow to get up to speed but quick to stop, despite the old tires and brakes. It's been said you can install Mazda RX-7 brakes if you really need extra stopping power.
The interior space was good, well it was after I threw out the driver's door pocket. These tend to crack thanks to a huge "box" at the end where your feet go. Earlier Volvos never had these (just a small leather pocket), later 240s got this and it's clear Volvo was new to the concept of plastic storage spaces.
Ride was soft on a good road, rough and truck-like on anything else thanks to the primitive suspension.
Rear-storage space was terrific; just remember to pull up the front seats before you fold up the back.
If you need cup holders, I recommend finding an early 90s Taurus/Sable, pryout the little cupholder-coin storage box. Saw off the little bump underneath, then simply insert it into the Volvo's blank space under the ashtray. Does NOT require any drilling, cutting up your car, or anything else. Fits tight enough to not slip out.
Compared to my '96 850, this 240 was far more primitive, but the interior and exterior paint quality were a bit better. Namely, the headliner wasn't sagging, the seats weren't cracked, and it was MUCH easier to take the interior apart.
Good tough car if you don't mind cheap interior plastics, wonky electrics, and aren't in a hurry.
With 240s becoming "classics", expect to see less and less in the junkyard and higher prices. If you want a cheap Volvo, get a 740/940; they aren't as good for modding (handling's more clumsy), but out on the streets they're cheaper and designed much better than the 240.
They're different, heavily dated, perhaps some of the most crude cars sold in 1990, but they will get you to your destination.
Just make sure you have a spare fuel pump relay.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? No
Review Date: 9th August, 2015
10th Aug 2015, 22:40
Original owner here:
Forgot to mention the car required a water pump and new hoses when purchased, common issues for these 240s.
I have since sold the car for something different, hopefully something with a more solid interior!
11th Aug 2015, 18:45
To be fair, most 25 year old Volvo Estates (Wagons) are pretty much abused and age will catch up with any car eventually.
By the way, if the bulb failure light comes on when you press the brake pedal, it's letting you know you have a brake light bulb out. A superb safety feature given its age and how few other cars have this!
14th Aug 2015, 06:52
The car was pretty abused by the time I got it. Based on my receipts, it was well loved by the first two owners, neglected by the other two. The fact it still held together well impressed me.
With the lights, allow me to repeat:
"Rear wiring to the hatch had cracked; fixed with a piece of wire that caused the "bulb out" warning to display when the brakes are pushed, worked fine otherwise"
All of the bulbs were in place and worked fine, rear foglights included.
240s have wires that go through the rear hinges on the hatch, bad design IMO, they rip and crack with age. The wires are pretty heavy duty, but eventually age will catch up.
25th Feb 2018, 19:45
This is exactly the kind of content I come to this site to read — meaty ownership stories with context and details that ‘professional’ reviews fail to mention.
Thank you for taking the time to write up your experience!
1st Mar 2018, 08:54
I'm glad that you enjoyed the review; sometimes I wish I had kept the Volvo but parts are just too scarce. An arm rest upgrade was on my to do list, but it's rare to find one that's complete, let alone reasonably priced.
With the trim I recall a specific case where I went through a car wash, at the dryer section the passenger headlight lense fell out. I drove away only to notice this later. I ran back and re installed it with new glue.
Finally I'd like to add that I tried the infamous turbo sway bars out at one point. They didn't do much, and they required different brackets (no one mentions this). The new bushings made a bigger impact.