1988 Volvo 240 DL 2.3 liter gasoline from North America


The Volvo 240 is as close to a tank as you can get in an automobile!


Some radiator work was necessary shortly after acquisition; no work necessary since.

Car has been wrecked twice (once on the front passenger's side, once on the driver's side) but was repaired each time.

Positive Crankcase Ventilation valve flametrap became clogged at 240000 miles due to lack of cleaning, causing oil seals to blow out--a relatively simple repair to perform once the cause was discovered.

Right front brake caliper malfunctioned and was replaced.

General Comments:

First, this has been a great car. It has saved two drivers from very serious injury.

The primary problems experienced now are due to old wreck damage. Mostly I experience random squeaks and rattles.

I find that though top-end speed isn't great, the car climbs mountains as well as several front-wheel drive V-6 engine cars I know of. Acceleration is good up to a point, and the steering is tight. The ride is rough, but fixing it is cost-prohibitive.

Most of the components in the car are tough as nails. The engine compartment is roomy enough to allow the curious home mechanic plenty of room to work if he has a manual.

My parents bought this car new in 1988, and have recently passed it on to me. I'm looking to upgrade it soon because the mileage is so high and the wreck damage has caused reliability concerns. If it hadn't been wrecked, I believe it would go another 200,000 miles very easily.

If Volvo would make this car again, I would be one of the first customers.

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes

Review Date: 22nd July, 2002

1988 Volvo 240 2.3L I4 SOHC gasoline engine, from North America


Alternative to the Outback?


- MAF meter (mass air flow meter, aka master air flor meter) fails on these models around 100k miles. Mine failed around 110,000. Car wouldn't start up, had to get it towed, $400 repair.

- Original alternator went out around 125k miles but that's normal. Was going to replace it myself but they put it in a strange place - at the bottom of the engine compartment, not the top like everyone else. Due to the engineering, it was difficult to access, so took it to a shop. My recommendation is to buy one from a Kragen or Napa or junkyard and bring it to the shop, or your Volvo mechanic will charge you an arm & a leg for an original one or to "rebuild" your current one for even more than you can buy a new 3rd party one. I didn't and needed the car so I got sucked in.

- Refrigerant needs charging, but I'm too cheap.

- Latest problem is that car wants to shift up the scale to 4th before 20mph, so I'm "manually" shifting now until I can get it in the shop. A chip probably died.

- The original cruise didn't work when I got it. Cruise controls usually wear out around then, though.

- Original battery died around 110k miles. Normal maintenance.

General Comments:


Past 130k miles now. Have owned it about 6 years. 24mpg highway when feather-footing which is remarkably good for a car this heavy and old. The caveat is to keep it 74mph or below. Highest ever was 27mpg. GL ("got leather") model has 4 wheel disc brakes. Also adds alloy wheels which reduces weight and looks nicer. Leather is very comfortable and durable.

I like the great visibility the wagon configuration gives me. Rear seatbottom removes completely and seatback folds down to give a flat, very long storage area. It can comfortably sleep two 6' tall people despite the wheelwells. When in this mode, it has more interior space than most SUVs. Most SUV's are also not long enough to sleep in, and often have little things jutting out of the floor. There are little metal tie-down loops in this car at the corners of the cargo compartment to help you keep stuff from sliding around. The manual says that these tie-downs are 'not to be used for human restraint'. I laughed when I read that. I think they meant baby seats, but it made me laugh because they're in the back too and could make for a fun consensual camping trip, if only you were unwise enough rebel against the manual's rules (remember to have a safe word if you decide to).

Original shocks still going. Original brake pads still going and there's plenty on them (amazingly thick & hard; I hear volvo has a patented hardening process which they won't licence).

Passes emissions tests. Even the automatic has tachometer which is very nice and more automakers should provide this. This helps you keep your mpg high especially on the highway. Good instrument gauges. Engine has a lot of torque, the car is still slow, but you don't buy these for speed. I almost never take it over 3k rpms. It just likes low rpms and does fine with them (the manufacturer's 114hp/138 ft-lb rating is at 2750 rpm!). The car doesn't complain about heavy loads. I once saw one Volvo 240 wagon with a towing hitch towing another Volvo 240 wagon behind it on the highway.

No airbag this model year is a plus IMO - no need for it if you wear your seat belt. But desperately needs side impact air bags (see "cons" below).

1988 models changed to have bi-level headlamps, instead of the pair of high-low headlamps on each side. This is an improvement and a quick way to tell if the car is 88 or newer or 87 or older. Aside from below problems, has continues to be trouble-free.

Doesn't attract attention; very innocent or family-oriented reputation. 3rd seat option is nice but expensive. If you have children, the car has cabin rigidity beating and everything possibly including Mercedes. You can stack over 10 Volvos on top of one and the cabin won't collapse (yes, that commercial in the 80s was real, and the only reason there weren't more stacked up is because their tower of cars tipped over).

It had side-impact safety beams decades before the goverment required them on all cars, which happened in the early '90s. If you want to buy a car made before that time, get a Volvo or Mercedes (I think Subaru may have put them in as well).

The Volvo has tight-feeling steering similar (but not equivalent to) a Mercedes. Overall, things feel "tight" similar (but not equivalent to) a Mercedes, but far beyond any American vehicle.

The steering sometimes requires a little effort, though, although it is powered. Heat goes out through the same vents the AC comes through (as well as other adjustable places), which is nice.

Surprisingly high ground clearance for a wagon. I've taken it on some roads it probably shouldn't have been on and it was fine. Also surprisingly small turning radius, especially for a car this big - seriously.

Seats are not powered but adjust pretty well. Electric windows, locks, etc., still all going (knock on wood).

Headlamps turn off when the keys are removed, preventing dead batteries. However, the parking lights will stay on with the keys out, so watch yourself. Also impossible to lock yourself out of the car if exiting on the driver's side. You can let yourself out from the back.


The serious body flex of this vehicle can makes the ride not feel sure-footed and can distract you from the otherwise tight feel of the car. When you go over a bump, I feel and hear it a lot more than in other cars. The wagon configuration doesn't help with the noise, either. Lots of wind noise.

I don't know if it's the suspension or heaviness of the car or body flex, but I don't feel very confident cornering.

Car would get better gas mileage if it were more aerodynamic.

"Overdrive" could actually use a higher ratio, kicking in at 40mph.

Slow for the engine to warm up. Takes a long time for the interior to get warm (exacerbated by the large cabin space).

Brakes sometimes squeak due to the extremely hard (durable) brake pads.

Replaced original sound system.

Very difficult (not worth it) to change the oil yourself due to the bizarre filter placement and really huge oil pan nut.

Has high safety ratings, but the plastic-covered metal bump which houses the top part of the shoulder belt about head-height really worries me. If an accident were to happen, a person's head might slam sideways into this 4" nub of metal, possibly fracturing the skull. Also the poor handling decreases safety. Drive very conservatively with this car.

The car (automatic) now sometimes bucks when I'm accelerating slowly into a parking space. Perhaps needs the plugs inspected. Car has rear-wheel drive.

Don't take it to the dealership for work - too expensive. Find a good independent local mechanic by word of mouth or the yellow pages for the weird things which go wrong. You'll still end up paying a lot, though. Take it to normal shops for routine things. If you want original Volvo parts for maintenance, you can request many of them at Kragen and they're less than 40% of what the dealership sells them for. They're far higher quality than the "Fram" brand and about the same price. It just takes a few days for them to arrive and they'll call you. Oil filters, air filters, etc., most of this stuff is made by Bosch or it will be labeled "OEM" (original equipment manufacturer).

No thermometer or auto climate control, even in the luxury GL model is a downer. On long winter trips, the car is always getting either too hot or cold.

Right mirror doesn't hold position.

Car starts to vibrate at around 86 mph, but the gas mileage really suffers at those speeds anyway.

Let the tailgate down easily. Don't let go until it's 2 or 3 inches from closing or it'll slam.

Overall review:

Engine specs: 2.3L i4 SOHC gasoline engine, 114 hp/138 lb-ft @ 2750 rpm. I wanted to find a cross between a Vivic (for reliability and efficiency) and a suburban (big enough to fully lie down in, lots of room), and at the time I bought it, the Volvo 240 wagon was it. Nowadays, the Subaru Legacy Outback is a closer match and may be my next car, but they're still pricey and hard to find on the used market, only having been made since '95.

I still don't understand why the 740 models are less expensive. I went for the 240 because of the longer cargo compartment. The 740 is wider, but not as tall and is shorter. The 740 is also seemingly lighter and definitely more modern and handles much nicer to my memory, even the wagon.

I expect this car to take me easily up to 160-185k miles where I'll probably sell it, where I expect it to serve the next owner fairly well. I've seen two 240 wagons so far with such mileages and you see them for sale in the paper all the time.

As with all cars, change your oil every 3k miles or less and get tranny oil flushes on a regular basis, and also get a $2 blind spot eliminator to stick on the driver's mirror. Well worth the money.

FYI: Judging from the lumbar and size of the seats and pedal position, the interior seem to be designed for women, or people as tall as the average American woman. Still, it is comfortable for taller men.

This model year was made for decades and is no longer made. Junkyard parts are plentiful and easily interchanged, but if that's your game, you already know that. I don't regret my purchase at all, especially lucking out and finding a beautiful, garaged GL model. I didn't use the huge cargo compartment as much as I thought I might (althought it has come in very handy), and I have never really camped in it as I had planned, so going back in history I might have bought a nice 740 model instead, which handles better. But the one I got was in such nice condition, I have no regrets. I plan to keep it several more years.

With the rear seatback fully down, this car's cargo compartment is longer than just about any pickup truck, and if you are carrying thin stuff like boards, you can run it in between the 2 front seats on an automatic for an extra couple feet (I've done this).

If you don't need 4wd but want a serious utility vehicle which is efficient and safe (and probably handles better than a pickup, despite my harsh remarks about the handling), this is a car for you.

I recommend any Volvo in good condition. Buying privately helps, because you can read the person and the situation the car was in. If you're considering this car, try to get a GL model to avoid rear the drum brakes, and I'd recommend staying with an '88 or later due to the better headlamps and attractive design.

If your car works beautifully and suddenly won't start, it's probably the MAF meter, so know what to do beforehand and you should have an enjoyable experience owning this car (especially if you get a custom stereo job to drown out the noise).

Your alternatives in this class are a pre-Outback Subaru or a Mercedes wagon. The Mercedes handles better, but is much more expensive to buy and repair. Subarus are hard to find and are not as luxurious or large, but are cheaper to maintain and have 4wd. All of these are safe, typically reliable and handle relatively well, and all of these 3 (and most other brands) have their own problematic regions, so don't let the negatives above necessarily talk you out of it. You'll see that the positives outweigh the negatives (as long as I don't get my skull cracked by the top shoulder belt attachment - seriously scary; that wouldn't be a good deal).

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes

Review Date: 2nd February, 2001

2nd Feb 2001, 04:29


Thanks for an absolutely brilliant review. It is really well written and I'm sure it will help many people interested in the Volvo 240.

Best Wishes,


28th Jul 2001, 00:31

Great review!!!

One suggestion regarding the "body flex", IPD (www.ipdusa.com) sells anti-sway bars for the 240 series for around $260US. They do wonders for the body roll and allow you to change lanes quickly on the freeway without worrying if the back end is going to come loose. I have a 240 wagon, and they work great!

Richard G.

Los Angeles, CA.