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Volvo 940 960 buyers guide

Buying a “new” (old) car is easy, but how are you sure you’ll buy a good one? With these usefull hints, tips, and buying information Volvotips will help you with the purchase of a Volvo 940, 960, S90 or V90. The S90 and V90 are basically the 960-series, but Volvo was using a new name system (with also a letter instead of only numbers) for their models and they changed the names to S90 for the sedan and V90 for the Estate. The S means Sedan (saloon) and the V means Versatile (as a stationwagon the car is a all-rounder).

This buyers guide for the Volvo 900-series is almost similar to the Volvo 700-series buyers guide. That’s not weird, because the 900-series is based on the Volvo 740 and 760! In fact: only the back of the 940/960 was changed and the rest is the same, except the 6-cilinder petrol engines and the 1994-facelift of the 960. All common issues and problems of the Volvo 940, 960, S90 and V90 are included in this buyers guide.

It’s a long buyer’s guide, but you can find a summary at the end (also very useful when you’re going to check a car). Hopefully you’ll find the Volvo 900-series car of your dreams thanks to this guide!

Please note: if you’re going to have a look on a Volvo 900-series car it’s pretty much impossible to have a detailed view of all hints, tips and information below. You can’t ask a seller to waste several hours of his time to check his car as thoroughly this buyers guide goes. My advice: just read it several times, print out the summary (or the complete article and read it quickly it now and then during a inspection) and have a look on a car. Good luck!

Volvo 940 944 sedan saloon back rear
My good old Volvo 940 GL sedan, one of the best cars I’ve ever owned

Volvo 940, 960, S90 and V90 bodywork

The Volvo 900-series don’t have many problems with rust, unless it’s driven in countries where a lot of salt is used in the winter. The cars are galvanized, but the facelifted 960, S90 and V90 got a new water-based paint which is a bit weaker than the old paint Volvo used before. And unfortunately there are some models of the 960 which didn’t get the right galvanize treatment, resulting in some rust at the bottom of the car. A 940 is very reliable and doesn’t have rust at all, unless it was repaired badly or drove in an area where a lot of salt was used.

When you’re going to have a look on a Volvo 900-series car please make sure the following bodyparts and parts of the chassis aren’t rusty:

  • the chassis legs (or: chassis beams) and subframe are susceptible for rust, especially the part where the subframe bolts on the chassis legs and the area around the battery holder plate. Also check the strut linkages. The area between firewall and floor (around the pedals) is also rust-susceptible.
  • Also check the area around the fuel tank (especially above the fuel tank).
  • Check the door window frames for any rust at the inside. Rust can be found in the area where the metal is folded to the inside of the door and water can’t get away.
  • In case of a sunroof: check the area around the sunroof, between the rubbers and the rails inside the sunroof for any rust. Especially aftermarket sunroofs could have these kind of problems.
  • The bottom of the 960, S90 and V90 is also susceptible for rust, so check the area between the chassis legs and the area around the gearbox.
  • At the trunk: be sure the floor part, area between the floor and rear lights and sparewheel container are free of rust.
  • Also be sure the fuel tank won’t have a leak and there isn’t any rust at the top of the fuel tank.
  • In some cases the clearcoat (or varnish) is coming off. It isn’t a cheap fix since it can only be fixed by a respray.
  • Check the condition of all rubbers, especially the rubbers of the side windows. Worn out and bad rubbers could mean the car might have some leaks.
  • For Volvo 940 and 960 estates (and of course the Volvo V90): check the paint of the tailgate. It’s made of aluminum and the paint on it will crack and burst over the years. The tailgate will also have some bubbles on it sometimes due corrosion of the aluminum (applies on all Estate-models).
  • Remove the covers of the sides in the trunk and check the storage bins for any rust or damage.
  • Be suspicious if the gloss of the paint isn’t the same on the whole car, or the fit of all body panels on the Volvo isn’t the same (it should be side-by-side and evenly spaced). It could be the car has been in an accident so have a close look on the panels and bodywork. Sometimes a car is resprayed because it had scratches or other damage in the paint, which doesn’t really matter (unless you want it to be perfect) if there isn’t any indication to bad damage in the past.

If everything of the list above is looking fine, the condition of the bodywork shouldn’t be a problem! If you have any doubts about the bodywork (for example: the owner uses putty and prime to cover hidden rust on the bodywork) please bring some small magnets (to check the bodywork: if putty is used the magnet won’t stick to the car) and a sharp object (like a screwdriver, to test the bodywork when too much undercoating or tectyl is used).

Please note the costs for welding or repainting a car are very expensive (unless you can do it yourself). If you can’t weld yourself (or you don’t know a cheap welder): welding bodywork is much more expensive than engine problems or replacing brakes and suspension-parts!


Odometer fraud or change on a Volvo 900-series car

Most people wants a car with a low mileage. A broken odometer and tripmeter is a very common problem on a Volvo 700- and 900-series car. Some people replaces it with a second-hand instrument cluster, which means the mileage of the car changes. Another option is the Volvo-dealer repaired or replaced the odometer in the past and the odometer starts from zero miles again. If a Volvo-dealer replaces the odometer the dealer will make a note of it in the service booklet (the dealer also writes down the old mileage of the odometer).

If you suspect the car to have an incorrect mileage on the odometer and there’s no clue the odometer has been replaced or repaired you could check the mileage with an organisation who registers all mileages of cars (like the Dutch NAP or Carfax) who gives a report the mileage is correct or not. Carfax also can tell you the car has been stolen, in an accident, flooded or any other thing you don’t want to being happened to the car. If the car had any flood or water damage in the past: don’t buy it! These cars will have many problems in the electrical system, engine and gearbox.

The service history and (if the service history is missing or incomplete) the condition of the car (especially the interior) can also tell the mileage is correct.

Talking about mileage: most people think a lower mileage is better, but that’s not always true: if a car isn’t on the road for a longer period it will wear more than being on the road (like rubbers that are withered or brakes or clutch that will be stuck) and a car that only runs a few miles daily (going to the supermarket and back) can suffer more than cars that drive longer distances. All engines of the Volvo 940 and 960 (including S90 and V90) are bulletproof: they can easily reach 300.000 miles or even more without any problems. It’s not all about mileage, but the condition of the car and service history!


Volvo 940 engines

The engines of the Volvo 940 are very reliable, including the D24, D24T and D24Tic diesel-engines which are made by Volkswagen. The fuel engines are also known as the famous redblock. The shortblock of the redblocks are painted red and are the B200 (8-valve), B204 (16-valve), B230 (8-valve) and B234 (16-valve)-engines in the 940 (the 240 also have the same redblocks but also in different sizes like the B19 and B21). All B230 and B200-engines are non-interference engines (except some B230-engines, depending on the cylinderhead that’s installed and all B204 and B234 16V-engines), which means the valves and pistons aren’t damaged when the timing belt breaks. But you should always change the timing belt if it’s not sure when it’s done for the last time or the belt needs a change due mileage. Better safe than sorry!

Volvo 940 and 960 with B200, B230, B204 or B234 engine

Here are the weak spots of the B200, B204, B234 and B230-engine that needs a close attention:

  • Remove the oil cap and check for any sludge. If the car has any sludge it means it has a serious trouble (like a broken cylinder head gasket).
  • Check the entire engine for any leaks of oil or water/coolant. Also check the fuel system for any leaks.
  • Check the color of the oil and oil level on the dipstick. If it’s too black/dark the car needs new oil, or when it smells burnt there could be a problem inside the engine.
  • If the oil level is too low it could be caused by a leak (check the front and back of the engine) or a bad crankcase ventilation (which is mostly caused by a blockage or broken flame trap).
  • In case of a 940 Turbo (with or without intercooler), HPT (high pressure turbo) or LPT (low pressure turbo): be sure the car doesn’t consume any oil. During a testdrive use the turbo several times and check if you don’t see any black or white smoke in your mirror. You also shouldn’t hear a metal scraping sound (which means the axle of the turbo is damaged). Check the pressure meter in the instrument cluster for the right turbo pressure: without using the turbo it should be just before the yellow area and while using the turbo the needle shouldn’t enter the red area. Also check the cooling fluid and be sure the service interval is well maintained (a Turbo is very sensitive). The LPT-version is the most reliable since the turbo isn’t stressed a lot (thanks to the low pressure).
  • Be sure the timing belt is replaced. It isn’t expensive but you save some money when it’s done. The B204 and B234 16-valve engines are interference-engines, which means the valves and pistons will be damaged when the timing belt breaks. And repairing that is very expensive!
  • Check for any leaks at the waterpump.
  • Check the air filter, it’s very easy to access and gives you an indication when the car has been serviced for the last time.
  • There shouldn’t be too much oil on the engine, especially at the cylinder head. Some oil at or just under the valve cover means the gasket of the valve cover hasn’t been changed in a while (which can also mean the valves hasn’t been adjusted for a while, does not apply for the 16V-engine (B204 and B234) since the 16-valve engine has self-adjusting valves).
  • Have a close look on all vacuum hoses and other hoses.
  • When the engine is running: check for any knocks or other strange sounds, and listen carefully how the engine is running. When running idle the engine should run smooth. Drops in revs can be caused by some troubles in the fuel injection system. If the engine shakes too much it means the engine support rubbers are worn out. Replacing them isn’t expensive.
  • Check the engine wiring harness for any damage or cracks.

Check the exhaust system for its color: when it’s completely black in the inside the car has a serious problem with the oil consumption. If it’s gray it will be OK. Another great test is to check the color of the gasses when the engine is running: step on the gas a few times and check the color. If it’s gray there is no problem, blue smoke from the exhaust means the pistons are worn out, water in the engine (due a broken head gasket) or the car consumes too much oil and black gasses means the engine or carburator isn’t adjusted well.

Volvo 940 LPT B230 B230Fk engine hood
My old ’97 Volvo 940 with B230 LPT (low pressure turbo) engine. Be sure the turbo is working fine if you want to buy a Volvo 940 Turbo, LPT or HPT.

The best indication of the condition of the engine is a compression test. A engine in a good condition will have a high compression. A Volvo 940 with B200, B204, B234 or B230 engine will have about 9 bar (or above) compression and not more than 2 bar difference between the cilinders (in that case a cilinder might have a big problem, like a broken piston ring). If the compression is below 9 bar the engine can be worn out or there’s an error in the adjustment of a engine part or parts. The LH-Jetronic fuel injected system (made by Bosch) is very reliable. But check if the car doesn’t have any trouble with a warm start: in some cases the relay of the fuel pump might be broken.

Volvo 940 and 960 with D24, D24T or D24Tic diesel engine

The D24-series diesel engines have a higher compression: a new or rebuild engine should have 33 bar on each cilinder. If a D24 (or D24T or D24Tic) has a compression of 24 or lower it’s worn out. The cylinders shouldn’t have more than 6 bar difference. Note: the valves needs to be adjusted before you can test the compression of the diesel engine, unless the engine is replaced with a newer/later version of the D24 which has hydraulic self-adjusting valves.

A Volvo 900-series car with diesel-engine is very comfortable. The non-turbocharged version is the most reliable (it doesn’t have a turbocharger or intercooler that can be damaged) but also the most slow version. The turbo-charged and especially the version with intercooler is must faster. Keep in mind the diesel engines must be warmed up before you stress them. If you don’t do that, the engine will wear out very fast and has an enormous oil consumption.

When you’re planning to buy a Volvo 940 or 960 with diesel engine, please have a close look on the following items:

  • Check for any cracks and leaks, especially at the cilinder head and fuel pump.
  • Service interval is very important at the diesels: please be sure the service history is complete and the Volvo 940 or 960 diesel is always serviced with the right interval.
  • Since diesel motor oil is immediately black and dirty once you’ve started the engine after an oil change it doesn’t say anything about the last change. You should check the airfilter (opening the airbox is very easy) to have an indication for the last maintenance.
  • Be sure the timing belt is replaced: the diesel engines are all interference engines, which means the engine will be damaged when the timing belt breaks.
  • Make sure the cold start goes very well. If the engine is shaking and not running very well it could be the glow plugs that are worn out. Replacing them isn’t hard, except for the last 2 on the motor block (the fuel pump must be removed to replace the last 2 glow plugs).
  • Bad starting or even not running at all can indicate a worn engine because the compression is too low to make the D24 running.
  • Check the exhaust: the gasses/smoke of the car after a cold start tells all about the condition of the engine (it’s probably the best indication of the condition of the diesel engines): black smoke means the fuel pump isn’t adjusted well, blue smoke indicates serious troubles (like a broken cilinder gasket or a worn out engine). The car is allowed to smoke about 30 seconds (depending on the weather conditions: it will have more gasses when it’s colder) and then stop smoking. If the exhaust keeps smoking: don’t buy the car, because the engine is worn out.
  • In case of a turbodiesel (D24T) or turbodiesel with intercooler (D24Tic): be sure the turbo is working fine (notice exhaust gasses and oil level) and the intercooler doesn’t leak. If the turbo doesn’t make the whistling sound it means the turbo doesn’t have any pressure and needs replacement (which is pretty expensive).

Volvo 960 with PRV V6 B280 engine

In some countries the first Volvo 960 was sold with a 6-cylinder B280-engine and B230FT-engine (see above). The PRV (Peugeot Renault Volvo) engines are pretty infamous at Volvo-lovers. But they aren’t as bad as their reputation says: a well maintained B280 is very reliable. But be sure the car is serviced on time and has a full service history. The B28 needed very regular oil changes (every 3.000 miles) to keep the lubrication optimal, otherwise the oil channels will be blocked, leading to severe engine damage (especially the camshafts and replacement of both camshafts is very expensive). The oil channels of the B280 are a lot bigger and doesn’t have the problems of the B28, but changing oil on the B280 takes a little more time: you’ll need to remove the splash plate below the engine and also remove the hose of the airbox to enter the oil drain plug and oil filter.

When you’re planning to buy a Volvo 960 with the V6 Douvrin engine, have a close look on the following items:

  • The B280 engine has a distribution chain instead of a rubber timing belt, in most cases it doesn’t need a replacement unless it’s making noise or the tensioners are worn out. Be sure the chain isn’t noisy, because parts of this system are very hard to get and even some parts like the chain tensioners aren’t available anymore (some Renault-dealers have them as New Old Stock).
  • Check for any leaks, especially around the valve covers and front and back of the engine. Oil leaks on a B280 V6 can be very expensive!
  • Remove the oil cap and check for any sludge. If the car has any sludge it means it has a serious trouble (like a broken cylinder head gaskets, pretty expensive to repair on a B280 engine).
  • Check the engine wiring harness for any damage or cracks.
  • Be sure the valves adjusted (no shims needed, it works with special adjustable screws) every year.
  • When the engine is running: check for any knocks or other strange sounds, and listen carefully how the engine is running. When running idle the engine should run smooth. Drops in revs can be caused by some troubles in the fuel injection system. If the engine shakes too much it means the engine support rubbers are worn out.
  • Service history is very important when you’re planning to buy a Volvo 960 with V6-engine. It tells you if the car had its much-needed new oil on time, otherwise you might have big problems in the future due poor maintenance.

Volvo 960 with B6304, B6254 and B6244 6-cylinder engines

The new 6-in-line engines of Volvo are very reliable and actually the same as the engine of the Volvo 850, but with one cylinder more. In fact: the first 960 is actually a sort of test-version of the 850. Volvo introduced the 960 one year before launching the 850 to test the new engine and gearbox (the new automatic gearbox is almost the same as the one in the 850, but suitable for rearwheeldriven cars). Unfortunately the first new engines (used in 1991, 1992 and 1993) had a too thin and small timing belt, which needs to be replaced every 20.000 miles for the 1991 and 1992 engines. The 1993-engine needs every 30.000 miles a timing belt replacement. In modelyear 1994 (launched in August 1993) the timing belt was wider and stronger (which needs to be changed every 50.000 miles), and since the facelifted 960 (modelyear 1995) the construction of the timing belt changed a lot and is much more reliable. The timing belt needs to be changed every 70.000 miles for the models of 1995 and newer. It’s highly recommended to change the pulleys, waterpump, washers, tensioners and idlers at every timing belt change, because if you don’t there’s a big risk one or more of these parts will block and the timing belt will break (which will cause broken valves and damaged pistons).

Be sure the engine isn’t shaking: the 6-cylinder engines are very solid and as good as standing still while running idle. If it’s shaking, it means there could be some big troubles at the cylinder head. You shouldn’t hear the valves ticking or making any noise. The valves are hydraulic and doesn’t need any adjustments but when they’re ticking with a warmed up engine it means the cylinder head is worn.

Check for any oil leaks, especially at the front and rear of the engine.

The 6-cylinder in-line engines are very reliable, but needs a closer look than the 4-cylinder engines.

Volvo 900-series intake and exhaust system

The exhaust system of the Volvo 940 and 960 with 4-cylinder engine is pretty easy and not hard or expensive to replace if you do it yourself (going to the garage or dealer for replacement is actually pretty expensive). Be sure the exhaust isn’t making too much noise and doesn’t leak. The frontpipe for the diesel-engines is harder to get these days, just like the frontpipes for the B280 and 6-cylinder B6304, B6254 and B6244 engines. You will find them, but are pretty expensive (especially for the B280-engine).

Volvo 940 Estate 945 bad exhaust muffler
The exhaust of my ’93 Volvo 940 Estate was in bad condition (especially the middle silencer) so it needed a replacement. Getting the old exhaust off the car isn’t always easy, but fitting a new one is pretty easy.

Be sure the lambda sond-light isn’t on in the instrument cluster: it could mean there’s a problem with the intake manifold, air mass sensor (made by Bosch), lambda sond itself, catalyst (depending on engine type) or exhaust system. Repairing it isn’t very difficult (but could be expensive if the air mass sensor is broken) but it could be difficult to track down the cause. Be sure the catalyst is working fine: a replacement is very expensive. A lot of Volvo 940s and 960s have the lambda sond warning in the dashboard but doesn’t run bad at all, have a normal fuel consumption and even doesn’t have any problems during a MOT!

Volvo 940, 960 & S90/V90 transmission and power train

The Volvo 900-series were available with 3 types of manual transmissions: the M46 (4-speed with electronic overdrive), M47 (5-speed) and M90 (5-speed) manual gearboxes and 5 types of automatic gearboxes: the AW71L, AW72L (same as AW71L but with different ratio, designed for the B204 and B234), ZF4HP22, AW30-40 and AW30-43 (both for the 960) automatic gearboxes.

The M46, M47 and M90 transmissions are very reliable but you should listen carefully for some noise: a high/whooping noise means the needle bearings can be broken. If the top gear is quieter than the other ratios it means the gearbox is worn out. Replacing a gearbox will take about half a day (plus the costs of a new or used gearbox). In case of a M46 gearbox: be sure the overdrive is working fine (it should lower the revs when you’re driving 70km/h or above and push the overdrive button on the gear shift knob), because replacing it will cost a bit more than replacing a M47 due the overdrive. Be sure the gearbox doesn’t leak oil (the gearbox uses ATF fluid which is red). Be aware the gear shifter doesn’t pop out while driving: if it does the gearbox is completely worn out.

To test the clutch: put the transmission in the thirth gear and release the clutch slowly. When the car stalls the clutch is fine. If it keeps running the clutch is worn out. Please be aware that not all car sellers like this test so ask them if you’re allowed to perform this test. If the gearbox and clutch produces a screeching / rattling noise or doesn’t t fully engage the release bearing and/or the pressure plate is worn out. Note: please also notice the gasses from the exhaust when you test the clutch: if big black smoke is coming out of the exhaust (coloring the street or pavement entirely black) the engine can be worn as well!

When you drive the car and you’re switching gears the revs of the engine should drop immediately when the lever is in the higher gear. When the revs are rising for a moment it means the clutch is slipping. Replacing the clutch will take about 4 hours of work plus the costs of the new clutch set (clutch plate, pressure plate and always replace the release bearing as well).

To test an automatic gearbox: take the car on a testdrive and listen carefully. The gearbox shouldn’t make any noise at all and shifting should go very smooth and gently. If it shocks during shifting it could be the gearbox support rubber, but also be the automatic gearbox being worn out. Another good test is to stop the car, insert it into D and push the brake pedal. While keeping the brake pedal pushed in, also push the gas pedal and listen if the transmission isn’t making any noise. The last big test is to check the oil: the ATF should be clear red and smell a bit sweet. If it’s too dark or smells burnt the oil needs a change or the gearbox is worn out.

Check the driveshaft for noises and shocks. In most cases of noise and shocks the universal joints of the prop shaft are worn out. If you hear a screaming noise it means the bearing of the propeller shaft is worn and needs to be replaced. Please replace the rubber (bearing support) as well. Replacing these parts are easy and pretty cheap. Don’t forget to check for any leaks at the rear axle and be sure the rear axle isn’t making noise while driving (if it does it means one or more pinions or gears are bad).


Volvo 940, 960, S90 and V90 cooling and heater system

Check the condition of the radiator and all hoses. If you see any traces of coolant (or anti-freeze) it means there are some small leaks. Also check the radiator of the heating system because it’s more expensive to overhaul than the radiator for the engine. Check if there’s enough pressure when you open the expansion tank: if there’s any pressure at all there can be a leak in the system. Also check the coolant for any oil. If there’s oil in the expansion tank it means the gasket of the cilinder head is broken.

The D24 diesel engines needs very good cooling: be sure the radiator is not damaged and doesn’t have any leaks. Have a close look on the hoses between heatervalve and back of the engine: those hoses are pretty thin and have a strange angle which means they will crack pretty quick, caused by the oil and diesel that it’s on the hose because they’re directly mounted under the fuel pump. If the hose breaks during driving the coolant will quickly be everywhere under the hood and the engine will warm up quickly (which can lead to severe engine damage). In case of a D24T (diesel-engine with turbo): be sure the oil cooler is working fine. If the Volvo has an intercooler, you must be sure it doesn’t leak.

When the engine temperature is high enough (the thermostat should be opened) check the heating system at the interior of the car. Use the heating controls and fan (if the fan doesn’t work: it needs replacement and if it only works at the highest position of the switch the resistor is broken) to check if they’re working fine and the car is getting hot and cold air blown in. When the heater controls don’t respond well (only warm or cold air is available, no matter the controls stands at warm or cold temperature) it means there is a problem with the heater valve (or maybe with the links to it) or heater radiator. Both aren’t a cheap fix.

If the car has airconditioning (and you want it to work) or climate control (ECC): make sure it’s working fine. While the engine is running: activate the airco (or be sure it isn’t turned off, in case of climate control) and listen if the aircopump turns on (the revcounter will drop slightly). If it doesn’t respond it could mean the pump is broken or there’s a problem with the magnetic coupling system Volvo uses on the 900-series. If the aircopump responds well there should be cold air out of the vents after a few minutes. If not: it means the aircosystem needs a refill. If it’s totally empty (ask the owner if the airco works fine or not): don’t switch the airco on because the coolant should lubricate the aircopump. Not enough coolant means poor lubrication, or not lubrication at all, and damages the pump. If the condensor is broken: it’s pretty expensive to replace.

Volvo 940, 960 & S90/V90 braking system

When making a testdrive be sure you don’t feel any vibrations or imbalance while braking. If you feel something like that it means the brake discs can be slightly curved and needs replacement. Check the brake discs by a visual inspection (not easy when the Volvo has steel rims with hub caps): the brake discs shouldn’t have too much rust and not look too worn (if the edge is a lot thicker it means the brake disc is worn out).

Be sure the car is braking fine and won’t pull to one side, which means a brake caliper isn’t very good anymore. Bad braking and improvements in brake power while the speed is dropping (during braking) means the brake pads are worn out. Also check the state of the brake hoses, brake pipes, brake booster and brake cilinders for any leakages or defects. Fortunately most of these parts aren’t very expensive and pretty easy to replace. To test the brake system for any leaks: press the brake pedal for a longer time. The brake pressure should be the same. If the pedal is moving down you’re sure something is wrong, like a leak in the brake system, master cilinder or brake servo. Check if the handbrake is working fine (it shouldn’t move for more than 2 inches/5cm). Replacing the hand brake shoes on a 940 is pretty easy and not expensive, but replacing it on a 960 or S90/V90 will be pretty expensive and sometimes the parts are hard to get (and expensive).

In case of ABS: be sure the ABS control light isn’t on at the instrument cluster, it means there could be something wrong with the ABS brake circuit. Be aware a failure in an ABS-system causes the system working as a single-line brake system, which could be dangerous when another brake part fails.

The brake fluid should also be checked: check the level and the color: if it’s too dark it means the fluid is pretty old (and has too much moisture) and you might have other problems in a short term on the brake system.

Parts of the Volvo 900-series brake system are very good available and not very expensive. Working on the 900-series brake system is pretty easy as well but you’ll really have to be sure what you’re doing because making a mistake can give some serious troubles.


Volvo 900-series steering & suspension

The steering- and suspension system of the Volvo 940 and 960 (including S90/V90) are very reliable. If you make a testdrive and you hear some banging, knocking or strange sounds from the front of the car it could mean the silent blocs or stabilizing rods are worn out. A strange feeling in the steering wheel could also indicate any rubbers or joints worn out. Put the wheels in a maximum angle and check the condition of all rubbers, torque rods, joints and steering rack boots. To check the ball joints: grab a wheel at the top and bottom, push and pull it. If it doesn’t have much play they should be fine. Do the same trick with the wheel, but grab it at the left and right of it so you can listen if there’s any play (or noise) on the steering parts. All parts mentioned above aren’t very expensive to replace.

The steeringrack of the Volvo 900-series is very reliable and always has power steering. Check it for any leaks and be sure the fluid level in the power steering tank is right. Also check the color of it: since it’s ATF it should be nice clear red. If it’s dark or smells burnt it needs replacement. The steering wheel should be in the center (not skewed) when driving in a straight line. If that’s not the case: the car could have been in an accident or the car isn’t aligned or adjusted well. In case of a late type 960 with a steering wheel that can be adjusted: check the steering joint of any wear or damage. If the Volvo have troubles with steering in the first few miles it could mean the steering pump is worn out (sometimes you can hear a noise from it). The last test you should do is: start the engine, and move the steering wheel to the maximum steering angle (both left and right). In most cases you can hear the steering pump make a screaming sound (it’s driven by a V-belt and is stressed when reaching the maximum angle), but if the pump is making a noise while driving or before the maximum angle is reached it means the power steering fluid is too low (which could indicate a leak).

To test the shock absorbers and suspension: lean on the car and push it down. After releasing the car should stand still immediately after it’s coming up. When the car is still shaking the shock absorbers have to be replaced. The condition of the springs can be assessed during a testdrive: if the car is too jumpy and can’t handle big shocks the springs needs to be replaced. Springs and shock absorbers are pretty cheap, but the front shock absorbers aren’t very easy to replace and can be pretty expensive if you can’t do it yourself.

If the car has Nivomats: be sure they’re working fine. A Volvo 940 or 960/S90/V90 with Nivomats shouldn’t be sagged down at the back. If that’s the case: drive about a half mile and it should be gone. If not: the Nivomats are worn out. Replacing them is expensive, but you can replace them with standard shock absorbers which are a lot cheaper. Keep in mind the rear springs needs to be replaced as well since the Nivomat system of Volvo comes with thinner and smaller rear springs. Another option is to replace the Nivomat shock absorbers by a set of Monroe Ride Levelers (which you can fill yourself), but this can’t be done at the 960 or S90/V90 with leaf springs.


Volvo 940 960 S90 & V90 rims, wheels and tires

Tires are the most important parts of the car: it’s the only way of contact with the road. In my opinion you must never save money on tires because a cheap Chinese tire is $ 10,- cheaper than a good brand like Goodyear, Bridgestone, Pirelli or Vredestein. Make sure the tread is deep enough and there are no cracks caused by drought. Look after the tirewear:

  • Over inflation: the center part of the tire has excessive wear, caused by a too high air pressure. In this case the tire is riding on the middle of the tread and wearing out prematurely.
  • Under inflation: the outer parts of the tread are more worn than the center part. It isn’t caused by a too low tire pressure but caused by a bad wheel alignment (which may indicate a worn tie rod or ball joint).
  • One side wear: a inner or outer rib of the tire is worn more than the rest of the tread. Caused by bad wheel alignment, worn kingpins or ball joints or bad bushings/silent blocs of the control arms.
  • Cupping: damage on the sides (cups or scalloped dips) means worn suspension parts (mostly shock absorbers, kingpins, ball joints or springs). If you see a brake spot on the middle of the tread it means the car has made a emergency stop. It will cause a noisy tire (rolling noise) when you drive the car. Cupped tires needs to be replaced as soon as possible: tire trimming is a bad option (the tire is trimmed in cold condition but when the tire is warm again the noise can appear again).
  • Feathering: the edge of each tread rib has a rounded edge on one side and is sharp on the other side. You’ll need to feel it because it isn’t always visible. If you have a closer look you’ll see every rib is pushed aside. It is caused by a bad wheel alignment due worn bushings.


Volvotips Volvo tire wear indication chart
The tire wear indication chart (click on the image for a larger version)


Please note tires only last for about 6 years. After 6 years the rubber lost its best of its compound. In most cases the production date is found on the tire: the week and year is mentioned on the tire and is called the DOT age-code. For example: 2607 means the tire is produced in week 26 of 2007. If you see a 3-digit number it means the tire is made before 2000 (for example: 187 means: week 17 of 1997). Needless to say but such old tires needs to be replaced as soon as possible. Check also the spare tire!

The wheels needs to be rustless and have no visible damage like bumps or dents. Some curb damage isn’t nice but it doesn’t effect the safety of the car. If you’re planning to install new rims: all 700-series wheels of 15-inch or bigger will fit on the 940 (all modelyears) and 960 (until 1994), but the later 960, S90 and V90-wheels doesn’t fit since they have the same ET-offset as the 850 (which means: all wheels of the Volvo 850, S70, V70 Classic, S60/V70/S80 will fit on the 960 of modelyear 1995 and later).

If you hear any rolling, squeezing or even banging sounds when you take the car for a testdrive: please check the tires and the bearings of the wheels. If there are any doubts: jack up the car and move the wheel to check for any sound.

Volvo 900-series interior

One of the weaker parts of the Volvo 900-series interior is its dashboard padding: it can have some cracks on the top of it when the car was standing in direct sunlight for many years. The roof lining of the first modelyears is another weak point: the glue Volvo used to stick the cloth onto the cardboard can’t handle heat and temperature changes, resulting in a roof lining that’s coming down. Replacing the roof lining in an 940 or 960 Estate is pretty easy, but it’s a hell of a job in a 940 or 960 sedan. Fortunately it’s not really expensive if you can do it yourself.

A bigger problem are the side interior panels on the doors: they could have some cracks or loose vinyl on the top of the panels (you should see some peeling at the top side next to the window), caused by direct sunlight on it (just like the dashboard padding, but in a much worse way). This peeling problem occurs at all Volvo 940 and 960-series. Check the interior upholstery for any damage and have a close look if the upholstery wear meets the age and mileage of the car. Finding new door panels is pretty difficult and expensive, you might be lucky to find a used one which doesn’t have the releasing top.

Volvo 940 960 interior door panel problems
My ’97 Volvo 940 had the same problem as most 940 and 960 cars have: the vinyl of the door panel that’s coming off at the top! Click on the image for a larger version, you can see the peeling problem on the right door panel (passenger side). Unfortunately this problem occurs on all door panels.

Check for any sweet smell in the interior at the center console (in some cases you can see white/blue stains on the floor). It could mean the heater radiator is broken and it’s a pretty expensive repair.

Be sure the rubbers of the car are in good condition: bad rubbers (especially at the rear side windows of the 940 and 960 Estate) can cause leaks, which results in mold (and sometimes rust at the floor panels and doors) in the interior of the car.

The seats of the Volvo 900-series are very firm and reliable. The only problem could be a sagging seat or the lumbar that’s broken. New seat foam is still available.

Make sure the electric powered windows are working fine, because repairing it can be difficult sometimes. Check the hinges of the doors and trunk: if the door falls a bit down when you open it the hinges are worn. Check the bonnett of the 940, 960 and S90 sedan or tailgate of the 940, 960 V90 Estate and make sure it won’t automatically comes down. If it does, it means the gas springs needs replacement. It isn’t very expensive.

Check the trunk of the car for any rust (caused by bad rubbers, leaks or a badly repaired damage) and damage, especially the spare tire container and the area between the rear lights.

If the car has a sunroof: make sure it doesn’t leak. If the sunroof doesn’t open: it could be broken due damaged or blocked rails. Repairing it isn’t hard, but the headliner must be removed to reach the sunroof from the inside.

Volvo 940 960 S90 V90 electrical system

Check all wire harnesses for any cracks or rusty plugs and connections. Check all lamps of the car if the lights are matching with their light output (differences may indicate earth-problems or rust at the housings of the lights). Test the indicator lights (if there is a problem with it: in most cases the relay is defect). Also test the horn of the car: if it won’t work there can be a problem with the horns or breakage in the cable in the steering wheel.

Check if the car starts well: it indicates the condition of the battery and starter motor. Check if all instruments are working fine, especially the fuel gauge (if it “dances around” or doesn’t respond it means the fuel tank float is broken) and the temperature gauge (if it doesn’t go to the middle it could mean the thermostat is broken).

A Volvo 940 or 960 that will start but won’t keep running could have problems with the hall sensor (or BDP sensor) or have a problem with the electronic control unit (ECU, only at the petrol versions, not at the diesel engines). Replacing a hall sensor is easy and not expensive, but if the ECU is damaged it could be expensive.

If something isn’t working fine, it could be caused by a bad ground or a damaged cable harness. Check for any corrossion if possible and for any cracks in cables. Be sure items like the heated rear window, the wipers and rear wiper motor of a Volvo 940/960/V90 Estate is working fine (repairing it can be expensive).

Another common problem for the Volvo 900-series Estate: the rear wiper motor that doesn’t work. It isn’t very hard to fix, but can be expensive. In some cases it’s just the cable harness that’s going through the hinge of the tailgate.

For cars with electrical powered seats: check if the electrical powered seats are working fine and aren’t moving too slow. Repairing it can be very expensive.

Volvo 900-series paperwork & VIN

Please check if the licence plates and papers are complete. Check if the chassis number (VIN) on the registration papers matches the VIN-number on the car. The VIN-plate is located under the hood , but the VIN is also stamped on a other location: check the registration papers where it should be located. In most cases it’s the B-pilar on the right side of the car. Also check if the owner has a service history. A lot of Volvo 900-series cars are maintained by the owner itself: check if the seller has any copies of invoices of parts.

Volvo 940, 960 and S90/V90 parts and replacements

The parts of the Volvo 940 and 960 (including S90 and V90) are very good available, except for some Nivomat-parts of the 960: they’re becoming harder to get. Most parts can be bought as brand new product at the dealer, a Bosch reseller (for the injection system) and at many webshops (like Skandix, IPD, VOMD or PFS Parts). Most of them haven’t got the original Volvo-parts but they’re good enough as replacement (in some cases: even a lot better than the original). When you buy a Volvo 900-series car: please don’t try to fix it with only second-hand parts because some day you’ll be punished for that (unless the specific part isn’t available as new part). All parts of the B200 and B230-engines are very good available, for the diesel-engines it could be sometimes difficult at the Volvo-dealer but you can find it at Volkswagen or Audi dealers or specialists. The PRV-engine parts are sometimes hard to get, but a visit at a Peugeot-dealer, Renault-dealer or DeLorean-specialist could help you. For the 6-cylinder in-line engines there’s good news: many parts of the Volvo 850 5-cylinder engine also fits since it’s almost the same engine.


What to pay for a Volvo 940, 960, S90 or V90

It’s hard to say what the right price is for a Volvo 900-series car, because prices may vary in the country you live in and also the tax system has a strong influence on the value of the cars. So the right asking price is difficult to determine.

The demographics have the biggest influence in the purchase price: here in The Netherlands a Volvo 940 or 960 (including S90) 4-door sedan is very cheap, because the demand for Volvo sedans is very low. Volvo Estates are very popular here in the Netherlands, but a sedan is sometimes almost impossible to sell. The asking prices for a 940 or 960 are depending on year, condition, mileage, accessories and service history. Models of modelyear 1995 and later is a bit higher, especially for the 940 Estate. The first types are sold between the 500 and 1500 Euro (unless it’s a 940 Estate in very good condition, low mileage and tons of options). Most 960s are sold for the same price, unless it’s an Executive. Prices of the S90 are the same as the Volvo 960. A Volvo V90 isn’t cheap in the Netherlands: between 4000 and 12.000 Euro (depending on condition, mileage and service history).

Depending on the condition of the car, mileage and accessories I think the following asking prices in Dollars apply on the Volvo 940 and 960:
– daily driver, not the best condition and no service history: $ 800,–
– good condition, service history available: $ 2.500,–
– excellent condition, including service history: $ 5.000,–
– mint condition, complete service history and very low mileage: $ 10.000,–

Broken and worn things or bad maintenance should decrease the price. Accessories and some nice upgrades could increase the price.

Summary buying tips Volvo 900-series

As you can see the buyers guide for the Volvo 900-series is very long. Of course you can read it completely but when you arrive at the car for a closer look you’ll forget the most of all the tips above.

Always be realistic with the price the seller is asking for his Volvo: you can’t expect a showroom-condition at a 960 which should cost $ 800,–. Keep in mind what your intention with the car is (daily driver, hobby-car, or you want a car that is actually in a brand-new mint condition) and also think what you want to spend.

And always make a testdrive with the car!

Please use this summary and take a print of it with you when you’re going to have a look:

  • Bodywork: check for rust at the cars which are driving in countries where a lot of salt is used in the winters: check the chassis legs, area around the gearbox and sills.
  • Engine: check for oil leaks and notice the color of the exhaust smoke. If possible: perform a compression test. An engine in the 960 shouldn’t shake at all and won’t have ticking valves. Be sure the turbo isn’t making a metal-alike noise and doesn’t smoke during the testdrive.
  • Transmission and driveshaft: check for noises and test the clutch (ask for permission) by putting the car in thirth gear and engage the clutch pedal. If the car stalls the clutch is fine, if it keeps running the clutch needs replacement. Listen carefully for noises during a testdrive: a constant screaming sound and banging means there is something wrong with the driveshaft (but not expensive to repair). In case of an automatic gearbox: shifting should go soft and smooth and the gearbox shouldn’t make any noise (also test it with the brake pedal pushed down and push the gas pedal gently).
  • Cooling system: check the hoses, radiator and when the engine is hot enough test the heating system in the car. Check the oil cooler in case of a turbodiesel engine.
  • Braking system: check for any leaks and test during a testdrive if the cars is pulling to one side when braking. Be sure the car doesn’t vibrate during braking. The ABS warning light shouldn’t be on (in case the car has ABS).
  • Steering & suspension: test the shock absorbers and springs by pulling down the car. After release the car should get up and stop shaking immediately. If it keeps shaking the shock absorbers needs to be replaced. Check for any play and noise from the front axle during the testdrive. Grab a front wheel and push and pull it to check for any wear on ball joints and steering parts. In case of Nivomat: be sure the car is standing right (not sagged down at the back) after driving a mile.
  • Wheels & tires: check for any damage at the wheels or rims and tires. The condition of the tire can tell you a lot about the wheel alignment and condition of kingpins, ball joints and tie rods. Check the tread and the age of tires (DOT-code, tires shouldn’t be older than 6 years). Check for rolling sounds (caused by bad tires or bearings).
  • Interior: check the condition of the upholstery and especially the top of the door panels. Take a close look at the rubbers (especially the rubbers of the windows).
  • Electrical system: check all lights and have a look all lamps are shining at the same strength (if not: the car can have some troubles with its negative/mass). Also check the condition of all cable harnesses and electrical wires. Be sure the options you want are working fine.
  • Paperwork: check if all registration papers and service history (if possible) are complete.

If you have any doubts (in the car or yourself) you should consider a purchase inspection. If the seller don’t want to co-operate with a inspection you know there is something wrong with the car. A purchase inspection will cost some money but can prevent you spending money on big repair costs, and the defects that will appear can be a good reason for negotiating on the price.

Good luck with finding the right Volvo 940, 960 or S90/V90 for you!

Any questions or comments? Please feel free to mail me at info@volvotips.com!


© Volvotips 2012

One Response to “Volvo 940 960 buyers guide”

  1. bobbity says:

    This WAS useful. Thank you.

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