It’s happening again. I’m seeing it on the XC90 Facebook pages that I belong to and I’m seeing it at least a few times a week. It’s called owner’s regret. Also known as buyer’s remorse, it’s what I find many first-generation XC90 owners get when their SUV doesn’t live up to what they expected. It almost always happens shortly after they buy their first-generation Volvo XC90 and typically involves an expensive part that has predictably failed and a complaint that it shouldn’t have happened because it’s a Volvo.
Some of these complaints I completely understand. If a person bought a 2011 or 2012 and their transmission is now toast, that’s unacceptable. They have every right to be pissed off. But when someone buys buys a high-mileage 2004 T6 for at a “great bargain” and the end up dumping thousands into it for a new transmission, PCV service, turbos, oil seals, CV joints, Haldex service and more – I have to wonder what they were thinking when they bought the SUV in the first place.
If I had to guess, I’d say they were thinking “it’s a Volvo” and let that be their only guide toward their purchase decision.
Now, I’m not trying to shame anyone who bought a first-generation Volvo XC90 and now finds themselves with buyer’s remorse. My goal here is to hopefully help those who may be interested in buying their first Gen1 XC90 avoid many of the problems I’m seeing right now with unhappy owners.
Let’s back up for a minute and ask why people buy a first-generation Volvo XC90 in the first place.
It’s a Volvo. Yes, for many periods during its long history, Volvo has been associated with the safest cars on the planet and some of the most beautiful examples of car design and luxury. Many of us have seen stories of Volvo cars that have gone hundreds of thousands of miles and are still on the road.
I don’t deny any of Volvo’s storied history of quality – but, as with EVERY CAR MANUFACTURER, there have been some issues with some sub-models in some years that are abysmal. And, unless you drill down and find these issues, they often get buried among the brand’s overall image because who wants to take the time dig down and know what they don’t know.
It’s the difference between:
“Volvo for life” and “Volvo for life, but stay away from X model in Y year with Z transmission and A engine.”
Like I said, you have to drill down. Buying a Volvo (or any car, for that matter) because it’s a Volvo is one of the most foolhardy and naive things one can do with their hard-earned money. This is especially true in the used car market and even more true when it comes to first-generation Volvo XC90 models.
Simply put, you should never buy a first-generation Volvo XC90 because it’s a Volvo XC90.
In all fairness, this isn’t entirely Volvo’s fault. Owners have been known to neglect their first-generation Volvo XC90’s maintenance while also being very rough on them. It’s a one-two punch that can lead to some irreversible damage that, if you can’t spot it before you buy, it could leave you owning a good-looking SUV from a typically-reliable brand that also happens to be circling the drain.
My advice: Buy a Volvo XC90 after you’ve done your due diligence and made sure it’s right for you. If you like, you can read my story of my first-generation Volvo XC90 purchase.
Of course, there are plenty of forums and posts and experts and mechanics who can help you decide what years and engine+transmission combos to stay away from and who can give you great advice about what to look for prior to purchase. In the end, though, you will have to decide if the XC90 you are standing next to on the lot, or in the showroom is right for you.
Do Your Homework Before You Buy a first-generation Volvo XC90
The best way to figure this out is to do your homework. Yes, this takes time. Yes this is an investment, and yes this may mean it will take you longer to find the right XC90 for you. But, in the end, you will find the right first-generation Volvo XC90 for you. Or, at least, the right first-generation Volvo XC90 at the time.
Learn about the intricacies of this vehicle. Learn about what others are experiencing so you know what to look for. Learn what’s normal and what’s not. Get a CarFax report for the XC90 and read it carefully. Look for trends, order of repairs, repeat repairs and things that are out of the ordinary. You have to be critical when buying one of these cars – otherwise you are leaving your entire purchase and ownership experience to chance. And when you do that, the odds are almost never in your favor.
Some things are easy to spot. Nasty transmission fluid that might never have been changed. Caked on oil deposits at the oil fill hole. Some are not so easy – sunroof drain tubes clogged, etc.
Know what to look for and then actually look for those things.
Also keep in mind that there are some things you’ll never be able to see without taking parts apart, so consider getting an extended warranty if it’s available.