Inevitably, you will need help from someone with knowledge and/or tools that are beyond what you have. You will have to visit…a mechanic. Your choice of mechanic, when it comes to repairing your Volvo XC90 can have a drastic impact on your Volvo, your wallet and possibly your soul. But, finding the right mechanic for your Volvo SUV can have a hugely positive impact on your ownership and happiness. Here’s my take on the four main types of mechanics that you should (or should not) consider when it comes to repairing your 2004 Volvo XC90 2.5T.
The way I see it, when it comes to finding a mechanic for your Volvo you have four main choices:
- The Volvo Dealership
- An independent Volvo mechanic
- An “import specialist”
- Your neighborhood, non-specialist mechanic
Each has its benefits and drawbacks. I’ll dig into each one and tell you why I would, or would not, use them.
The Volvo Dealership
Volvo Dealership Pros: Volvo dealership mechanics are (usually) well-trained, and they have access to latest tools and information at their fingertips. They specialize in Volvos and work on them, or around them, every day. They use Genuine Volvo parts which are often guaranteed for life. It’s also possible that, if a repair at a dealership will take more than a day, you may get a “loaner” car to use. But don’t count on it. Good dealerships are easy to work with. They usually want to make you genuinely happy and will do reasonable things to achieve that goal.
Volvo Dealership Cons: The dealership is usually the most expensive option when it comes to repairing your XC90. They are a business that is often seen as unethical – however I’ve never had a bad experience at a Volvo dealership. Expensive experience? Yes. Bad? No. You also have salesmen in dealerships who are ready to step in and offer you a deal that may sound more enticing than the amount of money are are about to drop on necessary repairs. So there’s that.
My take on the dealership: Dealerships are often good and fast. If there’s something you need done and you can’t wait, or if it HAS to be done right and there’s no independent Volvo mechanic nearby, then take it to the dealership. However, there are things that the dealership does that are not necessarily “Volvo only.” Brakes are a good example of a repair item that can often be done just about anywhere. See my info on “your neighborhood non-specialist mechanic” for more details.
An Independent Volvo Mechanic
Independent Volvo Mechanic Pros: These mechanics are typically Volvo factory trained and have possibly spent a number of years (or decades) in various dealerships. They may not work in a super-slick dealership shop, but their prices won’t reflect that either. Labor costs are often cheaper than the dealership and the quality is just as good – or better – if you find the right independent shop and build a relationship with them. Lastly, some independent Volvo shops are cool with you bringing your own parts for them to use on your car. They may charge a slight fee (bringing your own parts digs into their profits, but they still want your business) but it’s often small compared to the savings you’ll see from buying your own parts in the first place.
Independent Volvo Mechanic Cons: There is no standardization of continuing education, so you’ll never know the last time your independent mechanic took a course. That’s not usually an issue for older models like my 2004 2.5T, but it could be that they aren’t up to par on new models, new tools, new technology, etc. Of course, if you do have a newer model Volvo, you may already have a service plan or warranty in place and an independent Volvo mechanic isn’t necessary. Also – not every independent Volvo mechanic has the same, how should I put this?…business acumen. They may say your car will be ready Friday morning and then it’s magically not. No call, no warning. I’ve only heard stories. Maybe I’m just lucky…or maybe I pick the right mechanics.
My take on the independent Volvo mechanic: Worth it, usually. I’ve managed to build a good rapport with mine – to the point where I’ve been able to use a bay in his garage if he has the time to let me work on my Xc90 under his supervision. That’s the kind of relationship you want with someone. They need to know you by your name -or at least by your car. My independent Volvo mechanic has gone above and beyond when it comes to servicing my XC90, and I’ve repaid the favor by going to back to him as much as possible. He also doesn’t hate me for bringing my own parts, although I’m sure he prefers them to be Volvo or OEM.
An “Import Specialist”
Import Specialist Pros: Some have direct Volvo experience from time they spent in a dealership. They are often good problem solvers (they have to be when it comes to knowing about all types of imports), and typically know at least a little bit about most systems in most cars.
Import Specialist Cons: First off, I don’t agree with with the term “import specialist.” To me, it’s contradictory. With so many brands and models of imports, I find it difficult to believe that someone could specialize in all these and still still offer good service. Case in point: I was in a jam. My car had stalled out at four stop signs in a row and I needed to know why. My independent mechanic was too far away for a tow truck to deliver my car, so I went with a local import specialist. He did his usual inspection (he doesn’t have any Volvo specific software like VIDA or VADIS) and told me I needed a new mass air flow (MAF) sensor. He went ahead and installed a refurbished MAF sensor – which is a huge no-no when it comes to XC90s. The only MAF you should put in is a genuine Bosch unit. Most Volvo mechanics and independent Volvo mechanics know this, but my import specialist did not. So I ended up with a refurbished MAF sensor and a labor charge that cost me twice price of a new Bosch unit which I could have installed myself. And it didn’t cure my check engine light.
My take on the import specialist: Avoid if possible. If not, only allow them to do as much as is necessary to keep your XC90 going until you can get to an independent Volvo mechanic or the dealership. They often don’t specialize in anything except throwing expensive parts at your car and hoping it works – and then charging you for it.
Your Neighborhood, Non-specialist Mechanic
Your neighborhood, non-specialist mechanic pros: There are some things on an XC90 that aren’t really that special. Brakes. Exhaust. Tires (install, balance, alignment, rotate), Air filter. Oil change. These things are well within the scope of this type of mechanic.
Your neighborhood, non-specialist mechanic cons: Beyond what I’ve mentioned above (and a few other items), your neighborhood, non-specialist mechanic is of very little use unless they have a secret life as a Volvo mechanic and aren’t telling you about it. On top of this, many neighborhood, non-specialist mechanic see a foreign car and bump up the price accordingly. All I can say is do your homework and find someone who won’t rip you off.
Also, there are some things that require an elevated level of knowledge to perform. Does your neighborhood, non-specialist mechanic know that anything but a Bosch MAF sensor is asking for trouble? Probably not. Do they know the Volvo battery procedure? Unlikely. Do they even know to LOOK for such things? Doubtful. If your repair goes beyond brakes, exhaust and tires (ok, maybe throw wiper blades, steering and a few other things that don’t require battery disconnect into the mix) you should seek a mechanic with some Volvo experience.
The Hierarchy of Mechanics
I guess you could say I use a certain order when it comes to what mechanic I go to based on what I need. Ideally my list would go, in order of preference:
- Independent Volvo Mechanic
- Volvo Dealership
- Import Specialist
- Neighborhood Mechanic
If you’ve read what I’ve written above you’ll see that, based on what I need repaired (and how much of a jam I’m in and my budget), the order will change.
If you live in southwestern Ontario (Canada), you may be interested in knowing where I take my car:
DSC Auto – Ayr, Ontario. Scott Cunningham has been a Volvo mechanic for about as long as I’ve been alive. He’s never let me down and never sugar-coated things for me. If he isn’t sure what’s causing a problem, he’ll tell me that he doesn’t know and suggest an order of attack to diagnose the issue(s) based on my budget, time, etc. If you’re within driving distance of Scott and you need something done on your car, I suggest you give him a call and get in to see him. He’s not paying me to write this. He doesn’t have to.
Hamilton Volvo. I’ve bought parts from them when I’ve been in a jam. They’ve always had every part I’ve needed, and if they didn’t have it, it was there the next day. I guess that has something to do with being so close to Toronto, but I’m not sure. They don’t have a huge service bay but they seem to be very organized.
Got thoughts on this? Find my contact page and tell me.