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Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Volvo: Do The Right Thing

If you buy a Volvo, there are several traits that you expect from the car. You expect longevity, and you expect safety. Longevity is a tradition, more than a stated design goal of Volvo, but they do like to advertise about how some owners get 300,000+ miles out of their old Volvos. And Volvo definitely advertises its emphasis on safety.

Now, there is news that Volvo is having problems with its electronic throttle bodies in 1999-2001 models. Since the throttle is computer controlled, if the ETM fails, you are not going to drive any further, as there is no mechanical backup. Customers are stalling, and are having to replace the throttle bodies well before 100,000 miles. Gummed up throttle bodies also, according to CARB, are increasing hydrocarbon emissions.

There are reports of some dealers telling people they have to pay for the repair, and accusing customers of using "bad gas", which somehow gums up the throttle body. This is absolutely ridiculous. What is "bad gas" and where do you get it? Are thousands of Volvo owners driving to Mexico to buy unfiltered gas from some 50 gallon drums?

This is entirely the wrong reaction. Instead of fighting it, Volvo should cheerfully replace very bad ETM when the time comes, free of charge. They should issue a service bulletin, requiring dealers to clean and check the suspect ETMs whenever a car comes in for service. Otherwise, they have violated both their commitment to safety and to pollution control, more importantly, they have damaged their image.


The Angry Engineer said...

Actually, poor fuel quality is still a problem in the US, although I'm wondering exactly how a throttle body gets gummed-up from bad gas when there's no fuel flowing anywhere near it in a port injection system?

My guess is that an examination of a failed throttle body (TB)would show some evidence of oil fouling, which isn't exactly an uncommon problem in a PCV-equipped motor with high mileage. Either Volvo needs to include TB cleaning as part of their regular maintenance schedule, or they need to design the part robustly enough to deal with the increased actuation forces as the part ages and gets gummed-up.

The stalling problem would have me very concerned if I were a Volvo owner. There's a few people that die every year when their car unexpectedly stops at the worst time - like when pulling out into traffic. It's serious stuff.

Unknown said...

If the PCV system is not working well, then blow-by and other gunk can flow from the crank case and up to the throttle area.

As for fuel quality, I don't have any data. US fuel is filtered at the pump, so it should be clean of sediment.

I once bought some gas on an Indian reservation. I had no problems, although my car took a while to adapt to it--I think it was a little "dead".

The Angry Engineer said...

On the vehicles that I'm familiar with, the vacuum source for the PCV sits just behind the throttle blades. Any fumes that get vented (more like "sucked") out of the crankcase end up deposited in the manifold, and likewise on the back of the throttle blades and in the throttle bore. I'm not sure if Volvos are known for a lot of blowby, but 100K with modern thin oils and high coolant temps will put a PCV system to work in just about any engine.

If fuel in the US is filtered so well at the pump, I'm at a loss as to what's ending up in my fuel tanks, pickup screens, and filters. While domestic fuel supplies are typically clean, I think there's still a lot of room for improvement. Nevertheless, Volvo's "dirty fuel" excuse is a line of BS - we're not in the TBI era anymore.

Regardless, if Volvo thinks they've got an excess supply of customers, they're welcome to go piss a bunch of them off. Those car companies that are interested in retaining customers will hopefully be responsive to their customer's complaints, as opposed to playing the "blame game".

Anonymous said...

Sounds like Volvo is emulating the parent company: make up an excuse rather than fix the problem.

If they REALLY want to emulate Ford in every way, they can start telling owners of Volvos still under warranty "Take it to the selling dealer for warranty work; we won't fix it here".

-The Friendly Grizzly-

Anonymous said...

See for a full explanation of the problem and how you can get your refund for previous replacement of the ETM.
Also send your name, e-mail and car modey, year and mileage to to get on the VEXEDvolvo mailing list.

Anonymous said...

Interesting reading here, as my Volvo S90 broke down last night. It was running perfectly, then went to idle in the middle of heavy traffic. Luckily I was able to quickly turn into a driveway as the engine died. It starts only to idle now for about 10 seconds. That's all she wrote.

precopster said...

It's actually a failed throttle angle sensor (not gunking up of the throttle bore) that is attracting the press about the Magnetti Marelli built throttle bodies made for all Volvos b/w '99 and '02. There is something you can do if the car is less than 10 years old as Volvo has extended the warranty in the US. Local company XeModex is fitting a non-contactng replacement to permanently repair the problem.