How reliable is Volvo? An honest assessment of the Swedish brand

Volvo prides itself on its safety innovations, but is it a reliable brand? We investigate...

  • How reliable is Volvo?
  • How reliable is the Volvo XC60?
  • Is the Volvo XC90 reliable?
  • Why is Volvo unreliable?
  • Should I buy, lease or finance a Volvo?

Volvo is one of the most ambitious car manufacturers, with their focus centring on safety. Their intention is to eliminate death and serious injuries caused by their vehicles by 2020. They have also announced plans for 50% of their sales to be for fully-electric vehicles by 2025.

In 2017 the Chinese-owned company announced their plans for all vehicles they produced from 2019 to be electric or hybrid.

There is no denying that Volvo has some very high ambitions when it comes to safety features they develop for their vehicles. When we talk about Volvo cars there is one thing which rarely comes up, their reliability. So where exactly does Volvo stand? How dependable is Volvo?

How reliable is Volvo?

The answer is that, when it comes to reliability, Volvo is average.

In their 2019 study, ReliabilityIndex gave Volvo a score of 127, which placed the manufacturer in 23rd place on their list of 40 brands. This places them between MINI and Vauxhall in the 2019 rankings. When it comes to other areas of reliability, Volvo fares a little better. Looking at the amount of time Volvo models spend off the road, the manufacturer places 13 out of 40, with the average time spent off the road being just over 2 hours, which is rather impressive. The average repair cost of Volvo vehicles is £365.93.

Volvo S90

According to the Which? reliability survey, conducted at the beginning of 2019, the newer models from Volvo (aged 0 to 3 years) perform rather well, and this earned the manufacturer 4-stars out of 5. Volvo excels when it comes to safety, but, as with many other brands reviewed in the survey, reliability took a hit once the cars passed 3 years.

For those with older models (3 – 8 years), more owners reported experiencing issues that necessitated repair at the garage. This reduced the rating for older Volvos to 3-stars. Most issues that owners experienced across multiple Volvo models were related to the computer software and Sat-Nav glitches.

Less than the average number of Volvo owners, 2.3%, had issues serious enough that their vehicles experienced a complete breakdown in the survey reporting period.

How reliable is the Volvo XC60?

The XC60 is Volvo’s popular compact SUV, packed with safety equipment and technology to make a long drive comfortable. But, how reliable is this master of the roads? Is it likely to give you issues when you’re headed on a long journey to visit clients or family?

The model was first launched in 2008, and since then there have been two generations; the first was produced from 2008 until 2017 when the second generation commenced production.

Though Volvo is a very safety-conscious manufacturer, this does not mean that the XC60 is without issues. Owners of the first-generation model have reported several problems that affected their driving experience.

Issues reported include:

 

  • Problems with the engine cooling fan
  • Problems with the electronic module on the fuel pump
  • Fuel leaks – caused by a fuel line that isn’t properly attached
  • Issues with power steering
  • Problems with the gearbox – a section of the shift mechanism can work loose causing it to become jammed

 

The XC60 is an SUV that has earned average scores, according to the most recent (2019) ReliabilityIndex report. It was awarded a score of 112, which places it lower than the cars on the site’s top 100 car list, scoring 31 points lower than the 100th car (the Citroen C-Crosser).

Volvo XC60

Though it’s not a Top 100 car, the XC60 spends less time off the road than a number of its close competitors such as the Volkswagen Tiguan, requiring an average of 2 hours 15 minutes when it requires repairs. But, if something does go wrong, the repair costs are a little higher than you might expect, coming in at an average of £410.96.

The most common issues that owners experienced according to the ReliabilityIndex report, were with the axle and suspension, something that 23.11% stated was a problem for them. This was closely followed by electrical issues, with 21.23% of owners saying when asked,  that this was something they needed to get repaired.

Though only 2.36% said that they had experienced problems with the air conditioning in the XC60, this is still something that necessitated repairs and, therefore, time off the roads.

In the Which? reliability survey, the first-generation XC60 has a less-than-impressive reliability score. Models less than 3-years old score an average 3-stars, while older models between 3 and 8 years earn just 2-stars out of 5.

Almost a third (30% in total) of first-gen XC60 owners who have a vehicle less than 12 months old found themselves taking their car to a garage for repairs. With the average for cars of 0-3 years being 25%, this is certainly higher, which, in a young car is disappointing.

For those who are driving a first-generation XC60 the most common issues that were reported were faulty tyre-pressure sensors and problems with the built-in sat nav systems. Neither of these issues is that serious. However, the full list of problems that were reported as part of the survey does contain some that can be, including faults with the transmission.

Many of the issues that are experienced by relatively new owners of the first-gen (2008-2017) models are not commonly experienced by newer cars.

One good thing is that the breakdown rate is low, at just 1%.

As the car gets older the problems don’t go away. If anything, those owners with cars aged between 3 and 8 years made even more trips to the garage to get repairs. 44% of people who owned an XC60 that was more than 3 years old reported that it had been necessary to take their car to the garage. Many had repeat issues with the battery, or the exhaust/emission control system. Issues with the cooling system were reported by 1 in 20 XC60 owners who participated in the survey.

All these issues resulted in the older first-generation XC60 being awarded just 2 stars out of 5.

The second-generation of the XC60 has performed much better than its predecessor, at least according to the participants in the Which? reliability survey for 2019. While the first-generation model was only able to achieve 3-stars, the second-generation SUV was awarded 4-stars out of the maximum 5.  As the second-generation XC60 has only been out since 2017, there is no information for vehicles older than 2 years. But reports from owners of the newer model are promising.

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Volvo XC60

Is the Volvo XC90 reliable?

Like the XC60, the XC90 is in its second generation. The sturdy SUV was first produced in 2002 and the first generation was manufactured until 2015 when it was replaced by the updated model.

Marketed as a mid-sized luxury SUV, the XC90 was originally unveiled in 2001 as Volvo’s Adventure Concept Car, at the North American International Auto Show held in Detroit. Production commenced in Sweden in 2002.

Though it is only in its second generation, there have been several appearance changes, including a complete facelift in 2007.

Unfortunately, It’s not the best news when it comes to the XC90. Data for the first-generation model has proved sparse, however, information about the second-generation that launched at the very beginning of 2015 is widely available.

According to the most recent reliability study from ReliabilityIndex, the XC90 received a rather disappointing score of 191, which is 79 points lower than its smaller sibling, the XC60. In 2017, the XC90 was awarded 190. Both scores are much lower than the industry average, which is disappointing for a manufacturer renowned for its safety record.

The XC90 spends a little bit more time off the road than other Volvo models, with the average working out at around 2 hours and 30 minutes. When compared to other SUVs such as the Volkswagen Touareg, the 2 and a half hours is impressive. Repair costs are, however, where it falls down a little bit. Owners of the XC90, when asked, found the cost of repairs rather high. The average, according to the 2019 ReliabilityIndex report, is £417.25.

That the average repair costs are rather high is more easily understood when looking at the most common issues that owners of the XC90 report. 24% of owners had problems with their axle and suspension, and a further 18.93% reported they had been forced to take their SUV in to get electrical issues fixed.

As with all reliability studies, it’s necessary to look at information from many sources to get a better picture. But the picture does not get better when looking at the data from the 2019 Which? consumer report.

As with the ReliabilityIndex report, there is no information on the first-generation model, with data only referring to models manufactured post-2015. The XC90 second-generation earned a paltry 2-stars out of 5. 45% of those who participated in the Which? survey reported that they had been unfortunate enough to need to take their new XC90 to the garage for repairs in the 12 months preceding their participation. This is 25% higher than the average, which is disappointing for owners of a car that has a luxury look and feel.

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Volvo XC90

Owners also experienced a higher rate of breakdowns than the average, with 6.8% stating that they had found it necessary to take their cars in after a complete breakdown, in comparison with the average across other manufacturers taking part in the survey, which is 2.5%.

The most common issues that were reported by owners of XC90s that were less than 3 years old include:

 

  • Problems with the engine
  • Issues with the fuel system
  • Onboard computer software faults

 

Other issues that many have encountered that necessitate a trip to the garage, include:

 

  • Gearbox problems
  • Injectors on the diesel cars can fail to start
  • Software upgrades can cause issues

 

For a model that has a strong safety record, the reliability rating is disappointing.

Of course, every car has its pluses and minuses and when it comes to Volvo, safety innovations are second to none. If you love the look of the SUV and safety is a key concern for you when considering your next vehicle, then the XC90 could be exactly what you’re looking for. It’s worth considering leasing your vehicle and getting the additional maintenance plan which will give you security, leaving you secure in the knowledge that, should anything happen to your car which requires costly repairs, you’re covered.

So, why is Volvo unreliable?

You would think that safety and reliability would go hand in hand, but this doesn’t seem to be the case when it comes to Volvo and their vehicles.

One of the reasons that they are considered unreliable is actually related to the average cost of repairs. When car repair costs are higher the dependability of the vehicle is reduced accordingly. Cars that require fewer repairs, and cost less per garage visit, are the ones considered far more reliable by drivers. Owners also look at the amount of time that their car spends off the road when they are considering reliability; if a car spends a considerable amount of time off the road for repairs, and takes longer to repair, then this is something else which goes against the model when it’s being reviewed.

Software updates are another reason why Volvos are lower down the reliability scale. Volvos are packed full of technology and the more technology there is, the more elements there are that can go wrong. As anyone who has the latest phone with the newest operating system will know, sometimes updates go wrong. It only takes one app being incompatible for something to stop working properly. And in-car technology is no different. Not only that, but the technology can also be expensive, and difficult to repair or replace.

Volvo’s determination to adopt new technology soon after launch can also be considered a problem. Everyone wants the newest items out there, but sometimes this is their downfall. New doesn’t always mean reliable. However, the reverse can also be found to be true, and if you don’t update your software you can also discover things stop working just when you need them.

When things stop working, whether they’re the in-car technology, the suspension or engine-related this is a huge pain for the owners, upping repair costs and reducing dependability.

Volvo V90 Cross Country

Given so many of the technology-focused features of most Volvo models happen to be safety-related, this forces you to ask, is it the many safety features that make the car unreliable?

It’s a reasonable question to ask. A lot of the newer safety features included in your brand new Volvo happen to rely on in-car technology; this includes things such as emergency stop systems and lane-departure warnings. As well as improving driver safety and reassuring you that you’re keeping your family safe, the systems used to run these features is incredibly complex, expensive and relatively new. If something happens and one of these systems go wrong or require an update, then it may prove necessary to take the vehicle to a garage, therefore increasing your expenditure and reducing your belief in the vehicle’s dependability.

Of course, this kind of problem is not exclusive to Volvo, with many other manufacturers including more and more technology in their vehicle ranges. And we see evidence of this when other brands drop in dependability rankings due to increased use of technology in their cars.

Should I buy, lease or finance a Volvo?

When it comes to safety features Volvo is head and shoulders above every other manufacturer. With their focus switching from fossil fuels to producing electric vehicles over the next decade, Volvo and its parent company, Geely, are looking to the future.

Throughout 2019 Volvo announced multiple improvements to their safety systems, including a hazard warning network in which cars will share information with other Volvos in the nearby area about slippery roads and other road safety issues.

The XC family and other vehicle ranges produced by Volvo are considered to be luxury, with many features such as heated seats, roomy interiors and high-quality audio systems. High quality goes hand in hand with the luxury that Volvo vehicles offer their driver.

A lease is ideal when you’re considering a manufacturer like Volvo. A lease with maintenance plan takes away any concerns you may have about reliability scores and possible costly repairs.  You can have all the safety features a Volvo is renowned for with none of the worry. You can drive the car for 2, 3 or 4 years, safe in the knowledge that, should anything happen, you are covered and when the lease contract ends, you can upgrade to the next model.

For many drivers, Volvo is the brand they turn to when they are looking for a vehicle that is packed with safety features. So, if you’re looking at getting a Volvo, then you are looking for a car that you know has been designed with the safety of you and your loved ones in mind.

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Conclusion: How reliable is Volvo?

In conclusion, Volvo isn’t the most reliable brand. They aren’t the least reliable either, they are just average. Their smaller cars appear to be more reliable than their larger cars, particularly if you compare the C30 to the XC90. One of the reasons for this could be the increased use of in-car technology, which can often go wrong and be expensive to fix. If we compare it to its rivals, it is more dependable than other luxury manufacturers such as BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi. But, Lexus does top it, even though their RX isn’t as dependable as one would have hoped. Ultimately, though, Volvo is an innovative brand that prides themselves on their safety and more recently their green credentials. So, it depends on what is more important to you in a car. Regardless, you still wouldn’t be making a mistake going for a Volvo.

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Rachel Richardson

Rachel has been writing for as long as she can remember. She loves the written word and likes nothing more than to research something until she knows all she can about it.
Rachel Richardson

48 Comments

  • Paul| 19th October 2019 at 2:26 am Reply

    My daughter has a 1987 Volvo 240 with 300,000 miles and I have a 96 Volvo 850 T5 with close to 200,000 miles. They are the most solid cars. No rust, same engine and transmissions. Less technology than the newer models may explain better reliability. Just regular maintenance and seems like it will run forever. I love the newer Volvo’s, but I am afraid of the techno failures!!

    • Athas| 15th November 2019 at 9:14 am Reply

      I agree with your review. Stupidly I sold my mk1 V70, a Torslander 10v petrol engine, and it ran well into 300k miles, I sold it for diesel mk2 version, which was good but not without issues. I sold that for a diesel S60, and later a newer facelift mk2 V70 diesel. All the diesels gave problems that the petrol version didn’t experience at all. For instance a computer failure on the S60, and an engine fire on the last V70, caused by fanbelts breaking and taking out the cambelt and oil supply lines to the intrecooler and radiator. The 850/v70 mk1 were definitely the best p2 platform car by a long way in my experience. Between manual and automatic versions I owned, the manual was by far the best. Auto boxes are great upto the point when the software needs ‘refreshing’ – thats the signal to sell the vehicle. Going back to the 80’s with my 940/960 models, the 960 2.5 straight 6 was by far the best car I ever owned (comparing with my other marques like Jaguar and Saab), it was simply mugged by more modern gimmicky technology and performance. The 940 was sold at 20 years old and the 960 at 18, both young cars by the feel of driving them. The V70 was a great car but something got injected into the modle that simply didn’t work out. The turning circle was worse than a 3ton van.

    • Rachel Richardson| 28th October 2019 at 11:19 am Reply

      Hi Paul,
      Thank you for your comment on the reliability of Volvos. This article is currently being rewritten using more up to date information, however the message remains the same. It’s always very helpful to hear from people who have experience of particular models. I am sure that many of our readers will find your experiences helpful.

  • Keith| 5th October 2019 at 10:41 pm Reply

    My 2012 XC60 T5 R Design has faulty gearbox / transmission for the second time after driving 82k first failure and now at 200k km another failure. Is this a normal lifespan of the gearbox? It has been service by the Volvo OEM

    • Athas| 15th November 2019 at 4:16 pm Reply

      Hello, I had the same thing. The cure is quite simple. Flushing the gearbox 5 times with fresh ATF until what comes out is bright red is the cure. There is a brilliant youtube video showing it. You need big drum of Volvo spec ATF, a lot of empty 2litre coke bottles and a few bits of pipe, plus axle stands (4) and a few hand tools. Do this every 60 – 80k miles and you will not get the trouble of a chocked up box. Its not a straight flush;- get the car on the level with it raised onto the stands. Run the engine and for 1 minute in each gear, selected manually. Do this up and down the box twice between each flush. The pipe that goes to the oil cooler is where I interrupted the flow (you can do from the gearbox itself), drain the sump after each flush, and in the final flush, use the self leveling plug. The ATF is quite toxic so dispose of the oil responsibly. Wear gloves as this also is bad for the skin.Do not rev the engine. After dropping the car back onto the ground, check the oil levels before driving off.
      Twice I got the garage to do it – #400+, but last time myself and it was just the expense of the oil, clean up rags and pipe end clips (I used new ones every time).

    • Rachel Richardson| 7th October 2019 at 2:53 pm Reply

      Hello Keith,

      Many thanks for your comment regarding your 2012 XC60. We would recommend that you visit owner forums where people will be discussing the issues they are having with the same model. We hope that you are able to find some answers.

      If you are based in the UK and would like some help to source a new vehicle to lease, hire or purchase, please get in touch with Amanda on 01903 223391 and she will be able to pass you to one of our experienced vehicle specialists to get you a car which fits your lifestyle and needs.

  • Javier| 20th September 2019 at 2:37 pm Reply

    About 1 year ago I bought an XC40. Zero issues whatsoever. Granted, it has been just 1 year, but my previous car, Hyundai Santa Fe, had a few issues during its first year in my hands. They Hyundai turned out to be an excellent reliable car after 7 years of ownership. But going back to my Volvo, I gotta say I am impressed. Everything looks and feels top notch, and I love it. My concern would be the transmission as I can hear it and feel it too much when I go from P to any gear. I wish it was quite and smooth. Nonetheless, I am very happy and I wouldn’t have any other car at the moment.

    • Rachel Richardson| 24th September 2019 at 10:17 am Reply

      Hi Javier,
      The XC40 is a handsome car and is rated quite well when it comes to reliability. It is currently the smallest of Volvo’s SUV-type vehicles and is also very popular with those who want something a little rugged but don’t need something as big as the XC60 or XC90.

      We hope you continue to enjoy your XC40.

  • jossef| 14th September 2019 at 11:44 am Reply

    hi, i have volvo v40 cc . engin and transmission are ford development and manufacturing. powershift transmission needs good care, changing oil and filter . i maintane the care by myself. the car passed 90k km with no problem at all. hope to pass 300k km. i exepet it from volvo. but, does the foren transmission and engine of ford will survive? hope so.

    • David| 16th September 2019 at 2:39 am Reply

      the engine and transmission is a ford design but is still built by volvo they use there own materials in the engine and different pistons and internals. my grandfather as a ford Mondeo 2.0Tdci which is the design that volvo copied that died at 150,000 miles and my volvo v50 2.0d is still going at 378,000 so yes it is a true volvo.

  • Tyronie| 25th August 2019 at 10:33 am Reply

    We had the V70 estate for 7-8 years for our family for cross-country rides. Loved it. Then had the Volvo XC60 for 5 and a half years..very sad to part with it . We have just booked a Volvo V90 which is due to us next month….back to an estate again. All these years..our family find the Volvo cars beauriful, enjoyable, comfortable and very responsive to be in. Have not even thought of others…just Volvo!

    • Rachel Richardson| 28th August 2019 at 11:24 am Reply

      Hello Tyrone,
      Thank you for your comment on the reliability of the Volvo. When it comes to cars loyalty is a thing and it seems that you have found your ideal vehicle partner in Volvo. We are sure that our readers will find your experiences helpful when they come to making a decision about their new car.

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