Home » Project Car SOTU »Project Cars » Currently Reading:

Project Car SOTU: Introducing the 1998 Volvo V90

Robert Emslie May 11, 2015 Project Car SOTU, Project Cars 5 Comments

Volvo Main

Okay, can I see a raise of hands here, who likes wagons? Yep, that looks like most of you. Well, I do too. Not only that but I’ve always been somewhat keen on the boxiest of wagons – Volvos. This 1998 Volvo V90 is the latest edition to the menagerie, and its purchase was remarkably just happenstance. I wasn’t actively looking for an additional ride, but I knew that I needed to get my daughters a car as they were running out of existing things to fight over.

It’s not your traditional project car, but since it’s older and required a bit of maintenance work to ensure smooth sailing, it’s been my most recent project. Come along and see all the fun I’ve been having so far. 


As I said, I hadn’t actually been looking for a car for my kids, but I did look every time I passed this Volvo on my way home from work. It sat on a major street with a manila folder taped in the back window which read “For Sale,” the price, “177K” and “run good.” I passed daily it for what was literally months.  One day I stopped to have a look, and I liked what I saw.

Oh sure, the car had some issues visually. The paint was pealing off the back bumper and there were a couple of little dings here and there. Overall however, it looked to be in decent shape. Plus the seller did note that it runs good. I jotted down the VIN and went home to pull a CarFax report on it. The car has had four owners before me, the last having owned it for four years during which he put less than 8K on it. It was also priced about a grand below what KBB targeted.

A couple of phone calls and test drives later, and it was in my driveway. We all went out to our favorite Italian restaurant (Mama Patrillos) for dinner in it that night, in the rare California rain. That led to a pleasant discovery – all the wipers worked, and it has five of them!

Volvo Rear

Of course not all was right in Volvo Town, and closer inspection on the car confirmed some initial observations made during the pre-purchase test drives. Nothing was a big deal, but some things required immediate attention lest they cause further calamity.

The first and easiest fix was the air pump. The V90 is powered by a Porsche-engineered 2,922-cc, all-alloy 24-valve straight six. It’s part of Volvo’s modular engine family, and in fact the use of the six in the long-serving (’98 was the final model year) 900 platform was as a test bed for the 5-cylinder that would power the 850/S60/V70 etc.

Modern engines tend to have their catalytic convertors right up close to the exhaust manifold so they heat up quickly to reach optimal operating temperature. The V90’s is mid-car and it employs an electric air pump that activates when the engine is cold to aid with emissions. That pump is freaking expensive to replace if it fails. Mine works just fine, but when I bought the car, it was hanging from its mounting bracket by a single Zip tie, as all six of its six rubber isolators had failed.



You can see by the green arrows in the above pic that the air pump is mounted to a bracket by three of these isolators, and three more of them in turn mount that bracket to another frame-mounted bracket. That was a $10 fix and now the pump is secure. I’d like to stop for a moment and take an opportunity to praise Volvo for their hood mechanism design. It raises on a pair of hydraulic struts that offers two positions- lots of room and oh, you wanted to take the engine out?


For my next trick, I didn’t need to open the hood. Instead, I had to get down and get funky. When we first drove the car it exhibited a noticeable clunk when releasing the brakes. This is typically a symptom of a bad ball joint and sure enough, that’s what the problem was here. Investigating further, I noted that the rear bushings on the lower control arms were worn out so I elected to replace both ball joints and both control arms. That was about $125 in parts. Thankfully my labor is free.


You can see in the close up the difference in the rear bushings. The old one is cracked almost entirely all the way around, while the fancy new one is, well, new.


I was quite amazed at how easy it was to replace a major suspension piece on the car, and quite thankful for the robust fan base Volvos engender in general as I was able to find the torque specs for the job on the Web. And yes, there is possibly no more valuable automotive tool than a good hefty rubber mallet.


Next up came the plugs which unlike the timing belt, had not been replaced anytime recently. Like others in the modular engine family, the B6304F runs coil-on-plug, and all of the sparklers are hidden under a tidy plastic cover that also touts the make and valve count in embossed silver lettering. That’s easy enough to remove, as were the coils and plugs.


Another issue endemic with some of these engines is that the coil wires tend to get brittle from the heat, fail and cause misfires. That’s kind of a big deal because Volvo decided to plumb the coil wires directly to the main wiring harness so replacing bad wires is a thousands of dollars job at the dealer (yeah, no) or a couple hundred dollar job for a splice-in loom from a handy guy on the Web. Lucky for me, this one’s wires were A-Okay. So were the plugs. They looked old, but none exhibited any weirdness or indication of trouble.


The new plugs – Bosch bad boys – have four ground electrodes. That’s sure enough fancy, and I’m sure you’re sitting there going Oooooooh over them, but I don’t think that the extra three offer much in the way of improved spark plug performance. At any rate, thanks again to the Internet for the proper torque specs as Aluminum heads and over-torquing don’t mix. I also should note that it’s a good idea to take the paper sleeve off the plug before you attempt to install it. Good tip!


The final piece of the puzzle for this installment of V90 wrenching is the fuel filter, yet another Bosch product. Hey Bosch, this is good stuff, let’s talk spokesperson salaries! The V90’s fuel filter is a canister type with the sort of friction mount attachments for the intake and outflow fuel lines. It lives under the driver’s butt – way under – in a cartridge that also houses the fuel system charcoal canister. Removal and installation were dead simple, requiring only a big Torx driver and a pair of needle nose pliers to break the seals on the old one.

That old filter looked like it had seen some s**t so I was glad to send it to the corn field and let its replacement start pulling its weight. Oil and air filters had recently been renewed by the previous owner so those should be good until summer at least.



Other elements that will need to wait are the struts and shocks, which are worn but still useable. I’m not looking forward to replacing the rears, I can tell you, as this wagon has the cool but crazy expensive Nivomat self-leveling units. You can replace those with regular shocks, but then you need to also replace the fiberglass leaf spring for a stronger one, and I’m not doing that.

Right now, I’m happy with the car, and after so many years of FWD I am impressed with its amazingly tight turning circle. It’s also proven to be a reliable (knocks on wood) ride for my daughters, who have used it to go to school, the mall, and the beach, with nary an issue. They also like impressing their friends with the rear-facing back-most seat.


As I said at the outset, this isn’t your traditional sort of Project Car. I still thought everyone might enjoy hearing about my experiences with it so far. I’ve got even more, if you did. Hopefully when we do another Project Car round up the V90 will still be around, and then I’ll tell more of its ongoing travails.

Images: ©2015 Redusernab/Robert Emslie, All Rights Reserved

  • Sjalabais

    What a great find! This is the last classic Volvo. In Europe, they sell like hot cakes – 1998 models below 300000km will command ~10000$ in Norway, but they’re not far off in Central Europe either. I’m surprised the former owner had a hard time selling it? I figure you want to keep the price to your chest?

    Anyway, a broken Nivomat is the #1 advice to check first – you’re brave to want to go ahead and fix it. A gas unit, usually LPG, is now incredibly common with these cars in Europe, but it’s probably not necessary considering US fuel prices? Are the inner door covers straight or crumbled?

    Also great to see your daughter’s appreciate the car. There’s more value in a wagon than whatever sports car you can think of at that age…I remember lots of road trips with friends, the car filled with stuff like bikes, tents, ski etc…

    • Rob Emslie

      Thanks! The Nivomats aren’t broken, just original equipment. The back end sags if the car sits too long, but half a block down the road and they’re pumped right back up. One of the cool things about it in my daughter’s mind is that it can fit her full-size cello case in the back without putting the seats down.

      The doors are… okay. The tops are a bit discolored, and there is some wrinkle to the vinyl there. Not too bad, and it matches the passenger airbag cover! Other issues are a radio that only has one bulb left burning, a squeak in the headliner right of the sunroof, and load-area carpet that long ago turned an unfortunate shade of pink.

  • mzszsm

    The rear suspension does not look bad at all. Haul your girls around in the back like that for a mile or two and then check to see if the back got higher and stiffer. It needs some up and down motion to pump itself-up. Nivomats are about $250 each at IPD, which is a lot, but less than dealership parts counter most likely. You might be able to adapt some coilover type setup.

    • Rob Emslie

      Yeah, I’m okay with the Nivomats for now. I’m planning on doing the front struts first, probably this summer. I keep an eye open when I’m at the junk yard because, sadly, these are cycling through right now.

  • Das Shtig

    Can’t believe I missed this post last month! I have a 97 V90 in this same shade of green… 240k on the odo. Right now I’m dealing with the coil/wires misfiring issue. I too have the door card problem, & matching passenger airbag cover. I fixed the a/c myself, and apparently broke the nipple for the a/c condensation drain, so I’ve got a couple of inches of water on the passenger floor. BUT, it’s been great and I love it. My wife loves driving it, my kids love the third row, I can haul all my music gear in the tailgate area, & I even have the optional cargo cage to prevent my gear smacking me in the back of my head if I decide to apply the brakes! My guitar player liked it so much he bought a white one that has a fairly minty interior– aside from a pink tailgate area carpet. What’s the deal?? Good luck with the V90 and I hope to read more about it!


Был найден мной нужный блог со статьями про Битумная черепица www.eurobud.com.ua
В интеренете нашел классный web-сайт с информацией про ford.niko.ua.