Volvo XC90 engine failure

  • Hi Guest, welcome to the help forum. You can get fast answers to your customer service questions here. We have a dedicated team of advocates who are ready to help. Just go to the section that matches your question and ask us!
  • If you've posted a question or issue for our advocates to assist with, please be sure to check back frequently for responses and requests for clarification.
  • Did you know you can get email notifications when something new posts to your favorite forum? It's easy. Just click the "watch" link right next to the "post new thread" button at the top of your favorite forum. The rest is easy. Now you'll never miss another conversation.
  • Want to become an expert user? Drop by the How to use this forum section and all will be revealed. We'll show you how to make the most of your experience.
Apr 26, 2018
9
2
3
54
#1
I bought my 2016 Volvo XC90 in December 2015 and it has approximately 85,000 miles on it which means it's no longer under the factory warranty. The following is a timeline of my very frustrating experience:

********************

Week of March 5

The check engine light came on in my 2016 Volvo XC90 so I figured it was due for an oil change. I contacted Southwest Automotive (Houston, TX) to schedule a service visit. I brought my vehicle their the afternoon of Thursday, March 8 and waited for the work to be completed. However, I was informed that the spark plugs were old and needed to be replaced so I left the vehicle there overnight.

Friday, March 9

Johnny at Southwest Automotive called me to tell me that Cylinder #2 was still misfiring after putting in the new spark plugs so his assumption was that the coil needed to be replaced. However, he was unable to locate one that day and thus would not be able to get one in until Monday.

Monday, March 12

Johnny at Southwest Automotive called me to tell me that even after replacing the coil, Cylinder #2 was still misfiring which led him to believe that there is quite likely something much more serious going on with my engine. He advised me to take it over to Momentum Volvo to have them thoroughly check it out

Tuesday, March 13

Picked up my car from Southwest Automotive with intentions to bring to Momentum Volvo for scheduled service date of March 15. However, upon driving it away, it was obviously not in acceptable driving condition so I immediately took it to Momentum to drop it off.

Wednesday, March 14

Service advisor, Jerry Bailey called me with the bad news. A scope test suggested that there was what appeared to be a cracked piston in Cylinder #2 and that the inside walls of the cylinder had been severely scored. His opinion was that this would likely require a new engine at a cost of approximately $16,000. He also said they could spend several hours tearing apart the engine to confirm their preliminary diagnosis, but then I would be on the hook for the labor in addition to cost of engine replacement assuming they weren't able to discover some repair alternative. He also gave me his opinion that the problem might possibly be related to using regular (rather than premium) unleaded gasoline. But this doesn't seem like a reasonable explanation since Volvo explicitly states that premium unleaded is "recommended", not "required". I told him I would have to think about all of this and get back to him.

Friday, March 16

I called the Volvo USA Owner's Support line (800-458-1552) to request contact with their regional factory representative to discuss my plight and explore whatever options may be available to me. The agent I spoke with said their regional factory representatives do not speak directly with the customers, but rather this person would be in contact with the Momentum service department. She opened a case in their system and indicated it may take a week or so before I hear from anyone about this matter. Case #180316-000448.

Thursday, March 22

I made a follow-up all to Jerry Bailey at Momentum to inform him of my conversation with Volvo USA. He said he was completely unaware of this as he had not been informed of this regional factory representative making contact with the Momentum service department. He said he would check with his service department manager to find out if he had been contacted yet by this regional factory representative.

Monday, April 2

Tried making a follow-up call to Jerry Bailey at Momentum and learned that he was out sick. Got a call back from another advisor (Gerard?), but he had no knowledge of any contact being made from the regional factory representative. He said he would leave a message for Jerry to get back with me once he is back to work.

Friday, April 6

Momentum Volvo service advisor, Jerry Bailey, called me to ask whether I had heard anything new regarding my car. Of course I hadn't and he indicated that, to his knowledge, no regional factory representative has yet made contact with the service department at Momentum regarding my case.

Monday, April 9

Made a follow-up call to Volvo USA and reported to them that apparently nobody at Momentum Volvo has been contacted by the regional factory representative yet. The agent apologized stating that it shouldn't be taking this long and that she would make sure that the regional factory representative was reminded that my issue is still in need of attention.

Thursday, April 12

I received an email from Denise with the Volvo Customer Care Team asking me whether I've accepted the repair (new engine) estimate. The following was my reply: "No, I have not accepted this estimate. That's why I took the time to escalate this matter because it doesn't seem reasonable at all to me that after barely over two years and 85,000 miles, I should expect to have to replace the entire engine. This is obviously some sort of bizarre defect rather than the effects of normal wear-and-tear. I've been hoping to speak with someone at a higher level to discuss what alternatives there might be, but so far no one has reached out to me. My service advisor at the dealership also has no knowledge of any contact from the regional factory representative who was supposed to be investigating this matter. My car has been sitting there for a month now and I'm still waiting for a reasonable path to resolution."

Friday, April 13

I called and left a message with Jerry Bailey at Momentum Volvo that I would like to speak with the service manager about the status of this issue. Late in the afternoon I received a call from service manager Jonathan Scott. He told me that the he was meeting with the factory representative and wanted to review my service records since the last time it had been serviced at Momentum. (Since it has been past the warranty period I have been having my service done by Southwest Automotive, a certified Volvo repair shop.) I told Mr. Scott that all of my service records were in the glove compartment of the vehicle and gave him permission to review them. About 30 minutes later, he called back to say that after he and the factory representative had reviewed my records, they wanted to extend a "goodwill" offer of 50% off the price of the engine replacement, which is still a very substantial sum of approximately $8,000. I told him that I needed some time to discuss with my wife about this matter and I would get back to him afterwards. After a brief discussion, my wife and I are of the opinion that this situation is not the result of normal wear-and-tear and that it must be due to a serious defect in the product. Therefore, we are not willing to accept this offer. I called Mr. Scott to share these thoughts with him. While he agreed that this problem doesn't fall under the category of normal wear-and-tear, he's also not sure it's possible to determine whether it constitutes a "defect". I then asked him for two things: 1) to email me their written assessment of the problem with the car along with their latest repair offer, and 2) to further escalate this matter, if at all possible. He said he would certainly email the information I requested, but that it had already been escalated as high as it can go as far as those who can make decisions regarding customer repair issues. I told him we would seek to escalate this through our own means.

Saturday, April 14

I received an email from Momentum Volvo service manager, Jonathan Scott, responding to my request from the previous day for a summary of their repair assessment and quote. Here is the relevant portion of the email:

"The engine failure is due to the failure of the piston skirt on cylinder number 2. The piston skirt is cracked and the cause of both the misfire on that cylinder and the subsequent damage to the cylinder wall. As a result of the damage to the cylinder wall, replacement of the engine will be required.

I have spoken with our dealer’s representative from Volvo regarding the needed repair for your vehicle. Though your XC90 is no longer in warranty, Volvo has offered to cover 50% of the repair as a goodwill gesture. The repair (including parts and labor) cost $15,350 plus tax. Your total would be $7675.00 plus sales tax and this repair would come backed by Volvo’s lifetime warranty."

Thursday, April 26

Received a follow-up email from Denise at Volvo Customer Care which read, "Hello Robert, I'm following up with you to let you know that the 50% goodwill offer is our final offer. You have 30 days to decide whether or not you will be accepting. Please let myself and the dealer know if you will be accepting this offer."

********************

Summary: In my view, an engine failure on a Volvo this new with relatively low mileage (by Volvo standards) is not a reasonable outcome from normal wear-and-tear and therefore must be the result of a serious defect. As a first-time Volvo customer, whose purchase decision was based largely on their reputation for quality and longevity, this has been an extremely disappointing experience and I feel the company should go further to make this right. I think it would be reasonable to pay an amount in line with what major engine repairs might cost for normal wear-and-tear for 85,000 miles. I'm not sure what that amount would be, but it would surely be much less than $8,000.
 

technomage1

Verified Member
Jan 5, 2015
2,001
3,416
113
#2
Normally when a piston cracks (or the engine block cracks) its due to overheating. Low coolant and water pump failure are the two primary causes, or if modifications were made such as adding a turbocharger, which I'm guessing you didn't do, or overloading it, which I'm also assuming you didn't do. Casting failure (what you're referring to as a defect) does happen but it's rare. There are several recalls on the model and year but none involving the type of damage that happened, and the complaints to the NHTSA about engine issues don't include what happened to you. So it doesn't appear to be a design issue.

I would have them check - or check yourself - the coolant level and water pump. I'd also ask to see the computer diagnostic report to see if it showed overheating or water pump issues. If it does then that would point to the most common causes of failure. Even if you replace the engine then if the coolant isn't cycling right due to the computer or whatever the crack could happen again. I would suggest, given the amount of miles on the vehicle, looking at a remanufactured-rebuilt engine. Those run more like $2-4K, and about $1K labor. You won't get the warranty Volvo is promising, though.

I would call around and get some quotes for what an engine replacement would cost and/or see if you can get one from a junkyard - a rear ended vehicle may have a salvagable engine. Dealers are always more expensive and in my experience don't do as good of a job. Find your local grease monkey shop is my personal suggestion.

I honestly think at this point you're gotten out of Volvo all they're willing to offer, but you can also try our company contacts at the top of the page. Prior to contacting them, though, I would have in hand that diagnostic report that showed no heat related issues (thus pointing to the rarer casting failure).

I think you can find a cheaper engine replacement elsewhere I would go that route, personally. With that many miles I would think hard about sinking $8K into it, epsecially with the high milage you're putting on it.
 
Last edited:
Apr 26, 2018
9
2
3
54
#3
Incidentally, I've already had a couple of people do some searching for a salvaged engine, but since this is such a new model (introduced in 2016) I would probably lucky to find one.
 

technomage1

Verified Member
Jan 5, 2015
2,001
3,416
113
#4
Incidentally, I've already had a couple of people do some searching for a salvaged engine, but since this is such a new model (introduced in 2016) I would probably lucky to find one.
Yes, I thought the same. But it's worth a shot.

Since you are high milage, you may want to check out https://www.autobytel.com/car-buying-guides/features/10-best-cars-for-high-mileage-driving-132206/

Swapping to a Subaru Outback for $25,645 might make more economic sense than engine replacement in the long term.
 

johnbaker

Verified Member
Oct 2, 2014
849
1,397
93
45
#5
@PongGod Your problem is going to be that a number of things can cause piston failure that aren't manufacturing related such as the cooling issues @technomage1 mentioned, detonation issues that the tech mentioned (based on use, you may have not been running a high enough octane fuel) & oil issues (oil assists in cooling).

FYI - As an former automotive engineer, I would always run the recommended fuel for your vehicle even if its not required. The engine computer starts to play all sorts of games that kill your fuel economy when you run too low of octane under heavy load. Using a less expensive fuel might actually cost you more money in lost economy than it saves in pump price...
 
Last edited:
Apr 10, 2017
426
668
93
#6
I am so sorry this happened to you. I mentioned this on a different Volvo thread but it's even more relevant to this one. My husband's 2012 Volvo R Design XC60 had this exact issue 2 years ago when it had 37K miles on it. The service manager said a cylinder misfiring isn't normally seen on vehicles without very high mileage (200K+). He said he had never seen it in his 25 years of being a Volvo service technician and it was very surprising. In our case everything was fully covered under warranty but it certainly made us leery of what the future may hold. I will say that once the engine was replaced the vehicle performance was noticeably improved. Both of us could tell the difference when we drove it and it was better than it had ever been. That led both of us to believe there was indeed a defect from the beginning. I absolutely believe that could be the case with your Volvo. There have been no other issues since but it doesn't have the mileage yours does. I would see what exactly is covered by the lifetime warranty as that could be the difference between a worthwhile 8K investment or cutting your losses and getting something else. I hope this works out for you.
 
Likes: PongGod
Mar 17, 2015
497
704
93
38
#7
Sounds like I would put that approximately 8k into a different brand of vehicle... But I am not sure how you prove it is a manufacturing default vs. wear and tear, even if it is abnormal.
 
Likes: Warren
Apr 26, 2018
9
2
3
54
#8
Sounds like I would put that approximately 8k into a different brand of vehicle... But I am not sure how you prove it is a manufacturing default vs. wear and tear, even if it is abnormal.
Yeah, I don't think there's anyway to definitively prove that it is or isn't a defect, but common sense would suggest this is not a normal expectation to have. I was hoping Volvo would be more sympathetic to my plight, but apparently they've gone as far as they're willing to go. At this point I would gladly bail on the car and get something else, but it would be virtually impossible for me to sell the car in its current state. And if I do suck it up and pay for the engine replacement, I'm kind of stuck with it for the long haul because I'm sure the lifetime warranty won't be transferable to a new owner.
 

technomage1

Verified Member
Jan 5, 2015
2,001
3,416
113
#9
Yeah, I don't think there's anyway to definitively prove that it is or isn't a defect, but common sense would suggest this is not a normal expectation to have. I was hoping Volvo would be more sympathetic to my plight, but apparently they've gone as far as they're willing to go. At this point I would gladly bail on the car and get something else, but it would be virtually impossible for me to sell the car in its current state. And if I do suck it up and pay for the engine replacement, I'm kind of stuck with it for the long haul because I'm sure the lifetime warranty won't be transferable to a new owner.
Yeah, you’d have to scrap it if you bailed. I’d ask them about the warranty transferring. But honestly in terms of odds of it being a bad cast /manufacturing issue - they’re low. 99% it was a heat issue vs a bad cast. It’s hard to prove even if you are the 1% but the diagnostic report would help.
 
Apr 26, 2018
9
2
3
54
#10
Yeah, you’d have to scrap it if you bailed. I’d ask them about the warranty transferring. But honestly in terms of odds of it being a bad cast /manufacturing issue - they’re low. 99% it was a heat issue vs a bad cast. It’s hard to prove even if you are the 1% but the diagnostic report would help.
But if it's a "heat issue" as you suggest, I don't really see how that's any different than a casting defect in the sense that it's not supposed to happen assuming I've done a proper job of maintaining my vehicle. They were apparently satisfied with the maintenance records I provided them as evidence that I have been upholding my end of the deal.
 

technomage1

Verified Member
Jan 5, 2015
2,001
3,416
113
#11
But if it's a "heat issue" as you suggest, I don't really see how that's any different than a casting defect in the sense that it's not supposed to happen assuming I've done a proper job of maintaining my vehicle. They were apparently satisfied with the maintenance records I provided them as evidence that I have been upholding my end of the deal.
It really depends. Say you’re getting the (presumably synthetic) oil changed every 6 months or 10k miles in your case. The cooling system breaks somehow a month or two after you’re seen. That’s still 4-5 more months they haven’t laid eyes on your vehicle...plus even if a vehicle is serviced that doesn’t mean they’re going to catch absolutely everything that might be wrong with it. A multipoint inspection covers the most probable items that wear or break, not every single component.

The only thing that bothers me with a heat issue is the computer probably should catch that and regulate the engine acoordingly. Unless it’s a thermostat issue, but even then the computer should catch it. That bugs me but it’s still not a smoking gun of a defect. Things can and do break, that’s the nature of vehicles.

I’d really be interested in the diagnostic and if there was any evidence elsewhere or not of overheating. You could have it towed to another garage and get an second opinion on the root cause of the issue to take to Volvo but that’s $ too.

Since you’re high mileage I’d recommend cracking open the hood every month or so and doing a visual inspection, especially if you’re hauling any weight. And don’t skimp on the oil or gas as John baker noted. Modern engines are so finely tuned if they say something in the manual that’s what you do. You can’t get away with the things you could on the less complicated cars. But in the other hand 200k is now the expected service life vs 100k.
 
Last edited:
Likes: PongGod

Carrie Livingston

Moderator
Staff Member
Advocate
Jan 6, 2015
771
785
93
45
St Louis
#12
I think the fuel may be the issue here. You bought lower grade fuel than what was recommended. I had a Mazda that recommended higher grade and I put that in the car for the entire time I had it.
 
Apr 26, 2018
9
2
3
54
#13
I think the fuel may be the issue here. You bought lower grade fuel than what was recommended. I had a Mazda that recommended higher grade and I put that in the car for the entire time I had it.
My view would be that if using regular unleaded truly poses such a risk, then premium unleaded should be designated as "Required" rather than "Recommended".
 
Likes: ADM

technomage1

Verified Member
Jan 5, 2015
2,001
3,416
113
#14
My view would be that if using regular unleaded truly poses such a risk, then premium unleaded should be designated as "Required" rather than "Recommended".
You have to remember too, that you're not the average driver. The average annual mileage in the US is 13,474. Any problem is going to show up a lot sooner with you than anyone else due to that.
Accoriding to fueleconomy.gov:
"Higher octane fuels are often required or recommended for engines that use a higher compression ratio and/or use supercharging or turbocharging to force more air into the engine. Increasing pressure in the cylinder allows an engine to extract more mechanical energy from a given air/fuel mixture but requires higher octane fuel to keep the mixture from pre-detonating. In these engines, high octane fuel will improve performance and fuel economy"

You've kind of got the perfect storm with that vehicle because the manufacturer has "souped"/designed the engine for higher/more economical performance. Combined with the high milage, that's ideal conditions for heat related damage if something goes wrong. A low milage driver like me (24K miles in 6 years) or an average driver would probably never have this issue.

I think the best tack for you to take with Volvo is not to quibble about the fuel "recommended vs required". I think you'll lose that fight. What you should be asking is why the vehicles computer didn't detect the heat and "governor" the engine so the performance was reduced and/or a warning light came on to warn the driver of the problem. Unless you were on a long road trip or ignored the light (or waited for a service slot for some time) it seems to me the warning light you got came on too late.
 
Likes: Warren

johnbaker

Verified Member
Oct 2, 2014
849
1,397
93
45
#15
@technomage1 The ECU can only do so much. If you run heavy loads at too low an octane, you can get detonation. The ECU only has so many tricks to help reduce detonation. It only takes one episode to permanently damage the engine. As soon as the ECU, senses something is wrong, it sets a code. He drove it three more days after that. FYI in almost every vehicle on the road, routine maintenance will not set the SES light. A non-flashing light normally signals an immediate issue that needs to be looked at (emissions related) where a flashing SES light signals an emergent issue (like pull over and turn off the car). Not every car is the same so read your owners manual to be sure.

Also from page 353 of the 2016 XC90 owners manual "Volvo requires premium fuel (91 octane or above) for best performance. " http://esd.volvocars.com/local/us/volvo-2016-xc90-owners-manual-v3.pdf
 
Likes: Warren
Apr 10, 2017
426
668
93
#16
My view would be that if using regular unleaded truly poses such a risk, then premium unleaded should be designated as "Required" rather than "Recommended".
My Volvo's same issue presented itself much earlier (37K miles) and it took over 3 1/2 years to reach that mileage. Also, my husband asked the technicians about regular vs. premium fuel and they said that shouldn't have caused this problem. A big sales pitch for a Volvo turbo engine is premium fuel isn't necessary. While I know salespeople will say whatever to get a sale the technicians corroborated this after the cylinder failure. As with your vehicle, the computer didn't detect any issues until it was too late. However, if they are willing to give you a 50% discount on a new engine AND back it up with a legitimate lifetime warranty it might not be a bad deal. You are correct in assuming that you would lose at least that much in value on a sale or trade-in.

I will add that my previous vehicle was a 2003 VW Jetta that required premium fuel. Once the car reached around 70K miles we stopped worrying about premium fuel and just used regular. That car was traded in for this Volvo with over 170K miles on it with zero engine issues.

Edit: My Volvo is an older model XC60 R Design, not a later model XC90. I know the engine is different so my comparison isn't apples to apples. Our issues are just so similar. The service department at the dealership said they shipped the old engine to a main facility to evaluate it completely. I am guessing this is to find out what happened and to see which of their vendors could be responsible for the 15K replacement.
 
Last edited:

technomage1

Verified Member
Jan 5, 2015
2,001
3,416
113
#17
@technomage1 The ECU can only do so much. If you run heavy loads at too low an octane, you can get detonation. The ECU only has so many tricks to help reduce detonation. It only takes one episode to permanently damage the engine. As soon as the ECU, senses something is wrong, it sets a code. He drove it three more days after that. FYI in almost every vehicle on the road, routine maintenance will not set the SES light. A non-flashing light normally signals an immediate issue that needs to be looked at (emissions related) where a flashing SES light signals an emergent issue (like pull over and turn off the car). Not every car is the same so read your owners manual to be sure.

Also from page 353 of the 2016 XC90 owners manual "Volvo requires premium fuel (91 octane or above) for best performance. " http://esd.volvocars.com/local/us/volvo-2016-xc90-owners-manual-v3.pdf
Ah, I missed that he drove it for three days. Yeah, that'll do it.
 
Apr 26, 2018
9
2
3
54
#18
So some new information has been brought to my attention from my guy at Southwest Automotive. Apparently there was a service action that Volvo posted last October due to issues with the spark plugs on various models including my XC90: http://forums.swedespeed.com/showthread.php?507497-Service-Action-S29842-Replace-Spark-AM-I-AFFECTED. When he changed the plugs in my vehicle after this issue happened, the terminals on one of the plugs was almost completely burned off. He's suggesting the angle I should now take is to go back to Volvo Customer Care and demand to know why I was not contacted about this so that I could get this taken care of before a problem emerged.

Based on all the discussion regarding overheating issues in this thread, it seems quite reasonable to assume that my experience could be directly related to this spark plug issue.
 

johnbaker

Verified Member
Oct 2, 2014
849
1,397
93
45
#19
@PongGod That's a service bulletin not a recall. There's a big difference. You need to reach out to the dealer that was doing your normal service to ask them if they completed this. If not, they have an issue. It also maybe why Volvo is doing something for you.

You also need to ask why your spark plugs weren't replaced at 70,000 miles as required by the maintenance schedule. https://volvornt.harte-hanks.com/manuals/2016/2016-Volvo-Maintenance-Schedule-v1.pdf
 
Last edited:
Likes: technomage1
Apr 26, 2018
9
2
3
54
#20
@PongGod That's a service bulletin not a recall. There's a big difference. You need to reach out to the dealer that was doing your normal service to ask them if they completed this. If not, they have an issue. It also maybe why Volvo is doing something for you.
The last time my vehicle was serviced by the dealer was 3/29/2017, at least six months prior to this bulletin. The way it was explained to me is that these bulletins represent issues that warrant immediate attention. I have no knowledge of the dealer ever replacing the spark plugs during any of my in-warranty service visits. They were only changed back in March after this problem began.