What kind of problems does a premium Volvo XC90 have? This blog has outlined all the most important things you should watch for when you’re in the market for an XC90. However, let’s first start with a quick answer.
All generations of Volvo XC90 have had problems with the electrical system caused by water leakage, which erodes the central electronic module. Braking problems are well known for the 2016 – 2020 models, whereas transmission and engine failure are known in the 2003 – 2005 model years.
However, that certainly doesn’t tell you the complete story about the problems several model years of the XC90 have experienced. In the article below, we’ll thoroughly discuss all model years of the XC90 (both second and first-generation). We’ll also discuss what caused these problems and if any recalls were issued. Read on!
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Second Generation (2015 – Present)
1. Complete Failure Of The Electrical System
If there’s one problem frequently mentioned about the 2016 model year (but also the 2017 – 2018 model year) of the XC90, then it has to be its electrical system. Owners of the vehicle report the dashboard rebooting itself without driver input, complete power loss while driving, and electrical systems such as the indicator lights and key fob not working.
A recall or technical service bulletin was never issued for these problems. Therefore, an official solution has never been found. However, thorough research shows a pattern in the complaints. Almost all issues seem to have to do with the central electronic module (which is the electronic module that’s responsible for communication between all other electronic modules).
It’s unclear why this module is failing. However, the few reports that did find a plausible cause for its failure all report some water leakage from the sunroof drain tube. This tube becomes clogged, which means water can pour out and erode the central electronic module, causing it to malfunction.
2. Problem With Fluids For The Engine
Another problem related to the 2016 model year of the XC60 is excessive oil consumption and coolant leaks. Let’s first talk about excessive oil consumption. Owners have reported the following:
I am having to use 1 quart of oil every 1,000 miles. This is in addition to getting a routine oil change.Source
Using 1 quart of oil every 1,000 miles isn’t unheard of for some performance cars, but the XC90 is not a performance car. Furthermore, doing this on top of routine oil changes isn’t what’s supposed to happen. Dealerships have figured out that the o-rings and gaskets on the XC90 need to be replaced when this happens, but a recall or service bulletin wasn’t issued for this.
For the same model year, owners reported they were having problems with the vehicle’s coolant level. This would drop off too quickly, leaving the engine at risk of overheating.
As it turns out, the engine coolant bleeder hose tended to crack, causing coolant to leak into the catalytic converter heat shield insulation. This would create an increased risk of fires, so Volvo issued a recall in April 2019 (19V308000) in which the hose was replaced.
3. Grinding Or Squeaking Noises While Braking
First of all, there was an issue with the 2016 – 2019 model years, which made several different noises while braking. Owners complain about a squeaking or grinding noise. In many cases, these noises were heard when braking at lower speeds (<45 mph) or in conditions in which the brake pads were wet (in the rain, after a carwash).
Volvo issued a very extensive service bulletin in which they identified seven different types of braking noises and their solutions. As it turns out, in most cases, the noises were caused by very hard OEM braking pads that Volvo used on these cars.
When these brake pads were wet, the metal would ‘stick’, causing them to make a grinding or squeaking noise. Therefore, changing the braking pads solved the issues in many of these cases. In other cases, the noise was caused by the brake dust shield or the rotors (or a combination of all three), which needed to be replaced accordingly.
4. Emergency Braking Assist Malfunctioning
This is related to a problem with the forward collision avoidance system. This problem affected practically all Volvo models made between 2019 – 2020, including the XC90.
It turned out that the automatic emergency braking system did not always engage in situations in which this was necessary. This led to an increased risk of crashing because the driver couldn’t rely on a safety system they depended on. The cause was described by Volvo as follows:
Due to the missing software code the Active Safety Domain Master (ASDM) is not fully compatible with the new hardware that was introducedSource
Luckily, the solution only involved updating the software currently used with the missing code.
However, there’s more to the story. This is the fact that the 2016 – 2018 model year of the XC90 also has problems with the emergency braking system, although in this case, the system is overly sensitive and activates by itself, as described by one owner:
On seven different occasions, the vehicle automatically and aggressively braked on its own. The collision avoidance system sensed that I was about to get into an accident even though there was absolutely nothing in front of me.Source
What’s problematic about this problem is that Volvo never issued a recall for this problem, nor did they issue a technical service bulletin. We’ve seen this problem before with other carmakers, and, typically, it can be solved by a software update that makes the system less sensitive. However, Volvo has failed to do anything about this problem, and these defective cars are therefore still on the road.
5. Door Locks Failing
The 2016 model year of the XC90 had another common problem where the door locks would fail, making it impossible to open and/or close the car. Volvo was aware of the issue and decided not to recall the vehicles. However, they did offer significant goodwill contributions to the owners of less than five years old cars.
What happened? Apparently, water would be able to seep into the car’s locking mechanism, which caused internal corrosion and failure of the mechanism. The only way to fix this problem was to replace the door lock mechanism, which typically costs between $350 – $450 per door.
6. No GPS Location In Case Of Crash
Several 2017 – 2019 model years of Volvo, including the XC90, were recalled under number 18V800000. The reason for this is that the vehicle did not send a GPS location to emergency services in the event of a crash.
The reason for this was that the vehicle connectivity module had faulty software installed, which caused the telematics and driver support systems to malfunction. The recall involved updating the installed software, which did fix the problem.
7. Several Recalls For Crash Safety Features
One of the most significant problems this generation of the XC90 has had is its crash safety. This is surprising for a Volvo because they’re known for their safety features. However, this generation has had five separate recalls for different vehicle safety features. Below, we’ve stated the model years and what the recall entailed.
- 2016 recalls: The third-row seating side curtain airbags may not fully inflate (15V497000). Also, the wiring harness could be routed incorrectly, preventing the front seat side-impact airbags from deploying (15V342000).
- 2016 – 2017 recall: the front seat belt buckle may separate from the bracket in case of a crash, allowing the front seat passengers to endure injury (16V798000). Cars were inspected, and the belt buckle stud was replaced if necessary. Another recall involved non-deployment of the airbags because of drainage issues and water leaking into the compartment (16V690000).
- 2017 recall: The micro gas generator (MGG) that’s part of the right-hand side seat belt retractor may detach when the seat belt pre-tensioner is activated, causing it to become a projectile in the event of a crash (17V370000). Also, the inflatable curtain airbag bolt may break in the event of a crash, causing them to be a projectile and resulting in the faulty deployment of these airbags (17V104000).
- 2016-2020 recall: Liquid or condensation on the rear seat control display may cause the front passenger seat to move back as far as possible, specifically in the Excellence vehicles (21V273000). The software was updated to prevent this from happening.
- 2021 recall: The supplementary restraint system (SRS) control unit may not have been properly installed, which means it can detach during a crash and cause an additional safety risk (21V001000). Furthermore, the seat belt automatic locking retractors may deactivate early, preventing the child restraint system from securing properly (21V682000).
First Generation (2002 – 2014)
Before we get into the problems of the first generation of the XC90, we want to mention some model years that don’t have problems. During our research, we found that the 2012 – 2014 model year of the XC90 have incredibly few complaints.
For example, these three model years combined have a total of 16 complaints on the website of the NTHSA (that’s almost nothing). Furthermore, these model years have zero recalls and they, therefore, seem to be one of the best possibilities you can have when looking for a used XC90.
8. Parasitic Battery Drain
One problem involving the 2008 – 2014 XC90 was a parasitic battery drain. The battery drain wasn’t enough to notice if the car was parked for less than 24 hours. However, owners complained about the car being completely unable to start when it was left for a couple of days.
Eventually, it was found that the satellite radio module (RDAR) would stay “online,” causing a battery drain. In essence, it would keep searching for a signal even if the car was turned off. This also happened if you didn’t even have satellite radio installed.
Volvo was hit with a class-action lawsuit in 2015 for this exact problem. Eventually, they came out with a software update that stopped the parasitic battery drain and fixed the issues.
9. Loss Of Power Steering
Some 2010 – 2011 XC90 models (about 350 of them) were recalled (11V286000) because of a sudden and complete loss in power steering. This was because of a power steering fluid leak (something we’ve seen before) dripping from the oil pipe connection at the housing steering gear valve. The solution involved replacing the oil pipes from the steering rack.
10. Leaking Fuel Line
The 2010 model year of the XC90 was recalled because of a fuel line leak that developed between the line and the connector. The recall was carried out under number 10V147000 and involved around 2,400 XC90. However, this problem didn’t cause any real-life events, and the solution was to replace the fuel line (which was also quite simple).
Also read: Types Of Gas A Volvo XC90 Takes (Explained)
11. Electrical Problems
2003 – 2008 model years of the XC90 have hundreds of complaints about the electrical system. However, the 2004 model year is the worst model year by far, receiving more than 150 complaints about electrical parts of the car. There seem to be two different problems at work here.
First, owners complain about an instrument cluster that completely fails or starts turning itself on and off. Apparently, Volvo used faulty instrument clusters in many vehicles manufactured between 2000 – 2009. The only solution here was to completely replace the instrument cluster, costing somewhere in the range of $1,500.
On the other hand, there are the ‘random’ electrical problems that do not involve the instrument cluster. Owners complain about a complete loss of power, windshield wipers that malfunction, the ignition switch that gives out, and numerous other electrical parts.
It was never fully discovered what the root cause of all these problems is, and Volvo has also never issued a recall or technical service bulletin for this. However, owners did report strong suspicion that it has to do with water leakages that have also been reported in these model years. Especially the drainage from the sunroof drain tubes seems to fail often.
Some owners can hear the water go back and forth in their cars. This could erode important control modules of the car, which then start to malfunction.
12. Complete Engine Failure
One problem with the 2005 model year of the XC90 specifically was complete engine failure. The problem involved the counterbalance shaft bearing, which would ultimately fail. When the counterbalance shaft fails, the engine cannot balance out the vibrations caused by the engine, resulting in mechanical failure. One owner describes the situation perfectly here:
Like so many others I am a recent member to the cb failure club. Yep. It’s a club. The counter balance shaft failure club. This is a design defect that Volvo is aware of and does notthing to remedy the poor saps who own a 2005 with the first 6883 engines produced by yamaha for Volvo. After 6883 Volvo made changes to the design of the counter balance shaft, by drilling a weep hole to let moisture out.Source
Replacing the engine was a costly adventure for these owners since repair costs quickly went up to $5,000 for a new engine. As a result, many of them were totaled.
13. Hard Shifting In Early T6 Models
The transmission used in the 2003 – 2005 model year of XC90 paired with the T6 engine was an absolute disaster. Owners typically complained about hard shifting, which quickly turned into complete transmission failure.
Most vehicles experienced transmission failure before they even reached the 50,000 miles mark. However, at that point, the warranty of the XC90 had already run out, meaning owners had to replace the transmission out of pocket (costing around $4,500).
Therefore, 95,000 owners of the XC90 started a class-action lawsuit in 2009. In 2013 a judge agreed with the settlement of the case, which was as follows:
- Volvo pays for the repairs of all vehicles that still need to be repaired.
- The length of the warranty is doubled.
- $3 million of attorney fees are paid by Volvo.
- Volvo pays half the cost to customers who had their transmission replaced before 100,000 miles as long as they were new or certified pre-owned. They pay 25% for non-certified vehicles.
Hi! My name is Stefan; I’m the owner and lead writer at TheDriverAdviser.com.
I’m an active writer on this blog myself, as well as a novice car mechanic. For the really technical stuff, I find writers with experience as a mechanic or who have studied mechanical engineering.
Read more about our fantastic team on our about page!