My downmarket Volvo

posted: 2013-Mar-05

In May of 2011 I bought a new Volvo C30. This was my first Volvo and although the car looks great, has a lot of power and has been mechanically reliable of engine and major systems, I’ve had a number of problems with it. Most of this is just plain poor design, probably as a result of cost-cutting.

No option to turn exterior lights completely off

The car is equipped with daytime running lights. Something I never had until now and never thought I’d like, but actually I do like it.

However, the lights knob has three settings. Everything on, parking lights only, and “0”. Now, you’d think this zero setting would turn everything off. Yeah, it doesn’t do that, it acts like the everything on setting.

You can get this behavior “fixed” with an expensive firmware upgrade from the dealership.

One-button climate control on, but not off

Climate control has a single Auto button to turn on, but there is no single button to turn it back off. There’s another button marked “Auto AC” but turning that one off leaves the fan on. The only way to turn it all completely off is to manually dial the fan from where it is to zero.

No way to cancel split zone climate control

You can adjust the temperature separately for the driver and passenger sides of the vehicle, but there is no way to put them both back to the same temperature. You must manually dial the temperature of one side to match the other. If you have them both selected and raise/lower the temperature, they both go up and down and stay at different temperatures from each other. Who would ever want this?

It’s really very annoying to use and there’s no reason for it.

Dash volume control does not work for phone calls

The car has two volume controls. The conventional knob on the dashboard by the rest of the music controls and a set of up/down buttons on the steering wheel.

These controls work exactly the same for any kind of sound system adjustment with one exception: When you’re on a phone call using the Bluetooth link, the dash knob does absolutely nothing. You must use the steering wheel buttons to change phone call volume. It’s the same speakers that the music comes through, but one of the volume controls just doesn’t work for phone calls. It’s unexpected and weird behavior.

No indication which foglight switch is for the front or rear

The car is equipped with an odd, driver-side only, rear red foglight. The problem is, the foglight switches on the panel, while pointing in different directions (left and right), look exactly the same. I have no way to tell them apart and use foglights rarely enough that I keep forgetting.

I have a 50% chance of turning on the wrong foglight when I push one of them, and no way to check without getting out or seeing a reflection in the bumper of the car in front of me (or not).

Seat belt buckle damages car interior

After 1 month with the car, I noticed dozens of small digs in the plastic right behind the driver-side door, just next to and behind the seat. At first I couldn’t understand how this happened, but finally realized that when I let go of the seatbelt, it slams back to its “at rest” position hard enough that the metal of the latch mechanism takes a little piece out of this plastic.

Since then I try to ease the belt back gently, but the damage is already done.

Fabric seats make me sweat oddly more than any car I’ve ever had

The T-Tec seats are often very hot and uncomfortable in the warmer months. Especially on long trips. Makes for an uncomfortable situation where you are aggressively cooling the interior of the car to compensate and yet never really getting the seat any cooler.

I’ve had lots of cars, with both fabric seats and leather, and have never had this happen. I wonder if there’s something like that Memory Foam under the fabric.

Rattling noises in the door

After 6 months I started to experience a constant rattling noise from the inside of the driver’s side door. You can hear it most noticeably when the window is down. I’ve read about this on the internet and it’s apparently a well-known problem with the C30, along with complaints that nobody ever seems to be able to get to the bottom of it.

I’d like to note that this car cost way too much money to sound like a 10-year-old rattly piece of shit at 6 months.

Inappropriate tire pressure sensor behavior

After 16 months I started to see Tire Pressure Low warnings. This isn’t out of the ordinary and it turns out I had a slow leak in the driver-side rear tire.

The real problem is this: The Low Pressure alert came on. 3 days later, without filling the tires, the Low Pressure alert turned off and stayed off, even while driving. Checking the tire showed the pressure was down to 27psi (should be 35psi). So the Low Pressure alert system arbitrarily decided to shut off and not bother to alert anyone of anything, with the car in a dangerous state and getting worse.

For all the ways for this feature to fail, this is among the very worst of them. I can easily see this contributing to an accident.

Gas fill cap is very easy to put on improperly

One out of every 4 or 5 times I close the tank, it feels correct but when you pull straight towards you the cap slips right out. What happens is it stops turning and clicks even when it’s not threaded into the pipe. When left like this, the sensors turn on the Check Engine light, requiring a trip to a dealership to reset.

I believe this is poor design that gives you properly-closed feedback even when it’s not. It’s indistinguishable from doing it right until you finish and pull to check the cap.

Windshield washer hose valves malfunction

Recently (with the vehicle about 20 months old) the windshield wiper fluid stopped working, but the motor was functioning. Of course, I assumed the tank was empty and filled it, which didn’t help.

Turns out, the valves for the washer fluid tubing to the windshield have a known design flaw where caps pop off the back of them, making the fluid squirt downward onto the engine. This required a trip to the dealership for replacement of the valves.

My understanding is this is an old problem, of several years and in many models, that has never been addressed. It’s the same parts and they will do this over and over again.

In conclusion

Prior to this I drove two different Chrysler Sebring convertibles for a total of 14 years, the second one for 11 years. They were not at all the best cars, there were problems periodically, but nothing like what I’ve listed above. That is to say: nothing in the design that just doesn’t make any sense.

I’m very disappointed with the Volvo C30 for this set of usability and other problems. These issues seem to be the result of poorly-thought-out and cheap designs. The car has been botched, and it will be my last and only Volvo.