Real life

My Volvo has turned into a monster

All those hypochondriac little lights. It's worse than me!

12 April 2014

9:00 AM

12 April 2014

9:00 AM

The Volvo has turned into a monster. It always did have a mind of its own. Fellow owners warned me when I got it that the sensors are incredibly sensitive. It is always faking injury.

I had only had it a few weeks when the warning light flashed and demanded a transmission service. In the interests of good relations — and also because I bought it from a dealer who was raided by police and trading standards a week later — I thought I would show willing.

But a few days after the mechanic changed the transmission oil, we were driving along and the light flashed: ‘Transmission Service Required!’ I took it back in, had it hooked up to the computer and the mechanics declared it fine.

A few days later the warning light flashed: ‘Transmission Service Required!’ I noticed that, as with the other times, it had flashed after I changed gears from drive to reverse a bit lumpily. Was it possible the car was complaining because I was being too rough? Could it be protesting at my driving skills? Emboldened by the builder boyfriend who insisted this was ‘what Volvos do — ignore it’, I decided to ignore it. And after a while it did stop.

But a few months after that, the light flashed again: ‘Engine Service Required!’ So I checked the service manual and, as it was due a full service soon anyway, I took it into the garage. It couldn’t do any harm to give it the full once-over, I thought. When the mechanic had finished, he declared the Volvo in tip-top condition. He couldn’t find a thing wrong. He had done all the usual stuff with oil and filters and made it as happy as he could.

And it didn’t complain for a good few weeks. But then, halfway down a dirt track, as we went over a particularly big bump, it suddenly started: ‘Transmission Service Required!’ And then a few seconds later ‘Engine Service Required!’

‘Give it a break,’ I said, ‘you are having me on. Please, just try to be brave. We will be off this horrible track in a few minutes and back on to the nice smooth road, don’t worry.’

But the Volvo was appalled. ‘Engine Failure!’ it flashed. But the engine did not fail at all. The engine was never going to fail. The warning lights are nothing to do with what is actually going to happen. The car’s squeamishness is strange, on the face of it, because it is incredibly tough.

But I guess it’s like a big bruiser of a man who looks butch, and who is capable of physical courage, but who whines constantly about having the flu when he has a touch of hay fever or a slight cold. ‘Come on!’ I say to the Volvo every time we hit a pothole. ‘You can do this!’ And it can. And it does. But it invariably flashes a warning light at me as it does it. Like a man demanding Beecham’s Powders, its favourite has always been to whine about needing new transmission oil.

But the other day, it really did lose its nerve completely. We had a prang, you see. We were driving down a very narrow country lane and a boy racer in a souped-up yellow Celica was tailgating us. Very much against my better judgment I speeded up to get some distance between us, and an oncoming van swept past too fast and bashed my wing mirror.

I drove straight to my mechanic and he found that the motorised parts in the unit were still working and we only needed a new mirror and a backing panel. While it was on order, he taped a small, temporary mirror to the inside of the unit. The Volvo was appalled. We had only been driving for a few hours after the makeshift mirror had been put in, when it flashed at me: ‘Transmission Service Required!’ ‘Yeah, alright, I know. It’s not perfect. But we’re getting a new one soon and it will all be fine. I promise.’

‘Engine Service Required!’

‘Come on, please. Don’t panic. I’m sorting it.’


Oh dear. This was serious. It had never said that before. Was it threatening to turn itself off?

‘Engine Failure!’ I knew that was a ruse, so I told it I wasn’t fooled.

‘Anti-Skid Service Required!’

‘Oh now you are just taking the p***,’ I shouted.

‘Anti-Skid Service Required!’ it insisted.

‘Are you threatening me? Are you threatening to slide off the road just because we’ve had to tape a too small sticky-backed mirror into your wing mirror unit?’

‘Engine Service Required! Transmission Service Required! Anti-Skid Service Required! Immobiliser! Immobiliser!’

‘Pull yourself together, you’re hysterical,’ I told it. Sometimes, and I don’t say this lightly, that car is worse than me.

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Show comments
  • Geoff

    Have you ever written anything in which you don’t inform your readers that your boyfriend is a builder? A shopping list perhaps or a note for the milkman?

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Spectator articles on the subject of passenger cars are so rare that I felt compelled to offer a contribution. Specifically, when you take into account just what a can of worms car ownership is, presupposing you live in London, wouldn`t you do better to take taxis supplemented by the occasional rental?

  • Honig

    Count yourself lucky you don’t live in Sweden where the government run vehicle inspection organisation won’t pass your Volvo’s annual inspection if any of the warning messages are showing which they invariably are. This forces you to go to the Volvo dealership to have the warning system turned off (which costs £50). But here is the good part. They don’t turn it off, they just send a message to the inspection station that it has been “fixed” which is enough for them to issue the car with a pass certificate (electronic, of course). Meanwhile you ignore all and any message that appears. The feature cannot be disabled unfortunately.

  • Jackthesmilingblack


    1) Buy new, trade in every two or three years. Reliability at the expense of become subjected to dealer warranty and service history blackmail.

    2) Above, but plan to keep for an extended period (10-20 years), thus sidestepping dealer warranty and service history blackmail.

    2) Secondhand purchase and try to negotiate that minefield of self-serving secondhand car salesmen or even that no guarantee private purchase.

    3) Auction purchase and risk buying a car with a serious but hidden fault, however you could employ a car salesman to front for you.

    4) The last owner option. Because with any passenger car under say 10 years, you have too much equity tied up in the car to “walk away” if a major fault develops.

    5) The seriously off the wall option. Team up with a grey import dealer, visit Japan, hit the auto auctions. Ship to UK, register. This tends to be a last owner situation, but you do start with a far better condition vehicle.

    The side benefit of 5) is that you will get at two or more articles from this experience. Post a message if you was interested I can turn you on to the only honest grey import car dealer left in captivity.

    I appreciate “standing in society” is an issue that is pushing you towards the first owner option. You need to resist this because only the mug punter buys retail.

    Oh and regarding the blue collar boyfriend, builder aren`t famous for their automotive knowledge.
    Jack Japan Alps