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Enes, VOLVO Master Technician
Category: Volvo
Satisfied Customers: 4900
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Bought a 1989 Volvo 240 wagon 1 year ago having owned over 2

Customer Question

Hi. Bought a 1989 Volvo 240 wagon 1 year ago having owned over 2 dozen previously in my lifetime, and it ran great for this past year. Then a bad waterpump combo with a possibly partially-plugged radiator and a stuck thermostat contributed to a extremely rare head gasket failure following wild temperature swings that resulted in a few trips of the temperature into the orange range on the dash. It has 283,000 miles. It started the year getting 18 mpg, while just before gasket death was only getting 12-14 mph highway mileage; very bad even for the automatic that it is. All my others were standards getting 22-25 mpg highway mileage. Even before the head gasket replacement with the gasket failing, and finding my oil looking like a latte with lots of water in it the last time I ran it, the car had typical superb power; no hesitation, although a little sputtering. The last time it ran with latte-looking oil, it had almost the same great power it always had, although what clued me to look at the oil again after that trio was a slowness in turning over the engine while cranking, almost as if it didn't have any oil, which it effectively did not. I let it sit 2-3 months while awaiting head gasket repair.
I replaced the head gasket, clamping the crank and cam, but the cam clamp moved a bit (I realigned to timing mark on rear timing cover without trouble during reinstallation), but the intermediate distributor shaft rolled free. I set the intermediate distributor shaft to the correct tooth of my timing belt when re-installing, and the car started on first try after the gasket was replaced. But when cold upon first starting it cough/sputter/popped about once every 10-15 seconds until warmed about 1-2 minutes, then no more, idling OK. For 5-6 starts this way warming for 5-10 minutes each the popping continued as it STILL does today, and there was a small amount of water spewing from the tailpipe (ring on the ground the size of a dinner plate each time. I concluded because the car sat for 2-3 months after the gasket began leaking coolant before its failure, but not yet having been repaired, this was residual coolant evaporating). When starting now, no water/humidity comes out of the tailpipe, but the first couple minutes still causes this popping sound at the exhaust manifold.
Here is my issue: Every time I tried to drive the car forward after starting it, it stalls unless i feather it, whenever I press on the gas pedal too hard or when trying to go uphill at all. The Volvo stalled EVERY time upon significant acceleration attempt and refused to re-start again until 3-4 hours later when fully cooled down. When trying to accelerate from the new cold start idle each time, it had no power and hesitated, and I'd have to feather and back off the accelerator to keep it from stalling. EVERY time, once stalled, it refused to re-start until completely cool 3-4 hours later, although if not fully warmed up, it would TRY to catch on the first burst of the first try to turn the starter over, as if it WANTED to start, but ONLY the first burst of the first attempt and ONLY if not fully warmed after less than 5 minutes since new cool start. But it never restarts when warmed at all. All subsequent attempts to start were futile, with zero audible attempts to "catch" and try to start; any attempts to re-start when fully warmed up before placing in drive after 10 minutes of idling caused no "catch" at all being audible even on the first burst of attempting to re-start after the inevitable stall on any attempt to significantly accelerate.
I could and did drive it 2/10 mile to a high volume gas station with good quality fuel, and did fill it up full with 12 gallons. Thinking it was empty after the car died upon acceleration attempt and not believing it had this weird restarting-when-warm problem, I was surprised when my "empty" tank only needed 12 gallons to refill the 16 gallon tank (obviously NOT empty with 4 gallons in it, but experiencing this weird retarting-when-warm failure). It sat for 3 months with 4+ gallons in the tank during the gasket replacement, which I used up some of idling it for a total of 2 hours over about 6-8 cold starts in the last 1 week as I fiddled with the issue concerning the water spewing from the tailpipe and the popping noise when cold and warming up. The popping is NOT a backfire shotgun-like typical backfire noise, but more a loud sputter noise at the engine; a "coughing" noise like a very loud one-time sputter every 10-20 seconds and ONLY when cold for the first couple minutes during warmup. After that, it sounds normal but won't accelerate with =out stall and no re-start possible until cool when it always re-starts!
I'd drive it to be re-timed, but I suspect some other issue, and will have to fix that issue myself, likely negating necessity to drive to have timing re-set. Fiddling with the distributor to time it differently causes inability to start at all until put back to original spot, then the same!
Submitted: 4 months ago.
Category: Volvo
Expert:  Eric replied 4 months ago.


When it wont restart, have you tried using some starting fluid to spray in the throttle body to see if it will start for a few seconds, and if so, will it?

Have you tested the fuel pressure when it wont restart, and if so, what is it?

Customer: replied 4 months ago.
I have not tried starting fluid into the air intake because I am afraid to add ether to an otherwise fine running engine and don't want to harm it (I've had a number of DIESEL Volvos for a few years not gas, and know in diesels starting fluid is a no-no if I want to not blow up the engine). If this is the first diagnostic step you suggest given the repeated 100% start when cold, but failure to re-start ever after predicable stall under ANY load, I would need to know WHERE to spray the starting fluid? Should I try to unscrew the air intake after the MAF and squirt staring fluid in there OR spray into the air filter box before OR after the filter? K&N filter is just 6 months old and appears clean enough today. And car ran great (although at 12 mpg with a lot of black soot always inside the tailpipe) up to the gasket replacement, and I tried to not touch anything unnecessary during the head gasket replacement, in the hopes this type of thing would not occur....If there's anything else that would help you accurately diagnose without starting to throw expensive parts at the Volvo, I appreciate this since I am on a budget and have a buyer waiting for me to fix this running problem, and he's hot on buying the car TODAY or ASAP if I can get it to run again like it always did before!I'll wait for your reply before taking a bus to an auto parts store for starting fluid. The last time I bought starting fluid and owned a gas Volvo, there was a Clinton in the White House, so I'm a bit rusty on gas car issues.I have not tested fuel pressure when it doesn't restart thinking this is probably electrical, since it had just been running seconds earlier before the stall. If I crank on it for very long, I can also smell unburned fuel at the tailpipe, although obviously I can't tell how much unburned fuel from just a smell!Battery was fully recharged before these things started happening, and cranks very fast at all times.
Wires, rotor, cap, thermostat, waterpump, coolant (radiator turned out to NOT be plugged after all), and pre-gapped spark plugs not reset were all replaced months before head gasket failure.Thanks for any other advice needed before I head to an auto parts store for anything needed there (like the starting fluid), which I will do in 1 hour from now, it being an hour round-trip, after then trying any diagnostic tests when "cold" again since it's already been cooling since 2+ hours ago as of this moment. This means I can test "cold" starts again about 1 pm PT, then about 5 pm PT before losing the sale of the car today....doubting the buyer will be interested after 9 pm tonight.
Customer: replied 4 months ago.
I forgot, if you are recommending to test fuel pressure upon "warming" re-start that normally fails, in addition to the question of where to spay the recommended starting fluid to test if it has any effect, WHERE do I test fuel pressure at? I am aware that the local auto parts store does rent gas fuel pressure testing gauges, but have no idea where in the fuel system to place the line to test the pressure. As well, I need to do this rather quickly, since I have no idea where on the street the Volvo will decide to die as I press the pedal. Sometimes I can go 2/10 mile feathering it; others I get 100 feet (more common) and have to oush the car back to a safe parking spot to diagnose all this!).
Expert:  Eric replied 4 months ago.


Sorry for the delay, my internet wireless modem is acting wonky right now - let me opt out and have another expert help you that can respond quicker.

Customer: replied 4 months ago.
Any idea how to get the guaranteed reply just answer promised within 30 minutes? I just got a notice based on your second response that said it will be up to 24 hours and not 30 minutes before anyone might reply. Do you have any influence over this referral to speed a reply?