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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Aug 2017
    Pleasanton CA USA

    Default Goin' Cross Country (to buy our red P3 XC70)


Purchasing a used car out of town, or across state lines has become an option for many buyers. The ability to set a search radius affords new market power to the buyer who has done their research, and who is seeking a specific model, year band, color, and options. This year, I broke new ground with my shopping radius.

    I only had one previous out-of-town experience, going 120 miles for my ’04 XC70.(104K miles, ice white). This being our 10th used Volvo, I can go into an inspection/test drive with confidence in my ability to suss out a dud or lemon. It begins long before that point, with qualifying the vehicle’s ownership history and maintenance records using Carfax. A phone interview with the seller goes a long way. We only consider 1-owner Volvos with fully-documented service records, no deferred maintenance items, both key fobs, hard copy Owner’s Manual, no rust, and recent smog test. We’re looking for owners that maintained their Volvo like an airplane, and have a good reason for selling it (such as an upgrade/trade in). The ’04 purchase went smoothly, and I drove it home, allowed to park my ’06 V70 that got me there until we could come back to retrieve it 3 days later.

    That was 1.5 years ago, and the ’04 XC70 has surprises.


This year was time to upgrade the wife’s car. She’s been in an ’07 S60 2.5T (ice white) for 8 years, and ran it up to 99K. For several months, I kept a mental list of all her gripes about her S60, plus her must-haves. Principal among the peeves was the bumpy ride on low-profile tires, and being down so low that headlights sting her eyes. It’s the S60 with the “advanced steering package with grotesquely large turning radius – terrible in parking lots. Also, she listens to CD audio books while driving, and her CD player was going flaky. She’s also very picky about colors….only white or red, and beige leather seat interior (we live in the desert skirting the San Francisco Bay Area)…. and a sunroof ( so she can stovepipe when parked in the sun ).


This story is about how I ended up taking a 19-hour adventure to Salt Lake City (1/4 way across the US) to get her a rare 2013 XC70 T6 Flamenco Red in mint condition. The 12-hour drive back home is my cross country narrative.


Through several calls with the Volvo dealer in SLC and the Carfax report, I obtained a detailed vehicle history. This same Volvo dealership had sold the car new 5 years earlier to an 86-year-old woman. She lives in Hamilton, Montana (on the Lewis-Clark trail). At age 91, she traded this car in to buy a new Volvo. All the service work had been done at this same dealership, plus Volvo dealers are very selective about the used cars they put up for sale….it goes through a rigorous 27-step inspection, new tires, new battery. Trade-ins that have any problems are shunted off to the auction.


I arranged for a live phoned-in test drive by the salesman, putting the car through the paces I would if at the wheel. I asked to listen to the tailpipe “purr” of the T6. It came out that the windshield had a “bull’s-eye” crack, but otherwise the car checked out. In the negotiation, I offered full asking (which was $2000 below market per Edmunds), so long as the dealer replaced the windshield at their expense. This required sales manager approval, and was accepted. Only later did I determine that this is a VERY expensive windshield to replace (because of the forward camera and LIDAR sensors coupled through it), and so, without knowing it, I negotiated a $1500 repair thinking it would cost them about $400. You have to use only Volvo glass, couple the optics, and recalibrate the sensors afterwards – not a job for SafeLight Replace!


The wife left for a 13-day trip on a Thursday to visit our daughter who was working in Italy. I thought the car would make a great surprise birthday gift upon her return, and 3 days prior, I had done the remote test drive, negotiated price, put down a deposit., and bought my 1-way plane flight for Saturday.


I took a 9:30 am Uber to the Oakland airport. My flight touched down in Salt Lake about 2 pm local time. I went straight to the dealer, and was test-driving the car. I was very impressed with the driving experience. The T6 engine (300 HP) is very smooth and peppy. Looking out through a pristine windshield, it felt like driving a brand new car. Back at the lot, I crawled under to inspect this Montana car for rust, but was delighted to find none. He gathered up all the documentation, and we completed the purchase. As an out-of-state buyer, I didn’t have to pay sales tax, deferring it 45-days until registering the car back home.


It was 4:15 when I started the long drive home. Westbound on I-80, the drive was incredibly smooth – I felt like I was riding on a silk cloud (apparently the State of Utah takes much better care of their Interstates than does California). I settled in with an audio book, having budgeted 3 for the trip.


With the Great Salt Lake on my right, a couple of hours later I traversed the Bonneville Salt Flats. There was a stiff wind out of the north, and I could see what looked like snow drifting across the pavement. Except is wasn’t snow.


Just then, the Check Engine light came on! I felt my lump in my knotted up stomach.
I just thrown down $17,000 on this car “as is”. This is every used car buyer’s nightmare – engine trouble before even getting the car home. In preparing for the trip, I had packed my OBD-II scanner. I pulled over at a rest stop and buzzed it out. It was a P0406, “Catalysis operating below threshold”, which I recognized as an exhaust gas issue. To my great relief, I was able to clear this code and continue on my trip, not having the stress of a CEL spoiling my visual field. After some time, I made a possible connection between salt ingestion and the engine exhaust failing some test.


Hours later halfway across Nevada, it was dark, cold and windy, and the CEL struck again. Oh oh..there goes my salt theory. I stopped and again buzzed out a P0406, and cleared the code. To say I felt deflated would be an understatement.
Yet, the car was functioning in every other way normally, and I decided that this type of code is not severe enough to curtail driving the car….the P3s will tell you to shut off the engine if serious enough. Learning to trust and respect the on-board diagnostics (of which there are hundreds on the P3s) is a key part of enjoying these cars – but you need to own an OBD-II scanner or VIDA in order to avoid feeling intimidated and powerless.

    Unless you’re into casino gambling, the drive across Nevada (at night) is boring and uneventful, and I was glad to have audio books. Passing Reno after refueling, the gradual climb up the Sierra Nevada begins, and the driving is much more interesting. It was around midnight when I passed the checkpoint entering CA. I have to say that I truly enjoyed the experience of driving the Donner Pass in this XC70. The bucket seat, steering, brakes, suspension and headlight design combine to give an excellent mountain driving experience. In this terrain I began to appreciate the headlight Active Light Bending – as I rounded a curve, I was seeing clearly the “inside” margin of the road, confident that I’d have decent response time if a deer popped out. With no other cars on my side of I-80 in the wee hours of Sunday am, I drove the Sierra like a NASCAR driver, using all 3 lanes to flatten the curves. Using cruise control, I traversed the mountains at a comfortable 68 mph. I had forgotten about the exhaust gas code and now was reveling in my new acquisition.


The rest of the drive took about 3 hours, and I pulled into my driveway at 4:15 am, exactly 12 hours duration.


Monday morning, I called the Service Rep at our local Volvo dealer where they know us as a “Volvo for life” couple. I asked about the P0406 code, and in the discussion the fact of the 4500 ft. elevation came out, as well as the fierce wind gusts. My Service Rep summarized it this way:

    “You’re at 4500 ft. elevation, and the ECU has to lower the fuel feed for a lower O2 partial pressure. There are 40 mph wind gusts. The Cruise Control is trying to keep the car travelling at a constant speed, which is impossible given the winds. If you could see the throttle, it would be thrashing back and forth wildly, unable to find a sweet spot. In that scenario, it’s quite expectable that the fuel-air mix is going to waver and intermittently veer out of bounds. The O2 sensors are reading this instability in the exhaust – that would explain the code. Now that the vehicle is being operated at sea level, I doubt you’ll ever replicate those conditions.”

    3 months later, his prediction is good. The wife is happy with her new ride, and I look forward to road trips where we share the driving. She is especially stoked about having a “newer” car with a CD player in the dash – a feature that disappeared from most cars starting in the early teens (just as audiobooks were taking off).


I am getting used to working on the new P3 with the Volvo-Ford T6 engine. It turned out that the wrong battery had been installed – an easy fix. I enjoy studying the dozens of YouTube videos published by “volvosweden”, a guy who lives in Manitoba, owns a 2009 XC70 T6, and has meticulously documented for all us DIYers how to care for this car. I’ve ordered tools to change the oil and tranny fluids.


I admit that I went out on a limb to buy a car 750 miles away. If there had been a glitch, I would have been forced to skulk back to Salt Lake airport and come home empty-handed. That would have been tough pill to swallow. But, given that so few of the Volvos my wife would consider come up in a year’s time here in the SF Bay Area, the time saved was worth the risk.

    One final point to think about buying out-of-state: Volvo builds US cars to different emissions standards. California defines the strictest US emission standard. You need to make sure that an out-of-state Volvo can meet the emission standard to be registered in your state. I got lucky on that one…the car I bought was built to the CA ULEV-II (Ultra Low Emission Vehicle 2.0), even though it was first sold in Salt Lake City. The label on the underside of the hood gives the Emission Standard, and you’ll want to view a photo as part of due diligence. 

    Overall, my confidence about going further to buy the car I want has only grown from the past 2 purchases. If you need more adventure in your life, consider this unique kind of road trip. We’re goin’ Cross Country.

    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails IMG_2269.jpg   XC70.jpg  
    Last edited by pbierre; 01-20-2019 at 01:28 PM. Reason: added photo

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