Despite Volvo's indisputable build quality, Volvo cars are not 100% immune to engine troubles and breakdowns.
In this guide, we will go over common problems that trigger the Volvo Check Engine Light (CEL) and Service Engine (SES) to come on. You will also learn how you can diagnose the Volvo check engine light yourself using an OBD2 scanner.
Let’s see what you can do when your beloved Swedish car surprises you with a dreaded Check Engine Light.
What does the Volvo check engine mean?
If your Volvo check engine light is always on it means a fault code is stored in your car's On-Board Diagnostic (OBD) system.
The problem can be something as simple as a loose gas cap but it can also be an indication of an engine or emission problem.
Don't panic! Since there are hundreds of possible codes, you need to start by reading the codes. You will need to use an OBD-II Scanner which plugs under the dashboard and allows you to read the codes in under five minutes.
Some auto parts stores such as (Autozone and Advance Auto Parts) will also read the codes free of charge.
If your Volvo check engine light is on and up arrow is flashing it could indicate a problem with the automatic transmission.
Especially when codes such as P0700, P0705, P0785, P0722, P0740, P0725, P0733 are present.
When Volvo check engine light (CEL) illuminates observe if there are symptoms such as:
- Engine Running Rough or Overheating
- Engine Misfire or Juddering
- Lack of power
- Poor throttle response
- Unusual sounds
- Smoke from the exhaust
- Car Won't Start
- A decrease in fuel economy
In a few cases, Volvo check engine light may come on but no performance issues are noticed as it is the case of a loose gas cap.
If your Volvo check engine light comes on while driving, start looking for a good place to safely pull over and restart the engine.
Although there is no definitive list of parts that can cause problems, these are some of the ‘usual suspects’:
- Ignition system (failed coil packs)
- Vacuum leaks
- Catalytic converter
- Oxygen sensors (before or after the catalytic converter)
- Common rail pump and injectors (on diesel engines)
- Fuel proportioning valve (on diesel engines)
- Variable valve timing solenoids
- Boost leaks (on turbocharged engines)
Check Engine Light Flashing
If your Volvo check engine light is flashing it usually means one thing - abnormal combustion. This is often due to fuel not getting burned which causes a misfire or abnormal detonation.
Driving a Volvo with the check engine light flashing can have a devastating effect on your engine and catalytic converter.
If you have no option but to drive, you should ease off the accelerator, as this usually helps. No hard acceleration or flooring the gas pedal. Do not drive your Volvo under a load when your Volvo check engine light is flashing.
What to do when Volvo CEL comes on?
The first thing you should check is to make sure that the gas cap is on tight. Stop in a safe area, press the gas cap release button and make sure the gas cap is on tight.
Open the hood and visually check for anything that looks out of ordinary. A loose hose might cause rough running due to the vacuum leak. Water or oil on a sensor connector might cause faulty readings.
Make sure to check that the engine oil level is between the Min and Max marks as well. Use the oil dipstick to check the engine oil level.
How to diagnose Volvo check engine light
With your Volvo safely parked, you should read the fault codes. For this step, you will need an OBD2 scanner. The procedure is very simple and takes less than 10 min.
- Locate the OBD-II port under the dashboard.
- Turn ignition to position II. Do not start the engine. Press start without pressing the brake pedal will turn on the ignition.
- Turn on your OBD2 scanner. Allow it to communicate with the vehicle. Next press Read Codes.
You will get a fault code such as P0300. Researching this code online will give you far deeper insight into the problem.
Scan for errors and store them in your scan tool, or, if that is not possible, write them down on a paper or on your smartphone. Usually, an error code will point you to the part that might be the problem.
If you can access the suspected part, check it visually and try if anything is loose or broken. Also, try unplugging the connector and check for contamination (oil, water, corrosion).
Another helpful step is to ‘mentally’ trace back to the events before the ‘Check engine light’ appearance. If it appeared as soon as the car was started, try to remember if any work was done on the car while it was turned off.
For instance, you may have unintentionally unplugged sensors while replacing a light bulb. If the ‘Check engine light’ came one during a drive, maybe you have driven through a large puddle of water before that. Water could find a way into a connector with a bad seal. Hitting a deep pothole might break something loose.
Volvo cars have been known for being durable and reliable. The advertising slogan ‘Volvo. For life’ is not just an empty phrase, as it is not unusual for Volvo cars to cover a million miles. Yet during the ownership of a Volvo, you will at some point be greeted with Check Engine Light (also known as Service Engine).
Frequently Asked Questions
Should I continue my drive or not?
If your Volvo is still running fine (no performance issues, no other warning lights, no overheating), you can continue your drive with caution. Drive moderately and avoid driving up to high revs. Monitor the engine temperature and oil light. Pay attention to how the engine operates and performs. Look for unusual smoke from exhaust, listen how the engine works and keep an eye on engine temperature.
On the other hand, if the engine does not operate properly, you should not drive it further. Although you may travel a short distance, drives longer than several miles are an absolute no-no. Allow your Volvo to cool down a bit, as some faults occur only on operating temperature.
Which scan tool is best for Volvo?
Volvo OEM scan tool is called VIDA/DICE. However, this is a rather complex and very expensive piece of equipment. For a DIY user, a much better choice is a Bluetooth OBD2 code reader that pairs with your smartphone.
What should I do with the code I got from the scanner?
If you know what you are looking for, the Internet can be a very helpful and useful source of information. Just google the problems or codes for your type of Volvo. In many cases, this will lead you towards common causes and solutions. Posting questions on caf forums can also get you answers from experienced members. This guys are usually more than happy to help the community.
How can I turn the ‘Check Engine’ light without a scan tool?
Try turning off your car for several minutes, as this will sometimes help. If not, on some models, disconnecting a car battery for 10-15 minutes will erase stored codes. Also, if your engine runs fine, you can drive it for few days and see if it eventually goes off. Keep in mind that disconnecting the battery does not fix the problem. Your Volvo check engine light will illuminate agian if the problem is not fixed.
How can I check stored codes in my Volvo without a scan tool?
Unfortunately, the only way to read the stored codes is by using a scan tool. You can visit your dealer or an independent workshop, or you can buy your own scan tool.
What can I do to prevent the ‘Check Engine’ light to come up?
Maintenance. Regular and preventive maintenance. This is a best way to make your vehicle reliable and ‘Check engine’ light free.
Can I read the fault codes on myself on my Volvo?
Yes. You can read Volvo check engine fault codes using the 16 pin OBD-II port under the dashboard. This applies to any 1996 and newer Volvo including V40 XC40 S60 V60 XC90 S90 XC60.