The performance versions of Volvo’s 850 range of cars are some of the most loved vehicles of all time and they have become modern classics of the motoring world. The first of these performance Volvos was the T-5, that was then followed up by the T-5R and then finally the incredible 850R.
In this buyer’s guide we have included everything you need to know about purchasing a T-5, T-5R or an 850R. We have also included information on the history and specifications of Volvo’s 850 series performance cars.
This guide covers all three models because they are very similar, so buying information that relates to one will relate to the other two.
How to Use This Volvo 850 T-5/850R Buyer’s Guide
We have included quite a lot of information in this guide, so use the table of contents below to find the section you want to read (or just read it all).
To start with we will be looking at the history and specifications of Volvo’s 850 T-5, T-5R and R models. We will then cover the buyer’s guide portion of the article and then more general car purchasing advice.
Table of Contents
History of the Volvo 850 T5, T-5R and R
While the first 850 series Volvo launched in 1991 (1992 model year), its roots actually began in 1978 with the so-called ‘Project Galaxy’. New manufacturing technologies were produced during the project along with the development of the Volvo Modular engine and M Gearbox lines. By the time development had finished, Volvo had spent the highest sum in the history of Sweden on an industrial project.
When it launched, the 850 introduced four unique innovations; the newly developed five-cylinder transverse engine, the Delta-link rear axle, Side Impact Protection System (SIPS), and self-adjusting seatbelt reel for the front seats.
Compared to cars from other European brands, the 850 series was fairly sedate & safe. The performance of the earlier 850 cars was nothing to write home about, despite having significantly more power than Volvo’s previous models.
However, thanks to the highly advanced technologies and features in the 850, Volvo decided to dip their toes in a new market segment, performance cars.
Volvo 850 T-5
The first performance version of the 850 range was launched in 1993 and Volvo offered it in both saloon and estate versions. It featured a turbocharged 2.3-litre 5-cylinder engine that produced as much as 222 horsepower and 300 Nm (221 lb-ft) of torque. and was good for 0 – 100 km/h (0 – 62 mph) in as little as 7.3 seconds.
As the 850 T-5 was front-wheel drive, a torque limiter was fitted to first gear to control wheelspin. While this did help contain wheelspin, the 850 T-5 still chewed through front tyres.
Volvo’s 850 T-5 was somewhat of a sleeper, with great performance for the time but a rather plain look. The only real visual difference between the T-5 and the standard 850 was a discreet boot spoiler and 5-spoke alloy wheels that were wrapped in high-performance tyres.
Volvo 850 T-5R
While the 850 T-5 received a very warm welcome when it launched, Volvo wanted to increase their sporty image even more. They entered an 850 series car in the BTCC (British Touring Car Championship) and also decided to develop an even faster version of the T-5.
The original idea was to name the car the Volvo 850 T5+ (with the “plus” referring to the increase horsepower and extras) and it was planned to be a Limited Edition. However, in the 1994 Volvo Press kit the new performance car was referred to as the 850 plus 5. Following this, the name was changed once again to the 850 T-5R.
It is not exactly known why Volvo decided to change the name, but some believe that the “R” referred to the 850 Racing (the car used in the BTCC). Alternatively, others believe that the R refers to R-Sport (which was commonly used in Group A touring cars and rally sport).
While it is commonly believed that the T-5R was created as a homologation car for the BTCC, it is actually not true. Volvo was already racing in the BTCC with their 850 Estate before the T-5R was even unveiled.
The homologation rules for the BTCC at the time stated that 2,500 cars with the same body style were needed, and that the car didn’t need to be a limited-edition model. This wasn’t a problem for Volvo as the 850 was already in production for two years and they had produced a large number of them.
Volvo co-developed the T-5R with Porsche and to celebrate their co-operation the sides of the seats were finished in graphite/grey Amaretta (suede that feels like Alcantara but is slightly thinner) with a leather material in the middle. Most other cars usually have the materials the other way around, but this design mimicked that of the Porsche 911’s seats.
The rest of the interior was finished in black with wooden trim inserts (Burlet Black Walnut) around the instrument panel, floor panel, floor console panels and on the gear shift selector.
Porsche not only had an influence on the interior design, but they also worked their magic on the B5234T5 engine, the transmission and some of the other powertrain components.
Another upgrade was a new electronic control unit (ECU) from Bosch. The Bosch 628 (US) and 629 (EU) ECUs added 1.5 psi (0.1 bar) extra pressure to the turbocharger which gave the T-5R an extra 18 horsepower over the T-5. This brought the horsepower figure to 240 hp while torque was now at 300 Nm (221 lb-ft).
Volvo mated the more powerful engine to either a 4-speed automatic or a 5-speed manual, the latter of which was not available in the United States.
Due to European regulations the top speed of the T-5R was limited to 249 km/h (155 mph). Acceleration was quicker than the T-5 with a 0 – 100 km/h (62 mph) of 6.9 seconds for the saloon and 7 seconds for the estate. In some markets (Italy for example), a 2.0-litre engine was used due to tax regulations.
On the outside the T-5R featured a new front bumper design with a front lip spoiler. At the back the saloon was given a rear spoiler as standard while it was an optional extra on the estate model (although lots of customers did purchase it).
The car also featured new side skirts and polished aluminium door sills that gave the car a sporty, premium feel. To finish off the appearance Volvo fitted new 17 x 7-inch 5-spoke titanium grey alloy wheels that were inspired by those on the TWR Volvo 850 Racing car in the BTCC. The sporty rims were wrapped in 205/45 ZR 17 Pirelli P-Zero tyres that provided 0.88g of grip.
Volvo also installed side airbags that were installed into the seat cushions. These side airbags were then added as an option for Volvo’s other motorcars the following year. It also featured an early example of daytime running lamps and just like the 940 it had three-point seatbelts at all five seating positions. An OBDII diagnostics system was also installed, a year before it became standard in America.
Here’s a rundown on the standard equipment on the 850 T-5R:
- Antilock-Braking System (ABS) & Traction Control Systems (TRACS)
- sport suspension with larger stabilizer bars and heavy duty hydraulic shock absorbers
- Estate-cars: self-leveling rear shock absorbers (Nivomat, instead of the hydraulic version)
- cruise control
- on-board computer
- electric powered windows and mirrors (also heated)
- Volvo Guard alarm with remote control
- front fog lights
- electronic climate control (ECC)
- black with dark grey leather with leather & Amaretta (suede) upholstery and steering wheel
- heated & adjustable power seats with memory for 3 settings
- Volvo SC-800 or SC-811 double-din radio with tape
- Burled Black Walnut trim
- electrical sunroof
- child booster seat
- 4 airbags (driver, passenger and SIPS sidebags)
- 17-inch Titan wheels with 205/45 ZR 17 Pirelli P-Zero tyres
- front lip, side skirts and rear spoiler (optional for estate)
- estate featured roof rails and luggage net
Apart from the optional rear spoiler on the estate, there were only two options available for the T-5R. The first option was an Alpine 6-CD changer while the second was 16-inch alloy wheels with Michelin tyres (usually 205/55 16 MXM all-weather tyres). The 16-inch wheels were available at additional cost.
Volvo offered the 850 T-5R in three different colours:
- Cream Yellow
- Black Stone
- Dark Olive Pearl (not available in all markets)
In total, 6,964 T-5Rs were produced worldwide from August 1994 to July 1995, with 2,537 of these being finished in yellow, 2,516 in black, and 1,911 in green.
Two white, two Aubergine and three grey T-5Rs were also produced. The white and Aubergine cars were pre-production models, while the grey ones were produced by special demand for the Arabian market.
In the spring of 1996, Volvo introduced a new high-performance version of the 850 that was designed as a replacement for the widely successful T-5R. Originally, the T-5R was intended as a limited edition model with no successor, but due to its success, Volvo decided to create a new high-performance model. The new model, the 850R, was based heavily on the T-5R but with a number of improvements to increase performance.
The 2.3-litre 5-cylinder engine from the T-5R remained, but with a larger turbocharger (except for automatic cars), new manifold, new intercooler, and a much more sophisticated fuel pressure sensor that made a more precise air/fuel mixture.
These changes lead to an increase in power of 10 horsepower, bringing the total to 250 hp. Torque also increased from 300 Nm (221 lb-ft) to 350 Nm (258 lb-ft) and the name of the engine changed to B5234T4.
For a limited time in 1996 only, Volvo offered a new heavy-duty manual transmission that was designed specifically for 850R. This new M59 gearbox was mated to a viscous coupling limited-slip differential and was offered in most markets except the United States. 850Rs that kept the old M56H manual transmission or those with automatic gearboxes used a smaller.
The manual 850R could accelerate from 0 – 100 km/h (0 – 62 mph) in as little as 6.7 seconds, while auto models needed 7.5 seconds (7.6 for the estate). Like the T-5R before it, the 850R was limited to a top speed of 249 km/h (155 mph) and some markets received a 2.0-litre model.
Improvements were also made to the car’s suspension setup with thinner anti-rollbars being installed and stiffer damper settings. Interestingly, some enthusiasts claim that the T-5R had better handling than its younger sibling.
On the inside Volvo updated the interior with Alcantara seats with leather side pieces (opposite to the T-5R). Volvo also offered the car with two interior colour choices: black and grey with Dark Walnut or Light Birch wooden trim pieces.
The saloon car was given a newly designed rear spoiler, which they also made standard on the estate model.
In terms of colours Volvo dropped Cream Yellow and replaced it with Turquoise, White, Brilliant Red and Gun Metal Grey. Black and Dark Olive Pearl (in some markets) was also still on option for those that wanted it.
The 850R also received new 17 x 7-inch Volan wheels that were significantly stronger than the old Titan ones fitted to the T-5R.
Overall, the 850R’s equipment was the same as the T-5R but with a few differences:
- New rear spoiler that was standard on the estate and saloon
- 6-CD changer standard
- Passenger airbag was an option (standard in some markets)
- Volan 17-inch wheels
- Leather gear knob
- 16-inch wheels no longer available.
Volvo ended the 850R’s production in 1997 and replaced the 850 series with the S70 and V70 models.
Volvo T-5, T-5R and 850R Specifications
|Year of production
|1993 (launch) – 1996
|1994 – 1995
|1996 – 1997
|Front-engine, Front-wheel drive
|Front-engine, Front-wheel drive
|Front-engine, Front-wheel drive
|207 hp @ 5,000 rpm / 222 hp @ 5,200 rpm
|207 hp @ 5,400 rpm / 240 hp @ 5,600 rpm
|207 hp @ 5,400 rpm / 240 hp @ 5,400 rpm / 250 hp @ 5,400 rpm
|300 Nm (221 lb-ft) at 2200 rpm / 340 Nm (251 lb-ft) at 2000 rpm
|300 Nm (221 lb-ft) at 1900 / 300 Nm (221 lb-ft) at 2000
|300 Nm (221 lb-ft) at 1900 / 330 Nm (243 lb-ft) at 3000 / 350 Nm (258 lb-ft) at 2400
|· 5-speed M56 Manual
· 4-speed Auto
|· 5-speed M56 Manual
· 4-speed Auto
|· 5-speed M56/M59 Manual
· 4-speed Auto
|1,420 kg (3,131 lb)
|1,468 kg (3,236 lb)
|1,468 kg (3,236 lb)
|0 – 100 km/h (62 mph)
|7.3 – 7.7 seconds
|6.9 – 7.7 seconds
|6.7 – 7.7 seconds
|249 km/h (155 mph)
|249 km/h (155 mph)
|249 km/h (155 mph)
Volvo T-5, T-5R and 850R Buyer’s Guide
With the history and specifications of Volvo’s 850 performance series of cars out of the way, let’s look at what you need to know when buying one.
It is always best to go and inspect any car you are thinking of buying in person or get a reliable third party to do so for you. We also recommend that you take a second person with you as they may spot something you missed.
Another tip is to organise a viewing of the car in the morning when the engine is cold, and the ambient temperature is slightly lower. Warm engines can cover up a number of significant issues with the car that could lead to some serious expense down the track.
You should also avoid inspecting an 850 in the rain or when the vehicle is wet. The reason for this is because water can hide issues with the paint/bodywork. If you do happen to inspect a vehicle when it is wet, try to go back for a second inspection.
What’s a Good Price for a 850 T-5, T-5R or R
This is one of those “how long is a piece of string” questions. Prices can vary widely depending on where you live in the world and the condition of the vehicle, so in this article we are not going to answer that question.
What we do recommend however, is that you go on google or check auction sites in your area/country and search for Volvo 850s for sale. You can then compare the prices of different 850s and get a general idea of what you need to pay for a given mileage/condition. Remember, if a deal seems too good to be true it probably is.
Volvo 850 T-5, T-5R and R Inspection Guide
In the section below we will cover all the things you need to know and watch out for when inspecting one of Volvo’s performance 850s. While the 850 range of cars are surprisingly reliable a poorly maintained one will be trouble. They can also be expensive to fix, so make sure you have the funds to properly maintained a T-5, T-5R or 850R.
Inspecting the Vin
Checking the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) is always an important thing to do. The VIN can tell you quite a bit of information about the Volvo 850 you are inspecting and its history. Enter the VIN through a website such as Carfax, CarJam (NZ) or do an HPI check I you live in the UK.
You can find the VIN, body and engine codes in the following places:
- The Product plate / VIN plate
B. The body code plate
C. The VIN (punched into the body)
D. Plate with VIN riveted onto the top of the dashboard (USA and Canada only)
We also recommend that you check out this page on The Volvo Owners’ Club for more information on the VIN plate.
Engine & Exhaust
To start your inspection of an 850’s engine, open the bonnet/hood and take a good overall look at the engine bay – are there any obvious problems such as leaks or broken components? Does it look clean and well maintained? Are there any modifications?
After you have taken a good general look at the engine bay, move onto checking the fluid levels. We always recommend that you check the fluid levels both before and after a test drive to make sure they are at the correct level.
Fluid levels that are incorrect (both too little and too high) are a major issue and can cause premature engine/part wear or even total failure. If fluid levels are not at the correct height it also indicates that the owner has not cared for the vehicle properly and you should proceed with caution.
When Does the Oil/Oil Filter Need Changing on an T-5/T-5R/850R
It is incredibly important to change the oil and oil filter at or before the recommended service intervals. The reason for this is because old oil that sits at the bottom of an 850’s crankcase will breakdown overtime and become diluted in the presence of contaminates. Below you can find out when to change the oil/oil filter:
Engine oil – Depending on who you ask you will get a range of different answers on when to change the oil. Generally it is recommended that you change the engine oil every 5,000 km (3,000 miles) when using non-synthetic oils (dino) and every 8,000 km (5,000 miles) when using synthetic. If you don’t drive the car much the engine oil should be replaced every 6 – 12 months.
If you are wondering what oil to use, we usually recommend that you find out what oil the current owner uses and continue to use that. Common oil choices for performance versions of the Volvo 850 include 5W-30, 10W-30, 5W-40 and 10W-40 from the likes of Royal Purple or Castrol. Heavier weight oils are generally recommended for hotter climates, while thinner oils tend to be better in colder environments.
Oil filter – It is recommended that you change the oil filter with every second oil change. You may come across an owner who does it with every oil change (they are cheap so why not), which is a sign of a good owner. You should also use an OEM Mann filter in a Volvo 850 T-5, T-5R or R.
Creamy Substance on the Dipstick
Don’t be alarmed if you see a creamy substance on the end of the dipstick when you check the oil. This is a common problem on these cars as the engine in them usually traps a bit of condensation inside. It is easy to confuse this problem with a head gasket failure (more on that later) and is more common on 850s that have been used for short journeys.
Are Oil Leaks Common on the Volvo 850?
While you are inspecting the vehicle make sure you keep an eye out for any leaks. The rear main oil seal is a weakness of these cars due to the PCV system, so get under the vehicle and check for oil residue between the engine and gearbox. If there is a leak here than the gearbox needs to come out which is around a 6-hour job. For those wanting to fix this problem you may as well replace the clutch as well as the gearbox will need to come out for that job as well.
Another common place for oil to leak from is the oil return line from the turbo that goes into the back of the engine. A leak at the back of the engine indicates this problem. It is not a major problem to fix, but it is always worth bringing it up during price negotiations.
Do Volvo 850s Burn a lot of Oil?
These cars aren’t really known for burning a lot of oil. If the car is burning more than one litre of oil ever 1,600 km (1,000 miles) there may be a problem with it. Ask the owner how much oil the vehicle uses and if it seems like too much find out what oil they put in the car. Oil burning/consumption problems can usually be fixed by switching to a thicker oil, however, they may also be an indicator of a more serious issue.
PCV (Positive Crankcase Ventilation) Problems
If the PCV system on these cars becomes blocked it can lead to an increase in crankcase pressure, which can be seen when the engine is running. To check for this, remove the dipstick and if you see smoke puffing out then the system will need to be replaced. Alternatively, hold a rubber glove over the oil filler and see if it inflates (if it does the PCV system is on its way out). If the PCV system is not replaced it can lead to a rear main oil seal failure.
Checking the Cooling System on an 850 T-5, T-5R or R
One of the most important things to do during a car inspection is to check the cooling system thoroughly. If the cooling system fails it can lead to total engine failure and a seriously expensive bill. Make sure the system is in good order working order and has been regularly maintained. Here are some of the main components of a Volvo 850’s cooling system:
- Radiator – removes heat from the water/coolant
- Thermostat – sends water/coolant that is hotter than the target temperature to the radiator to be cooled
- Water Pump –belt that is driven from the e-shaft pully. Pushes water/coolant through the engine
- Overflow or Expansion bottle – removes air from the system and provides a filling point
- Coolant Lines – hoses that allow water/coolant to remain contained as it moves through the engine/cooling system
Always check the cooling system both before and after a test drive (with the engine running), and don’t forget to check the coolant height. Expect to see a slight change in the coolant level during a test drive, but if it varies or drops drastically there is an issue.
Volvo radiators do not usually last longer than 15 years. These cars are getting pretty old now, so check to see if the radiator has been replaced at any point. If it hasn’t, it will almost certainly need to be replaced soon.
Failing Heater Matrix
The heater matrix can fail on these cars, which will lead to a loss of coolant and an antifreeze smell in the vehicle. A steamed-up windscreen and a wet carpet behind the centre console is also an indicator of this problem.
What Coolant Does a Volvo 850 Need?
Using the incorrect coolant can lead to some pretty expensive problems, so it is important to use the right stuff. It is always recommended that you use Volvo’s own coolant in an 850 T-5, T-5R or 850R. Some other coolants will work, but we always feel it is safer to stick to the recommended one.
The coolant can also tell you quite a lot of information about the vehicle and how it is been maintained. Coolant that is brown or muddy in colour tends to suggest that the car has not been maintained well and that the coolant has not been replaced regularly. Additionally, if you see any oily bubbles in the coolant you should pass on the car.
When Does the Timing/Cambelt Need to Be Changed on a Volvo 850?
It is always important to change the timing belt at or before the recommended service interval. A snapped timing belt can cause significant damage to the engine of an 850, so make sure it has been changed!
The timing belt should be changed every 110,000 km (70,000 miles) or every 5 years. Some owners will change the belt much earlier at every 80,000 km (50,000 miles), which is a good thing. If the timing belt has not been changed in a long time it is a sign of poor maintenance. Additionally, if the belt needs to be replaced soon and you are interested in the vehicle, try to get a discount or get the owner to change it for you (at their expense).
Proceed with caution if the owner has replaced the belt themselves. While there are plenty of competent home mechanics out there and the timing belt isn’t too difficult to change on these cars, there are stills lots of people who have no idea what they are doing. If the owner has replaced the belt themselves try to get an idea of how competent they are (ask them about the process, their experience, etc.).
If you are a novice mechanic, we suggest that you get the timing belt changed by somebody with more experience. There are quite a lot of steps involved and if you get it wrong it can cause some serious damage to your Volvo 850’s engine.
Inspecting the Timing Belt and Water Pump
If possible, try to inspect the timing belt (always ask the owner/seller first). The timing belt cover is held on by a 12 mm bolt, so it is easy to remove. If the timing belt looks cracked or damaged avoid driving the car.
While you are checking the timing belt take a look at the water pump. It is located at the bottom towards the rear. If you see coolant around that area the pump is leaking and will need to be replaced. Do not overtighten the bolt when you put the timing belt cover back on.
What Else Needs Changing with the Timing Belt?
While the following doesn’t necessarily have to be changed with the timing belt, it is good practice:
- Timing belt tensioner pulley
- Water pump
- Timing belt idler pulley
- Spark plugs
- Engine oil
- Filters (air, oil, etc.)
Check the service history and with the owner to see if these parts have been replaced.
Inspecting the Spark Plugs & Ignition System
If you can, try to get a look at the spark plugs and spark plug wires to see if they are in adequate condition. The appearance of an 850’s spark plugs can tell you quite a lot of information about the history and condition of the car. We recommend that you check out this spark plug analysis guide.
What are the best spark plugs for a Volvo 850 T-5, T-5R or 850R?
It is recommended that you use Volvo OEM spark plugs such as these ones. Aftermarket options from the likes of Bosch and NGK will work, but genuine Volvo spark plugs are definitely the most recommended by 850 owners.
Always check the service history and with the owner to see when the spark plugs were last replaced. If the plugs have not been replaced in a long time it tends to suggest that the owner hasn’t maintained the vehicle properly.
What About the Exhaust on a Volvo 850?
Exhaust problems can be expensive to fix, so get under the car and use your phone or a flashlight to thoroughly inspect each section of the exhaust. We have listed some things to watch out for below:
- Black sooty stains – Indicates a leak which may require expensive repairs
- Corrosion – This really shouldn’t be a problem on 850s and the only part that does tend to rust is the rear hangers near the back bumper. If you do happen to find lots of corrosion move onto another car.
- Cracks or accident damage – Watch out for this as it is a sign of a careless owner/driver.
- Dodgy repairs – Watch out for any bad repairs as this can be a nightmare to put right and is a sign of a poorly maintained car.
There are aftermarket exhausts available for these cars from the likes of Volvomotorsports, Eurosport, IPD and more. Some owners even get custom made exhaust systems as they tend to be a bit cheaper. There is nothing wrong with an aftermarket exhaust, just make sure it is a good quality one. Additionally, aftermarket exhausts can hurt the originality of the car and may be expensive to replace.
Smoke or Vapour from a Volvo 850
It is always important to check for smoke/vapour both during start-up and during a test drive. You should expect to see a small amount of vapour during start-up, especially if the ambient temperature outside is low. Vapour is usually caused by condensation in the exhaust system and should disappear once the vehicle heats up.
If you notice lots of smoke or vapour, we suggest that you pass on the vehicle. Below we have listed some information on what the different colours of smoke mean:
White smoke – Is typically caused by water that has made its way into the cylinders and indicates a blown head gasket. If the smoke smells sweet, it is probably coolant. Alternatively, white smoke can also be produced when the turbo is blown.
Blue smoke – Can be caused by wear to the pistons, piston rings, and/or worn valve seals. To check for blue smoke, ask a friend to follow you while drive the vehicle and take it through the rev range. Alternatively, get the owner to drive the car for a bit and watch out the back. Blue smoke on start-up and overrun is a sign that the car has been thrashed. Blue smoke could also be a sign that the turbo oil seals are gone (quite expensive to fix).
Black smoke – Usually occurs when the engine is running too rich (burning too much fuel). The first things you should check is the air-filter and other intake components.
If the temperature is warm you shouldn’t really be able to see any exhaust gases coming out the back of the vehicle.
Overheating or a Blown Head Gasket on a Volvo 850
Overheating is a major problem and you should be cautious of any 850 that has or is suffering from the problem. We would personally avoid any Volvo T-5, T-5R or 850R that has a history of overheating issues. Watch out for the following during an inspection:
- Coolant leaking externally from below the exhaust manifold
- White smoke from the exhaust pipe (especially if you see lots of it)
- Bubbles in the radiator or coolant overflow tank
- An engine that overheats
- Oil that is white and milky
- Fouled spark plugs
- Low cooling system integrity
- Engine oil that smells of coolant
- Sweet exhaust smell
When you are test driving a Volvo 850 the temperature gauge should be directly in the middle of the gauge. If it is low, then there may be a problem with the thermostat. If it is high, it is a sign that the car may be having trouble cooling the engine.
Start Up & Idle Speed on a Volvo 850
You should always get the owner to start the vehicle for you for the first time. There are two main reasons for this:
- So you can see if any smoke or vapour comes out of the exhaust
- If the owner/seller revs the vehicle hard you know to move onto another Volvo 850
If the 850 you are inspecting struggles to start or won’t start at all it may have a number of issues from something simple like a bad battery, to much more serious problems.
What Is the Correct Idle Speed for a T-5, T-5R or 850R?
Expect the idle speed to be around 850 – 1000 rpm. Don’t worry too much if it is higher than this for the first 10 – 20 seconds of start-up. Remember to check the idle speed when the air conditioning and all the electronics are on. When you turn everything on expect the idle speed to increase, but make sure the car doesn’t stall or chug.
High idle speed can be caused by a lot of things from a dirty throttle body/idle air valve to induction air leaks and more.
Misfires, Squeals & Other Noises
Always listen out for any misfiring or chugging, especially when the vehicle is not warmed up properly. These problems can be caused by anything from worn injectors to low compression. Squealing sounds can be a sign of a worn belt in any one of the pumps, in the alternator or they may even be caused by the timing belt.
It is not uncommon for the valves to click if the car has not been driven in a long time. The valves on Volvo 850s are self-adjusting so the sound should disappear when the car warms up. Do not rev the engine over 3,000 rpm if the valves are clicking.
Turbo Problems on Volvo 850s
The turbocharger on a T-5, T-5R or 850R will wear overtime and will eventually need to be replaced. To get the most out of a turbo, quality lubricants need to be used and the car needs to be serviced regularly.
Turbos on these cars should last a long time, but we recommend that you check the service history and with the owner to see if the turbocharger on the 850 you are inspecting has ever been replaced.
What are the Signs of a Failing Turbocharger
Keep an ear out for any strange rumbling, whistling or high-pitched metallic sounds when the turbocharger is at full boost. If you do hear any such sounds, the turbo is on its last legs. However, it will probably fail before you notice these sounds. Below we have listed some other signs of a failing turbo:
- Distinctive blue/grey smoke – This happens when the turbocharger housing cracks or if the internal seals become worn. The smoke will become more apparent when the turbocharger is in use, so get somebody to follow you and check while you are test driving a Volvo 850
- Burning lots of oil – Its hard to get an accurate picture of this during a test drive, but try to glean some information from the owner.
- Slow acceleration – If the car feels slow it is a good indication that the turbo has failed or is failing. This is why it is important to drive a few different versions of the 850 you want to purchase.
- If the boost pressure comes on late – Boost pressure that comes at higher than normal rpms could indicate either a worn or unbalanced turbocharger.
- Check Engine Warning Light – The check engine light (CEL) can be displayed for a number of reasons, from major to minor. One of these reasons may be due to a failing/failed turbocharger. If the light is on and you notice some of the other symptoms we have listed above, then it is a good sign that the turbo has failed.
Note: Some of the issues above can be caused by the turbo vacuum lines. The vacuum lines often become cracked and broken overtime, leading to poor boost.
Should I Get a Compression Test Done on a Volvo 850?
It is always a good idea to get a compression test done on a vehicle you want to purchase, however, it is not completely necessary. A compression test can tell you quite a bit of information about the condition and history of a car’s engine, but it won’t necessarily tell you what a problem is.
If you want to get a compression test done, we recommend that you take the vehicle to a competent mechanic or Volvo specialist. While, they are fairly simple to do the owner may not be keen for you to do it.
Compression readings across all five cylinders should sit around 150 – 180 psi when cold. The most important thing with a compression test is to make sure that the results are all within about 5 to 10 % of each other and that the results are not too low.
Using an OBDII Scanner
An OBDII scanner can help diagnose some of the problems with a Volvo 850 and we recommend that you take one along to an inspection. Check this guide for more information on OBDII scanners.
Purchasing a T-5, T-5R or 850R with a Rebuilt Engine
During your search you may come across a Volvo 850 with a rebuilt engine. While a rebuilt engine is perfectly fine, you do need to be extra vigilant when inspecting cars with them. The reason for this is that many owners get a cheap rebuild done just to sell the vehicle or may even lie and say the engine is rebuilt when in fact it is not.
If you are looking at a Volvo 850 with a rebuilt engine, make sure you check the service history thoroughly. Find out who did the work and confirm that the rebuild was done by a trusted Volvo specialist.
Additionally, it is usually better to buy a Volvo with a rebuilt engine that has done a few more miles. Freshly rebuilt motors are an unknown whereas one with 10,000 km on it is probably a safer bet.
You shouldn’t find too many issues here but during a test drive shift through all the gears at both low and high engine speeds. Keep an ear out for any weird noises such as whining or grinding and make sure that the shifts are smooth. Watch out for any synchro wear on manual cars, there shouldn’t be any (if there is it can be a sign of a thrashed car). If the gearbox jumps out of gear under hard acceleration there is a problem.
Transmission fluid should be changed every 32,000 km (20,000 miles) or every 3 years, so make sure it has been done. Remember to check the fluid level and colour for auto cars. The transmission fluid should be red and clear in colour and should not smell burnt. If the fluid is a different colour or smells burnt walk away from the car as an expensive problem is looming on the horizon.
Testing the Clutch on Manual 850s
Replacing the clutch can be an expensive job, so make sure it is in good condition and watch out for the following:
Clutch Engagement – The first thing to check is the engagement. To do this put the 850 you are inspecting into gear on a level surface and let the clutch out slowly. It should engage around 7 to 10 cm (2.5 to 4 inches) from the floor. Engagement that is early or too late indicates a problem.
Clutch Slippage – The way to check for this is to shift into a gear that is too high for the speed you are going. Once you have done this, plant your foot on the throttle and watch the revs. If the engine speed goes up but the car doesn’t accelerate the clutch is slipping. Here are some things that can cause slippage
- Worn clutch
- Clutch covered in oil
- Clutch cable is too tight and is not releasing properly
Clutch Drag – Get the car on a flat surface and press the clutch pedal to the floor (do this while you are stationary). Rev the car hard (once it is warm) and see If it moves. If the car does move, the clutch is not disengaging when you shift and parts will wear prematurely.
Juddering or stiffness in the pedal can indicate that the clutch needs to be replaced. The life of a clutch will depend on how it has been treated and how the vehicle has been driven. They can last a long time or wear quickly if the car has seen repeated high rpm shifting.
Bodywork and Exterior
It always pays to inspect the body and an exterior of a car thoroughly. Bodywork issues can be seriously expensive to put right and you may be able to work out if the car has been in an accident by checking the body.
Rust really isn’t an issue on these cars, but you should still check for it. This is especially so for 850s that have lived in countries that salt their roads (UK for example), lived close to the sea or those that have spent most of their life outside in the elements. Here are some areas to watch out for:
- Rear bumper mounts – check that the bumper sits level
- Rear exhaust hangers – common issue but easy to fix
- Front offside wing – leaking washer bottle can cause corrosion
- Wheel arches and inside the wheel wells
- Door sills and around the bottom of the doors
- In the engine bay & under the car
- Around the windows/windscreen
- Around the boot/bootlid (lift up the carpets in the boot)
Rust is an indicator of poor maintenance. Good owners will regularly check their cars for problems such as corrosion, so be mindful of this.
While you are unlikely to come across a T-5, T-5R or 850R with significant rust issues, it is still important to check for past rust problems. Inspect the body thoroughly for any areas that may have been repaired (inconsistencies in the paint, etc.). Check the service history and ask the owner as well, but remember that they may not be 100% honest.
Use a magnet on steel sections of the car or a coating gauge thickness tool such as this one to find any areas that may have been repaired.
Accident Damage on a Volvo 850
Crash damage and other accident damage is a major issue as body panels can be expensive to replace. Remember to ask the owner/seller about any past accident damage, but don’t take their word for it. Watch out for the following:
- Misaligned panels or large panel gaps – Check that the bonnet lines up correctly and fits as it should. Inspect the doors, tailgate and the lights for any damage or signs of past damage. If the panels are uneven it could suggest an accident has occurred.
- Doors that drop or don’t close properly – If the doors drop or don’t open/close properly the Volvo 850 you are looking at may have been in an accident or may have some sort of other problem.
- Inconsistencies such as waving, rippling or different coloured panels – This is a good indication of crash damage or rust repair.
- If the bonnet/hood looks like it is popped when it is not – This is usually a sign that the vehicle has been in an accident and that the owner is careless. This problem can be fixed but is a pain to get right.
- Bent or broken parts underneath the car – Check to see if everything is straight underneath the vehicle and watch out for any replaced parts. Take a good look at all the suspension, steering and exhaust components for damage.
- Rust in strange locations – indicates that the 850 you are looking at has been in an accident or has some other problem.
- Paint runs or overspray – This could be a factory issue or a sign of a poor repair.
- Missing badges or trim – can be due to repair work (body shop couldn’t find replacements) or a number of other things (stolen, etc.)
Suspension and Steering
Remember to inspect as many of the suspension and steering components as possible, as they can be expensive to repair or replace. If they look worn, damaged and/or corroded they will need to be replaced at some point. Here are some things to watch out for:
- Dipping and swerving when the brakes are applied
- Excessive Rear-end squat during acceleration
- Tipping during turns
- High speed instability
- Excessive vibration coming through the steering wheel (could indicate alignment issues or failed ball joints)
- Delayed or longer stopping distances
- Uneven tyre wear
- Excessive tyre bounce after hitting a bump
- Leaking fluid on the exterior of the shock/strut
- Knocking or creaking sounds during a test drive (don’t forget to drive in a tight figure 8)
Inspect the steering rack’s rubber gaiters for splits or tears and make sure there are no problems with the power steering as the pump can often fail. If the power steering pump has failed you will only be able to buy a reconditioned unit.
Sagging Suspension on Estate Models
The rear self-levelling suspension fitted to some Estate models can sag, so watch out for this when inspecting one.
During a test drive remember to check that the vehicle drives straight without you having to correct the wheel. If you do have to correct the steering wheel it indicates that the wheel alignment is out. Alternatively, it may be a sign of other
All 850 T-5 and T-5R models came with 280 mm front discs as standard, while later 850Rs came with 302 mm front rotors. The larger rotors are a desirable upgrade for earlier 850s, however, the upgrade requires larger carriers and longer hoses.
The brakes on these performance Volvo 850s should be more than powerful enough for road use, so if they feel spongy or underpowered there is a problem. During an inspection look at the brakes and check for the following:
- Pad life (use a little mirror or you may be able to use your phone)
- Pitted, scored or grooved discs
- Any leaks in the brake lines (get a helper to press on the brake pedal while you inspect the lines)
Replacing the discs and calipers can be expensive, so inspect them thoroughly. If there is a problem with the brakes and you still want to purchase the car, try to get a discount on the vehicle. Alternatively, get the 850’s owner to replace the parts for you.
During a Test Drive
While you are test driving a Volvo 850 make sure you use the brakes under both light and hard braking conditions. If you notice that the Volvo you are driving pulls to one side it may have a sticking/seized caliper. A seized caliper usually occurs when a vehicle has been sitting unused for a long period of time. If the caliper has seized, you may hear a load thud when you pull away for the first time.
You should also watch out for and juddering/shaking through the steering wheel when the brakes are applied. This is usually a sign of warped discs/rotors and often becomes first apparent under high speed braking.
Loud bangs, knocks or other strange noises when the brakes are used should be investigated closely as they may signal some expensive bills on the horizon. Weak feeling brakes or brakes that struggle to stop the car signal an issue.
As we wrote above the main upgrade to watch out for is swapping the brakes from an 850R onto T-5 or T-5R models. For those wanting some serious improvement to their braking performance they should opt for Volvo’s 320 mm setup or AP Racing’s 325 mm kit. An upgrade to Greenstuff performance brake pads is also an easy and relatively cheap way to gain a bit of performance.
Wheels & Tyres
Take a look at the wheels – are they curbed or scuffed? Are they original or modified? Are they all the same? Curbed or damaged wheels are a sign of a careless owner and if the rims are not stock ask the owner if they have the originals. Remember to check the tyres for the following:
- Amount of tread
- Uneven wear (Can be a sign of alignment or suspension issues)
- Brand (they should be from a good or well-reviewed brand)
When you are inspecting the interior keep an eye out for any rips, stains or tears on the seats, carpet and other trim pieces. Replacing the interior components and fixing the seats can be surprisingly expensive, so make sure they are in good condition.
There was a factory recall on the heated seats effecting 1996 models. Ask the owner if the seats were replaced and double check with the service history/paperwork. The seats should have been replaced, so if they haven’t you can use this as a bargaining point. We also recommend giving your local Volvo service centre a ring to see if they can replace them as per the recall (if you do decide to purchase the vehicle).
Another thing to watch out for is if the seats slide on the runners correctly and do not move during braking or acceleration. It is incredibly dangerous if they do move and will almost certainly lead to a MOT/WOF failure.
Remember to take a good whiff of the interior, does it smell like a smoker has owned it? You can also tell if a smoker has owned the vehicle by looking at the headliner above the driver’s seat. If there is a stain or it is a slightly different colour than the rest of the headliner it may be a sign of a smoker.
You should also inspect the steering wheel, gear shifter, pedals, carpet and mats for wear as they can indicate how far the Volvo you are inspecting has travelled. If there is excessive wear for the mileage, it could be a sign that the vehicle’s odometer has been wound back (or the car may have just had a very hard life).
Electronics & Air Conditioning
It is very important to check that the air conditioning is working as intended. If it is not it may just need a simple re-gas. However, there are lots of expensive reasons why the air conditioning may not be working as well.
Check that the air conditioning compressor cuts in and stays working. If the compressor short cycles the gas is low. It could be a condenser issue which isn’t too expensive to fix, however, it may also be a clapped-out evaporator (a dashboard out job).
Other Things to Watch out For
Make sure that all the other electronics work as intended. Play with all the other buttons, switches and dials. If something doesn’t work investigate further.
Remember to check that all the warning lights are on when the ignition is first turned on. If the warning lights do not appear during engine start-up then they may have been disconnected to hide an issue. Also check that the ABS/TRACS lights come on when you are driving.
Aftermarket components need to be inspected closely to make sure they work and are installed correctly. Poor workmanship here can be a sign of a careless owner.
Don’t forget to check that the headlights, rear lights, indicators, etc. work as intended. You will need to get out of the car when you are doing this or get somebody to help you.
We have already talked about a few modifications for the 850 T5, T-5R, or R models, but here is a quick list of some of the ones you may come across:
- Remapped ECU (IPD, BSR, etc.)
- Silicone intercooler hoses (FCPGroton)
- Upgraded brakes (302/320 mm Volvo or Ap Racing 325 mm)
- Aftermarket wheels
- Bilstein Touring or HD’s or Koni struts/suspension
General Car Buying Advice for a Volvo 850 T-5, T-5R or R
How to Get a Great Deal on an 850
This information applies to both dealers and private sealers. Knowledge is power and it can save you a lot of money when purchasing a vehicle.
- Research, research, research – Prior to starting your hunt for a Volvo 850, figure out what specs and condition you are happy with. Is a highly modified 850 okay or are you looking for something completely original? Do you want a low mileage example or are you happy with a car that has travelled far?
- Shop around – It is always best to shop around a bit before you make a purchase. Don’t limit yourself to one dealer or platform (or even location). If you open up to more shopping options, it will make it easier to find a good Volvo 850.
- Test drive multiple cars – Don’t just take one 850 out for a test drive and then buy it. Drive as many Volvos as you can get your hands on. This will give you a good idea of what makes a good and what makes a bad Volvo 850.
- Adjust your attitude – Never rush into a purchase. If you are desperate to buy a car you are more likely to get ripped off. Take your time looking through all the different T-5s, T-5Rs and 850Rs available and then go check out the promising looking ones
- Use any issues with the car to your advantage – Take a mental note of any issues you find with the vehicle. When it comes to discussing the price, use these problems to try and drive down the price. For example, if the car needs new tyres or brake pads make a point of it and try to get the seller to reduce the price.
- Don’t trust the owner – While some owners/sellers are honest about their cars, many will lie to get a quick sale. Take in what the owner has to say but back it up with a thorough inspection.
- Go between sellers/dealers – If you are looking at multiple 850s, let the owner/seller know. This way they will know that you have other options and they may try to undercut the price.
- Be prepared to walk away – If you are not happy with the deal, simply walk away. You may miss out on the car or the seller may get back to you with a better offer.
Mileage vs Condition
Mileage vs condition is always a hot topic for debate, but we feel that it is always better to buy on condition and then on mileage. There are lots of low mileage, poor condition 850s out there, so don’t discount one with a few more miles.
Lots of owners make the mistake of believing that they are preserving their car by not driving it. In reality, this is completely false and not driving a vehicle can actually do more damage than good. Short distance trips are not kind to the engine in a Volvo 850 as it does not have time to warm up properly and get lubricated.
Rubber seals and plastic parts will fail regardless of mileage and can even deteriorate quicker on cars that don’t get used often. Letting a car sit will not prevent rust or stop the electronics from failing.
Mileage will never decrease with age, so go out and drive your car!
Service History and Other Documentation
It is incredibly important to check any vehicle’s service history and any additional paperwork that goes along with it. The service history will give you a good idea of how the 850 you are inspecting has been maintained. In addition to this, receipts and paperwork for modifications can help you determine whether they have been done by an experienced tuner or a bad one.
If the owner can’t or won’t let you see the service history, you should probably pass on the vehicle. A complete service history will only add value to any Volvo 850 T-5, T-5R or R and will make it easier to sell the car in the future.
Additionally, you can check websites such as CarFax (USA) and CarJam (NZ) for more information about the car you are thinking of purchasing. These sort of websites can be incredibly useful, but there is usually a cost associated with them.
Questions That You Should Ask the Seller/Owner
- How often do you drive the car?
- When was the last service and who was it serviced by?
- How much oil does it use?
- What oil do you use in the car?
- What parts have been replaced (engine, catalytic converter, etc.)?
- When were the coils, spark plugs, leads changed?
- What’s the compression like?
- What modifications have been made to the vehicle?
- Has the vehicle overheated at any point?
- Has the car been in any major or minor accidents? Is so, what repairs were made?
- Is there any money owing on the car?
- Have you got any information on the previous owners and how they treated the vehicle?
- Is there any rust?
- Has rust been removed at any point?
- Has the car been used for track use at any point?
- When were the brake pads replaced and have the calipers seized at any point in time?
- Where do you store/park the car usually?
There are loads more questions you can ask the seller, but we feel these are some of the most important.
Things That Would Make Us Walk Away from an 850
Here are some things that would make as walk away from a Volvo 850. While you may be happy with a vehicle with these problems, we are not.
- Overheating problems
- Significant Crash Damage
- Money owing on the car
- Modifications with no paperwork or carried out by a poorly reviewed tuner
- Excessive amounts of power
- Bad compression
- Bad resprays
- Significant rust problems
- Engine swaps with non-standard engines
- Significant track use
- Major engine or transmission issues
- Owner who is not forthcoming with information (could be trying to hide something)
Notes on the Owner
The owner is one of the most important things to think about when viewing any vehicle. You need to ask them plenty of questions when inspecting their Volvo (however, don’t trust their answers completely). Remember, it is your problem if you wind up buying an absolute lemon. Here are some things to watch out for.
- How long have they owned the vehicle? If it is less than 6 months it tends to suggest that the car needs major work done to it that they can’t afford. It also could be a sign that they deal cars as well.
- Do they thrash the car when it is cold or continually launch the vehicle? If so, you are better to walk away.
- Why are they selling the vehicle? Could be a genuine reason or they may be trying to offload their problem onto an unsuspecting buyer.
- What sort of area do they live in? Is it a good area or a complete dump?
- How do they respond when you ask them simple questions?
- Do they know anything about the Volvo 850 and the model they are selling?
- What can they tell you about previous owners?
- Do they have lots of cars on their drive? If they do it may mean they are a dealer.
- What is their reaction when you ask them about money owing on the car? Tell them you are going to do a check and see how they respond.
- What is their reaction to you asking for details for HPi check?
- How do they react if you ask to do a compression test on the vehicle?
- How do they respond when you ask them to show you the service history and paperwork for the car?
If you get a bad feeling about the owner, you are better off moving onto another Volvo.
Where to Find Volvo 850 T-5s, T-5Rs or Rs for Sale
Websites such as Craigslist, Kijiji, TradeMe, Piston Heads and GumTree are great places to start your hunt for a Volvo 850. You will find a range of 850s for sale at different prices and in different conditions. You can easily compare the price, specs and condition of different 850s and you will be able to select the ones that look the best
Dealers and Importers
Most dealers and importers will have an online presence, so make sure you check out their website for any 850s for sale. Dealers tend to be a bit more expensive than private sellers, but sometimes you can get some extras thrown in or better protection.
Websites such as Reddit, Facebook and even Instagram can be excellent places to find an 850 for sale. Check out some of the many enthusiast groups or subreddits and let other users know you are interested in buying a Volvo 850. Additionally, social media groups are often great places to find spare parts or get advice from other owners.
This sort of ties in with the above, but many owners’ clubs have their own website or they may not even have a website at all. Look to see if there are any Volvo clubs in your area as these are often great places to find cars for sale or ask for advice.
Concluding This Volvo 850 T-5, T-5R and 850R Buyer’s Guide
The performance versions of the Volvo 850 are excellent vehicles and good examples will only increase in value. The information in this buyer’s guide should give you all the information you need to know to make an informed purchase.