Crossover & Midsize

One 2003 Volvo XC90 Problem Is Too Severe to Ignore

Buying a used SUV always brings the unknown. You aren’t sure if the one you purchase will have major issues with it or not. Volvo’s XC90 is one of the most popular crossover SUVs out there, and it’s been around since 2003.

If getting a new Volvo XC90 is out of your price range, then buying one of the earlier models will certainly save you money. But it may not save you much when you factor in the repair costs you might face. Car Complaints reports one issue that they consider to be the worst problem the 2003 Volvo SUV has.

What exactly is the problem with the Volvo XC90?

One owner shared their experience with the 2003 Volvo XC90 and the odd, ongoing electrical issues they have with the vehicle. They described driving down the road on a long trip when suddenly all the electronics will just stop with no warning. The engine continues to run and the brakes still work, but all the dash lights turn off.

To get everything back up and running again, they have to pull over, shut off the vehicle, wait a few minutes and restart it. It usually fires back up with all the lights on as if nothing happened. The only warning lights that would show up dealt with an airbag problem.

Sometimes, they’ll experience the electrical issues again on the same trip after a few more miles. This owner felt that the problems were heat-related somehow because it would happen with a warm vehicle. Once it cooled down, it would continue with no problems. They took the XC90 to the dealership, but they either couldn’t duplicate the problem, or they didn’t know what was really causing the issue. They updated the computer, which helped for a few months, but the problem came back. The complaint didn’t offer any other solutions.

Why does Car Complaints consider it to be the worst problem for this model?

It may only show one complaint about the electronic issues on that page, but it’s also not the only one reported. 13 more Volvo XC90 owners reported the same problems to the NHTSA. The concern has to do with safety while driving down the road. Losing power in your dash without warning while driving at high speeds could certainly cause an accident, especially if it makes a person panic.

In most cases, the engine and brakes continue to wor, despite the warning codes that the vehicle’s ABS and SRS systems need to be looked at.

Another problem that comes with this is the loss of engine power. Some owners reported to the NHTSA that the engine doesn’t stop, but it does start to lose power. That’s a scary situation to be in as you find yourself vulnerable in traffic. Having it happen with nighttime driving isn’t a walk in the park either. Imagine having your headlights go out in the dark because this electrical problem decides to show up. Getting over to the side of the road to shut the vehicle off and restart it won’t be easy.

Are there any solutions to the electrical issue with the Volvo XC90?

Most owners have by now had the CEM, or central electronic module, replaced, which does fix the problem. The issue, now, is whether it will come back again. In some cases, it just may reappear a few years down the road.

According to a forum user on Volvo forums, one of the reasons the CEMs are at fault is because of a water leak issue that Volvo has a technical service bulletin on. At the base of the windshield is a faulty seal that allows water to get in.

What Volvo doesn’t say is that the water will drip down onto the CEM, which will cause damage to the electronic circuits. That’s why the electrical issues people are facing are so mysterious and happen without warning.

Owners of the earlier models should replace their CEMs if they experience this problem, but they should also make sure the seal is repaired according to the service bulletin to help prevent any more issues with the computer board again.

The 2003- 2005 Volvo XC90 models should be avoided. If you know for sure that it has a newer CEM, then you could consider buying one, but that would be hard to confirm.