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"Limp In Mode" Problem with transmission

Help, Advice and DIY Tutorials on Volvo's extremely popular car line -- Volvo's 1990s "bread and butter" cars -- powered by the ubiquitous and durable Volvo inline 5-cylinder engine.
1992 - 1997 850, 850 R, 850 T5-R, 850 T5, 850 GLT
1997 - 2000 S70, S70 AWD
1997 - 2000 V70, V70 AWD
1997 - 2000 V70-XC
1997 - 2004 C70
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Joined: Wed Jan 19, 2011 7:35 pm
Year and Model: 850 1995
Location: Baltimore

"Limp In Mode" Problem with transmission

Post by cordwainer » Wed Jan 19, 2011 8:27 pm

Hi there I just registered for this forum. I did a search on "850 Transmission" and found that picture laden tutorial where the guy takes out the engine. Scary! :o

Anyway, I am going to give the entire sob story of my 850 Volvo. It is a 1995 Volvo 850 GLT four-door sedan. I bought it in
Nov 2007 for $2400. It had 184K miles on it when purchased (probably a warning sign right there but I ignored it!). I immediately spent another $1400... I always take just purchased cars to a shop. Steering work was done- control arms, ball joints, etc.

In May 2008 it experienced the classic odometer fail at 186,177 miles, where it has been ever since.

In July 09 I had the timing belt replaced at a cost of $1,045, after reading online somewhere that it is imperative to replace the timing belt after a certain number of miles or you risk destroying the engine.

Now here's the main problem: At some point in time, I'm not sure when exactly, it went into "limp-in mode". This was shortly after I bought it I guess. I now suspect that this is why it was sold to me in the first place- it might have always had this problem, ever since I bought it. It's intermittent (or was- I'm never sure about this problem). The flashing red "up" arrow lights up on the dashboard, and shortly thereafter it goes into "limp-in" mode where it stays in the same gear (first?) & acceleration becomes very slow and laborious from a full stop. Usually the limp-in mode goes away as mysteriously as it appears. Sometimes all I have to do is pull over and stop the car, and restart it. But not today!

The problem with this problem is how mysteriously it comes and goes. I've taken it to many places- usually by the time they look at it, the problem is gone. Finally Nov 2009 one place I took it to suggested that I change the transmission fluid. It went away, and I thought for good- until today! It didn't manifest for an entire year- 2010. Today it comes back with a vengeance. The place I took it to in Nov 2009 said then that the entire vehicle might have reached the point of diminishing returns.

At this point, I fear it may need a new transmission. There are so many little things that can go wrong with a Volvo- the odometer (now I understand that this is a classic fail)... the antenna has never worked ever since I bought it. The antenna problem sums up the wacky design philosophy behind this car. Who ever thought of an antenna that ALWAYS goes up when you turn on the radio, and ALWAYS goes down when you turn it off? And then when it breaks, costs hundreds of dollars to fix? Huh? What is with that? Excuse me, but I'm venting. But let's move on. Here's another pet peeve: The controls for the windows AND the external mirrors are RIGHT BELOW THE CUP HOLDERS! The right mirror adjuster, on the passenger side, goes left, right, down, but NOT UP! It had one too many cups of coffee splashed into the switch from the cup holder that is located RIGHT ABOVE THE SWITCH! AARG! :roll:

OK but lets forget all that minor stuff and back to the main issue: The limp in mode thing. Any ideas? Is it time to walk away? Is it fixable? Is it worth sinking any more money into this? I am sure there are many other problems with this vehicle at this point. Every now and then I have to add some pre-mix radiator fluid to the over spill tank, but this is no big deal. The little windshield wiper fluid hoses were gone when I bought the vehicle, but I don't miss them.

Oh well I could rant all night. Thanks for listening! :)
Last edited by cordwainer on Wed Jan 19, 2011 11:51 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: "Limp In Mode" Problem with transmission

Post by Klausc » Wed Jan 19, 2011 8:47 pm

Welcome! You should have come here in 2008 and saved yourself a boat load of money.

First, your car has onboard diagnostic boxes, engine bay and passenger fender. They have an "A" & "B" on them. If you look in the repair database, it will show you how to use them. The A-1 box is for tranny codes and will tell you what the computer thinks is wrong. Driving around with the arrow flashing is not good for the torque converter.

You can also find out how to flush the transmission yourself in less than 1 hour.

Fixing the antenna mast is easy. A new mast is around $20.

You could always manuall push the rearview mirror up and then use the controls to lower it where you want it to be. You could also remove the switch panel from the console and clean it. I agree, especially with the flimsy cup holders that bounce that drop of coke on the rim of the can right on the window switch!

The car has quirks, but they can easily be fixed. Mechanics love them because they charge more for European cars and are easy to fix.

BTW, have you looked at the fluid on the transmission dip stick. Color or level?

If I had a larger garage, I could have more Volvos.

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Re: "Limp In Mode" Problem with transmission

Post by JRL » Wed Jan 19, 2011 9:24 pm

You're also getting ripped off
A T belt costs, installed, about $400-$450 RETAIL

Row your shifter back and forth about 20 times, you have a sticking PNP switch

2000 V70R Black, 144,000 miles Wife's R.
2007 V70 2.5T White/Oak 111,000 MILES. Polestar tune, IPD bars, rear spoiler, dark grey Thors, DWS 06, HU850, sub.

Contact info for purchases: jrl1194 (at) aol (dot) com

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Year and Model: 850 1995
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Re: "Limp In Mode" Problem with transmission

Post by cordwainer » Fri Feb 04, 2011 10:08 pm

Thanks for the help and the quick responses!

I'm not sure what I'm going to do with my 850. It's been snowed in for a week. Instead I'm using my wife's 1998 XC70 wagon, which is great in the snow and is in better shape than the 850.

Much to my surprise, rowing the shifter back and forth 20 times actually worked! :D

This forum has given me hope. I appreciate it! :wink:

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Re: "Limp In Mode" Problem with transmission

Post by Ozark Lee » Sat Feb 05, 2011 6:15 am

Rowing the shifter back and forth is a temporary fix, the problem will return until you replace the PNP switch on the transmission. Cold weather usually exacerbates the problem since the grease inside of the PNP gets very thick as the temperature drops.

Search the database and there are a number of postings on repairing or replacing the switch.

As much as possible, avoid driving the car in that mode as the transmission really hates starting off in third gear.


'94 850 N/A 5 speed
'96 Platinum Edition Turbo
'99 V70XC - Nautic Blue
1999 V70XC - RIP - Wrecked Parts Car.
1998 S70 T5
1996 850 N/A
1989 740 GLT
1986 740 GLT
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Re: "Limp In Mode" Problem with transmission

Post by tjc010 » Mon Feb 07, 2011 11:34 pm

So my 97' 850 T-5 got a nasty jostle after spinning out and hitting a curb. I believe it is now in this limp in mode though in my case i doubt its more than PNP Switch. What would be the best way to go about figuring out what is wrong? One Note: the L Arrow is not flashing on the dash or on at all but my car is stuck in first and will not go past 2k RPM while in drive. The engine also stalls a few seconds after being started. I fear i may have screwed the pooch on this one but any help is appreciated. MVS has helped pull me out of worse.

1997 Volvo 850 T5 Sedan - Totaled
1999 Volvo S80 T6 Sedan - Current

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Re: "Limp In Mode" Problem with transmission

Post by billy » Tue Feb 08, 2011 3:56 am called it right...Didn't they tell you when you bought a Volvo, you just bought yourself a time consuming and expensive's called KEEPING MY Volvo UP. That's why they have a forum like this...everybody gets to play the same game..Now on with the details about your current problems. If your 850 is stuck in 1st gear with high are not in "limp mode". That is high gear all time. The flashing area would normally indicate "limp mode" just like it sounds. In most situations a simply 4 key starts will do a reset on the flashing arrow..but does not "fix" will flash again the next time a fault occurs. As mentioned, good chance PNP switch is culprit. Overall you probably need to find a good, non dealer Volvo repairman, because these are not Maytags. Based on your T-belt expense, and antenna mast experience you haven't found one my opinion you paid way too much money for that..and it's important to have a repair guy...because I promise you more difficulties are headed your's the way the hobby works.Cup holder above window controls: You're right on the engineering faults and weaknesses..who would design electric switches directly underneath known liquid spill area...Fix: place a small dust towel,etc. over the switches, or aftermarket cup holder that fits somewhere else, or quit drinking and driving. Welcome to the forum..expect to hear from you again...One this this the only things wrong with your car..if so I think you are ahead in the game

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