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Old 04-02-2010, 07:54   #1
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Volvo Diesels

Hi folks, first post.

My wife and I are in the early stages of researching a new-to-us sailboat as we are moving up from a Flying Scot daysailer. I've read hundreds of threads and have come to the conclusion that since no boat suits us completely, we'll need to compromise our requirements.

We've reviewed several boats that look fine, but which have Volvo diesel engines. Many threads discuss the difficulties of obtaining parts in the US for mid-80's Volvo engines, and one even mentioned missing entire sailing seasons due to the lack of inexpensive back-ordered parts.

While I'm certain this happened, how common is it? Is a Volvo diesel on an otherwise good boat a deal-breaker?
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Old 04-02-2010, 08:05   #2
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I have about 4000 hours on my 1987 Volvo diesel (a 2003T) with no particular issues, although I have heard of some problems like that on the internet. At that age I would think more about the engine condition of any brand, how well it was maintained, and what it would cost to overhaul or replace it. Volvo parts are expensive, but I haven't needed many. There are also used parts available, and some of the Volvo centers are pretty good at hunting down things-if you don't mind the expense. Some items do need to be shipped from Europe, though. My experience is that equivalent parts are almost always available; the price just keeps going up with age. If the engine is rare, it may be a different story. I wouldn't have a problem getting another Volvo, based on my experience, and would consider a newer model Volvo if my current engine blew up-along with the usual alternatives of Yanmar and such.
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Old 04-02-2010, 08:13   #3
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I had a mid 70's Volvo 10 hp in a previous boat. The thing was bomb proof. Had no problems with parts (all it ever needed was impeller). I was extremely happy with it until, at no fault of its own, I decided to rebuild during a refit. The cooling passages were entirely silted up so I stripped it down to clean it out. Big mistake. I could have bought a new motor for what the parts cost to put it back together!
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Old 04-02-2010, 23:04   #4
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We had a mid 80's Volvo MD 17 C, and we were so unhappy with it we replaced it with a Yanmar after 1000 hours. Gearbox probs mainly, but other issues too.Parts were also poisonously expensive. I would be factoring in the cost of an eventual replacement engine.
Regards, Richard.
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Old 05-02-2010, 06:57   #5
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boden36,

Was this an issue of constant small repairs? Would you be able to elaborate a little, please?
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Old 05-02-2010, 07:38   #6
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Jaywalker,
I'd not consider a Volvo engine a deal breaker. I've had Volvo diesels on two boats an MD-2 on Fancy Free and a 2003T on Enchantress, my current boat. I've only had one problem. Before I bought Enchantress a survey found that the turbocharger was frozen. The PO agreed to replace it but it took a long time (about 3 months as I remember) to get a replacement. Since the boat was lieing in Antigua, that may have accounted for some of the delay.
Aside from that both of the engines have run like clocks. Volvos are very well made and should last a long time with reasonable care. The 2003T is also relatively quiet as diesels go. Of course it all depends on how well the engine is maintained. Any engine can be a deal breaker if it's in bad shape and the price of the boat does not reflect that.
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Old 05-02-2010, 14:50   #7
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Jaywalker, The MD 17 C had some problems. The water pump could fill the engine with seawater if the rear seal went, the valve springs could rust and break due to poor top end ventilation, and it was very sensitive to air in the system because there was no fuel return.
We could have lived with the above, but the gearbox was the same as on the twin cylinder model, and was not up to the task. First the friction surfaces on the female cones disintegrated, then the circlip on the helical shaft popped off, rendering the gearbox useless. Volvo shrugged the problem off, and could not guarantee that it would not happen again. They tried to say our prop was too big but that was hardly likely as the engine could deliver full revs.
Unfortunately the design does not lend itself to an alternate box so we sold the engine and replaced it with a Yanmar, which has been excellent.
At the time, Volvo problems were widespread, leading to the nickname "Green Death".
Maybe their newer models are better.
Regards, Richard.
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Old 05-02-2010, 14:58   #8
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I once saw a bumper sticker which said " Any parts found falling of my Volvo are of the finest Swedish Craftsmanship"
I've seen many people spending huge amounts of time and money trying to keep their Volvos running , only to scarp them after spending far more than it would take to replace them.
While permanent Marina tenents may be happy with Volvos which see little use and none far beyond a repair facility, happy owners are the rare exception amoung long distance cruisers.
As few want one and those who have one always need parts , you will get far more for a volvo sold as parts than you would get for the whole engine.
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Old 05-02-2010, 15:22   #9
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I've read the expensive parts warnings throughout this forum, but a used Volvo Penta D7 just became available locally. I priced parts online and they seem to actually be much cheaper than the parts for my Westerbeke 10 Two.

I wouldn't let a Volvo be a dealbreaker - especially if it runs well.
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Old 06-02-2010, 06:33   #10
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You should also know that several Volvo-Penta models are re-branded / painted green Perkins. For example, the MD2030Cs on my boat.

Sometimes that can help with parts / prices once you know which model is equivalent.
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Old 06-02-2010, 07:20   #11
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Whilst some of the parts can be expensive surely this is no different to buying spares from a main car dealer. Shop around and you will always find an equivalent oil filter or fan belt from an auto factors that is suitable.

Our 2003 is now 20 years old with 1800 hours. We had the head off last winter because the head gasket was just starting to leak so preventative maintenance now hopefully means at least another five years. Due to its age it doesn't have the heater plugs modern diesels come with so can take a little time to start when temperatures down to freezing but it has never not started. Some of the range like the 2001 to 2003T were designed as boat engines, some are marinised from other makes but there are hundreds of thousands of boats with the little green engines because volvo supply engines to boat builders but don't charge until the boat is sold which is a big cash flow incentive to builders to fit them.

Sailing in Europe, spares are available everywhere even if it is mail order or a readily available second hand market. A volvo would be a plus over some other less well known makes.

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Old 06-02-2010, 07:25   #12
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I have heard similar rebranding stories about Westerbeke. Apparently they also do, or did, rebrand Perkins for some models.

Anyone know of a list that shows what is really what?

BTW, I have a Volvo MD-7a, old salt water cooled 13-hp. Runs like it was new. The only issues I have had were due to the idiot operating the screw driver. Not always me, just too frequently.

I sail in Newfoundland so NOTHING is easy to get. So I carry a fair amount of spare parts at all times. Generally I never buy 1 of anything.

You don't need one of something, if you need it, you need a spare.
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Old 06-02-2010, 10:24   #13
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We had a Volvo MD2b in our Westsail. It as a strage egine setup with a Dynamotor, combination starter/generator, with a separate alternator. When we were in the Marquesas, the Dynamotor mounting bolts broke allowing it to fall off. We just undid the belt and hand crank started it from there on till we sold the boat 10 years later. To get at the broken bolts required pulling the engine. It was so easy to hand start, we never felt the need to reattach the Dynamotor.
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Old 06-02-2010, 11:49   #14
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Sorry about the above post. It escaped before I finished. I hand cranked that engine for 10 years before I sold the boat. The new owner did another 1 1/2 circumnavigations of Polynesia over another 10 years before he replaced the Volvo with a Pathfinder. Believe he changed the engine because he wanted more power, the Pathfinder was double the hp of the Volvo, than a real problem with the Volvo.

The MD series of Volvo engines were designed as raw water cooled marine engines. They could be almost totally rebuilt in place, in the boat. They had separate cylinders and heads so a failure in one cylinder didn't require throwing away the whole block and/or head. All parts that came in contact with salt water were replaceable. The only thing you couldn't do in the boat is machine the crank. Ours filled with salt water because of a Volvo specified Antisiphon valve. Volvo rebuilt the engine, in place, in one day, replacing the cylinders, con rods, and pistons.

The new lightweight marine engines are conversions of tractor and/or industrial engines. Beta, Westerbeke, Perkins, and even Volvo are actually Mitsubishi, Kubota, etc. engines that have had the marine parts added. Beta's are Kubota tractor engines, Volvo gas engines are GM car and truck engines, etc. If you know who made the engine, you can go down to your local tractor, etc store and buy parts way cheaper than the 'Marinizer.' You can even buy some of the marine specific parts, like pumps, cheaper from the source if you can figure it out.
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Old 06-02-2010, 17:45   #15
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I purchased a Volvo 2020(new) several years ago from Trans Atlantic Deisel. It had a perkins sticker on the block-- marinized with Volvo exhaust. I am very happy with the engine and the parts I purchased from TAD. I think that some of the problems with Volvo part prices is the mark-up added by dealers. Some parts such as alternators can be purchased thru alternator repair shop at quite a savings.
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