Symptoms Of Problems With Your All-Wheel Drive Volvo Car (2023)

Symptoms Of Problems With Your All-Wheel Drive Volvo Car (1)

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If you think you have all-wheel-drive problems, this page will tell you everything you need to know so that you can try to diagnose the problem yourself. We'll go over all the common signs, symptoms, and suggestions so that way you can keep the capabilities of your early model or new Volvo AWD up to par. Our master mechanic is about to explain everything, so get ready to feel like a pro in less than the five minutes it will take to read all this!

All-Wheel Drive (AWD) System Description & Operation

The majority of this article will cover AWD systems on the whole, so its application can accommodate the widest set of years and models. AWD is an evolutionary step forward from 4WD, though they are often mistaken for the same system. Have you ever wondered how your 4-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive vehicle is able to shift weight so that your tires can gain traction? Here's the breakdown:

  • 4WD Systems - This is the original system that dates back more than 70 years and was developed to enhance traction in slippery conditions (mainly farming). Engine power is delivered to all four wheels via a mechanical component called a transfer case. The transfer case (sometimes referred to as the center differential) is behind the transmission and delivers constant power to both axles via mechanical action.

  • AWD Systems - Operate in a similar fashion, and while there are numerous AWD types, they all function similarly. Power is sent at a constant rate to the front (FWD) or rear (RWD) axles. When the system determines that enhanced traction is needed, the other axle is engaged. When conditions permit, the active axle is released and allowed to free-wheel again. The chief advantage for modern drivers is the fuel savings that come from AWD.

Always keep in mind that both systems are there to enhance your ability to make forward progress when conditions are at their worst. But how do you know the system is actually working? In the next section, we'll go over some of the common signs to be aware of that indicate your system is operating as designed. And in some cases, not!

All-Wheel-Drive Problems: Down & Dirty

Traction is achieved through 4WD, AWD, and other systems like traction control, hill-start-assist, drive mode selection, driver skill, and — simply put — tires. You can have the most sophisticated AWD system in the world, but if your tires are bald and you're in the mud, you're going to be there for a while. In other words, there's more to winning the battle for traction than having AWD or 4WD. Let's take a look at some questions, symptoms, and solutions commonly associated with all-wheel-drive problems:

What are bad transfer case symptoms?

The transfer case is a sophisticated piece of equipment that operates a complex matrix of gears, chains, shafts, sensors, and actuators. If you've got an all-wheel-drive system problem, this is likely the first place to look. If you think you've got a bad transfer case (or "t-case" or "t-box" in mechanic-speak), you'll definitely know. Here are the most common signs you may encounter when you have a bad transfer case:

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  • You can hear a grinding at highway speeds
  • You have a transfer case over-temp warning on the dash
  • You might experience blinking lights in the drive selector area (model specific)
  • You might hear & feel a bang-bang-bang sensation under hard acceleration
  • Last but not least, you're getting stuck all the time when you know you shouldn't

How do I know if I have transfer case or transmission problems?

Great question! These components do separate things, though they work together to achieve the same result: getting you from A to B. The best way to determine this is with a factory scan tool. New Volvo vehicles have onboard computers for everything. If something is out of spec, we'll be able to hone in on it without having to guess.

That said, there are a few shade-tree things you can do to try to make this determination for yourself.

  • Start your car. Foot on the brake. Put her in reverse or drive. Did you feel the car take a gear? If not, you've likely got a transmission issue.
  • If your vehicle can drive, find some open road. Slow down quickly, then accelerate. Feel like you're in quicksand? Then that's a sign your transmission might be toast.
  • If your vehicle seems to drive ok, drive slowly at full circle left and full circle right. Do you hear an unusual grinding noise? That's your transfer case.
  • Find an open stretch of highway. At cruising speeds, do you hear a high-pitch howl? Let off the gas. Hear the pitch change under deceleration? That's also a signature transfer case fault.
  • Not sure? Come see me!

My all-wheel drive is not working. Now what?

There are some instances where a minimal repair might get you going again. Sensors, actuators, and solenoids can fail and be replaced. If that's the case, your warranty coverage may cover a portion or all of the repair. If it isn't one of these simpler solutions, then you are likely looking at a rebuild or replacement of your current transfer case.

Volvo XC90 all-wheel-drive problems. Fact or fiction?

Many people call in asking about all-wheel-drive problems related to the Volvo XC90. While all-wheel-drive problems are common across all makes and models, the Volvo XC90 transfer case tends to fail because of a prior fluid leak, mileage, or improper service. Like any other vehicle, diligent service is required for long-term reliability. When service is "deferred," it's only a matter of time until a component fails.

What are the disadvantages of all-wheel drive?

4WD enthusiasts will tell you that AWD is the less reliable of the two systems. That argument rests on the fact that true 4WD is mechanical and usually permanent — therefore more reliable. AWD tries to create fuel economy by relieving engine load from one of the live axles. AWD is largely dependent on many support components to do this, and from that point on, it's all down to the law of probabilities. The truth of the matter is that either system is equally susceptible to failure depending on your driving style and maintenance commitments.

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Thanks, Mr. Mechanic. But Why is My All-Wheel Drive Not Working?!

It's frustrating when something doesn't work. When computers won't load. When garbage disposals fail. When smartphones have issues. When Bluetooth headsets lose a connection right in the middle of a call. While never convenient, mechanical failure of any kind, even all-wheel-drive problems, need to be taken with a grain of salt.

Here's the golden rule: if it's made by the human hand, it will fail. And if it fails, it's the human hand that can also fix the problem.

That's why Bill Kidd's Volvo Cars is here. We're your pit crew that's always on hand to take care of any issues that come up, so you can get back out there in your day-to-day race. Interested in unlimited peace of mind? Check out a Certified Pre-owned Volvo vehicle with unlimited miles on your powertrain.

We hope you enjoyed reading our information page on all-wheel-drive problems, and we'd love it if you shared it with others that might be interested in it too. Love this article? Contact us and let us know!

Bill Kidds Volvo - Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)


What problems does AWD have? ›

In addition to steering and braking concerns, wear can be due to aggressive driving, misalignment, under-inflated tires, and failing to rotate the front tires to the back. You may only want to replace the front two tires when they need to be replaced. However, it's better to replace all four tires with an AWD vehicle.

How do you test if your AWD is working? ›

Now, hop inside and put your foot on the gas. Have someone stand outside of the car and watch the tires. As you drive into the tree, your tires will try to get traction. If all four wheels of your car are moving, your four-wheel drive is doing its job!

How do you fix an AWD? ›

If the car loses traction in the front while turning and the all-wheel-drive system intervenes, sending power to the rear, backing off the gas and gently unwinding the wheel should be enough to correct the skid.

How good is Volvo AWD system? ›

Volvo's AWD systems provide enhanced performance in slippery road conditions and bad weather. The AWD system gives you more precise handling when traveling on wet or icy pavement. When you're on dry pavement, the Volvo system switches to the front wheels for the best fuel efficiency and stability.

Can I drive with AWD malfunction? ›

These are the All Wheel Drive (AWD) Trouble Indicator symbols. These lights will be on when All-Wheel Drive is disengaged and the drive mechanism is switched to Front Wheel Drive for maintenance or if there is a problem with the system. The car can be safely operated in front wheel drive.

When should AWD be serviced? ›

The Service All-Wheel Drive message can appear in the driver information center (DIC) when your vehicle is having an issue with the all-wheel drive (AWD) system. If the DIC displays this alert, stop your vehicle as soon as possible, turn it off, and turn it back on again.

Why would all-wheel drive turn off? ›

It is simply a rear wheel assist when front wheel slip. As soon as there's no slippage it disengages. If you are in constant slippage you are driving to fast for existing condition and the rear differential may heat up and disengage. I'm curious as to where you found this info.

What does check all-wheel drive mean? ›

If it says the all-wheel drive system is off, it means that the system has shut down automatically to avoid potentially causing itself damage. You'll need to have it inspected and serviced before you can engage all-wheel drive again. Tip. The “AWD Off” message is also displayed when you use the spare tire.

Is my AWD always engaged? ›

All-wheel drive is not intended to be engaged manually; as such, there is typically no need (or ability) to manually engage one's all-wheel drive system. Some vehicles do include an “AWD Lock” button.

How do you manually start an AWD car? ›

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Which Volvo is AWD? ›

There are six variations of Volvo's all-wheel-drive:

3rd Generation Haldex. 4th Generation Haldex. 5th Generation Haldex.

What does Volvo AWD mean? ›

All-wheel drive, AWD (All Wheel Drive), means that the car is driving all four wheels at the same time, which improves traction.

How does Volvo S60 AWD work? ›

The S60 AWD is basically a front-wheel drive car, with an extra prop shaft running to a rear differential and a pair of half shafts for the rear wheels. This is connected to a hydraulic multi-plate clutch governed by an electronic controller.

Is it worth buying an AWD car? ›

Most AWD vehicles offer better resale value than their two-wheel-drive counterparts. There's a reason: AWD costs more up-front, and it makes a vehicle more capable. No, you won't see every penny back if you decide to tick the AWD option box. But your car will be easier to sell when that time comes.

Is it better to get AWD or FWD? ›

Under normal conditions, FWD can serve well. Normal conditions can include light rain and snow. AWD is the best for snow and minor off-road conditions. For severe off-road conditions, 4 WD is the best.

What are the pros and cons of an all wheel drive vehicle? ›

With AWD, torque is sent to all four wheels. The advantage in getting moving in slippery conditions is obvious. Since AWD turns four wheels instead of just two, there's that much more grip, and when the available traction is very low—as on snow and ice—you can accelerate better, with less or even no tire slippage.

Is AWD worth it vs FWD? ›

Front-wheel-drive systems are usually lighter and more fuel-efficient than all-wheel-drive systems. They have fewer moving parts, which means less maintenance. If parts do break, they're typically easier and cheaper to fix. Front-wheel-drive cars also tend to have more interior space than all-wheel-drive cars.


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