2021 Volvo XC90 Problems and Top Complaints – Is Your Car A Lemon?

Brakes, electrical system and software issues are among the top complaints received by the NHTSA from vehicle owners

Updated on Author: Brian Jones

The Volvo XC90, launched in North America in 2003, won awards before it even hit the road. These were made after the new SUV was unveiled at the Detroit Motor Show in January 2002.

Promoting the importance of the SUV of the Year award from Motor Trend motoring magazine, Volvo Car Corporation’s president and CEO, Hans-Olov Olsson said it has “definite commercial significance.”

But two decades later, the Matthews Volvo Site that hosts an active Volvo Forum reports that model years 2003-2005 had automatic transmissions that fail early and often. “The parts guys at my Volvo dealership told me recently that it’s the XC90 T6s that are the ones to avoid at all costs.”

And it doesn’t get any better. Consumer Reports, an independent nonprofit founded in 1936, gives the 2021 model a reliability rating of 1 out of 5. In one of our articles, Lemberg Law highlights problems experienced by drivers of the 2020 model. These are substantial, even though Consumer Reports ranks its reliability a little higher than the 2021 model at 2 out of 5.

Consumer Reports rates reliability according to problems described by more than 300,000 XC90 owners in a subscriber survey. They identify 17 potential trouble spots for vehicles. Of these, their categories, brakes, body hardware, the climate system, and drive system (drivetrain) are the biggest problems in the XC90, they say.

We are going to focus on complaints made to the United States Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Click on other model year to view more problems:   2020   2022

Most Common Problems

So far, there have been 6 complaints to NHTSA about the 2021 XC90. It is impossible to predict how many more there will be in the coming months and years. NHTSA records show that there were 6 complaints about the original 2003 model. But now this figure stands at 95.

2021 complaints are varied and report problems about 7 components and systems. These are back-over prevention, the electrical system, forward-collision avoidance, the fuel/propulsion system, lane departure, and brakes. The electrical system problems top the list of complaints.

There are also a total of 58 manufacturer communications on file with NHTSA. These documents are warnings to dealers of potential problems and malfunctions. Some include technical reports or even technical journals. A total of 26 of these are “equipment” issues, including software problems, and 21 relate to the electrical system.

There have also been 3 recalls of this model.

Additionally, NHTSA carries out crash and rollover tests to assess the safety of vehicles. The 2021 XC90 has a five-star rating for frontal and side crash tests, but only 4 out of 5 for rollover. NHTSA assesses it has a 19.10% rollover risk if the driver loses control of the vehicle.

2021 Volvo XC90 Complaint Summary

Complaint CategoryNumber of Complaints
Electrical System
Service Brakes
Back Over Prevention: Sensing System: Camera
Back Over Prevention: Warnings
Chest Clip, Buckle, Harness
Forward Collision Avoidance: Automatic Emergency Braking
Fuel/propulsion System
Lane Departure: Warning
Power Train

Electrical System Issues

There are 3 complaints about the electrical system. All have safety implications.

Pop Sounds followed by Silence

The first describes loud “pop” sounds from the sound system speakers resulting in a total lack of sound, including those relating to parking sensors, turn signals, and the phone.

“The dealer provided a ‘fix’ with a software update described in a technical journal.” But, the complainant maintains that “this software update had nothing to do with the problem I had.” The problem has recurred several times, always after a “feeling of static electricity.”

The complaint adds that there are multiple reports of this same issue on a reputable Volvo forum.

The second electrical system complaint is specifically about the 2021 Volvo XC90 Hybrid model. It is also listed as being a back-over prevention, and lane departure problem. The complaint states, “This has safety implications.”

It is essentially the same as the first complaint. After a loud pop from the speakers, there is no sound from the radio, turn signals, parking sensors, no “lane-keeping beep”, or anything else. The problem clears after the vehicle is shut down for about 15 minutes.

“Because of its intermittent nature, dealers are unable to diagnose.”

This complaint also draws attention to multiple complaints in online forums.

Inverter Electronic Module (IEM)

The most recent electrical system complaint starts with the check engine light coming on at 11,000 miles. “Diagnostics showed a software update was needed but the software update did not fix the problem.”

At this point, “Volvo corporate said the IEM module needed to be replaced. The IEM module controls the rear axle/propulsion and this is a serious safety issue because (of a) sudden loss of propulsion while driving at high speeds increases (the) risk of having an accident.

“After replacing the IEM module, the mechanic cleared the DTC codes, test-drove the car, and re-ran the DTC (diagnostic trouble code).” But the code indicating a software update was needed was still showing. “Also, the hybrid battery doesn’t keep its charge and depletes at an extremely fast rate.”

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Brake Problems

The reported brake problem is also listed as a forward-collision avoidance problem. The complaint states that the electric parking brake has engaged “violently” at highway speeds. The car then stops abruptly.

According to the complaint, the dealer is “arrogant” and “in no hurry to repair,” stating it is a software problem. Additionally, the dealer reportedly says that the “violent and abrupt stops” have “caused damage to other components.”

The complainant says he plans to notify Volvo and the dealer that “they will assume all liability for injury or death for this defect and lack of concern in repairing.”

Software Problems

The manufacturer communications reveal several software problems. These include the identification of software that “may not be robust enough to handle the large number of signals transmitted to the audio amplifier. This can result in a pop noise from the sound system.”

Two communications to dealers state that Volvo has launched Service Action S10090 on 8 2021 Volvo models. They say the corrective action is to perform a Total Upgrade software.

As mentioned above, two complaints about electrical problems and pop noises were, indeed, diagnosed by dealers as software problems. But software updates didn’t help. The brake problem described above has also been diagnosed as a software problem.

The complaints to NHTSA about popping noises are dated 14 January 2021 and 16 April 2021. Service Action S10090 was launched on 28 April 2021.

What to do if your 2021 Volvo XC90 is a lemon? Your Lemon Rights

If you have issues with your Volvo XC90, we recommend that you contact an experienced lemon law firm like Lemberg Law. We will assess your problems and see how we can help you.

We have negotiated many settlement deals for our clients running from refunds to trade-ins and replacement vehicles. So call our Helpline now.

Brian Jones

About the Author:

Brian Jones spent more than 30 years working as an ASE Certified Master Tech and Parts Specialist at multiple dealerships. Brian has become an authority in the industry, traveling across the country to consult for car dealerships and contributing his expertise as a writer for several major automotive publications. In his spare time, Brian enjoys working on pickup trucks, muscle cars, Jeeps and anything related to motorsports.

See more posts from Brian Jones

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