The Volvo Parts, Accessories &
Performance Specialists Since 1963

The Safest Car in the World

2019-01-14 - Lee Holman, aka VolvoGirl

Disclaimer: Direct from ipd’s Tech Tip archive!  This tech tip contains information from previous publications.  Products mentioned may not be available or the information may not be accurate due to changes in supply, manufacturing, or part number association.  Please contact ipd Customer Support if you have further questions  info@ipdusa.com

Everyone knows Volvo's reputation for safety, but what is it that makes them so safe? Is it generous crum-ple zones, 3-point seat belts, or 4 wheel disc brakes? Some say safety hinges on systems like ABS or air bags. Obviously, safety systems designed into your car can improve your chances of surviving or even walking away from a collision. Taking safety a step further means taking measures that will make you less likely to be involved in an accident.

Real world driving conditions can be challenging and road surfaces inconsistent. This often means negotiat-ing potholes and rough roads in traffic at highway speeds, not to mention snow and rain. We need to know that our cars will handle well no matter what comes up. While driver skill is important, even the best driver can't hope for good results if the car's suspension and steering are not up to par. Worn steering and suspension parts can compromise even the safest car in the world. The good news is that you can make your car handle like new — and yes, even better.

Before you consider upgrading your car's suspension for safety, check the front-end. The ball joints, tie rod ends and other parts must be in sound condition. Once these are in good order, a front-end alignment can make a huge improvement in the way your car handles. If any of the front-end parts have been changed, a date with an alignment tech should be part of your future plans. Doing this sooner rather than later will keep your car from eating its front tires.

With an older car, you will also want to take a long hard look at your suspension bushings. Even a car that has been well maintained will often need attention in this department. Rotten bushings affect the car's suspen-sion geometry and introduce a lot of slop in the handling. Replacing cracked, worn, or oil soaked bushings
will give your Volvo's ride a new lease on life.

Check your shocks too, and make sure that they are in good order. When they are nearing the end of their life, cold weather can be the last straw, so even if you don't see signs of leaking they may not be doing their job. If you experience that sickening dip and dive when braking, or your car bounces and floats when you hit a bump in the road, put away the Dramamine and go for some new shocks. It's a change everyone who rides in the car will appreciate.

Of course, the weight of your car rides on the springs. The job of the shock absorber is to keep the spring rebound in check. When your car's springs get old, they may not be able to hold up under the same pressure that they used to bear gladly. While they don't often break, springs can seem to get tired. The signs of worn springs are sagging (especially in the rear) and an unsightly lopsided attitude, when viewed from the rear (this may also be worn trailing arm bushings).

In looking at replacement springs, consider the primary type of driving you do with the car. Overload coils are recommended if you frequently carry a lot of people or cargo, although they can be somewhat harsher than stock springs when the car is light. They will make the rear of the car sit somewhat higher, which looks good on an older car with a saggy rear end. If your car doubles as a taxicab or a pickup, overload coils may be just the ticket.

Lowering coils, or sport springs, have the effect of lowering the car's center of gravity. They offer substan-tial handling improvement. They also stiffen the ride and if you have to negotiate unimproved roads they may not be ideal for your application. The key is not to bottom out or make it so firm that you lose traction on every bump. Again, consider what you want from the car when you're making your suspension mods if you want to be pleased with the results.

Another positive handling improvement can be found by switching to 15" alloy wheels with a wider, lower profile tire. This can be a fairly costly improvement. If your steering and suspension are in good shape, the best "bang for the buck" modification you can possibly make is to install safety sway bars.

Sway bars have the ability to inspire driver confidence by reducing body roll, which helps keep your car flat when cornering. By reducing the load on the front tires, they help reduce understeer, and make steering much more predictable and safe. The results are truly dramatic.

When it comes to safety, there is nothing like having your car's suspension in top form. As a bonus, mak-ing improvements in this department will also result in more passenger comfort and a lot more driver enjoy-ment. You will feel more confident, because you have better control and when it comes to your car, there's nothing wrong with being a control freak.