How to make an old Volvo better on snow and ice

We have an old Volvo 960 wagon that we bought new, in 1994, when our now 16-year old daughter was born. We wanted the safest car for her, but soon discovered that this car was TERRIBLE in snow - and we live in Colorado. This car has less than 100K miles because it’s been used mostly in balmy weather, and as a truck. Naturally, we saved “Olga” for our daughter, who now has her Learner’s Permit. Question: What can we do to make her safer in the snow?

Good winter tires on all 4 wheels. Not all season tires, winter tires.

Yes, go to and research winter tires. Get a good set of 4. If you can scrounge up a separate set of 4 wheels (off Craigslist, say), have the winter tires mounted on those, and switch back to your “all-season” wheels when spring rolls around.

While it’s neat that you got the car when she was born, know that a newer car would be even safer. Be that as it may, besides the good set of winter tires she’ll need quite a bit of one-on-one instruction in snowy conditions, likely more than is required to get the license. Dedicate 2-3 hours per week to this.

I fully agree with the previous replies - 4 good winter tires. Not all season tires.

Four dedicated winter tires is the best thing you can do. Real winter tires make a huge difference.

They won’t allow you to break the laws of physics, but if you want traction in snow you need tires designed for winter conditions.

Ice is another matter. If the roads are covered in ice you should not drive. Period.

Buy the newest car with all the airbags and safety equipment you can afford, throw on winter tires, AND get her into defensive driving courses. Those are the things you can do to make her safer. Also, buying a newer car will probably be cheaper in the long run as well, since the expensive things on the Volvo will start adding up soon

Travel forward in time and buy a car that will never crash, because of all the safety advances that have been made since 1994.

Alternatively, take her to a snow covered parking lot and have her practice steering into a skid.

Assuming it’s rear wheel drive, put some weight in the back end. Cinderblocks, kitty litter, scrap metal,…

Handling in snow and ice is the most important winter safety feature. The ONLY thing that can increase traction is the correct choice of tires. The other equally important safety feature is the decision making part of the brain which can only be enhanced for winter driving by practice and experience. Do it safely and with good instruction. Neither of these features, tires and experience, can ever be glossed over by a choice of cars, in winter driving or any other.
Volvos are NOT the safest cars on the road !

So What can we do to make her safer in the snow?
RWD cars, though potentially very good, are disconcerting for the inexperienced drivers, and I would always recommend awd or fwd for new drivers. Your Volvo may have been “safe” in 94, it doesn’t compare to newer cars. So before you invest in tires and experience, trade for something newer (with fwd/awd) with at least better air bags and abs if you want a safer car.

try tire chains

I m sure a new driver would be up to the task (?)

That’ll help, as long as it’s over the drive axles. I can’t imagine how many just throw stuff in the back and not push it forward; this is counter intuitive

Uh, the weight only has four places it can exert a downward force, the front wheels and the back wheels. Doesn’t matter if it’s over the axle. Pushing it forward is counter-intuitive.

Cinderblocks, kitty litter, scrap metal,…
Other than kitty litter and tube sand, never put these objects in the back of a car where they could become projectiles in a collision. In a wagon especially w/o confinement it is a dangerous practice.

Pushing forward; as in not leaving it in the very back of the trunk/hatch. This isn’t very good as it can create a pendulum effect

No matter what tires you buy or car you have the best advice is to practice driving in snow…go to a large parking lot and drive around practicing tight turns and braking…most of us are not prepared for winter driving until after the first snow storm.

For a good example of tires and their lack of traction watch the BBC show Top Gear where Clarkson tested a new BMW X6 which has large tires and AWD.

Even on a mild incline with damp grass that vehicle would not pull itself up the grade and the same thing when the BMW was taken into snow at a ski resort. Totally helpless.

The grass part of it was funny because with the park brake set the vehicle was still sliding backwards with the rear wheels locked.

I think he was demonstrating how the BMW wasn’t really much of a 4x4. I think they see 4x4(I don’t think they use the AWD term) and immediately assume you can take it offroading

Buy 2 bags of Concrete and put them in the back trunk area, cheaper than sand and good snow tires.

That bit with the BMW reminded me of my prior Lincoln Mark with the Kelly Springfield tires on it. Those tires had to be the worst tires ever made. Traction was practically non-existent.

At 55 MPH on a damp Interstate (not wet, damp) the car would wallow all over.
Simply removing my foot from the brake pedal at a traffic light on a wet day would leave the tires spinning and the car fishtailing.
Pulling into my daughter’s driveway (about 4 or 5 degree angle) on a wet day would cause the car to stop and spin the tires. Have to back up and get a running start at it followed by sliding in.

One morning with about 2" of snow on the driveway the car would not move at all. It would just sit there spinning the rear tires. My confidence in this car not going anywhere was so strong I actually got out of the car and walked around to the front to give it a little shove in an attempt to make it move while leaving the transmission selector in Reverse. Eventually it started creeping backwards on its own and in a normal walking pace, went back around and got in behind the wheel.
Foolhardy on paper I suppose but I was confident the car was not going anywhere. I’ve often wondered if those tires were impregnated with WD-40 during construction!