850 Front Fender Clearance

Front drivers corner with new Enkei J10 silver wheels

When I went to wash the 850 recently, I noticed that the front tires were badly worn from rubbing on the inner fenders (the plastic fender liner).  The previous owner had fitted 18″×8″ Volvo “Mirzam” wheels, with 235/40/18 Riken Raptor tires.  These wheels and tires are both taller, and wider, than anything that ever came on a factory 850 model.

Further, the nylon steering stops (part #31212189 or #1010359) were missing from the control arms (they most likely wore off long ago), meaning that the steering wheel was allowed to turn farther than it should have originally.  This only exacerbated the rubbing problem.

The front tires being so badly worn that they were unsafe (due to cuts in the tires from the broken plastic inner fender linings), I decided to park the car until I could get things sorted out.

Front passengers corner with new Enkei J10 silver wheels

I ended up buying a set of 16×7 Enkei “J10″ silver wheels (they also come in black) from IPD, which was selling them on closeout for $80 a piece (50% off).  These wheels are designed to fit both 5x108mm and 5x115mm bolt patterns, so they have ten lug bolt holes.  They are 38mm offset, so about right for an 850.  However, you do need different lug bolts, so called “tuner” lugs, because the factory 850 lug bolts are too large in diameter to fit into the Enkei wheels.

For tires, I went with IPD’s recommendation of 215/55/16.  This is definitely a good size for 16×7 wheels, although the factory 850 size of 205/55/16 would have worked well too, albeit with a little less width to protect the rim from curbs.  Tires are Bridgestone Potenzas.

First, I replaced the front fender liners that were damaged from the giant 235/40/18 tires.  They were worn right through, and the metal fender was down to bare metal in some spots, and had to be repainted.  The fender liners I purchased were aftermarket, made in Taiwan, of a slightly softer, more malleable plastic than the factory Volvo units.  The part numbers are #91525774 (driver side) and #91701946 (passenger side).  I found the best price on eBay at about $30 each, free shipping.  I actually much prefer the more flexible plastic of the aftermarket units, as the factory units can become brittle, and when they break they leave a sharp edge that can cut into the tire.  To reattach the fender liners, I used a Stanley rivet gun and 18 of these pop-rivets.

I also tried fitting a pair of 1998-2000 XC70 front fender liners that I pulled at a junkyard.  While they are indeed larger than the 850 liners, they are difficult to fit, and several holes do not line up.  New holes would have to be drilled in the plastic liners, and the liners would also need to be trimmed a bit in a few places.

Rear passengers corner with new Enkei J10 silver wheels

Once the fender liners were replaced, I also had to replaced the missing nylon steering stops (part #31212189 or #1010359).  However, since my tires were slightly wider than stock, and my suspension is also probably softer than stock given the age (especially the springs) I wanted to give myself a little more clearance – at the cost of turning radius of course.  So, I made some custom nylon stops about 3x as thick as originals from a nylon cutting board ($13.99), to prevent new tires from rubbing on the new fender liners at full lock.

The steering stops I made are about 1/2″ x 3″ x 1.5″, with a hole in each end.  I had to drill out the rivets from the old stops in the control arms, and then measure the distance between the two holes.  From there, I bolted the new stops to the control arms using some small bolts and nylon lock-nuts.

After test-fitting the new wheels and tires, I turned the steering wheel to full lock, and I had just enough room, about 1/2″ to 3/4″, such that the tires didn’t rub on the inner fenders.  Without the new steering stops, there is little doubt that the tires would have rubbed.

Rear drivers corner with new Enkei J10 silver wheels

While working on the car, I also removed the Volvo OEM trailer hitch (what are you going to tow with this car, honestly), and modified the heat shielding underneath the car to prevent the IPD stainless exhaust from rattling.  The car is much more pleasant to drive now, with an inch more of sidewall rubber (18″ -> 16″ wheels = 9″ -> 8″ radius), no rubbing front tires, and no rattling from the exhaust banging into the heat shield or trailer hitch.

Update:

Think it’s over?  Well it wasn’t.   I then took the car in for an alignment, since I had just had new tires put on and wanted them to wear evenly.  The shop told me that the front control arm bushings were so badly damaged that alignment would be impossible.

So I shopped around for control arms and read some reviews.  Unlike 240s, the front wheel drive cars tend to have the whole arms replaced at once, instead of doing the bushings and ball joints separately.  I settled on the OEM control kits that FCP Groton sells.  after reading some positive reviews of the OEM Lemforder units over the cheaper aftermarket Meyle units.  Thankfully FCP also has a youtube video on how to replace the control arms, which made it easy.

The whole job took several hours to do, and it’s definitely worth taking your time to do it right and torque things properly.  The tightening torques are listed in this manual.

After replacing the control arms, there was a huge improvement in handling – the car didn’t pull to the right under acceleration or braking anymore, and is much easier to drive in a straight line.  The difference is really incredible.

I asked the alignment shop owner what he thought – could the big wheels have caused the bushings to wear prematurely?  “Absolutely” he said, although cautioned that it depends on the type of car and what the original wheel size was.  But in general, bigger wheels = firmer ride = more force transferred to the bushings, and the bushings break down faster.