Author Topic: AWD, increased ground clearance, better tires, gravel, or something else?  (Read 1022 times)


  • Magnum Stache
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Hey guys,

Last year we moved to an old farmhouse almost a mile off the road, with a crappy unpaved driveway going across a cornfield.  The driveway has lots of potholes and other general lack-of-smoothness, is gravel mostly, and gets pretty gross when it rains.  The area we park/turn around is partially gravel, but a lot of it is worn away so it's dirt which turns to mud when it rains or snows/thaws.

Our cars are a 2001 Volvo V70 (FWD model) and a 2005 Kia Spectra5.

The Kia has never gotten stuck (only in snow and only then because I was stupid).  It's pretty much fine.

The Volvo on the other hand has been a giant pain in the ass.  It got stuck once in *very* minor mud last year near the road when trying to turn around.  A towel to help one wheel gain traction was all it took to get it going, but it really seemed like it shouldn't have gotten stuck at all.  In the last few weeks (spring thaw and fair amounts of rain), it's gotten stuck a total of four times in pretty bad mud, always while trying to turn around near our parking area by the house.  I've gotten it out by various forms of annoyance and effort: a tow strap wrapped around a tree and cranking it out with a come along, tricking a group of lost boy scouts to push me out together, towels for traction, and once by calling up a damn tow truck.

The Volvo is more susceptible to this bullshit than the Kia for a few reasons.  One, it's a longer car that takes more doing and going further off "the beaten path" to turn around.  Can't change that, and any similarly-sized vehicle would have a similar problem (and we do need a similarly-sized vehicle).  It's front wheel drive, as is the Kia, but with where it's gotten stuck, I think it would have been able to get it under its own power if we had power to the rear wheels too.  I figured out today that the tires on it right now (225/45/R17) are slightly smaller than what the car should have (235/45/R17) which means the car sits slightly lower than it otherwise would.  Officially the ground clearance is about the same as the Kia, but in practicality it's a bit lower, and also more susceptible to that being a limitation due to its size.

Of course, the real solution would be to pave the area by the house, but that's not going to happen (landlord had a specific clause in the lease basically saying that "yes, we acknowledge the driveway is garbage and we will not cry about it.")  We could get a truckload of gravel dumped in that area, or go super ghetto and put down some plywood or something, but I don't know the best way to go about doing that either.

One thought I've had was to put larger (taller) tires on the Kia, maybe "grippier" ones somehow that would be less susceptible to getting stuck in mud?  Light-duty offroad tires maybe (100% of all non-driveway driving is on perfectly fine paved roads, but 100% of trips out of the house begin and end on 3/4 mile of this unpaved driveway)?  I've even thought about swapping it out for the AWD version of the car (2001-2007 V70 XC) which has two extra inches of ground clearance as well.

Can someone reality check me here and help me figure out what our best options going forward will be to avoid this recurring?

None of this happened at all last summer (barring the one time the Volvo got stuck in light mud, but we've adapted our habits and know how not to do that again), and I'm sure in a few weeks once it's warm enough that everything dries out faster this won't be an issue but it's a colossal pain in the butt and I don't want to deal with it for a month or two next spring either.


  • Stubble
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Buying some gravel on your dime is going to be the cheapest route.


  • Stubble
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Buying some gravel on your dime is going to be the cheapest route.

Agreed. Less than a new vehicle, and offroad tires will ruin your fuel economy and handling on pavement.

Monkey Uncle

  • Handlebar Stache
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Agreed that gravel is your most expedient solution.  Putting gravel on the turn-around would be relatively inexpensive, but if you have to gravel the whole 3/4 mile driveway, that's going to get expensive.  But since you are renting, maybe you could just move to a house that has a better driveway.


  • Walrus Stache
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I don't think tire-related ground clearance is your problem -- the overall difference in radius between a 225/45R17 and a 235/45R17 is 0.15 inches.

Gravel driveways are not all that cheap. Just dumping gravel on top of what's there will be better than nothing, but I doubt it'd last all that long.

Based on the estimate there (transport 3/8" washed gravel 5 miles and spread to 6Ē depth), you'd be looking at approximately $30k (at 5000ft x 8ft driveway plus 500 sq ft of parking).

A pickup load of gravel in the turnaround is probably the best bet for now.

Mr. Green

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Depending on where you live, you may be able to buying recycled asphalt millings substantially cheaper than gravel.


  • Bristles
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If your situation is anything like ours, this is the time of year where you park near the blacktop and get a good walk in, otherwise you'll just make the driveway worse. But if you don't care about that (sounds like a rental situation) then aggressive tires (not necessarily larger) are your best bet. If you just want to top the turnaround area, do you have a way to spread gravel?

In my experience, the only inexpensive way to reduce my odds of getting stuck was with AWD/4WD. An older truck just for this purpose was much cheaper than gravel.


  • Stubble
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I would order a full tandem truck load of gravel (around here thatís about $250 delivered) and have the truck spread is as best he can (by driving 15-20ft as heís dumping). Then get some shovels, or those Boy Scouts, and a wheelbarrow, and spread it out even more.


  • Senior Mustachian
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I hope your rent reflects the crappy driveway and mud.    Gravel disappears (snow clearing moves it off the driveway) but sounds like a good short-term solution.  When you order it, ask them to send a driver who is really good at unloading evenly.  I got 2 truckloads last fall and the driver didn't have a clue.  Fortunately the tractor guy who was going to spread it did know and directed the truck driver.  I already had a good base but with the new gravel I no longer have a pond at the end of the driveway.

Proud Foot

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Unless the ground is getting rutted and the car is dragging the the ground clearance isn't the issue. What kind of tread do the current tires have on them? More of a highway tire will have less "grip" in the mud and can lead to getting stuck more frequently. If you are only getting stuck at the turnaround, is there something keeping you from doing a multi-point turn? Yes it's more time consuming than a straight circle turn but if it keeps you from getting stuck then its worth the extra time.


  • Handlebar Stache
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Next time you get stuck in the Volvo, if you haven't already tried this, turn the traction control off. TC is not your friend when you're stuck, as it prevents wheel spin, and sometimes that's what you need to get moving again.


  • Stubble
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I don't see any mention of the brand and condition of your tires.  I live in a similar situation and would very much second the "get a load of gravel" opinion, but your car is only as good as the tires you put on it.  I'm not sure what the options are for a Volvo, but many "all season" tires are not very good in dealing with mud and snow tires can easily pack up with mud. 

Sometime the difference between a good tire and a terrible tire can be just a few pounds of air pressure depending on conditions. 
« Last Edit: March 25, 2019, 06:42:50 PM by Askel »


  • Handlebar Stache
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The extreme ghetto option is to pick up rolls of used carpet that people pull out of their houses and throw that down upside down. This provides a pleasant brown-tan, zero-maintenance shoe-cleaning surface that is washed by rain.

If the landlord complains, point out that they're violating the lease terms by bitching about the driveway. Your load of gravel arrives shortly thereafter.