Can alignment be good, but car still pull to one side? - LotusTalk - The Lotus Cars Community

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post #1 of 12 (permalink) Old 10-12-2007, 02:17 PM Thread Starter
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Can alignment be good, but car still pull to one side?

This is on my wifes car, a 2001 Mercury Cougar. It had gotten to where to drive straight you had to have about a 3-5* angle to the left on the steering wheel. And if you let go of the steering wheel it would level out and the car would start to make an obvious drift to the right.

So thinking that it probably needed an alignment since it had never had one, when I got new tires I had one done. When I got the car back they gave a me a sheet showing before and after on all the degrees. The car does drive much smoother now. At 80MPH the wheel is very stable, and under braking it doesn't shake like it used to. However the steering wheel still needs to be tilted to the left and the car will still drift to the right if left alone.

So my question is can the alignment still be within spec, yet pull to one side? I guess I am not understanding of how an alignment is done.
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post #2 of 12 (permalink) Old 10-12-2007, 02:19 PM
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The tires might be bad. Or there could be a subtle issue with the suspension that can't be fully corrected by an alignment (I guess).

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post #3 of 12 (permalink) Old 10-12-2007, 02:32 PM
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Did they straighten the steering wheel when they did the alignment or was it still cocked off leftward?
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post #4 of 12 (permalink) Old 10-12-2007, 02:48 PM
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You check the tire pressures?

I'd get them to straighten the wheel... just because. Even Snap-On wheel holders are pretty cheap. (It can be critical on some cars with ESC systems that the wheel is centered - on late BMWs, there's witness marks on the shaft and rack).

Yeah. Depending on the vehicle. The alignment pods attach to the wheel and although a newer machine will take a lot into account (even tightening down the tie-rods), they could have done something goofy.

If it's got identical wheels at all corners, you could try rotating them. Also, is it on-throttle, off-throttle, FWD, etc.? Does it do it if you straddle the crown of the road surface?

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post #5 of 12 (permalink) Old 10-12-2007, 03:18 PM
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One thing to remember about $100 alignment jobs...they are usually just getting your toe within an acceptable range. They usually do not even look at camber or caster.

Guys on this board are getting getting alignments that run almost $300bucks and are extremely accurate for toe/camber. They go as far as sitting in the car and having people measure or putting some sand bags in the drivers seat.

So given that there was significant improvement, you probably got your money worth. You could continue to pull for a number of reasons. Tires, the alignment is "just" within range, alignment done without wheel centered and probably other reasons.

Most likely the problem is now with your tires. If it needed an alignment, most likely your tires were not wearing evenly. So rotate the tires and check pressure and you *might* get rid of the pull or even eliminate it. It is amazing what a new set of tires do for your car.

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post #6 of 12 (permalink) Old 10-12-2007, 03:19 PM
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In the interest of safety, it's not uncommon for stock suspension and geometry settings on American cars to produce a tendency for the car to drift (or pull) slightly to the right. That is, left to its own devices, a car set up this way will steer off the road and not into oncoming traffic. The "drifting" is accentuated, of course, by road crown. And, BTW, UK cars are often similarly biased to drift to the left .

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post #7 of 12 (permalink) Old 10-12-2007, 03:48 PM
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This reminds me of a problem my brother had with his first car. Now granted his car was an older car and I cant remember what it was. However his car would pull every time you let go of the wheel. What the problem turned out to be was a faulty valve in the power steering rack. It was always open so when you let go of the wheel it would always turn the wheels. So if you have a valve that is not sealing all the way I suppose it could be possible to make the car drift.

Not sure how that would change the position of the steering wheel but its the one thing that I could think of that hasn't already been mentioned.
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post #8 of 12 (permalink) Old 10-12-2007, 05:00 PM Thread Starter
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I got brand new tires when the alignment was done....thats why I don't know if the improvement is just a result of the new tires. The previous tires had very uneven wear (front driver wore down about 3x as fast as the rest).

Tommorow I will scan the sheet they gave me showing the adjustments. I don't really know how to read it, but it looked like the numbers were all uneven at all the corners before and the "after" looks to be spot on all the way around (within the mfg specs at least).

Possible they just fudged the numbers and didn't even do it

I don't really mind the car drifting to one side because I've gotten used to counter-acting it.....I just don't want the tires wearing down like they have been. Thats costs money
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post #9 of 12 (permalink) Old 10-12-2007, 05:02 PM
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The answer to the original question is yes.

There are conditions under which a vehicle will pull to one side even after an alignment.

1. Assuming a cheap job where toe was set and maybe even camber, caster could still be off a lot.

2. Even if everything was set properly, and even if your tires are fine...
a. uneven weight distribution or spring pressures could make it pull
b. any sort of binding of a bushing could make it pull
c. a bent or otherwise preloaded sway-bar could make it pull
d. etc., etc., etc.

3. Depending on the alignment job included, and depending on your REAR suspension configuration, there are some things in the back end that could make it pull also.


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post #10 of 12 (permalink) Old 10-12-2007, 06:10 PM
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An aligned car can still "pull" to one side so the first thing to check is the air pressure in the tires. The car will pull to the side with the lower tire pressure due to the increased friction of the low tire. If this doesn't correct the pull, try swapping the front tires from side to side. If the pull goes away or starts happening on the other side you have bad tires. I have seen this with new tires so don't just assume because the tires are new they are OK. If you still have the original pull try measuring the wheel base on one side of the car and comparing it to the other. With an assistant hold a tape measure so it passes over the centerline of the the front and rear wheels on one side. I usually measure from the front edge of the front rim to the rear edge of the rear rim. Make sure the wheels are pointing straight ahead and the tape measure is tight and over the center line of each wheel. Compare the measurements from each side of the car. If one is shorter (more than 1/8") than the other and the car pulls to that shorter side you have found the problem. This indicates either the front wheel has been pushed back (most likely) or the rear has been pushed forward. Another quick and dirty way to do this measurement is to insert your hand with the fingers flat in the gap between the rear of the tire and the fender lip to see how many fingers will fit in this gap. Do the same with the other side of the car and compare the number of fingers that will fit. The car will always pull to the shorter wheel base side--think of those beat up shopping carts at the grocery store that always pull to one side because the frames are bent. The last thing to check is whether a brake is binding on one side of the car and not the other--this will make the car pull to the side that has the brake dragging. Lastly question your wife as to whether she whacked a curb, pot hole, or parking block and failed to mention it to you. It is amazing how they will suddenly remember these things after you have already invested a lot of time in trying to find the problem! This is the most common cause of a pushed back wheel. If you have an inconsistant wheel base it means you have bent suspension parts or a bent frame. Whether this can be adjusted or repaired depends on which parts are damaged/worn out and which adjustments are allowed by the manufacturer to the suspension. Sadly, these days, most cars are only adjustable for toe so it usually means expensive parts replacement or frame straightening to correct the pulling problem. Hope this helps!
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post #11 of 12 (permalink) Old 10-12-2007, 08:17 PM
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Of course all the stuff that has already been mentioned may cause it. Also make sure you don't have a dragging brake.
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post #12 of 12 (permalink) Old 10-15-2007, 12:12 PM
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everyone is on the money with items to check... given the cars age and assuming at least 60k miles on the clock, its possible you have some worn/blown bushings in the suspension (no not a ford product with suspension issues!?!? ) that when the alignment was done with it stationary was set to spec then when you drove the car it all shifted again, usually to an uneven position. in some cases depending ion the failed components, the adjustment made will be in the right direction taking up some" slack" in the problem so that it seems better but is still there. On the jags I see this ALOT, and some of the bushings have enough flex/range when blown to change multiple angles/toe by .5 to .7 degrees or more... and suprisingly many alignment guys just set the cars without inspecting for failed components in the suspension since alot of customers with older cars dont complain about a noise or a thump (you'd be suprised what you can get used to over time and forget is an issue when you drive it every day) when they bring it in. I do at least one alignment a week from another shop that suposedly did an alignment (well they turned the tie rods anyway) and the car still drifts or wanders and i find a loose control arm or something in the first 2 minutes of inspecting it.

worst case scenario, usually due to an accident and poor repair on a unibody car, you will have a car set to perfect specs and still pull/drift. there is some calculations you do where you figure up the "pull index" of a vehicle based on differences of the left and right sides and adjust one side or the other, regardless of if it is in spec or not to end up with a calculate index of less than a given number, usually +/- 3 on the index. however i typically dont use this as its a worse case scenario item and the car most likey will have bigger issues than a crooked steering wheel if it comes to this.
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