Wheel Alignment Problems: 6 Common Issues & Solutions | Motor & Wheels (2024)

Have you driven on a road that just doesn’t feel right? Your car pulls to one side of the road, it vibrates a little, or your tires are making a weird sound. Is that the road or your car causing the issue?

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In some cases, the road is the cause, while in others it’s your car’s wheel alignment. How can you tell the difference?

We’ll cover the most common issues with wheel alignment and offer solutions to fix each one.

#1 – Your Car Always Pulls To One Side Of The Road

Wheel alignment gets the blame for many different steering issues, but if your car always pulls to the same side of the road, it may be a justified concern.

A good wheel alignment condition is balanced and doesn’t pull to either side of the road. In fact, on a flat road, your car should feel easy to steer and you can take your hands off the wheel without it steering side to side.

If it constantly pulls left or right, the alignment may need to be checked.

Wheel Alignment Problems: 6 Common Issues & Solutions | Motor & Wheels (1)

How to Fix It

A correct wheel alignment will point the tires slightly inward. It’s not much, possibly ¼” is all it takes to make the car drive straight and make it easy to steer.

When one tire stays consistent and the other changes the toe setting, your car can tend to steer either left or right. The change can be hard to visually see and even harder to measure accurately.

To fix the tow setting, the best course of action is to take your car in for a wheel alignment check at a local service station that does tire and wheel work. They will have an alignment machine that can measure down to fractions of an inch and correct the alignment problem making your car pull to one side.

#2 – Your Steering Wheel Is Not Centered

Your steering wheel should be centered at all times, but it can drift away from the center when your car needs a wheel alignment.

Most wheels have a brand logo in the center of the wheel or on the airbag in newer cars that should be facing straight up to the 12 o’clock position. If that logo is tilted either left or right, your car needs to be checked for the wheels being out of alignment.

How to Fix it

In the OEM realm, the steering wheel being centered is called Clear Vision. That indicates the driver has a clear view of the gauge cluster without the steering wheel blocking the view.

It is measured in degrees of an angle, so a reading of zero indicates the wheel is perfectly straight.

There two causes for a steering wheel that is not straight up and down: the wheel alignment is either left or right, or the steering wheel was installed incorrectly.

Steering wheels are designed with splines in the center hub that match the splines on the steering column. Most wheels have a center mark that has a matching mark on the column for alignment or it has a master spline that will only fit one way.

If you remove the airbag in newer vehicles, you can check the hub alignment mark to the steering column. To remove the wheel, you need to remove the nut holding the wheel on the steering column and pull the wheel off the splined shaft.

You can also fix the alignment of the steering wheel to the tires by changing the length of the adjustable tie rods in the steering system. This requires an alignment machine at a local service center to adjust accurately.

They will position your steering wheel straight up and down, then adjust the tie rod length for the correct alignment settings on your car. Once done, your car will steer straight ahead and the steering wheel will be correctly positioned.

#3 – Your Car Tires Show Uneven Wear Across The Tread

Properly inflated, balanced, and aligned tires wear evenly across the tread surface. You should get tens of thousands of miles before they need to be replaced, but an alignment issue can prematurely cause uneven wear.

If you see one section of the tires wearing faster than the other, your alignment could be causing an issue.

How to Fix It

There are multiple reasons that your tires can wear unevenly. The first thing to check is the air pressure in the tires.

  • Too low of pressure can cause the tire to wear at the edges faster than the center section.
  • Too high of pressure can cause the center to wear faster than the edges.
  • If the pressure isn’t within 10% of the car manufacturer’s cold temperature recommendation, adjust it to meet the recommendation.

Assuming the air pressure is correct, the next cause of uneven tire wear is the wheel alignment. Either the toe settings are incorrect, or the camber adjustment is off.

The toe settings can point the tires in or out and cause the tires to wear unevenly from one side of the tread to the other on each tire.

Camber is the amount of angle at which the tire leans in or out vertically. Positive camber leans the tire away from the car, while negative camber leans the tire more to the car. Excessive tire wear on the outside of the tire can indicate the camber setting is too positive and the inside of the tire can indicate the camber setting is too negative.

Adjusting the toe and camber to the manufacturer’s settings can fix uneven wear patterns.

Beyond adjusting the alignment, rotating the tires every few thousand miles can help prevent uneven tire wear. If your tires are the same size on the front and back wheels, you can swap the wheels from the front to the back on each side of the car.

#4 – Your Car Has Sloppy Or Loose Steering

New cars don’t have much free play in the steering, but older cars may require you to turn the wheel more than you expect for it to move the wheels left or right.

Some of this looseness or sloppy steering is inherent in the design of the steering system, unfortunately.

Newer cars have rack and pinion steering that removes most of the loose and sloppy feeling, but if your steering begins to feel unresponsive it may be time to check the steering and alignment.

How to Fix It

Sloppy steering can be attributed to worn components in the steering and suspension systems or poor alignment.

You can lift your car on stands and quickly look at all components including the bushings to know if anything looks suspiciously worn out. Replacing worn components can be a simple or complex job depending on what they are attached to and located on the car.

A poor alignment can also contribute to sloppy or loose steering. One tire angled slightly inward or outward can overpower the other tire and cause the car to have erratic steering. That condition can be amplified by worn components too.

If you’re unfamiliar with what to look for, take your car to a qualified service shop that can inspect for worn components, replace anything required, and then complete an alignment. That combination will return the solid steering that you’re used to.

#5 – Your Car Shakes At High Speeds

Well-balanced tires with proper alignment shouldn’t vibrate or shake. An uneven road surface can induce a slight vibration temporarily, but that should end with a change in the road surface.

If your car and steering wheel vibrate consistently, the tires may be unbalanced, or the alignment can be off.

How to Fix It

It can be difficult to pinpoint where a vibration is coming from. There are generally two different paths that vibration takes to reach you in the driver’s seat. The front end of the car typically translates vibration to the steering wheel.

  • If you feel a vibration or a shake in the steering wheel, the front end is causing the vibration. A
  • shake from the rear translates through the car itself and you will feel it in the seat you sit on or the floor your feet touch.
  • If you can feel vibration in both the steering wheel and driver’s seat, you likely have problems at both ends of the car.

There are many different causes for vibration, and eliminating each one by one is the best method to tackle the issue.

Start by having the tires balanced and the air pressure checked. If they are wearing unevenly, you can rotate the tires from the front of the car to the back if they are the same size.

You can also visibly check for worn components in the suspension and any loose fasteners. Lastly, you can have the alignment checked and adjusted by a qualified service center.

#6 – Your Car Handles Poorly

Poor handling is a general term that can incorporate many different problems. If you feel that your car handles poorly, write down the symptoms you find to be lacking.

  • Does it pull to one side of the road?
  • Is it difficult to steer?
  • Does it vibrate at high speeds, or does it not return to the center after making a turn?
  • A bad wheel alignment can contribute to all these conditions.

How to Fix It

Wheel alignment has three main components that are discussed the most: toe, camber, and caster.

  • Toe can make the car pull to one side or the other and even tire wear.
  • Camber can do the same.
  • Caster being out of alignment can make the car unstable and not return to the center after a turn.

A qualified service center can check each alignment setting on your car and make adjustments if any are different from the manufacturer’s recommendation.

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