When you drive your car on a level surface and let go of the steering wheel slightly, you expect your car to keep on driving in a straight line. There are going to be times where your car wanders to the left or right of the direction you want to drive towards.
In layman’s terms, what is happening is that your car’s wheels are out of alignment. Sometimes when you drive over a pothole in the road, your car’s suspension geometry can be “knocked” out of alignment.
If your car no longer heads in a straight direction when driving on level ground, here are some ways that you can diagnose the precise source of the problem.
Make sure you test on a truly level ground
You might not realize it, but sometimes the camber (angle) of the road isn’t as flat as you think it is! One of the easiest ways to prove that is to take a spirit level with you and put it on a flat part of your car’s dashboard.
This simple and low-tech visual confirmation can ultimately help you to confirm whether your car is out of alignment or not.
What happens when you let go of the wheel?
Once you have confirmed that your car is indeed wandering towards a specific direction other than dead ahead, the next step is to find out which direction it is heading in.
That is a pretty simple test; all you need to do is remove both of your hands from the steering wheel, but at the same time keep them “hovering” above the wheel so that you can quickly gain control of the car again.
Whilst driving at low speeds, and not in traffic, make a mental note of what direction the car is pulling towards. If the car is pulling to the left, the nearside (passenger side) front wheel is misaligned with the back, and vice-versa for the other side.
Check your tyres
After this test has been performed, pull into your nearest petrol station and do a quick visual inspection of your tyres. Is any of them bulging or sagging? Do any wheels appear to not be as level in comparison to the ones on the opposite side?
The former may be causing wheel alignment issues because of the uneven air distribution inside of the tyre, whereas the latter may indicate problems with the wheel hub, wheel nuts or suspension arms.
In either case, get your car booked in with your local mechanic as a matter of urgency, and either get the car towed there or drive there slowly!
If neither of those issues are present, check your tyre pressures and make sure that all tyres are inflated correctly.
Get a wheel alignment carried out
Assuming that you could not identify any more-serious problems with your car from the above examples, your car just needs a simple wheel alignment carried out by a reputable tyre vendor or car service centre.
The wheel alignment cost isn’t expensive, but is well worth paying for in order to ensure the longevity of your tyres and suspension.
Image via Flickr (credit: paulhami)
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