Why is My Car Pulling to the Left or Right?
We all know the feeling of driving a car or truck with new tires, a fresh alignment, or maybe the entire car is new. The vehicle drives straight, stops in a straight line, and the steering wheel is perfectly centered. It just feels right. But, what about when the steering feels all wrong? You may notice the steering wheel sits crooked, or you may need to turn it just to keep the car going straight down the road.
Cars and trucks pulling to one side can be several issues, or the road could be slanted to one side. Owners tend to know their vehicles well and understand when something seems different. So trust your instinct, and make sure your vehicle does not suffer from one of the issues listed below.
Whether on the front or back of the vehicle, a wheel that is misaligned can cause the entire vehicle to drive crooked. This can be corrected by ensuring the tires are rotated, and that all four wheels are aligned before the tires develop uneven wear patterns.
Wheel Alignments Change Over Time
There is no wheel alignment that will stay true indefinitely, in fact, hitting a pothole or bump at any speed can change the alignment of a car or truck, even if the suspension has not suffered damage. It is important to have the alignment checked when tires are installed, but if your vehicle seems to need an alignment every couple of months, there is likely worn suspension components, or driving habits should be monitored.
Tire Defects and Irregular Wear
Tires have a decently low rate of manufacturer defects, but they do still occur. More common, however, is uneven wear of tires, resulting in gradually decreasing the accuracy of the wheel alignment.
New vehicles are factory aligned and have new tires, which nearly guarantees the tires will wear evenly across the tire treads. When putting new tires on a vehicle, if an alignment is not performed after the installation of the new tires, the new tires will begin to wear at a greater rate than the old, worn tires. This is because the effects of tire wear are amplified by the new, more sturdy tires, and less of the tire's treads are in contact with the ground at all times. Having the vehicle aligned with new tires corrects this issue.
How Do Brakes Change Alignment?
They don’t, but they can change the direction of the vehicle. When one brake caliper is defective, the wheel that brake caliper controls will either spin freely during braking or continue braking when the brake is released. This means the vehicle will pull to one side when braking occurs, with changes in direction as the brakes are released.
If you smell brake dust at one wheel, and the vehicle pulls to that side, you may have a seized brake caliper, and the car or truck should be towed to a service facility.
Collisions or Suspension Wear
If your car or truck is involved in an accident, and now it pulls to one side all the time, or maybe there are known suspension issues that may be causing the steering wheel to become more crooked over time, there is a high chance that suspension components will be replaced in the near future to correct a pulling car or truck.
Collisions, even with curbs or potholes, bend and damage suspension components every day. Collisions also cause frame damage, which usually changes the alignment, but if that is the case, the vehicle will likely be removed from service.
Bent or worn out suspension components change the wheel alignment, and cause the vehicle to pull to one side, or possibly prevent operation.
Vehicle Load Rating Surpassed
The owner’s manual for your vehicle will describe the maximum load for the vehicle, and overloading one or more parts of the car will cause misalignment issues in the same way a broken coil spring, leaf spring, or strut would. If heavy loads are to be carried regularly, and these meet or exceed the maximum allowable weight rating of the vehicle, consider changing to a more heavy duty vehicle. However, if the vehicle is sagging and pulling without being weighed down, the weight capacity for one of the springs may be decreased due to heat or cracking and should be inspected and replaced.
Steering issues are often overlooked until the problem becomes severe enough to require service, but remember, every mile you drive with a pulling vehicle shortens the life of your tires dramatically. Also, correcting a car pulling issue can be as important as wearing a seatbelt, as the issue will eventually escalate, and could result in loss of steering control.