1994 Camry rear drifts around while driving on snow

The car was in an accident last spring where it went off the road and side swiped one of those cable barriers between the sides of a highway. It actually spun around backwards, hit the barrier on the rear passenger side corner smashing the tail light on that side. Then slid the whole passenger side into it roughing up that side and knocking off the side mirror.

Amazingly both passenger side doors work, the trunk works and it was able to drive away. I drove it around gingerly for a bit and it seemed to be fine. I took a big 4 hour trip up north in it and it had zero problems (other than looking like hell).

I had new tires put on before the accident and are nearly at factory new tread. I can’t see any noticeable uneven wear on them. This winter however, every time there is fresh snow on the roads it feels like the back is shifting back and forth like its out of control. Its not vibration like unbalanced tires or ice on the rims. It feels like the rear is swinging back and forth about a foot about every 3-4 seconds. At first I thought maybe a wheel was loose so I jacked up the car at each wheel and wiggled them, they are solid. There is no play in the steering, so i don’t think its rack and pinion. I’ve gone around corners purposefully quick on snow to see if its a grip thing, and it doesn’t slide.

The only conclusion I can come to is that the frame is tweaked or my suspension is messed up. On dry, or even wet roads everything seems fine. I do notice a bit of the “drift” when I hit a decent bump or pothole, although then it feels more like a slight “shift” at the rear.

Thoughts or ideas? The car is a junker that I’m just trying to limp until my wife finishes school in a couple of months.

So after you bounced this car off of a guardrail you never had a body shop check it over and didn’t take it for an alignment? You’d want to clarify that. Given what you described I wouldn’t drive (snow or not) until it was evaluated and aligned.

If it was aligned and all of that worked out fine, then you just need better tires. The age of them or amount of tread aren’t really that important if they aren’t well designed for snow.

Maybe you are driving too fast in the snow? I would be very suprised if the alignment wasnt off-Kevin

Thoughts? Yes, I agree your rear suspension may have issues.

Nope, didn’t bring it in. I don’t care about the body damage. After the guardrail everything seemed fine, it drove perfectly strait so i didn’t think there was any reason to have an alignment. I replaced the tail light with a cheap trailer brake light.

I can guarantee it isn’t the tires. They aren’t anything special, but nor are they a junk brand/model. I’ve driven in Minnesota winters for 15 years in a large variety of cars and trucks, this isn’t conditions causing it.

I only use the car for commuting 15 min to work/home. We never use it for anything else. Its just to get by for the time being…

Take it in and have The alignment checked. You at least knockedout the alignment. When they do the alignment they will be able to tell if anything is bent.

You may have knocked the rear alignment out. Normally this is not adjustable as the only thing between the tires is a tube with flanges welded on each end that the hub assemblies for the wheel are bolted to. Nothing to adjust.

Typically the two flanges are just slightly out of parallel so that the rear tires toe in very slightly. You may have knocked one or both slightly outward which makes the tires less stable and want to dart side to side. One way to fix this is to remove the hubs and put a washer or shim under certain bolts to realign the hubs and wheels.

You could have a friend drive your car car down the road and you follow it in another vehicle. If only one tire is affected, yo will see that the car does not track in a straight line but that the rear of the car is offset from the front. That is called crabbing or dogleg.

"I can guarantee it isn’t the tires. They aren’t anything special, but nor are they a junk brand/model"

I wouldn’t be so trusting of those “nothing special” tires if I was in your situation.
Unfortunately, there is absolutely no standard for what constitutes a so-called “all-season” tire. As a result, some are decent on winter roads, and others are essentially useless.

Even name-brand tires from recognized manufacturers can be downright hazardous on snow, such as the Bridgestone Potenza Re-92 all-season tires that I had on my '02 Outback. Because they were so bad on snow, I invested in a set of 4 Michelin Arctic Alpine tires (the predecessor of the current Michelin X-Ice tires), and the difference was literally like night & day.

Also, a friend of mine had a Maxima that came with Yokohama “all-season” tires that had so little winter traction that he was sometimes unable to even get the car moving.

Unless you can confirm through an objective source–such as Consumer Reports or Tire Rack–that those tires have decent winter traction, I don’t think you can afford to assume that they are not the problem. However, I have to add that–like some of the other forum members–I believe that you should also get your rear alignment checked, and that you may just need to slow down a bit.

You may have bent the lateral links in the rear or damaged the bushings


The lateral links are what keep the rear tires centered under the vehicle. And as you can see, the lateral links are adjustable to set the rear toe.


Here’s the lateral links on a Camry.


I visually checked all the linkages and didn’t notice anything. That doesn’t mean they aren’t bent at all though. I’m sure it doesn’t take much of a tweak to knock everything out of whack. Do you know if there is any way for me to check myself if things are bent?

I’m pretty sure I need to just bring it in to get checked, I just have a hard time spending any money on a car that I only need for a few more months and won’t be able to resell for anything. However I also don’t want to die when a wheel falls off.

You could try taking a straight edge such as a carpenters square and place the edge on the link to see if it’s bent.


How much is your life worth? $200? It’ll probably cost less than that to get it looked at, and then you’ll know for certain.

+1 to mountainbike’s comment.

Additionally…How much is it worth to avoid an accident that could result in a lawsuit stemming from serious injuries or even the death of other people with whom you share the road?

Driving a defective vehicle can expose the owner to a considerable amount of liability in the event of an accident.

I agree with @VDCdriver . Just the potential for being sued for gross negligence would be reason enough to have the car checked out in my book.

One wheel may be way off line in the back. The tire has to squirm a bit once the tread moves too far. This may be slipping constantly in the summer and suddenly on snow or ice.

There may be other reasons for this to happen only on slippery surfaces but something is bent or distorted and may even be easy to spot when a mechanic checks it out. After all, he may have seen fifty of this model before. Something may show up right away that you would not even notice.