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2003 Ford Taurus - 2 or 4 wheel alignment?

Hi all,

I been working on my Dad’s 2003 Taurus for my daughter. My Dad’s companion had it for a few years and bumped into a few curbs, mail boxes, a side of a house, etc. Nothing a lot of compound couldn’t fix.

The steering wheel is about 15 degrees off center. The steering is a bit vague but does not drift in either direction. My mechanic checked the front end and did not find any problems. The car has 41k miles.

My 91 Taurus required a 4 wheel alignment. Should I have a 4 wheel alignment done or will a 2 wheel alignment suffice? I hoping to get the steering wheel centered and tighten up steering.

Ed B.

There are only 2 reasons for a steering wheel to be off-center. Something is bent or someone has incorrectly adjusted (usually the toe) something during a prior alignment.

The usual suspect is the lower control arm. What you might do is take a tape measure and measure the distance from a common point on the rear wheels to a common point on the fronts.
Those measurements should be close. If not, something is not the same shape as it was originally…

I think the best advice is to find a good alignment shop and let them do an inspection. Ask them for their opinion on whether a front alignment will suffice based on their inspection.

If you don’t know of a good alignment shop, ask the inde shops where you take your car for routine service, your local inde auto parts supplier, ask them all who’s the best alignment shop in town. Usually you’ll get just one or maybe two alignment shops mentioned. They’ll tell you the truth b/c they aren’t in competition with alignment shops. They know if you get good results at the alignment shop they recommend, you’ll likely come back to them when you need a valve cover gasket replaced.

I used to think that rear end alignment was a bit of a scam. Of course on a solid axle rear wheel drive car like I grew up with there’s nothing to adjust. THEN I got a Taurus. My favorite alignment shop, which I’ve done business with for at least 35 years of their 59 year existence, suggested that my Taurus needed both ends aligned. It was $40 extra, but I bought into it. That Taurus drove like a different (brand new) car.

As @ok4450 already said, the rear lower control arms are usually the culprit. They are not very stout. They tend to get hung up on things and bent. If they are bent, they are due for replacement.

My tire dealer runs the cars across something that generates a report of the alignment. He lets the customer decide on what they want to pay for. The report tells you how far each parameter is out of spec.

Four wheel, absolutely.

But that 15 degree off-center may be an even bigger problem. Even if nothing is obvious with the steering system on the rack, the wheel should be centered before doing the alignment. Failure to do so results in the ball joints at the ends of the steering rack being not the proper distance from their corresponding steering knuckle joints.

As the wheel moves up and down, the knuckle joint moves in an arc. The length of the rack link is designed such that its end joint as it moves through its arc will closely follow the arc of the steering knuckle joint moving up and down. Failure to follow will result in induced steering inputs, often called “bump steer”. Repeated alignments without straightening the steering wheel first can change the lengths of these links sufficient to make the steering wheel off-center and make them far enough off to begin to induce bump-steer and adversely affect handling.

And you could easily have damage hiding under there. This needs a close evaluation by a competent tech. If there’s no damage, a proper alignment needs to be done, starting with straightening the steering wheel… and I do NOT mean removing and reinstalling it, as I’ve seen done before. It establishes the starting point for adjustment of the components.

Always go with the 4 wheel alignment when you can. Only doing the front is no good when the back is out, I doubt a good shop would only do the front. It’s not worth the hassle of having the customer come back complaining the car is off.

An off center steering wheel should indicate something is off. But you say car does not pull or drift off lane so it must be sorta ok. I would center steering wheel and adjust toe. Than see if vagueness is same or improved. Use string method. It’s easy.

Thanks for all the suggestions, a 4 wheel alignment it is. I will have it done and post back with the results.

Ed B.

I had a 4 wheel alignment done last Friday. I was lucky, no repairs were needed for the front end and they were able to center the steering wheel. The left front tire was 1 1/2" off for the toe measurement or 1.75 degrees from the spec sheet they handed me. The spec for toe is +/- 0.1 to 0.13 degrees. The rear alignment and the right front were within spec.

Driveability and steering is much improved.

Again, thanks.

Ed B.

How old are tires? If car has 41k miles, are they original?

Front tires about 4 years old, back tires around 2 years old. The back tires were bought used from the shop that did the alignment to replace 11 year old original tires.

Are you serious that the LF tire was 1.5" out on toe? That’s not a typo?

Was the cure for this just to bring it into spec by screwing a tie rod around?

Look at the age of the used tire. Anything over 7 years need replaced. Here is how to read it.

This for your daughter correct? Then there is no excuse for not putting 4 new tires on now.

Ok4450,

When the shop called they mentioned the alignment was 1.5" off. When I picked it up the counter guy said the same. They seemed surprised too. The spec sheet they gave me stated the front left had 1.75 degrees of toe out. Caster and camber were fine. I’m not sure what they did to fix the alignment and center the steering wheel.

Ed B.

Normal confusion. Shop said 1-1/2 and you assumed they meant inches. Could have been feet, or meters in your mind. But it was actually degrees. Which is still a lot. Since spec is +/- .1

@VOLVO V70:

Why would the tires need replacement? Is there something I’m missing?

Front tires are 4 years old and have been out of alignment, the rear tires were used and who knows how old. Yes, replace all four tires if OP cares about daughter.

V70 your concern is appreciated but the tires are fine and have been checked by my trusted mechanic and the tire shop. I’ll put new tires on it when she takes it to college.

Cavell, I was told verbally twice the toe was 1 1/2 inches off. The spec sheet the shop gave me stated the toe was 1.75 degrees off. Regardless the alignment was way off, surprisingly the tread wear was fairly even on the fronts.

Ed B.