2003 Kia Optima pulling to the left and it's not the alignment



Hello Cartalkers,

I’m hoping someone out there has an idea of what might be going on. My 2003 Kia Optima has been pulling to the left rather strongly for quite some time now. The effect occurs at both low and high speeds, and it’s particularly annoying on the highway to have to “fight” the car’s tendency to drift by maintaining pressure on the steering wheel. In addition, the car will only go straight when the steering wheel is a good 10-15 degrees to the right of center.

I’ve taken it to 2 mechanics already; the first did the alignment and told me the machine said it was fine when afterwards I told him the car was still drifting. I then took it to my trusty old mechanic (who’s unfortunately a ways away since I moved) who also told me that there’s nothing wrong with the alignment as far as the machine could tell. He initially blamed the drift on the new tires he’d put on the car which he said might follow an uneven road surface, but 20,000 miles later it’s still an issue.

To wit: around the 60,000-mile mark (the car is now around 93k), the Kia dealership replaced the rack-and-pinion mechanism under warranty. I could see how this might affect the centering of the steering wheel if they did a lousy job, but they also did an alignment at the same visit and it’s been (still) pulling left pretty much ever since.

I’m fresh out of ideas and not particularly keen on spending more money to be told “I don’t know”.

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!


I would start by rotating the tyres from to back. Yea, it is not likely to fix anything, but it will eliminate one or two thing and it might just help ID the problem. While you are at it make sure all the tyres are at proper pressure (as indicated in the owner’s manual.)

Next time you take it for a drive of at least three miles, carefully (don’t get burned) fell each wheel. It is OK if there is a difference in temperature front to back but there should not be any difference side to side, it could be a brake issue or bearings.

Has it every been involved in an accident?

If that gets you no where, you are back to alignment suspension. A good alignment shop will be able to identify not only alignment problems, but will be able to ID suspension issues as well.


Oh, right, I forgot to mention that I had the tired rotated about 5000 miles ago, so it’s not likely to be a faulty tire (unless I have 2 of them!).

I will check the pressure but I’m skeptical that would solve the problem, since they were properly inflated after the rotation and the problem persisted.

When I bought the car, I took it to the aforementioned trusty mechanic for a once-over, and he told me he could tell it had been in an accident, and that it was hit behind the left rear wheel, adding that the repair was very well done. The car did not drift to the left at that time; this is a newer development – as new as a 25,000-mile persistent problem can be. Ugh.

When you say feel the wheel, are you referring to the rim or the rotor? (I’m guessing the rim because the rotor would likely be HOT even after a short drive – I learned that years back the hard way!)

Thanks for the quick reply!


I had the same problem with my 93 Caprice, but it drifted to the right. I had the car aligned and the tires (fairly new ~4k at the time) rotated front to back with no effect. Out of desperation, I tried switching the front tires side to side. This cured the drift and the car has tracked straight for the last 4.5 years and 22k miles.

Ed B.


Have you checked the tire preassure?? If one tire is even 5lbs lower then the others you’ll notice it pulling.

Stuck brake shoe or caliper.

Bad ball joint.


Ask your alignment people if they made sure that the front wheel caster settings were equal. Unequal front caster can cause profound pull to one side. It they say it is not adjustable, then fine but is it equal? If it is not adjustable and not equal then post again.

Rear wheel misalignment can cause pull too. Did they check the rear wheel alignment?


Check the tire pressure - just in case. That should be the first thing an alignment tech does, but you never know.

You can try swapping the 2 front tires from side to side to determine if a tire bias is causing this problem. If the pull goes away or it starts pulling the other direction then you know tire bias is at fault.

Potholes, railroad tracks, curbs, etc can also tweak suspension parts and even the strut tower.
Hopefully the alignment tech was sharp enough to check for these things rather than just throw it on the rack, check the toe, and call it good.

Any chance you have a printout of the alignment specs?


Swapping tires side to side will tell you if it is the tires or the alignment.

  1. If the pull chanmges direction, it’s the tires.
  2. If the pull doesn’t change it’s the alignment.
  3. If the pull goes away, it’s both.

BTW, alignment specs are plenty wide - “In Spec” isn’t good enough. They are wide enoigh to cause the problems you describe and good alignment techs know that. So may be you need to find another alignment guy.


Well Gollee,
sounds like it might be a collasped strut to me


I own a kia and had the same problem. I replaced the tires and it went away. tires like people are not always perfect.