2008 Corolla Wandering at Highway Speeds

struts
corolla

#1

My wife and I have owned our '08 Corolla since brand new. It is up to 162,000 miles now, and has developed a fairly serious handling issue. The car wanders at highway speeds (60mph+). This generally only occurs with some wind, on a long straight without wind you can take your hands off the wheel and it goes straight without issues. With wind, either natural or from nearby vehicles, it wanders around even if you’re in a long sweeping turn. It doesn’t weave totally out of a lane, but it does feel very unstable. On dry roads it’s mostly a nuisance, requiring two hands and being tiring. If it’s raining, however, the car feels like it’s trying to hydroplane constantly, although I don’t think it’s actually hydroplaning that’s just the sensation.

It started probably 20,000 miles ago and has gotten dramatically worse in the last ~5,000. I took it to a shop and asked them to go through the suspension and they gave it a clean bill of health. After that I took it in for tires and an alignment (needed tires anyway) and told the tire shop what I was experiencing. They put 4 new tires on, plus an alignment, and said they didn’t find anything wrong with it either. As an aside it’s running the stock steel wheels still.

I drive 50 miles each way to work, mostly highway, so this is getting to be a serious problem. It’s to the point that I drive my truck when it’s going to be raining, and white-knuckle it in the corolla when it’s dry out. I’ve read similar accounts, and checked everything that other people have found to cause similar issues, and so have two shops. Tierod ends and control arm bushings are good. The rack seems good (no play at all in the steering wheel) plus I’ve driven plenty of vehicles with slop in the steering and they didn’t feel like this and only tended to wander when going straight because a sweeping turn takes the play out of the steering. The struts are original all around, but the car easily passes the “bounce test”. Is there a better way to check them? I’d hate to spend the $750+ to have them done and find out that wasn’t the issue. Any other suggestions?


#2

The “bounce test” is no longer considered effective.
Wandering in the wind is generally a symptom of tired dampers (struts & shocks), but an out of alignment condition and/or other worn parts can easily be causes and/or contributors. Tired dampers allow the wind to rock the body on the suspension, and that causes wandering.

You need to first get this car checked out and an alignment done. If it’s still wandering, then get the struts done.

Post your results. We do care.


#3

@JLeather
How Carefully Was The Rear Suspension Checked Over When In A Shop?
CSA


#4
"The "bounce test" is no longer considered effective."

+1
If new tires didn’t cure the problem, then I think it must be attributable to weak struts or a broken link on the anti-sway bar.


#5

Thanks for the quick response. As mentioned before, however, the car has gotten new tires and an alignment and it did not improve the issue. This was approximately 10,000 miles ago. It has gotten substantially worse since the new tires (not immediately, but gradually over the past few months), but was fairly obvious even before.


#6

IF the alignment shop checked the chassis out before putting it on the alignment machinery, it sounds like time for struts. Did they? Did you ask them to check it out, or only to do an alignment?


#7

@CSA I couldn’t say for sure what exactly they checked. I brought it in for this specific complaint, and the shop told me they didn’t find anything wrong with the suspension. That was before the tire shop, who was also told of this specific complaint and also didn’t find anything. I don’t know if the Corolla has any adjustments for the rear alignment, so it’s possible the tire shop didn’t do much to the rear, but neither shop found “anything” that would contribute to this.


#8

Is there a good locally owned front end / brake shop - not a tire dealer - you could take the car to? I usually find a lot more savvy at places like that.

Is your tire pressure correct, according to the sticker in the driver’s door jamb?


#9

@JLeather
"After that I took it in for tires and an alignment (needed tires anyway) and told the tire shop what I was experiencing."

Do you recall if anybody attempted to “read” the tire wear patterns for any clues concerning your complaint ? (I generally don’t rotate my tires so that I can do this if I ever needed to.)

If the tires were read what was deduced?
CSA


#10

There is a U-joint apparatus incorporated into the steering shaft. This could be worn out and be sloppy…allowing the vehicle to wander. If this breaks completely you will lose all control.

To check this have someone start the car and in neutral, turn the wheel slowly from the 10 o’clock positions to the 2 o’clock position and repeat. As they do this you watch their movements and the movement of the tires. You can put a foot against the tire to sense movement as you watch them. If there is any delay from when they turn the steering wheel and the tire turning…this joint is shot and needs replacement.

It is not that hard to replace on a F150.

Yosemite


#11

I Think It’s A Track Arm Bushing Or Stabilizer/Antiroll Bar Attachment Or Some Such Thing And Possibly In The Rear.
I believe something is shifting around and changing the alignment geometry.

People drive Zambonis, but I don’t think they’d want to at highway speed.

If somebody follows this car and observes carefully can they see it “catwalk” or “crab” continuously or intermittently?

When I worked at a car dealer I once drove a Nissan NX200 or some darn thing that had that “sickening here we go feeling” when I’d try to drive it that sounds like what you’re describing. I understand why you wouldn’t want to drive it.
"It’s to the point that I drive my truck when it’s going to be raining, and white-knuckle it in the corolla when it’s dry out."
CSA


#12

At 150,000, the struts are gassed and should be replaced. Old is still old because you know how long they’ve been around without guessing.


#13

It seems like you’ve covered your bases, new tires, alignment, and told the shops you were having a problem and to inspect for anything wrong. Since they say there’s nothing wrong, my first guess is just that the struts are shot and need to be replaced. It’s not so easy to test the struts by the bounce test with newer cars. One idea, if your neighbor has a newer Corolla, drive your car over to his house and do a side-by-side bounce test comparison. You could both do it, and compare notes. That’d be more informative than just doing it yourself on your own car without anything to compare against.

I was suspicious of the steering rack too, but it sounds like you’ve already eliminated that. So if other people who drive the car agree there’s something wrong and it is indeed wandering, and there’s no obvious weird wear patterns on the new tires starting, most likely it is just worn struts.

You could replace the two fronts and see if that helps. If so, replacing the two backs will help even more I expect. That’s probably your best bet, as you almost certainly need struts anyway at that age.

Re: Rear wheel alignment adjustments on Corollas …

On my Corolla anyway, it’s early 90’s, there is an alignment adjustment for the rear wheels. I think it is for the toe-in. It’s done with an offset bolt gadget. If you get on your back and look under there with a flashlight from behind the car you can probably see that gadget, it has adjustment scale marks on it, sort of like a ruler. More toward the middle of the car than toward the wheels. I think there’s one of those gadgets for each wheel on my Corolla.