96 Impala SS steering problem



I have 96 Chevy Impala SS, the car tends to wonder over the road. When it was new it was not as bad as it is now. I constantly have to move the steering wheel to maintain the direction. It has 255/50/18 tires and 120,000 mile on the odometer. I have done an alignment, and have installed new tires, but it did not help much. I can not find anything loose at the front end or I am not strong enough to simulate the road conditions with my arms and hands. It is basically Chevy Caprice with hard suspension and wide tires.

When do I need to replace the ball joints and the tie rods or how to tell that they are worn out?

Is there anything in the rear suspension to look for?


Checking the wear on the tires can point to worn front-end parts. If your car was recently aligned, I would have expected the alignment tech to point out any front-end suspension problems and/or any uneven wear showing on the tires. I’m guessing that you might have some wear in the steering mechanism. A certain amount of play in the steering wheel is expected, but when it becomes excessive, a car will tend to wander over the road. Have the play in your steering wheel checked.


YOU have done an alignment? Or you’ve had it aligned?

Either way, you need to get it re-aligned, this time by a competent alignment shop.


The alignment was done at a local Chevrolet shop.
The mechanic has not found any thing loose in the suspension, but the car tends to wonder on the road much more then when it was new. I was told that it has something to do with the wide tires; the car tends to follow the shape or profile of the road. The new tires are the same brand but different kind; the original tires are not made any more.


I suggest you consult an alignment shop that deals with high-performance vehicles, which is what you have. A local Chevy shop may not be good enough.

I remember having an alignment tech tell me, “The factory recommends this and that, but we’ve found it works better with such and such.” I said, “OK, give me such and such,” and the car was TRANSFORMED from a wallowing pig into a car I could actually steer. A few minor adjustments made all the difference, and I think that’s your problem.

You need to find an alignment shop that understands you car.

Rear suspension? It’s a solid axle, right? I wouldn’t worry too much, but have the thrust angle checked, just to be sure.


Years ago, I had an 1986 Camaro IROC with 245/50R16 tires. It also wandered a over the road due to the tires (Eagle VR1). The dealer increased the toe-in, which helped but did not fix the problem. Is this the original tire size, I thought the SS came with 17" tires? My 93 Caprice pulled to the right when I first got it. Switching the front tires side to side fixed that problem. The Caprice does not wander at all, but has 225/70R15 tires. If possible, perhaps a narrower tire with a higher profile might help. Good luck with the SS, it’s a keeper.

Ed B.


Yes you are correct the size is 255/50ZR17 not 18.
I do not think that any tire shop will be willing to change the original tire size to a new narrower tire, even if the Caprice uses different narrower size tire? I will check on that when I need to install new tires, they only last 40-45k miles. If I want to keep the original rims there is a limited range of sizes I can choose from?
I have also replaced the front anti-sway bar bushings hopping that it will help, it help in my other car, but there is no difference in the Impala.


I found a reference to wandering on an Impala FAQ list. It involves the ball joints and sway bar bushings. Select the following link and search for “wander” or select the “Ball Joint Warning” shortcut.


Ed B.


A good alignment tech should inspect the suspension for worn parts before performing an alignment. There are a number of things that could cause a wander; other than the alignment being off.
Ball joints
Tie rod end
Control arm bushings
Control arm shaft bushings (different thing than the above)
Loose wheel bearing
Worn or out of adjustment steering gear box
Worn idler arm
Drag link (sometimes called a center link)

In the rear one should inspect for loose wheel bearings, worn trailing arm bushings, etc. but odds are the problem is up front.