Alignment Conundrum

So, I take my car to one of the 5 star rated mechanic’s places here on the website. Also independently recommended by friends too, so I’m pretty sure they’re really good folks. Last time I was in, they checked the alignment, and it was pulling to the left. So, we did the alignment. They’ve got the latest equipment - lasers and all that stuff. So, they do the alignment, it’s better, but still pulling slightly to the left.

They say, we’ll swap the right and left front tires, and it should be close to perfect. They do that, it’s better, and within “range” (when they showed me the printout it was all “green” in other words), but still not perfect.

Tell you what, they say, we’ll put the rear tires on the front and then it should be perfect. Well, almost perfect. Still pulled to the left slightly. They said they thought it was a tire issue, gave me a one year warranty on the alignment, and told me that I should check at Costco, where I got the tires.

I talked to the guys at Costco, and they said that if it’s still pulling to the left after all they did, it’s a mechanical issue, not a tire issue. That makes sense. Especially because the tires are little more than a year old.

Sooooo… the guy at Costco tells me that they’re not really supposed to make recommendations, but… he says… there is ONE PLACE in town that, if I were you, that’s where I would take my car for an alignment. I kind of find that hard to believe… a city of a million people and there’s only ONE place to take the car for an alignment… that this guy who sells tires for a living trusts implicitly?

That seems a bit odd to me. It’s been a few months since the alignment… on some streets the car pulls noticeably to the left, and on other streets it’s almost straight.

The thing is… I really hate to spend MORE money on an alignment, when I’ve still got the better part of a year’s warranty on the alignment I’ve paid for.

Oh yeah… and to avoid speculation… I checked the car fax on this car before I bought it. One owner, no accidents. So… the pulling to the left isn’t being caused by that.

But… if I have a question… are alignments REALLY that hard to do? This other place that is being recommended (which is NOT listed in the Mechanic’s files, btw), only charges $39.95. Should I just bite the bullet and spend another $40 or take it back to the first place and have them tweak it again?

Key point - the shop that did your alignment did not fix your alignment problem and you have a warranty. They still owe you a car that doesn’t pull left.

No guarantee the car has not been in an accident, just hasn’t been reported to CarFax.

Yes and no. I do mine in my driveway without sophisticated laser equipment and my cars don’t lead or pull nor do they wear tires funny. I do, however, understand what all those alignment numbers mean and how they affect the car and THAT is what a good alignment tech needs to understand. Not just hit the specs. A good alignment tech should cost more than $40.

I’d take it back to the first place and tell them it still isn’t right.

Nothing a shop does is hard to do (technique-wise) if the person doing it knows what they’re doing.

The question is not whether an alignment is hard to do. The question is whether the person doing the alignment is competent. And we can’t tell you that from here. :wink:

When they swapped sides on the tires, did they take the tires off the rims and re-mount them on the opposite rims, or did they just take the wheels off the car and bolt them back to the opposite side?

If it’s the latter former then if the tires wore unevenly so that they pull to the left, they’re still gonna pull to the left after the swap because you haven’t switched the direction of the slope.

Seems to me you would switch the direction of the slope across the tread if you don’t unmount the tires.

Well, it would help if I didn’t say “latter” when I meant “former.” :wink:

Appreciate the insights!!! I think I will take it back and have them check it!

No… they didn’t take the tires off the rims… just swapped sides.

And… I do realize that not everything gets reported on Car Fax. I just meant that it (apparently) hadn’t been previously totally and salvaged etc. etc.

What the guy at Costco told me (or claimed anyway) was that in order for it to pull to the left and NOT be a mechanical problem meant that there would have to be something wrong with not one, but all four (relatively) new tires, which… I have to admit does seem unlikely. As far the shop that did the alignment, I believe the equipment was fairly new to them. So, there’s that. I remember they gave me a printout, which I just found and will scan in…

They skipped the caster measurement, perhaps because it is not adjustable on this vehicle but it is necessary to check the caster angle to know if something is bent and needs to be repaired/replaced. A left/right caster imbalance will cause a pull.

Is your repair shop capable of repairing your suspension if they find that the caster angle is off? If they don’t measure the caster angle on a vehicle that is pulling I suspect they are not familiar with suspension problems and repairs.

For $39? I can’t get out of the hardware store hardly for that. I was going to get tires so I had my car aligned at the shop with all the gadgets. In the rain on a curve, I felt like I was ready to lose control. So I went to the old guy at the Bear alignment shop I used back in 1968. He had a different location but the same equipment he used back then. Found mega stuff wrong with my front end but fixed it cheap and aligned it properly. Total cost for about a days work was about $250 and rand straight and true. Sometimes the person is more important than the equipment. Computers don’t make people write any better than they can in long hand.

It seems like your alignment shop are doing the correct common-sense things for your problem. I wouldn’t be inclined to go to another shop at this point. Concur w/the suggestion above to ask them to check the caster alignment, even if they can’t correct it if it is off. Also I’m noting from the photo you posted above that the toe looks good front and rear, and the camber looks good rear, the camber on the front left (+0.1) doesn’t match the front right (-0.8). Ask the shop if that could be the reason, and if so if they can better match the front camber left vs right.

I’m guessing they did measure the caster as part of the process, just didn’t get the numbers onto the form b/c caster isn’t adjustable on your car. But they probably still have the info.

The previous toe error you had (but has now been corrected) could have caused a tread wear problem, which might now being causing a slight pull. You might have to have the two front tires removed from the rims and re-installed facing the other way to test that idea. Be sure to ask your tire shop about this first, b/c on some tires this cannot be done safely.

Also ask yourself if you are expecting too much. All cars pull a little left or right; it is usually masked by even greater pulls right or left caused by the tilt of the roadway. Maybe take a test drive in another car. And be sure your tire pressures match right/left.

The caster measurement was skipped, if it was performed the measurements would be on the alignment print-out.

The toe was just fine before the alignment was performed, .03 degrees, it is shown as green on the print-out.

Oh, I see, so the prior toe problem was really just the steering was biased to one direction a little. And that’s all that was corrected, the steer ahead from -0.08 to 0. Could that have caused any tire wear problems?

would it still be worth asking shop to re-check this left/right camber imbalance?

yes, knowing caster would be beneficial, but camber imbalance seem to be pointing to the left side

@Nevada_545 is on the right track. Chasing a steering pull without knowing the caster reading is a waste of time. Whether you return to the same shop or try a different one be sure the caster sweep is done.

As for the price, I wouldn’t trust a $39 alignment. The price where I work is $89.95, and we have a reputation as the go-to shop for alignments around here.