Ball joint and tire misalignment

My wife and I recently took our car to our local mechanic to fix some inspection items, one of which was the replacement of a ball joint.

Now that the ball joint has been replaced, the steering wheel would indicate that the tires are misaligned, despite us having paid for an alignment in the last three weeks.

The mechanic has said that putting in the new ball joint probably messed up the alignment, but claims he can’t fix it without a lot of work and/or the risk of making it worse.

Is he right? Ideally, I think he should return it to us in the state he received it without charging us. If the problem can be fixed, how do I convey this to him politely?

I would go to an alignment specialist and get his evaluation/second opinion. The “can’t fix” the alignment bothers me greatly, unless this New Beetle is very, very unique. I am not familiar at all with VW, so I will leave my comment at that.

To clarify, the mechanic in question has said that he doesn’t have the machine to perform the alignment himself; he could do a ‘toe-in or -out’, but that might make it worse. Also, he thinks the place I took it to to be aligned might be at fault for not spotting that the old ball joint was worn.
So should I ask the mechanic to arrange for it to be realigned, or should I go after the alignment people for doing a bad job in the first place?

I would take it back to the alignment specialist and let him realign it, even if I had to pay a second time. The alignment needs to be set, within proper specs, period.

It’s almost a 100% fact that your local machanic is correct. If the new ball joint throws the alignment off, you had a worn out ball joint when the alignment was done. He’s obviously a better mechanic (to me) than you might have thought him to be.

Go to a different alignment place if you can and abandon the first place. Your local mechanic doesn’t have the full equipment needed to do the proper alignment checks. You get one chance to make a good first impression, but numerous chances to distress customers. Stick with the local guy for the things you were trusting him with because he’s OK so far.

In other words, he hasn’t made a bad impression on me. I learned front-end alignment in trade school in 1971. You couldn’t pay me to do it now.

A competent alignment shop should inspect suspension components when performing an alignment but that’s not a requirement.
In theory, a ball joint replacement (sans control arm) should not alter the alignment. In pracice, it very well can.

What I’d like to hear is why an alignment was done and then 3 weeks later the car winds up for a ball joint replacement at the mechanic’s shop.
What is the story for this 3 week period?

The tires needed to be aligned, so we had that done back in May.

The ball joint was not noticed until we took it in for a state inspection this month; our mechanic noticed and replaced it for us.

For me to help here you must post with more clarity in regards to what was done when and by whom. My sensor tells me you are trying to manipulate the responses you get.

Just get the car aligned again and move on.

Thanks for your advice, everyone. The consensus seems to be that the mechanic is not at fault, which is great, as my instinct was to trust him anyway.
I will proceed to ask the alignment folks why they didn’t spot the ball joint sooner, and whatever their response, I’ll get the car realigned ASAP. It bothers me to pay for the same service twice in the space of a month, but if I have to, I will.

Many alignment shops provide a three month/4k miles warranty (or longer), so you may not have to pay a second time. I would matter of factly say that a ball joint had to be replaced and the alignment is now out of whack, then let the conversation go from there.

If you ask questions about why not found sooner, etc, then you automatically stiffen the resistance to help you out.

You may choose to never use this shop again, but I would try discussing your immediate issue (alignment needs to be redone) in a straight forward, non-confrontational way.

Suspension components should be inspected when the alignment is done but every shop is different. Some do, some don’t.

Sometimes bad ball joints, tie rod ends, etc. can be very difficult to diagnose and at times may require diassembly to determine this. It’s also possible that one person’s interpretation of bad may not be the same as someone else’s view on it.

I’d just chalk this up to being one of those necessary automotive evils.

Why did you have the alignment done? Did you ask the alignment shop to check out the front end first? Why did you tell the alignment shop you wanted the alignment done. People seldom have an alignment done without reason, until we know the reason, I’m not ready to say either shop did anything wrong.

Hi everyone,

I just called the alignment shop and they were happy to realign for us for no extra charge - it was covered under the 3,000 mile warranty.

I’m glad the problem had such an easy resolution. Thanks for all your feedback. This was our first tire alignment, so it was all a bit of a mystery for me, but I’m happy to say I now feel much more knowledgeable and confident about it!