Car changes lanes on its own

My 2003 Ford Escape pulls drastically to the right. If I don’t hold the steering wheel to the left it will change lanes on its own. They mechanics are stumped - they swear it’s not my alignment, and they have had me replace my tires, which didn’t work. What should I ask or what would someone recommend? Is this a dangerous problem, or is it going to cause extensive damage to my vehicle? Any information would help! I’ve been dealing with this for a while.

What kind of mechanics are we talking about? Is this truly an alignment shop that specializes in front ends & alignment work? Or is it just some kind of corporate “do it all” shop that invests primarily in machines rather than experienced personnel? It sounds like you need someone to have another look.

Have they checked the brakes for dragging?

Just for a hoot, I’d swap the front tires left to right. I know you had them replaced & the odds that your old tires & new tires had the exact same problem are more than slim. But they’re not zero & this is a cheap thing to do.

What is the history of this vehicle? Any known accidents? What you you not know about it? It might be time to visit a good body shop for an inspection of the body.

Find another shop.

Right…First step, swap the tires side to side…

Tires, alignment, dragging brake, or a bent/worn suspension component. How many miles on this thing?

Yes, this might be a dangerous problem. I agree with Rod, you need another shop.

And I agree with the suggetsions of Cig and OK4450. I’ll add one more: jack up each corner of the vehicle, try turning the wheel by hand, and see if one is dragging. Or making an unusual noise, like a grinding bearing.

And don’t forget, if you have the parking brakes that consist of the little drums cast into the inner portion of the discs and using little shoes, one of those could be dragging as well.

I’m agreeing with the others here. It could be dangerous and you need to get it to another shop.

You don’t say what happened when this condition started. That might provide a clue.

If it is not tires or a dragging brake, then find another shop as the one you have used obviously can’t figure out the problem. Ask if thrust alignment was checked and if the front wheel caster angles are equal. Does the vehicle have a solid rear axle and if not, was the rear wheel alignment checked too?

Does it have an electric Power Steering Pump?

You are going to have to come back with some answers here if you want more help. When you say you have to hold the steering wheel to the left, does that mean that you have to turn it to the left, as in, the steering wheel has to be cocked to the left, or do you have to apply pressure to the left to keep it centered?

I have seen electric power steering pumps get out of whack and put pressure to one side at all times. Otherwise have you had all your front end components checked? Ball joints, tie rod ends, wheel bearings

Blejosw brought up a good point. If this is an electric power steering assist, and it’s causing the input, you shoudl be able to disconnect the plug at the motor and the pull should disappear. It’ll be hard to steer, but it’ll isolate the problem to the steering system. Ford seems to put all of their electric power steerng components into the rack assemblt. so you’ll have to go there to unplug it/

He does not have to unplug it, he just has to answer the question I asked. If he has to apply force to the wheel to keep it from steering to the right, then it is the rack, or electric pump. If he cocks the wheel to the left to keep the car straight, it is alignment or a very defective component, or both.

I see what you mean, Keith. I’m thinking that he has to steer left to compensate for a pull to the right. You’re thinking he might be describing the wheel being counterclockwise by some amount when the car’s going straight.

You’re right. We need for info.

If it appears to be the rack/pump, it can be confirmed by jacking up the front end, both wheels off the ground, and start the engine. If the car steers to the right on its own, then you have confirmed it.

Good idea. Better than my suggestion.

Wow, I am so amazed at how quickly you all responded! Thank you!

To clarify, I know NOTHING about cars, so jacking the car up and unplugging things under the hood isn’t an option.

The car has 140,000 miles on it and overall has been a great vehicle. I know I’ll be in the market for a new car soon, but I would like to hold off for as long as possible. I’m looking for suggestions as to what to ask a mechanic, hopefully I’ll take it in on Monday. I don’t have a good mechanic that I trust, and sometimes I feel that I’m just spending money and the problem isn’t getting fixed.

Lately when I drive the car, I need to turn the steering wheel to 11 o’clock to make the car drive straight. Sometimes when the problem has been happening for a while, the steering wheel shakes pretty bad. The brakes and rotors were replaced in August 2011 - the brakes were grinding on the left. In September 2011 the front left tire was replaced and the tires were cross-rotated and balanced. At that time the mechanic told me that it was probably due to a “bubble” in the tire, so they replaced the tire. The problem seemed solved at the time, but now is back.

Again, any questions or suggestions to give the mechanic would be much appreciated!!

I think this could be a the right front strut. The shaking of the steering wheel is the clue. I had a Ford truck that would shake and pull when the one of the front shocks would go bad. Also it could be the right front wheel bearing hub going bad. One thing for sure all the front suspension and rear suspension components need to be looked at.

mfennel–A good independent alignment shop or an independent tire shop with an alignment facility is probably your best bet to solving the problem. I had a really bad experience with a Sears store after an alignment job. I was in graduate school at the time and didn’t know shops in the area. Sears didn’t want to do anything to make the car drive right. The service station where I bought gas and had minor repairs done told me that the only really good alignment shop was the International truck dealer, but the alignment specialist there had a long waiting time because he was so good. Fortunately, the owner of the service station where I traded knew the man. The service station operator kept my car overnight and delivered it to the alignment man at 6:00 a.m. the next morning. When I got the car back, the report was that Sears had the front wheels set to toe out instead of to toe in. The charge was less than what Sears had charged me.
When I finished my graduate work and was back home, I went to my independent alignment shop and was telling the owner of this shop about my experience. He went to his desk and showed me his appointment book. He had appointments from new car dealers and from chain tire stores all of which had alignment racks. He told me that when a customer complained enough after an alignment at either the dealer or the chain tire store, the dealer or the tire chain would bring the car to him. My advice is to ask around and find out who the alignment specialist is in your area.

I’m curious as to whether this vehicle has been on the alignment rack or if the mechanic comments about this not being alignment related are strictly wild guesses.

Based on an occasional shake being involved and the fairly recent history of the brakes being serviced maybe this problem is due to a hanging caliper. I wonder if they serviced the caliper slides as necessary?