Car drifts despite alignment and tire rotation

I noticed that my '05 Jetta was drifting right a while ago. I was due for new tires anyway, so I got a set from my mechanic (Michelin HydroEdge) and got the alignment looked at at Les Schwab. The car still pulls. Tried switching the tires front to back (they are directional), no change. What could it be if it’s not the alignment or the tires???

Some more info would help.
Buy the car new?
Ever been wrecked?

Did they give you a printout of the alignment specs, and if so what do the caster and camber specs look like?

How many miles on the car?

Could be a bent frame, or demon rum.

Try switching the front tires side to side. This has fixed a pull to right on two of my vehicles, a 93 Caprice and a 2000 Blazer. Since the tires are directional, they will have to be remounted to make the swtch.

Ed B.

Define drift. Do you mean you need to apply some force to the wheel to stay straight? Do you mean it drifts right if you keep the wheel straight? Does it vary depending on the crown of the road and what lane you are in or what road you are on?

Simple test: Swap the front tires side to side. Since this is just for testing purposes, it doesn’t matter if the tires are directional or not.

  1. If the drift completely changes direction, then its the tires.

  2. If the drift doesn’t change, it’s the alignment.

  3. If the drift disappears, or is substantially changed (other than completely changing direction), then it both tires and alignment.

Since you swapped the tires front to back with no change, I’m betting on alignment.

My experience says that the published alignment tolerances are too wide. Not the target value, but the allowable deviation from that value. I think it ought to be half of what is published.

Put another way, the alignment should be within the inner half of the spec.

You should be aware that even vehicles that do not have a pull can be out of alignment. There are settings where one out of spec condition is offset by another out of spec condition ? typically camber vs toe.

Also, many alignment techs think that if the factory did not make provisions to make adjustments for the alignment, then they can?t make an adjustment and will declare the vehicle ?OK?. This is totally wrong.

ALL alignment settings are adjustable, but it may require an eccentric bolt, some shims, or slotting a hole. A GOOD alignment tech will know what to do and the vehicle should leave a shop with ALL the alignment settings close to the nominal.

CR, I Enjoyed Your Informative Answer. I Hope You Stay On Board To Help With Tough Tire / Alignment Issues. Good To Hear From You !


Thank you for your suggestions! Unfortunately I have tried these things before with no results.

Here’s a better description of the “drift”: Once I let go of the steering wheel the car goes straight for a few seconds, then starts drifting more and more. The steering wheel actually turns right. I’ve never tried to see how bad it could get as I am usually on a road and would rather not cause an accident…

I had the alignment checked, no change. Switched to snow tires for the winter, no change. I got new tires - no change. I switched the new tires front to back (can’t switch side to side w/o taking them off the rims as they are directional) - no change. Had the alignment looked at again AFTER the tire switch, again comes back fine.

I think I can say with confidence that it is NOT the tires or the alignment unless the alignment techs both didn’t do a good job (one was LesSchwab, the other a local alignment shop). What else could it be??? The car is an '05, I bought it new, no accidents, 70K. The latest alignment specs are attached. Thanks!!

Was the steering wheel recentered after the alignment?

How hard does it pull?

Are you testing it on a truly flat surface?

Could it be that the steering wheel wasn’t installed straight?

I can’t comment on the alignment measurements but someone else probably can.

I only have a couple of questions. First, is this most definitely a newish thing with the car? Most roads are crowned to the right - mostly for drainage, but perhaps also to keep sleepy drivers out of incoming traffic. The crown will give a right drift tendency. Second, has anyone checked the front strut mounts/bearing plates for binding?

It drifts no matter which way the road tilts (except for left, in which case it goes straight).

No, have not checked the front strut mounts/bearing plates for binding. I’ll put that on my list of possible solutions, thanks!

I don’t think that the steering wheel needs re-centering as the car goes straight when the steering wheel is straight, and drifts and the steering wheel turns in the direction of the drift when I let go.

PS: At first I thought that I was crazy and that it was just the camber of the road. But then I drove a couple other cars and they didn’t have this problem. So there’s definitely something wrong with my car. It will drift right on a perfectly flat surface like a parking lot.

Im thinking a loose adjustment on the wheel bearing retainer nut on one front wheel. Or a sticky caliper on drag on the rt frnt disc. Also check to see if one of the sway brace bolts has sheared?

Just brain storming, but…I’m assuming that someone check brake drag or condition of pads on both front and rear wheels ? Dragging on one wheel, front or back can cause car to drift. Bad wheel bearings or in need of adjustment or lube which should have been checked during alignment

A slight gradual drift to the right can be caused by the crowning of a road. Just about any car, if driven with no driver input, will drift due to the crowning of a road. As it should (you don’t want an uncontrolled car ending up in the oncoming traffic lane). The only way to see if you have an alignment/tire issue is to perform the test on a flat/level surface so that gravity has no effect on the results.

Rear wheel misalignment can cause steering pull. You can do a quick and dirty check on the rear toe yourself with a long straight edge. You can do a pretty good job of choosing a straight edge by eyeballing along the length of 1 x 4 from your local lumber yard. Do both edges of each possible choice. Park the car with the front wheels steering straight ahead. Then hold the straight edge along each rear tire near the middle, not the bottom of the rear tire and then look where the end of the board relates to the front tire. Do both sides. This can also be done almost as well with a length of string.

Otherwise, I have found that front end caster mismatch has the most effect on steering pull but your specs seem to be close enough so that should not be the problem. With some vehicles it is possible to elongate the strut mounting holes at the top of the correct front shock tower with a rat tail file to make a caster mismatch so as to cancel out your steering pull. Caster plates can be expensive if needed. You then will have to closely watch your tire wear to see if you have a problem with tire wear. It seems that the alignment professionals can’t help so possibly a more unconventional solution is in order.

PS, Caster out of spec will have little or no effect on tire wear. I didn’t mean to imply that but was thinking that it would be good to watch your tire wear to reveal the real problem if that is possible.

A couple of thoughts:

  1. Yes, you can swap directional tires left to right FOR A TEST. The property you are trying to measure with this test is “conicity” and it is not related to the non-directionality or directionality of the tread pattern.

  2. Dagosa mentioned brake drag and I’m thinking that fits all the facts. There might be something else causing drag - and that’s where I would concentrate my efforts.

  3. The alignment numbers posted did not give the specified values, so it’s a little hard to a diagnosis - BUT - it pretty much matches what I’ve been working on: