Front-end alignment done wrong

I’ve gone to a front-end alignment specialist twice in one year, with the same problem (not solved with the first or second visit) - my car was pulling sharply to one side. Then he suggested rotating tires clockwise, which I did. No improvement.

Then, my regular mechanic discovered the the ball joint was in bad shape, fixed that, and the car runs great. I now need another alignment (because of the ball-joint repair) and i feel it should be done at no charge. I haven’t talked to the front-end guy yet about it. How do you suggest I approach him? By the way, he’s someone who has a great reputation from area mechanics and customers. My own mechanic had liked his work so much that he was shocked that the guy hadn’t noticed that the ball joint was bad. Thanks for any help with this!!

I, too, am shocked that an alignment specialist didn’t notice a bad ball joint.

Perhaps you should try a different alignment shop.

Susan, You May Be “Between A Rock And A Hard Place.”

Alignments usually have no warranty because people can leave a shop, hit a curb or pot hole and knock it out, but the ball joint problem makes it tricky.

You don’t mention how much time transpired between the alignments and the ball joint replacement and the need for another alignment and you haven’t mentioned what you were charged for the previous alignments, tire swaps, etcetera.

Although it’s highly unlikely the ball joint went bad after the alignment technician worked on the car, he may suggest this to you to save face. He should have checked the steering / suspension components thoroughly before the alignment(s).

I’d tell him honestly what happened. Ask if there’s a charge for another alignment and how much another alignment would cost. When he tells you be prepared to:

list “Suck it up”, pay the charge, and keep the alignment specialist.[/list]
list Say, “You mean I have to pay all over again?” “I’ll have to think about it before I pay again.” and if there’s no reconsideration, get a different alignment shop.[/list]

How much time and how much money are we talking about?


Thanks for that answer. I like how you worded the statement in “(2)”. I definitely will not have the alignment done there if there is any charge.

I had the 2 alignments done 10 months apart (total of $90), with my car still pulling sharply to the left continuously (between those 2 alignments, at the alignment-guy’s recommendation, I rotated the tires myself…not incurring any charges there)…

All the while, my regular mechanic was troubleshooting the problem NOT CONSIDERING a balljoint problem due to the fact that the alignment guy has such an excellent reputation. When the mechanic discovered the balljoint problemm(one month after the 2nd alignment), he was shocked that the alignment guy hadn’t seen it.

I now need a 3rd alignment just because it is necessary following the ball-joint replacement.

Thanks for any further feedback!


I definitely will not have the alignment done there if there is any charge.

Well, you still need an alignment so you’ll likely be paying someone else their full amount, right? Wouldn’t it be better to get some consideration rather than none?

The definition of a compromise is when everyone is equally dissatisfied. If you go in demanding a free alignment, you may get nothing. Backing someone into a corner or embarrasing them is not going to help your case.

I would go in and explain the events in a calm and rational manner. Explain that you believe the ball joint problem existed at the time of the last aligment and that you can understand it may have been overlooked. How about if we split the cost of the next alignment? You each get something; he gets his cost for the work but no profit and you get 50% off, which is much better than destroying the relationship and having to pay yet another person full price.

Destroying the relationship? After his huge and potentially dangerous mistake, I am certainly owed an alignment at no charge. He took my money in return for a service not performed correctly. You made an incorrect assumption that I am an aggressive person and would back him into a corner or embarrass him. I am simply wondering how to approach him–assertively, not aggressively, but not passively either (meaning, the 3rd alignment wouldn’t be “free” as you said, because I already paid for it - actually I paid for it twice. It would now be considered a pre-paid service. If he won’t perform the service at no further charge, I will definitely go elsewhere).

The fact that your first alignment missed the bad ball joint was either due to simple human error or incompetence. There is no law against either. All of us have made repair mistakes due to simple human error, and even some to incompetence.

You’re at mercy of the first shop’s goodwill to give you a free alignment. They put their time in to perform an alignment, and you paid them for it. The fact that they overlooked something doesn’t mean you don’t owe them for their time.

The more you demand you’re owed a free alignment, the more likely the shop will say no. My recommendation is for you to follow the advice that TwinTurbo gave you.

Not sure why you would PAY an incompetent shop to attempt to do yet another alignment. After having gone back with severe malfunctions after the first one was done wrong… human error is understandable for one bad alignment, but not 2, not when a ball-joint issue is one of the first things an alighment specialist needs to check, and not when I came back following the first one and described the ongoing problem in detail… And now risking putting more money into a 3rd? Commonsenseanswer’s advice sounds far more logical, but thanks anyway, for taking the time to respond.

Well, I already stated what I think your approach to him should be. I can make a prediction if you react the same as you have done here. I don’t see why you would even consider letting him do it for free if he’s made such a huge mistake in your eyes. Why not move on regardless? I mean his obvious negligence in your eyes has potentially endangered your life, why would you ever trust him again?

If you’re looking for only responses that line up with your own reasoning, why ask?

I would simply find another alignment shop and eat the charge. Alignment is too critical as far as safety is concerned to take a chance. I had the same situation about 40 years ago when I was a poor graduate student and had the alignment done on my 1965 Rambler by a department store chain that had an automotive service center. The car didn’t drive right. The service station that did my work said that they had also had problems on alignments with the department store auto service. It turned out that the best alignment specialist in town was employed by the International Harvester truck dealership. My service station operator knew the man and this alignment did the job at a reasonable cost and the car drove perfectly. The department store service department had set the front wheels to toe out instead of toe in.

Back in the 70s when I was in a 2-yr auto mechanics program, one of my classmates got a job at one of the big nationwide tire outlets after school doing alignments. He was frustrated because he learned the correct way to do an alignment in school, yet his bosses at work told him only to worry about a couple of adjustments and to get the cars in/out quickly.

Thanks for the responses. I appreciate hearing about the different situations! In this case the guy is a one-person specialty shop with a solid reputation. It’s just bizarre how this could have happened! Thanks again.

Actually, I would ask mechanic two to give a call to the alignment shop to discuss the missed ball joint and realigning it. If its a good shop, they’ll realize they screwed up. They might listen to another mechanic more than they would a customer. When I’ve been messed over once, twice, or even three times, I just tend to go away and use someone else, having lost all confidence in their ability.