Road irregularities turn steering wheel significantly

I have a 2006 Kia Rio base sedan. I’ve owned it from 55K miles to 70.5K miles. It does not have power steering.

When moving at rather slow speeds, maybe 0-15 or so mph, it seems that bumps or potholes or other irregularities will cause the steering wheel to turn significantly. I feel the steering wheel move back and forth by itself and the wheels feel like they “flop” to either direction to the whim of the road’s irregularities if that makes sense. The wheel feels almost as if someone is grabbing it and moving it back and forth. The movement is forceful enough that if I’m not holding the wheel, the car can really wander around, possibly into another lane but I have not wanted to test that.

I tried looking up this issue on existing threads but couldn’t find it. Also, I didn’t really know what to call it. I had an apparently useless alignment at Firestone about a week ago (car still pulls to the right) which did not seem to affect the issue. I attached a scan of the alignment sheet thing, if that helps at all. Incidentally, it seems like they left a thing out of spec but maybe that’s a whole other question.

So anyone know what could cause this and whether it can lead to damage or safety hazards? Thanks in advance for your help and expertise. I’ve been reading a lot and learning a lot from you all.

Kind Regards.

I’m really no mechanic, but I’ve dealt with my share of potholes and such. My advice to you is to take your car to an automotive shop and have them check your struts, wheel alignment again, tires, and rims or push comes to shove, take it to the dealership. Sometimes dealerships offer deals on alignment service and such.

Find a local shop that specializes in alignment. The chain stores are incompetent.
I got a bad alignment at Firestone once, too.

On many late model vehicles the caster and camber is not adjustable. This is why it was left alone. The small amount the toe was off is not much of an issue.
However, that sheet shows the caster is way out of whack and caster is one thing that can seriously affect the handling of the vehicle. Think of caster as being similar to how the front wheels are laid out on a supermarket shopping cart. Turn the front wheels sideways a bit, shove the cart, and the cart straightens itself out, right?

It could be that this vehicle was involved in a collision with the prior owner, or owners, and was never repaired or even checked out properly.
Offhand, it sounds like both front wheels have been shoved backwards a bit. This would not be noticeable with the naked eye and may involve taking it to a body shop with a laser frame alignment rack to sort out.

I wouldn’t be terribly thrilled with Firestone for performing an alignment and not explaining that caster thing to you. That’s Alignment 101.
Hope that helps anyway and good luck.

Thanks all. I intend to ask my real mechanic – as opposed to firestone – about the steering and alignment. When I hit him up to check out this vehicle 15K ago when I was buying it, I remember him commenting that there seemed to be something weird about the steering (he only test drove it). The steering does feel quite strange but when I first got it I chalked it up to lack of power steering. The wheel is very difficult to turn and snaps back with a lot of force. Also there’s the weird wandering around bumps thing.

When I bought the car, carfax had no damage reported at least but indicated I am the fourth owner. Perhaps one of those owners was the dealership though. This car was certified which I immediately understood to be total BS upon reviewing the certification checkpoints. Anyway, it is a bit of a mystery box of a car I suppose. Oooo come to think of it, if it was in a collision I’d better have the airbag sensor things checked.

I looked up caster and what all the other specs are. Once again I am in awe of a complex system I’ve used all this time without knowing it – i.e. the mess of precise angles each wheel needs to have.

Altered caster can make a dramatic difference in the way a vehicle feels. Depending on which way the caster is altered (positive or negative along with each side being diffferent) the steering may feel very firm and the wheel hard to turn or it may even feel very light to the touch and even resemble power steering.

This also affects the way the wheel returns to center and snapping back hard can be a sign the caster is not what it should be. It can also lead to a car veering one way and a correction making it veer the other along with causing it to wander. There’s a lot of scenarios.

Keep in mind that Carfax is a sales tool more than anything and while it helps to some degree, it’s often incomplete or flat out wrong. I’ve related the story on here about Carfax showing a car I owned at one time as being “Currently stolen”. That was pretty amusing.
The word “Certified” is also a word that is thrown around a bit carelessly too.

Thanks for the info ok4450. I have been researching alignment specs today and am just starting to learn about how all those different angles affect steering. I appreciate your help very much.

Before purchasing this car, I had the (erroneous!) idea in my head that getting a certified car was a safe bet. At the dealership I asked to see what the certification points were. I was disappointed to see a very short list of superficial and subjective points akin to “how’s the engine”, “is the coolant clean”, etc. I could just imagine some guy opening the hood and going “yep, its got an engine…check, coolant is not black…check”. All said and done, this “certified” car had non-functioning brake lights, a nail in a tire and some alignment issues (wobbled at freeway speeds – fixed now). Hopefully this caster problem is the last of it. :slight_smile:

Yes I understand about the carfax stuff. At best, it can only provide what was reported. I mostly use it to check if a vehicle has been smogging ok. (I live in California) Did carfax say your car was stolen while you owned it or after you owned it?

First, with the alignment as it is, you shouldn’t be getting a pull. Do this:

Swap the front tires.

If the pull completely changes direction, the problem is 100% tires (My bet is on this one!)

If the pull doesn’t change at all, then the problem is 100% alignment.

If the pull changes slightly, or disappears completely, then it is a combination of tires and alignment.

With that information you ought to be able to fix the pull - which may require getting new tires.

But the issue of following irregularities in the road at slow speed? I think that is pretty common. What may be going on is the tires are trying to follow the wheel track depressions left in the road by 18 wheelers - and your Kia has a much narrower track, so the vehicle can’t find a comfortable position. Trying to fix that is more a matter of fixing the road (or buying a vehicle with a wider track.)

Alignment problems would have the same symptom regardless of road surface.

I suspect worn suspension components, most likely control arm bushings (annoying but not dangerous) or ball joints (dangerous). Do you notice it most when pulling up to a stop sign on uneven pavement?

Some cars come with fairly soft control arm bushings that after a few years can allow a lot of wheel motion although they still look OK on visual inspection.

I had this symptom on my '88 Accord once.
It was 14 years old at the time.
Turned out to be a dried out ball joint.
I had them all replaced at the same time, 4 in front, 2 in back.

Yes, I notice the wandering the most when I’m stopping on uneven pavement. With the general pull to the right it didn’t seem to matter.

Thanks CapriRacer, I will try the tire thing.

To clarify what I mean by road irregularities, I attached a picture of the street I drive on every day. The picture is pre road construction. We are now undergoing a vigorous corridor improvement project and these roads have steel plates everywhere (not at all flush with the road), vertical and horizontal gouges, bumps, slopes and more potholes.

Be aware that a special kits is available for the Kia Rio to allow proper alignment.

Follow OK4450’s advice, but you might want to bring a copy of the attachment with you to the shop to make them aware that such a kit exists. A good shop will work with you on this. Know, however, that OK4450’s advice about the possibility of an accident having happened is good advice, and ask the shop for its assessment of this as well. They may find evidence of such.

Sincere best.

Saw the picture of that road…Wow! Is all I have to say. I live out in Northern Nevada and there’s a lot of dirt roads that are in better shape than that!

A few points I might respectfully make.
A tire bias won’t cause severe wheel flop or the snap back in the steering wheel.
The alignment kits only cover camber, not caster.
The printout provided shows the caster is not just off but it’s off by a country mile.
Imagine pushing a shopping car with both front wheels turned around and facing forward while being connected by a tie bar. The incorrect caster would make it a wrestling match.

In regards to the pic above of the horrible road surface some may remember I’ve carped a few times about the roads here. Most notably, where the highway guys came in and resurfaced about 9 miles of road that was fine and ignored the 3 miles in the middle that actually needed surfacing.
The entire 3 miles looks just like that picture… :frowning:

OK4450, you’re right that the website addresses camber only, but the MOOG eccentric mount bolts should allow adjustment to the caster as well as camber in a McPhereson strut system. Or am I missing something.

Funny thing about that road, they resurfaced it in other cities but of course stopped exactly at the city line of my city. So its like that picture (and much worse!) all the way to the freeway. Incidentally, that picture is from an article naming California’s SF bay area roads as the second-worst in the nation, behind LA.

Today I hope to do some driving out of town on nicer roads so I’ll try to compare and see if I still see the same problems. Hopefully my mechanic will have time to drive it around, I’d rather relay what he says because I don’t know what I’m talking about! :slight_smile:

Just wanted to say thank you all for the advice and info. I discussed the issue with my mechanic today and went over my alignment sheet with him (he has also driven the car before). He clarified that there is no risk of causing further damage “as long as the tires aren’t wearing funny”. And there is no safety hazard “as long as you don’t drive off the road”. He also seemed to feel that the steering-wheel-to-road-bump interaction is due to the overall cheapness and crappiness of my car (also, the condition of our roads is INSANELY POOR). “You aren’t exactly driving a cadillac” were his words LOL. I like his frankness.

Rack and pinion assembly is a possible failure point.

I think your mechanic is seriously misguided and uninformed to put it politely if he can so easily brush off a handling problem like this and not have some concern over that glaring caster problem; which I might add is almost out of the ballpark.

Thank you for the advice. My mechanic has known me since childhood (hence the frankness and familiarity) and is aware of me and my family’s economic situation. He knew where I was coming from – I just wanted to be sure it wasn’t something I had to fix immediately. My main concern was whether the car was going to fall apart on the freeway or whether I’d cause additional damage by driving it. My bad, I should have clarified that earlier. I’m of course open to other opinions though, if it seems to anyone that this issue is dangerous. Unfortunately I might lack the experience or mechanical knowledge to tell me whether the car is really supposed to feel this way. But when I described the issue to my uncle who seems to me a car genius, he showed some concern.

My guess (because I don’t know what I’m talking about) is that the messed up caster angle is allowing the wheels to “wander” too easily?

I would like to add that the steering feels very tight, if thats the right word. There is no looseness or extra play when turning the wheel and it snaps back to center with a lot of force.

Thank you for your help.