Steering bad after tire alignment

After purchasing 2 new tires I went to a shop to get alignment done. The steering on my high mileage V4 1993 Toyota Camry was perfect when I took it to the alignment place. An hour later, the alignment having been done, as I was pulling out of the shop onto the road the steering was very hard but I thought something was tightened and would loosen up although I had never experienced that problem any other time an alignment was done. After driving it for several days, the problem wasn’t improving. I left on a trip for several weeks. While gone my daughter drove the care for a few days and asked me what was wrong with the steering. When I returned I took the car back to the alignment shop and told them the problem. The manager or head mechanic checked the alignment and said the numbers were fine. However, he said the rack and pinion needed replacing. I asked him what might have happened to result in the bad steering in the course of one hour while the alignment was done. He said that he didn’t know. I took it to my usual mechanic who said that someone might have over tightened something. He’s an older guy and does not want to work on racks and pinions. He suggested that I take it to Les Schwab and have them inspect it to see what’s wrong and maybe tell them the whole story. I haven’t done that yet. After researching a bit about alignments, racks and pinions etc. I think that it is highly likely that some inexperienced person at the alignment place screwed up something. It’s too much of a coincidence that exactly the hour that the alignment was done, the steering went bad. I am thinking that I might go back to the alignment place and ask them to do whatever they need to do to return the steering of my car to the way it was functioning when I brought it to them. They will likely refuse, of course. I am looking for advice here.

Without knowing what the alignment numbers are it’s difficult to say what the problem is with any certainty.
Really, the only adjustment should be the toe and I can’t see how anything on the tie rods could be adjusted too tightly.

A couple of possibilities could be that an upper strut mount decided to give up (not unheard of) while pulling the car onto or off of the alignment rack or possibly low tire pressure in one or both tires.

One would hope that tire pressure was checked by the alignment people as a first step before even performing an alignment inspection.

Was there any change in the wheels or in the tire size numbers when you purchased the new tires?

You and the shop manager might want to talk to the person who actually worked on your car. “I don’t know but I’ll find out why” is an acceptable answer from people who should know and understand their job. Your power steering should mask undue tightness in your steering gear unless it is really out of order. Did the mechanic tamper with any adjustments on the rack and pinion mechanism? Is your power steering working normally or is there no power steering on this car?

Go to a different alignment shop and get their solution. I don’t think you should go back to the same place. They seem to be bad for cars.

Yep, I think the toe-in is too negative which would give you heavy steering.

If I read your quesion right, the problem is hard steering - and that occurred AFTER an alignment was done.

If so, then the “alignment” has nothing to do with the problem. The problem is in the steering system - and it could be a power steering failure or some other thing related to steering system.

The fact the you’ve taken the vehicle to several places and they don’t seem to know what the problem is - well, that’s trubling. But it just might be that you are asking the question in a way that obscures the real question. Did you notice that lots of people here have focused on the alignment settings and not the hard steering?

So when you ask about the problem - DO NOT mention the alignment. Ask about the hard steering.

If your steering was perfect before the alignment, why did you take it to a shop for an alignment? The practice of getting an alignment when buying new tires is totally bogus. If your steering is good, the tires lasted about as long as you expected and there wasn’t an unusual wear pattern on the tires, then you should not mess with the alignment.

If a shop I am buying tires from offers me free alignment check, I decline it. If they keep pressing me, I tell them to cancel the transaction, I’ll go somewhere else. I will only get an alignment if I detect a problem.

BTW, have you checked your power steering fluid?

While we might debate the necessity of getting a car aligned in a specific circumstance, nobody can fault a car owner for getting and alignment done whether the car should need it or not. It’s simply an owner trying to keep his/her car in good shape. I agree with Keith that the “free alignment with tires” is primarily a revenue generator and is oversold, but the OP still should not have had a problem by getting one done.

You’ll definitely need to get it assessed at a reputable chassis shop. Tell them the entire story and let them take a good look at it. Anything is possible, including (but not limited to) the mechanic having bent something by placing the lift pad in the wrong spot, coincidental failure of a rack seal (it IS a '93, after all), or an erroneous alignment setting. We can’t tell from here, but a good chassis shop can.

Thnks you can check yourself are the fluid level in the power steering reservoir, the air pressure in the tires, and any evidence of leaking by the system components (especially the pump and rack).

I really have to disagree with you SMB on this subject. The reason is that too many alignment machines are out of spec. If you take a car to different shops, especially national tire chains, you will get different readings each time. I have done this, drive out of one store of a national chain and across town to the other and got completely different readings. Actually the second shop was correct that time.

I understand your point, Keith, and would even add that there’s a lot of poor workmanship out there (like not straightening the steering wheel first or not bothering to check the other parameters after adjusting one, or ignoring camber because it require shims to correct), but the OP’s intentions were good and it’s hard to fault the OP for having gotten the alignment done just because it turned out to be bad.

Personally, I monitor my tire wear, don’t rotate (I change them two at a time) and am sensitive to changes in feel, and if everything is great I don’t get the alignment checked…even though I can do so for free. I feel that there are other signs that can be monitored and that alignments can be inconsistant. But IMHO the OP did nothing wrong on having an alignment done.

Its not that the OP did something wrong, I would really like him to understand that it is not necessary to get an alignment done just because he bought new tires, it should only be done if a problem is detected.

SMB, you and I think very much alike when it comes to tires with one exception, on FWD, I rotate one time, front to back when the fronts are down to about 6/32’s. I prefer to replace all 4 tires at once so that I can change brand, model or even tire size if I want to.

It is quite possible that the OP had the alignment done because the tire tech recommended it based on the wear of the old tires. Apparently the alignment shop was a different place than the tire store, maybe the tire store didn’t do alignments, so in his case the alignment might have been needed. I just wanted to throw out some additional perspective to the alignment question.

Personally, I think the alignment shop damaged something else while working on it, maybe kinked one of the power steering lines. I would hope that it was not intentional in order to drum up more business.

Gotcha. And I agree with your philosophy.
I recently rotated to give myself the four tire option at my next change, to possible change brands, but normally I don’t.

I too suspect there may be some damage. One has to watch where one places one’s lift pads.

fea can affect how the car drives and feels if done correctly my car has a strong on ceter feel and a weighty feel to it. you might just be used to how your car felt before the fea was done. it can affect how the car feels in the steering

I had a poor alignment done by Sears many years ago when I was a graduate student. The car wandered all over the place when I got it back. At that time, I was used to getting an alignment once a year on a Rambler that I owned. Ramblers in the 1960s were notorious for going out of alignment. At any rate, the Sears service manager wrote “Student” on the invoice because I had a student parking sticker on the windshield. The Sears service manager would not even discuss the problem when I went back. Fortunately, I traded with a good service station. The manager told me that there was only one place in town that did good alignment work and that was the International Harvester truck dealer. He knew the manager and was able to get me an appointment. It turned out that the front wheels were set by Sears to toe out instead of to toe in. From that experience, I learned ask around and find out where the experts recommend having an alignment done. In my community, there was an alignment shop that did my work. I told the proprietor about my experience with Sears when I was in school. He showed me his appointment book–he had appointments from franchise shops and dealers. When these shops couldn’t get the job right and the customer complained loudly enough, my independent shop got the job to do the job right.