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Steering wheel play

I just test-drove a 2005 Toyota Highlander. It was great, except that the steering wheel had a lot of play in it. It would move close to 2 inches in either direction before the car started to turn. Is this a bad sign? All I know about the car’s history is that it was from Denver. I worry that maybe it was damaged during the horrible recent winter when they couldn’t clear the streets of snow and people complained that the resulting potholes were ruining cars. My husband says that it might have something to do with the tires, which had a higher profile all-terrain type tread. Please help!

Anyone who purchases a used car without having it inspected by one’s own mechanic is likely to buy a vehicle with problems. If this was a '53 Buick, 2 inches of play in the steering would be acceptable, but in a modern vehicle this is very unusual–and it has nothing to do with the type of tires that are mounted on it.

If you are really interested in this vehicle, have it inspected by a competent mechanic (meaning an independent establishment, rather than a chain operation) and see what the inspection report tells you about the condition of the front end. Also, be sure that any used vehicle that you are considering has documentation of its maintenance, so that your chances of early component failure are minimized.