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Well, I didn't hit the squirrel... (wheel alignment)

On my way out of my neighborhood this morning, I forgot everything my dad ever taught me about driving and swerved to avoid hitting a squirrel. Instead, my right tire hit the beginning of a curb with a loud THUMP… and now I’m wondering just how screwed I am.

I observed the following symptoms during the rest of my 1-hour commute (highway/stop-and-go): initially the car wanted to pull left slightly, and it made a soft, rhythmic noise when I made hard right turns on a cloverleaf. Otherwise, everything seemed fine… Except my steering wheel. It is noticeably misaligned now, which is especially annoying since I drive a stick, so my hands are typically at 7 and 5 o’clock. Now my hands (in their usual positions) are nearly at 9 and 4.

So, how screwed am I? Is there a way to fix the steering wheel alignment myself, or is this a deeper problem? Is this something I need to get looked at right away lest I risk doing further damage, or is this a problem I can ignore for another month of local-only driving? I’m about to move out of the country for a year and was going to put the car in storage. I have no money right now and will need to replace the tires when I resume driving it anyway. Can I put off dealing with this for a year?

“Can I put off dealing with this for a year?
is this a problem I can ignore for another month of local-only driving?”

That depends on how well-insured you are.
I am talking about both auto liability and collision insurance, as well as life insurance.
And, it also depends on your conscience.
No, I am not being facetious.

What you describe could well involve problems that go beyond a need for wheel alignment, and could potentially include the need to replace bent/damaged steering components, and/or a wheel, and/or a tire.
Ergo–a potential safety hazard that could compromise your ability to steer the car.
Aside from being able to stop the car, I can’t think of anything that is more basic to automotive safety than being able to steer your car.

Even though money might be tight right now, if you cause an accident as a result of a mechanical problem with your car, you could wind up with your salary being attached for the rest of your life, and that would give you even bigger financial problems.

How would you feel if you caused the death of a child, if you could not steer around him when he ran in front of your car?

How would your loved-ones feel if you died in a car accident?

Yes, I am giving you extreme scenarios, but they are far from impossible scenarios.
If you can’t afford to fix the car at this point, then you also can’t afford to drive it in this condition.
In that case, park it until you have the funds for the necessary repairs.

Get it taken car of right away. Your tires are out of alignment, that means the tires are going down the road in two different directions scrubbing rubber off as you drive.
Here is a small list of items that MIGHT be damaged.
tire
rim
tie rod ends
bearing/hub
control arm
I’m not saying all are bad but one or more might be damaged. The longer you wait the more damage you do the car and a possible collision.

Sorry that VDCdriver took the tack he did in his comments. It is worrisome that the steering wheel changed normal position on roads you are used to driving. You Must get the front end checked out. Once they look at the car you can choose to say no to repair, but you will know what is broken.

UPDATE: The check engine light came on while I drove it home (no idea if that’s related), and it’s definitely still listing left if I let it drift… so I’m having my husband take it in tomorrow morning and will use his car in the meantime.

VDCdriver - point taken. If I’d thought I was in or posed a danger on the road, I’d have pulled over right away and called AAA for a ride straight to my mechanic. But the extent of the misalignment is worrisome enough that I agree it needs immediate attention.

My main motive for asking was to find out if 1) my car was going to begin its year in storage a month early, or 2) whether this might be a minor repair I could afford to fix now. Sounds like the former is more likely… I’ll go dust off my bike helmet.

You really won’t know until you have it looked at but you may have bent the tie rod or some other part. That’s not real expensive but can be very dangerous. The other thing is that you may have damaged the tire and that’s what’s causing the thump. Like I said before, I just coasted into my garage and got too close to the concrete step and punched a hole in a brand new tire. So doesn’t take much sometimes.

"I forgot everything my dad ever taught me ", whatever the repair - it won’t be cheep.
Next time, go ahaed and take out the squirrel…

You can’t drive the car as is for a year, even a week is too much. You have likely bent some suspension parts. It will need to be aligned but might need some parts replaced before it can be aligned properly.

If you keep driving it the tires will be worn out in a jiffy, the car won’t handle well in an emergency situation. In the end you’ll spend more money putting off this repair work.

I won’t belabor the point, but the car should not be driven it it’s present state. Just a thought, does the car have full coverage as this should be covered under collision. Get the transaxle checked along with the front end, it’s possible the shock of the impact could have damaged the transmission also.

Ed B.

FWIW, Not that I particularly enjoyed doing it but I inadvertently avenged your front end today.