Steering and suspension issues must be taken seriouslyWritten by Nick Shultz | | email@example.com
I often hear from readers about problems associated with the way their cars steer. I take steering related concerns seriously because of the obvious dangers associated with a vehicle that doesn’t steer correctly. Within the automotive trade we refer to the characteristics a car exhibits during steering maneuvers as a car’s “directional stability.”
A vehicle must exhibit good directional stability throughout cornering and while driving straight ahead. The vehicle’s steering wheel must easily return to the straight ahead position after all steering maneuvers are completed. Failure of the steering system to perform as designed can lead to premature failure of the tires, as well as be a contributing factor in collisions. Therefore, any steering related concerns should be addressed immediately.
There are two distinct systems that perform together in order to achieve good directional stability. A vehicle’s steering system and a vehicle’s suspension systems, although separate systems, work in conjunction with one another in order to achieve directional stability.
A problem with either of the two systems can adversely affect the other. Customers often refer to problems with the directional stability of a vehicle as “alignment issues.” Although an alignment problem can cause a problem with the way a vehicle steers or handles, a given problem effecting directional stability may not be alignment related at all.
Some things you may want to consider before taking your vehicle into a shop to have the steering and suspension system checked out are the vehicles tires and tire pressure. Any problem with tires can adversely affect the way a vehicle handles. While it is true that abnormal tire wear could be the result of defective components within the steering or suspension system, it is also true the tires themselves could be chief contributing factor to directional stability issues. Tire pressure should always be checked when steering issues arise.
Low-profile tires are popular. Although they are stylish, they have shallow side walls which can cause a vehicle to ride harsh. If a pothole is encountered while making a cornering maneuver, the vehicle could lose directional stability.
You may want to check the way you load your vehicle as well. Improper loading of a vehicle can cause the vehicle to exhibit unusual steering characteristics. Always try and balance your loads as best you can from side to side and from front to rear. Pickup trucks are engineered to accommodate heavier loads in the rear bed area, while passenger cars tend to be engineered to have most of the weight centered within the passenger compartment. Loading a passenger vehicle heavy in the trunk can cause the vehicle to wander while traveling straight ahead or cause the vehicle to loose directional stability all together while making turns. Use common sense while loading.
Another consideration, although not often talked about, is the weight of the operator or passengers. Excessively overweight operators or passengers can cause a vehicle to pull one way or the other. If this is the case, advise your technician and he or she can make adjustments to the vehicle’s caster and camber angles during the alignment procedures that may help overcome a vehicle’s tendency to pull because of this loading concern.
Most roads are built with a crown in the middle, which helps water shed from the roadway surface to the shoulder. Alignment technicians are aware of this and slightly alter a vehicles alignment angles on the driver’s side of the vehicle to help overcome the tendency of a vehicle to pull towards the right.
There is a tremendous amount of engineering that goes into a vehicle’s steering and suspension systems. Many technicians specialize in learning the relationship between the two and work an entire career in alignment shops. Almost every reputable shop has a technician who specializes in steering and suspension systems. If your car is exhibiting a problem with its directional stability, seek out the advice of one of these specialists.
Nick Shultz is an instructor of Automotive Technologies at Owens Community College. He is an arbitrator for the Better Business Bureau who specializes in cases involving the Ohio and Michigan Lemon laws.