You're stuck with the pull unless it's due to a tire pull. I'm sorry that my reply is going to sound sarcastic; that is not my intent, but to put it bluntly, these are "killer cars". They are far more dangerous than the Ford Pinto. First of all, Ford is famous for building cars that can't have the tires aligned to reduce tire wear. Look at your front tires from in front of the car and you'll see how far they lean out on top. That gave the car a much smoother ride than other brands of front-wheel-drive cars so Ford sold a lot of them. What they didn't tell you was 15,000 miles was about all you could expect out of a set of tires and there was no way to fix that with an alignment because there is no adjustment method provided. So what? They didn't care what happened after the sale. "Camber" is the alignment angle that this is in reference to. Most cars and light trucks call for a camber angle of 0.00 to around 0.50 degrees. (0 degrees means the tire is perfectly vertical. 90 degrees means the tire would be laying on its side). So you can see 0.50 degrees isn't very much. By the time you get to 1.00 degree, you start to see accelerated tire wear on the outer edge of the tread. Your Escort's left tire is set at the factory to 2.40 degrees! There is no reason to do that except to sell smooth-riding cars.
The rear tires were tipped in on top almost as much, but the aftermarket alignment industry has come up with modification kits that allow those tires to be stood up straighter to improve tire wear. Due to the design, there is no way to modify anything on the front.
First of all, if you have a pull to one side when you let go of the steering wheel, switch the two front tires side-to-side. If the car pulls the other way, it's a tire pull issue. Switching them front-to-rear might solve the problem. If the car goes straight, leave the tires where they are. Another trick that can identify a tire pull on front-wheel-drive cars is to observe that it pulls one way when accelerating and it pulls the other way under moderate to hard braking. That CAN be caused by worn suspension parts too.
The reason these cars are called "killer cars" is Ford's use of "rubber-bonded-socket" outer tie rod ends. Where regular designs will clunk and rattle for months before they fall apart, Ford's design is much less expensive to produce but they fall apart very often and with little warning unless you know what to watch for. They were the cause of a lot of serious crashes. Instead of using a regular tie rod in which the ball is free to rotate in the socket as you turn and go over bumps, they drop the stud into the housing and fill in around it with molten rubber. When that rubber cures, the two parts are glued together and act like a spring. A real common trick the Ford alignment mechanics used to do to alleviate a customer's complaint of a pull was to disconnect one or both studs from the steering knuckle, turn the steering system the opposite direction the car was pulling, then reconnect the tie rod(s). When the steering system was turned back to straight ahead, that put those tie rod ends into a permanent twist. That made them act like a rubber bungee strap hooked to the steering linkage and it counteracted the pull. The car went straight; the customer was happy;... And the life expectancy of those tie rods was reduced by about 90 percent. When the rubber was torn from being turned too far too many times, the parts would separate and you lost steering control.
At the mass merchandiser I worked for up through 1990, we got in a shipment of front end parts every Wednesday. A typical shipment consisted of 40 outer tie rod ends for Escorts and Tempos, and a dozen for all other car brands put together. By Saturday we had sold out of the Escort parts and had to order them locally. We changed so many of them that we could do a pair in less than five minutes without even removing the wheels. With no alignment adjustments for camber or caster, ("what you got is what you get"), the alignment to set a straight steering wheel took less than 15 minutes. Ford didn't care about tire wear and we weren't going to be able to make it better either.
The place to start for your noise is by inspecting those outer tie rod ends. If you don't know how to do that, most tire and alignment shops will do that for you and will show you what to look for. By 145,000 miles the outer ones have definitely been replaced a long time ago. If factory parts were used, they've been replaced many times already. No aftermarket parts supplier uses that rubber-bonded-socket design. They all use the much more reliable common ball and socket with a grease fitting. They still can develop looseness but they are much less likely to fall apart. One clue to look for if you suspect a worn inner or outer tie rod is the steering wheel will shift position a little in one direction when accelerating and the other way when braking. That is because the loose part will let that tire turn left and right depending on whether it's pulling the car forward or trying to stop it. You have to counter that action by turning the steering wheel to keep the car going straight.
Clicking during turns is often caused by worn outer cv joints in the drive axles. This occurs with high mileage or after the boot has split open and dirt and water get inside. It's not common for them to break but they can set up a horrendous vibration.
Struts should be checked for slop where the shaft comes out the top of the body. The upper strut mounts can wear or rust out too but those are hard to diagnose without actually disassembling the strut first. Other things they will check are the inner tie rods, rack and pinion steering gear mounting bushings, control arm bushings, lower ball joints which are a part of the control arms, wheel bearings, loose brake calipers or pads, and worn or broken anti-sway bar links and center bushings.
Hold on a minute. Now that I typed all that, I see you have '88 AND '98 listed in the title. Which model do you have? The '88 is a Ford product and almost all of them have been in the junkyards long ago. That's what my entire reply refers to. The '98 is a Mazda product and while the same front end parts need to be inspected that I listed, they are NOT the killer cars I described. They also do not suffer from the severe tire wear issues.
Tuesday, June 28th, 2011 AT 8:54 PM