NO! The clock spring, (wound up ribbon cable) for the air bag can only accommodate turning the steering system full left or full right and no more. There is a master spline on the steering shaft to prevent repositioning the steering wheel in an attempt to cover up the incorrect alignment.
There are only two ways the steering wheel can be off-center after an alignment. The most common is the final step of the procedure was not done correctly. That is to lock the steering wheel straight ahead, then adjust each front wheel to the straight-ahead position. The second way is if the "camber", which is the inward or outward tilt of one of the tires is not correct. That will cause a pull to one side that you have to correct for by turning the steering wheel against that pull. Camber usually doesn't have to be readjusted when just replacing the rack and pinion assembly.
Your alignment specialist might have been doing a conscientious job by correcting or fine tuning the camber settings on the front wheels for the best possible tire wear. Doing so will require adjusting toe, (the direction the wheels are steering) later, but toe must also be adjusted when replacing the rack and pinion.
There are a couple of really sore points on GM front-wheel-drive cars depending on which steering system you have. On many of the newer cars, there is no easy camber adjustment. In the name of getting the car off the assembly line faster to save money, camber is preset and what you got is what you get. On some models, the camber can be made adjustable by making some bolt holes oval-shaped to allow parts to be adjusted. That takes time. What's worse is the toe adjustment on most models. It is real common for them to become rusted so tight within a few thousand miles that most mechanics don't even want to try to adjust them. When the rack is replaced is a good time to take those steering linkages apart and clean and grease all of the threaded parts, (something they could have done at the factory). Doing that in the shop takes a lot of time which customers don't like to pay for, and it invites all kinds of other problems like stripped nuts and broken-off cotter pins. The result of trying to do you a favor can be a snowball effect where more and more things go wrong.
Making the toe adjustments requires tugging a wrench sideways in a manner that we have no strength in out arms for, in a very inaccessible spot, to tug on an easily rounded off nut, where there's not much room for a wrench. When the wrench slips off the nut, the mechanic's knuckles are shredded in the small rocks stuck to the plastic inner fender liner. You only have to do that once to hate working on these cars.
Getting back to your car, take it back to the alignment shop and insist they make the steering wheel straight. Be prepared to give them plenty of time to make the adjustments. Every alignment requires a thorough test drive to insure there is no pull to the side and the steering wheel is straight. Some mechanics try to save time by relying solely on the alignment computer's readings and they don't bother to test drive the car. That invites customer complaints from misalignment problems such as yours, and overlooked tire pull problems that mimic a misalignment problem. The only correct alignment today is a four-wheel alignment on a computerized alignment system. It is normal for the rear wheels to never be perfectly parallel to the car body and the computerized equipment looks at the rear wheels to determine where the front wheels should be set. When an old-fashioned front end alignment is performed, the two front wheels might be set perfectly, but if the rear wheels are off a little, they will steer the car to one side, and you have to correct for that by turning the front wheels, (and steering wheel).
After they make the steering wheel straight, keep an eye on front tire wear. If "total toe" is set wrong, the combination of toe on the two front tires can still give a straight steering wheel if both wheels are off equally, but that will cause rapid wear to the inner or outer edges of the two tires equally. That might not show up for months and for thousands of miles.
Sunday, December 5th, 2010 AT 7:08 PM