Parked means nothing. You won't see that slight misalignment. You made good observations. Those are two of the three things alignment specialists look at. The third one is tire wear patterns but those take a long time to show up.
The two symptoms together, and the history, suggest the strut is bent or if the lower strut mounting point includes a "camber" adjustment, that adjustment may have slipped. Either way it will make the wheel tip in or out on top, and the steering arm will move in or out too, but the steering linkage isn't readjusted to accommodate that change. That means the linkage is causing that wheel to turn left or right. Since the car will try to follow that wheel, you have to bring it back to where it should be by turning the steering wheel. That's why the steering wheel is off-center.
The fix could involve replacing the bent strut and performing the alignment that is always required after that service. Struts are normally replaced in pairs, front or rear at the same time, and they're typically not real expensive. Replacing them is common on any car and can be considered normal maintenance. Struts get bent from hitting something, such as when sliding into a curb, or I suppose if a snow plow hit it. If you just parked and got snowed in later, or you drove slowly into a snow bank where you got stuck, chances are the struts are fine and that camber alignment adjustment just slipped. That would only require an alignment, but often no parts. The place to start is by having the steering and suspension systems inspected at a tire and alignment shop.
Friday, December 28th, 2012 AT 5:05 AM