Alignment

Tiny
MARCIA ROBERSON
  • MEMBER
  • 2009 HYUNDAI SONATA
  • 76,000 MILES
At what point in the alignment process does a mechanic realize the car cannot be aligned? Typically does the customer still pay for the service?
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Tuesday, August 25th, 2020 AT 12:21 AM

6 Replies

Tiny
4DRTOM
  • EXPERT
Hello,

Before they start most of the time unless the car had been in an accident and they try to get it right and it just wont go because the frame is bent or something way more serious that the normal parts are good and still wont go. They need to verify that all the suspension parts are tight or it wont align. The ball joints, tie rods, end links, control arms, etc. If anything that holds the tire firm is loose or failing it can't be aligned. All shops are different as to whether they will charge to do something they cant do, it's all their reputation at that point. What are they saying if I might ask? And why are you getting it aligned?
Tom
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Tuesday, August 25th, 2020 AT 12:57 AM
Tiny
MARCIA ROBERSON
  • MEMBER
I had a shop replace tie rod links, sway bar, upper control arms, lower ball joints, calipers, when I picked it up they said it was aligned. As soon as I left the shop I called shop told them it was not aligned still pulling to the right. I took it back for 2nd attempt at alignment this time they said it could not be aligned that possibly the curb I hit had bent the sub-frame. Not sure why they didn't tell me that the first time. Looking for honest mechanic, which are hard to find. But thank you for your info and time. Appreciate it.
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Tuesday, September 1st, 2020 AT 4:52 AM
Tiny
4DRTOM
  • EXPERT
Hi Marcia,

May I ask what the situation was when you first brought it into the shop. Was it pulling and when it does pull to the side does this happen when applying the brakes only? If the problem is alignment and not brakes the steering wheel most likely wont be pointing straight when going straight it will be off to the side and when you take your hands off the wheel it may drive straight but the steering wheel will be off center. The sub frame being bent is something you would know because it takes more than hitting a curb to do that. It hasn't been is any accidents lately correct?
Let me know,
Tom
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Tuesday, September 1st, 2020 AT 8:35 AM
Tiny
MARCIA ROBERSON
  • MEMBER
It has always pulled to the right when driving straight and letting go of the wheel, no doesn't happen when applying brakes only. Have not paid attention to the wheel, but will check that out. Just changed rotors and pads, seems to be a lot better, but never was aligned after front end work was completed. Should I still attempt to have it aligned?
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Thursday, September 3rd, 2020 AT 3:10 AM
Tiny
4DRTOM
  • EXPERT
Hello,

Well, if it is pulling but not from the brakes being applied then it does point to alignment. If nothing is damaged bushing wise with the control arm or the tie rods it should align unless at some point the car was in an accident and the frame is bent. Bad alignment will cause the tires to wear un-even. I would go to a different shop to check it out if the first one you used says they couldn't do it. Second opinions are always good.
Tom
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Thursday, September 3rd, 2020 AT 7:18 AM
Tiny
CARADIODOC
  • EXPERT
Hi guys. Please allow me to add a few comments of value that haven't been mentioned yet. There's three main or primary alignment angles we all look at. I always printed out two copies of the alignment; one for me to keep and one for the customer on which I highlighted every adjustment I changed. If you got such a printout, please post a copy of it or list the "before" and "final" readings for front caster, camber, and toe.

There's at least five ways to describe caster, but it is irrelevant here because unlike with older rear-wheel-drive vehicles, it has almost no effect on pulling to one side, and contributes very little to tire wear on front-wheel-drive vehicles. Caster is not even adjustable on most front-wheel-drive models.

"Camber" is the inward or outward tilt of the wheel, as viewed from in front of the car. Most cars call for them to be tipped out on top just a little. The important point here is tires want to roll, or pull in the direction they're leaning. Camber needs to be very close to equal on both sides so the two pulls will offset each other, plus we make the left side tip out a little more to create a slight left-hand pull to offset "road crown". That is the slant to the right on roads so water will run off. If camber is exactly equal on both sides of your car, it is likely going to pull slightly to the right except when you're in the left lane.

To add to the misery, Ford, and the majority of import manufacturers can't be bothered to design in a means of adjusting camber. From Hyundai's service manual, they state:

"NOTE:
Camber is pre-set at the factory and doesn't need to be adjusted. If the camber is not within the standard value, replace the bent or damaged parts."

Camber is measured in degrees. 0.00 degrees means the wheel is standing perfectly straight up and down. If you can visualize the wheel being tipped so far out on top that it's laying flat on the ground, that would be 90.00 degrees. Most models call for slightly positive camber, as in about 0.50 degrees, which is done to place the vehicle's weight directly over the strongest part of the wheel bearing. Your model actually does call for exactly 0.00 degrees, which isn't terribly uncommon, then there's a tolerance of 0.50 degrees either way. That tolerance means the left wheel could be at 0.00 degrees, and be perfect, and the right wheel could be at 0.50 degrees and be "in specs", but that would create a 0.50 degree pull to the right, which would be quite noticeable.

In my ten years as the alignment specialist at a very nice family-owned Chrysler dealership, I found that exactly 0.06 degrees pull to the left was just right to offset road crown on their front-wheel-drive cars. That is getting very nit-picky, but was fairly easy to adjust. That is way too precise to meet the needs of older rear-wheel-drive cars. Back in the '70s and '80s, most alignment equipment could only read to the eighth of a degree, and that was good enough for those cars and trucks.

On your model, there is no way to adjust camber to make up for the many variables that affect tire wear, pulling, and handling. One of them is suspension ride height. A conscientious alignment specialist will measure front and rear ride height as part of the pre-alignment inspection, and refuse to align the car if it is not within the published specifications and he is not allowed to correct it. That usually means replacing the coil springs. To save the mechanic time and to save the customer money, mechanics will typically suggest replacing worn struts with units already assembled with new springs and new hardware. Replacing just the struts alone doesn't correct ride height problems and poses a serious safety issue to the mechanic due to having to compress a really strong spring, then transfer it to the new strut. I've seen those springs squirt out of the compressor tool on two occasions. One took out an 8-foot overhead light fixture and one went sailing out of the shop and through the parking lot, (with me chasing after it)!

The more important point is if ride height is sagged from age, or is uneven side-to-side, there is going to be terrible tire wear even when the numbers on the alignment computer look perfect. With the sagged suspension, the geometric relationship of all the moving parts is changed drastically, and the wheels will not go through the proper motions as the car goes up and down on the road. Camber on the alignment computer is just the starting point, and those numbers only pertain to a car that's standing still. From there, the suspension geometry is designed to cause the wheel to tip in and out on top as the car bounces. That range of tipping changes when ride height is not correct.

A secondary angle we rarely look at unless we're looking for a specific problem is "steering axis inclination", (SAI). If you stand in front of the car and look back at the two steering pivot points, SAI is the angle of a line drawn through them. For most front-wheel-drive models including yours, that would be the lower ball joint and the upper strut mount This is one angle your alignment specialist needs to check. It is always measured automatically by every alignment computer as part of measuring caster. Even though we can't change caster on your car, measuring it once triggers the computer to take all the current readings and store them to be printed out later as the "Before" readings, meaning before anything was adjusted. These are the numbers the car came in with, and they're going to be way out of specs if any parts were just replaced.

No spec is ever given for SAI. All that is critical is it has to be exactly equal on both sides. This will not be true with GM front-wheel-drive models if the front cross member was lowered to perform other services, but for all other car models, unequal SAI is usually caused by crash damage. When the cross member shifts to one side a little, it moves the lower control arms and ball joints attached to it. That moves the bottoms of both wheels to one side, and that shows up as incorrect camber. On cars where camber can be adjusted, a rushed mechanic might readjust camber on both sides, but that doesn't address the unequal SAI. Unequal SAI causes a car to handle very poorly with no "predictability". That means it will dart in various directions when you run over even small bumps in the road, and you won't have any idea which way it's going to go.

Chrysler uses special bolts to force the cross member to center itself when it's reinstalled. On GM cars, four bolts can be loosened, then the cross member can be slid with a pry bar to center it. On Fords, the cross member is usually welded in place, so if SAI is wrong, it has to go to a frame shop. Your mechanic will have to look at how your cross member is attached. A typical value for SAI is around 28 degrees. The standard tolerance is 0.2 degrees difference. If SAI needs to be corrected, that could alleviate a right-hand pull, and it could correct any camber error.

It sounds like your car had this right-hand pull for some time, and it's not a result of the recent alignment. Along with the sagged springs, another even more common cause is a tire pull. That is usually not due to a tire defect. It is simply a difference in rolling resistance. The easy way to check for a tire pull is to switch the two front wheels and tires side-to-side. About half of the time the car will pull the other way, and about half of the time the car will go straight when a tire pull is the cause of the pull. If switching them confirms one of the tires is the cause of the pull, you can figure out which one it is by switching just the two left-side wheels and tires front-to-back to see what happens, or switching just the two right ones. When I've had tire pulls on my vehicles, I just leave the suspect tire on the back and never rotate them after that.

One common clue this is caused by a tire pull is the car will pull one way during acceleration, and the other way during moderate to hard braking.

To address the comments about dishonest mechanics, my experience has been about 90 percent of those accusations are due to poor communication or unreasonable expectations, not an intent to defraud. Every profession has their bad apples, but we all get labeled with the bad reputation. In my city, we have really good new-car dealers and independent repair shops. The two notable exceptions are the Chevy dealer and one independent who has gone out of business for lack of repeat customers. 4DRTOM already pointed out there are some things your mechanic couldn't know up front that made it so your car couldn't be aligned. First it gets a visual inspection, just like when you visit your doctor. He checks if you're breathing and standing up, then he still checks your blood pressure to be sure you have some. That's when he decides whether to continue with the exam or diagnosis, or whether he should call the morgue! Once your mechanic has checked for worn steering and suspension parts, he will "read" the tire wear patterns to see if there is anything in particular he needs to look for. For example, he can check for oil leaking from struts and shock absorbers, but if they're dry, he still can't tell if they will stop the tires from bouncing when the car is standing still on the hoist.

A lot of well-meaning car owners buy a set of new tires, then take the car in for a maintenance alignment. We don't get to see the wear patterns on the old tires that way, so all we have to go by are the numbers on the alignment computer's screen.

Your doctor can miss some important symptoms if you don't tell him about them. Similarly, mechanics can overlook a worn part if that wear doesn't show up with the normal tests. Sometimes the alignment adjustments don't hold steady during the procedure. That's when we have to look further to find what we overlooked initially. That means we found a worn part after we did the alignment. Try not paying your doctor if he doesn't figure out what's wrong on your first visit. Doctors, accountants, bakers, and mechanics all want to be paid for their services. They all will tell you when they can't provide the service you want. A podiatrist will tell you he can't solve your ear infection. An accountant will tell you if he doesn't have training in legal issues. The mechanic will tell you he can't align your car if he finds a problem during the initial inspection. If the car passes inspection to his satisfaction where he thinks he can provide a service you'll be satisfied with, he proceeds with the alignment, and you can expect to be charged for it. If a problem shows up near the end of that procedure, he has to leave the car with the best alignment possible, but he has a duty to tell you more work is needed. (We really dislike having to do that).

For my final wondrous comment, is it possible we're all off on the wrong track with the mechanic's comment that he can't align your car? This all might refer to it needs to have camber adjusted, but the Hyundai engineers didn't provide a means to do that. What the mechanic should have said in this case was, "there is no adjustment method provided by the manufacturer to change what needs to be changed, but the rest of the alignment is done". This is what I meant earlier when I mentioned "poor communication" Almost all mechanics do a very poor job of explaining things to car owners. That is aggravated by car owners who know very little about the machines they trust to get them back home.
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Thursday, September 3rd, 2020 AT 9:38 PM

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