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Thread: Steering wheel centering problem

  1. #1
    fomoco panthers !
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    Default Steering wheel centering problem

    On my 96 CVPI, the steering wheel does not keep centered. It was aligned a few months ago. It was not done properly as the tech said he could not center the wheel and later on the alignment was out of specs as a front tire was wearing.
    About three weeks ago, I had the car aligned again. I got the car back with the steering wheel straight.
    Last week I had the front tires balanced as there was a vibration. The shop just jacked the front end up so the wheels could be taken off. The steering wheel was not centered when I got the car back.
    Why is the steering wheel not keeping centered ? What can be done to correct this problem ? It is very irritating.

  2. #2

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    Which way does it keep going when it keeps going off center? My old 98 p71 I had all sorts of steering issues. I kept replacing components one by one until the front end was completely rebuilt and it still had issues, though it was better. I guess what Im trying to say is check everything both uncompressed and compressed and check the rag joint.


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  3. #3
    fomoco panthers !
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    The wheel when it is suppose to be straight is turned about 30-35 degrees to the left.
    If I jack up the car, center and secure the steering wheel in the straight position, then let the jack down, if that would re center the steering wheel ?

  4. #4

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    I dont know but something has to be loose. How is the castor and camber? I think youll have to go through everything. Make sure the adjusting sleeves arent moving and the ball joints are all in good shape.

    One great way of diagnosing things with only one person is setting up a recording device under the front end and move the wheel around and jounce the car while recording. Now if you have a second person to watch everything disregard...


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  5. #5
    all the CFI are belong to me
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    First off: the condition you are describing represents potentially serious danger and until you have reliably identified the source of the problem, this car should not be driven. You can't say with confidence that an issue is minor enough to ignore until you fully understand where it's coming from.

    There's really not that much to it, in terms of allowing the wheel to come uncentered. The wheel turns the steering shaft, the shaft turns the input to the steering gear, the gear outputs via the pitman arm, the pitman arm drags the drag link, and the drag link moves the tie rods.

    Opportunities for play are all over the place, but opportunities to allow the steering wheel position relative to the pitman arm changing are very few. Rag joint (not even sure an aero has one, but maybe it does) would allow the steering wheel to vary vs the steering gear, and the steering gear itself can be sloppy enough to let the wheel vary vs the position of the wheels themselves. I am not sure how it works on an aero, but if equipped, the collapsible/telescoping ("don't get impaled in a crash") steering column might be egging out allowing an inside shaft to have play vs an outside shaft...

    I'd suggest first determining how severe this effect is.
    Engine off, wheels pointed straight ahead, unlock the column by turning key to first position but do not start the car.
    Try to crank over the wheel in both directions. If the wheel can turn enough (without moving the front tires) to let a hand on the perimeter of the wheel move, oh, I dunno, 2 inches around the circle of the wheel...you've got too much slop somewhere.
    If that motion is just free slop, it's pretty standard wear you see with steering gears and/or rag joints. Should be fixed but not critical.
    If that motion involves any notchy/bumpy/clunking feeling, where maybe it encounters resistance but when you push harder it continues past a bump, that is a serious defect.

    There are some unknowns for me here which limit my usefulness in this thread, but someone's gotta jump in and say that you need to be careful until this is figured out. Some of my cars have steering slop, but I know where it's coming from and can make an informed judgement call. You do not have that luxury yet.

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  6. #6
    Member EaOutlaw1969's Avatar
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    You can have a perfectly aligned vehicle with no worn or bent parts that either does not track straight and or have an aligned steering wheel after the alignment for a few reasons.

    This is just one example I am not suggesting you or anyone that rides with you weighs a lot or that you carry a lot of cargo. ( but I bring it up for good reason explained later)

    First and most common that I know of is the normal weight of the driver, passengers and cargo are much different during the alignment.

    Second most common is radial tire pull a single radial tire can cause a pull to one side or the other making it perform like a out of alignment suspension.
    This is normally proven by swapping the front tires to see if the vehicle pulls the other way.

    I have only had two vehicles in my life that came back because the owners claimed the alignment was still out.

    First was a 1980s Monte Carlo, Work done was replaced worn suspension parts, springs shocks ball joints, tires etc. when done I had a perfect alignment and steering wheel orientation plus a computer print out to prove it.

    The customer drove the car and came right back and claimed the alignment and wheel position was off. I drove the car it tested fine i put it on the alignment machine ran the test it showed perfect still. I double checked all the fasteners they were all still tight.

    I parked the car and brought the service writer the alignment print out and told him what I found then went to clean up my tools, By the time I went back up for a new work order the service writer was talking with the Monte Carlo owner and his Wife. ( both were extremely large tipping the scale and I am guessing north of 500 pounds each!!!)

    I pulled the service writer aside and suggested that he politely insist that both customers leave and come back the next day and that I would explain later after they left.

    We went ahead at no charge replaced the new OEM rated springs with heavy duty springs and had to load the both seats down with as many heavy items we could find to approximate their combined weight.

    Once they picked up and drove the car they came back and said the car has never driven or handled better.

    We did this at no charge because the service writer did not think about the extreme weight this car was carrying. ( we the technicians working on the car should have been told so we could install the correct parts ( heavy duty springs ) and add weight to the car during the alignment)

    All of this may have nothing to do with your problem, If they raised up your car and caused the steering wheel to change position something is most likely worn or loose. ( as mentioned in a earlier post this is not normal or safe ) If you went to the same alignment shop both times.
    I would suggest going to a shop that specializes in alignments ( we have Weber wheel alignment ) but they are very expensive worth it if you have expensive tires.

    Have this new company check for loose or worn parts before doing an alignment.
    2007 Ford Crown Victoria LX Sport

  7. #7
    fomoco panthers !
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    Very interesting comments.
    1st thing I will do is swap front tires to see if anything changes. I will also check the play in the wheel with the motor off.
    I agree that there may be worn parts. I am thinking a steering box. Alignment shops are suppose to check for worn parts before aligning. I did see the print out on the second alignment where the toe was out of specs.
    The weight of the people in your example was an excellent catch. You thought out of the box. At least thought further than most "mechanics" I have come across.
    The car passes inspection every year. 140,000 miles on it. There is a bit of wandering at high speeds. Could be the roads though.
    If it is a steering box, I will try to find a new one. Remans are just as bad as used from what I have seen.
    Any other thoughts are appreciated.

  8. #8
    Member EaOutlaw1969's Avatar
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    You pretty much have to be a trained certified technician to know what your vehicle needs and recheck every single thing that you pay to have done to make sure it was done properly. Or just do it yourself. It a sad world we live in.

    BTW if you have an alignment printout from both alignments can you post them?
    2007 Ford Crown Victoria LX Sport

  9. #9

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    Excessive toe out can cause wandering. That was my biggest gripe with my 98, it wandered really bad even after multiple alignments. Check the rag joint. I sold the car before I could fully solve the issue but I think my problem was sticky lower ball joints and a bad rag joint causing excess slack and wandering.


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  10. #10
    I'm an air-conditioned gypsy gadget73's Avatar
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    No reason that jacking the car up and putting it back down should affect the wheel position. Either something is in very bad shape and moving around, or they managed to bend something when the car got lifted. I have seen frame rot at the rear lower control arm mount, particularly on the passenger side on these cars. Might be worth making sure there is actually still something holding the suspension together.

    otherwise maybe check the rag joint. Normally that just gets really floppy, it doesn't randomly move the center position but I suppose it could move and then fetch up. Its a rubber disc connecting the box to the steering shaft. If for whatever unknown reason the bolt that actually locks the coupler to the steering box was missing it's bolt you might have it skip a spline and move the center position. Thats also worth a look.


    Sloppy idler arm can cause unstable alignment and wandering too. You might get the thing in spec with a bad one, but the first time the wheels move it will re-arrange the toe angles as it sees fit.

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  11. #11
    fomoco panthers !
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    Quote Originally Posted by EaOutlaw1969 View Post
    You pretty much have to be a trained certified technician to know what your vehicle needs and recheck every single thing that you pay to have done to make sure it was done properly. Or just do it yourself. It a sad world we live in.

    BTW if you have an alignment printout from both alignments can you post them?
    The shop that did the first mentioned alignment did not give me a printout. Before I had the alignment done at the second shop, they checked the alignment and gave me a printout which is show hereClick image for larger version. 

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  12. #12
    Member EaOutlaw1969's Avatar
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    So they gave you a before and not a after print out? how lame. who is to say they even did anything?

    I guess the print out before or after does not mean much at this point if a crooked tech was motivated by greed or laziness.

    Anyone could set up the alignment machine which may show a good alignment then tilt the heads proving the car needs an alignment hit the print button then readjust the heads hit the print button again making it look like an alignment was done. ( Laugh but I have seen it and much worse done )

    The main thing you need to know is what is causing the play in the steering or suspension? and find a good shop with technicians and owners you can trust.

    Once you find out what is causing the play and end up getting yet another alignment. take the time to watch them even if you can only wait in front of the bay door.

    Once on the alignment machine they should first raise up the front end double checking for worn or loose parts remove the lock out pins from the front plates,lower the front end back down. check the air pressure on all four tires, connect the alignment heads and or targets , bounce the front end to settle the suspension,measure the ride height front and rear side to side. Perform a caster sweep where they turn the wheel from side to side then they measure camber then toe. making adjustments as needed. when done no reading should be out of specification.
    2007 Ford Crown Victoria LX Sport

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mainemantom View Post
    The shop that did the first mentioned alignment did not give me a printout. Before I had the alignment done at the second shop, they checked the alignment and gave me a printout which is show hereClick image for larger version. 

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    More times I've seen the steering boxes have play causing a centering issue. Getting the vehicle to track straight is one thing, but compensating for the wheel to be centered with a steering box that has play at the center point is near to impossible.
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