At one point or another, you will definitely have an issue to fix in your vehicle. It is just inevitable because machines aren’t exactly designed to be durable for a long time.
One of the many problems you could encounter is an off-center steering wheel. But before that happens, you should know the causes and how to fix them.
This article describes just that.
What causes the steering wheel to be off-center?
With a steering wheel off-center, the best guess is a bad vehicle wheel alignment. This issue could be caused by various reasons/factors.
And the solution to the problems depends on these factors.
Regular Wear and Tear
As time goes by, your vehicle starts experiencing different issues. However, one unavoidable issue is the front end getting bad due to damaged bushings or sockets.
On several occasions, many tire companies recommend car owners go for front-end alignment options during tire replacements.
The reason is that front-end alignment takes time and when it eventually does wear, you will be required to change the damaged steering or suspension systems.
If you don’t replace these systems or components, you will experience sideways pull until there is a vehicle wheel misalignment.
Another thing that could cause your steering wheel going off-center is suspension damage in the front or rear wheels.
The suspension could be damaged if the entire assembly has come in contact with a greater force – for instance, the vehicle landed in potholes, hit curbs, or numerous bumps at high speeds or in forwarding motion.
When that happens, an amount of shock is transferred into the wheels, damaging certain components (the weakest yet important for directional stability). You could even have a bent wheel.
And once these components are affected, the directional operation is compromised. You will start to notice your steering wheel turn left when you want to go right.
Apart from suspension damage, vehicle wreckage can disturb your alignment settings.
No one ever prays to be in a collision, but if it does happen, it could cause serious problems to your vehicle. Most steering systems i.e., the toe, the tie rod, the caster, and the camber values, become affected in the process.
And when that happens, it is almost impossible to repair these components.
Vehicle Height Modifications
Most vehicle owners experience a steering wheel off-center problem because of certain modifications made, especially to the height.
Ideally, a car’s steering and suspension assembly is designed to provide good handling and excellent ride quality.
However, if there are modifications, i.e., raising the wheels in a more upright position, you are likely to start forward or backward tilting.
The reason is that the vehicle’s alignment isn’t exactly what it is anymore – the wheels pointed straight forward before are tilting back.
Besides, a well-aligned car affects tire wear in a good way.
Steering Wheel Off Center: How to Fix It?
If you have to fix an off center steering wheel or do a four-wheel alignment, you need to have technical knowledge. At best, you should hire a professional.
If you will be doing the former, ensure to get the perfect specification. You can check the vehicle’s owner manual.
Get everything you need from a wheel full-service alignment shop and start working.
What To Do If You Suspect the Front or Rear Wheels Is Impacted by an Off-Center Steering Wheel?
Inspect the front or rear wheel angle
The first thing you need to do before anything else is to view the toe angles of the wheels holding the front and rear tires.
The toe angle is the wheel’s angle as viewed from an upright position.
If the wheels are pointed straight toward the center of the car, it has a positive toe; however, if the wheels point curved towards the outside of the car, it has a negative toe.
It is a feature that automatically affects a car’s handling. If it is toe-in (positive toe), then your car will experience reduced oversteer and stability.
If it is toe out (negative toe), then you will have high-speed handling characteristics, cornering, and fuel economy.
Do a DIY Alignment Test
You can also do a DIY alignment test to diagnose the problem and know what to fix.
In this case, it involves your power steering system. It consists of a number of features such as the steering column that reduces the effort needed to turn a steering wheel to keep the vehicle going in a particular direction.
First, drive the wheels straight in a specific direction; then, release the steering wheel.
If your vehicle moves in the same direction, then there is no problem. However, if you notice that it pulls on the road slightly sideways, you have an issue that needs to be corrected.
Loose the Steering Linkage and Adjust
If you are not totally convinced, you should check out the steering linkage.
You can do this by getting under your car and loosening the bolts on the drag link adjustment sleeve. While you do this, ensure to have someone observe the steering wheel and see if it still remains off-center.
Once you discover that it is, twist the steering wheel upward or downward until it is straight and tighten the bolts of the drag link adjustment sleeve.
Following that, you can go on a test drive and see whether you still have a steering wheel off center or not.
Check Out Other Symptoms
Other things you should look out for that suggest that you need to take your vehicle to a mechanic include:
- Bad rack and pinion system causing the steering gear to make unnecessary noise or leak
- The control arms extending backward or worn out
- Bent tie rods – the front tie rods help with front-wheel alignment which automatically means steering smoothly. However, if the tie rod gets bad, excessive tire wear, inability to steer, and squealing sound become inevitable.
- Worn ball joints and steering rack
What if the Steering Wheel is Still Off-Center After an Alignment?
Let’s assume you’ve invested in front or rear alignment settings and the steering wheel still appears off-center, then you haven’t fixed the exact problem wrong with your steering axis.
It could be that the procedure was done by yourself with little technical knowledge or by someone who isn’t exactly conversant with the vehicle.
According to steering basics, axle alignment varies from one car to another. That is why it is important to refer to the owner’s manual when such a problem occurs.
In the worst-case scenario, the problem could be with the power steering, tie rods, or steering knuckle.
There is really no crime in visiting another mechanic who is more familiar with the alignment procedure of your vehicle.
What Does a Toe Out/In Mean?
A toe-out means the wheel’s incline is at the back rather than in the front, causing the front wheel to point away from the center. It is also called a negative toe.
Ideally, a rear toe out on a rear-wheel drive vehicle would improve acceleration but decrease top speed because of the grip and drag force.
A toe in means the wheel’s incline is at the front rather than at the rear axle, causing the front wheel to point towards the center. It is also called a positive toe.
Ideally, a front toe increases straight line stability and handling.
In short, a positive toe helps reduce oversteer issues and improve stability in front axle cars while a negative toe helps with understeering problems and improves handling in rear axle cars.
Fixing an off-center steering wheel isn’t exactly an easy procedure. The process involves a lot of inspection and test-driving. Most drivers prefer hiring a mechanic to help them with alignment than doing it themselves.
It is definitely the right thing to do.
However, if you must hire someone, ensure it is a professional who is familiar with that vehicle.