Common car problem diagnosis
Timothy Boyer's picture

3 Simple Tests to Diagnose This Common Used Car Problem

What do you do if you take a used car for a test drive and find that the steering pulls to one side rather than stays straight on a level road? Before making any buying decisions based on this alone, here are 3 simple tests you can do to help diagnose this common used car problem during your vehicle inspection process.
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Reasons Why a Car Pulls to One Side

As we’ve discussed earlier, the importance of inspecting a used car or having a trusted mechanic do the inspection for you cannot be understated when it comes to making a used car buying decision and evaluating a used vehicle’s true value.

One of the must-do tests is of course, taking the car for a test drive to make sure it actually runs; but just as importantly---it provides an opportunity to detect problems that are not obvious when a car is parked.

One of those problems easily detected is finding yourself constantly adjusting the steering wheel to keep the vehicle in its lane while on a relatively level grade of roadway. When a vehicle does constantly pull to one side or the other, it can be due to several reasons that include:

• Low tire pressure
• Bad front end wheel alignment
• Stuck or sticking brake calipers on one wheel
• Bad wheel bearing
• Worn steering linkage or tie rod

However, even if you are not constantly adjusting the wheel to keep the vehicle straight, if the centered steering wheel car logo is angled rather than horizontal, then there is a related problem that needs to be diagnosed. Furthermore, any shaking of the steering wheel, failure to readjust itself after making a turn, or baldness on one side or the other of a front tire are signs of potential front end problems.

Why This is a Problem

Having a car that tends to pull to one side can be more than just an inconvenience. The facts are that it can lead to a shortened tire life because of uneven wear; it can lower your fuel economy; and, it could lead to a serious car accident that was avoidable if only the owner attended to the problem when it first manifested.

Three of these five reasons---low tire pressure, bad wheel bearing and worn linkage---can be easily diagnosed; whereas, the other two---bad front end alignment and sticking calipers---are a little more involved and require some disassembly and special tools to investigate, which is not generally possible during a cursory inspection of a used car.

That said, here is an informative video discussing why and how to do the following 3 tests that will provide you with at least some idea of what might be going on with a wandering vehicle to add to your vehicle inspection checklist results before deciding to buy a used car. While the low tire pressure test is a no-brainer, the other two tests are relatively less familiar to many car owners.

And finally…

Deciding on whether a used car is worth your hard-earned money is not a decision to take lightly. As such, you can expect future articles that will provide easy and moderately difficult tests that you can do toward inspecting a used car and toward maintaining your current vehicle.

For more used car articles, be sure to check out the following links about “How To Spot A Used Car Being Flipped After a Hurricane” and “When Smelling Gasoline Around Your Car is an Immediate Problem.”

Timothy Boyer is Torque News automotive reporter based in Cincinnati. Experienced with early car restorations, he regularly restores older vehicles with engine modifications for improved performance. Follow Tim on Twitter at @TimBoyerWrites for daily automotive-related news.

Photo by Damir Kopezhanov on Unsplash


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