Only checking and adjusting the front tracking or toe on your car alone will not solve your handling problems. You need to check your rear wheels too. Why is that, I hear you ask. Surely the steering is done by the front wheels? Well, take this recent scenario that happened to one of our customers.
We had a Ford Focus in our four wheel alignment, tracking and geometry diagnostic bay recently for a four wheel alignment. The vehicle had broken down in Manchester City centre with o/s/r suspension failure causing incorrect four wheel alignment and tracking issues. The vehicle was taken to a local garage in Manchester to have the o/s/r bottom wishbone replaced, which had failed due to corrosion that had reduced the wishbone body thickness causing weakness and eventual failure/collapse. (Apparently, this is a common fault on the rear suspension on a Ford Focus so be aware) The garage, in Manchester, did not have the facilities to fully check the four wheel alignment, tracking and geometry so the customer and vehicle were sent to another Manchester garage to have the checks done. This garage only had the capability to check and adjust the front wheel toe/track, they did not have the equipment or expertise necessary to carry out a full four wheel alignment, tracking and geometry set up. The customer was charged £30 and was happily sent on his way.
On his way home the customer noticed that the steering wheel was out of alignment (not straight) and that the vehicle was pulling to the left. He felt it was unsafe to drive and wasn’t very happy. He took the car back to the garage and complained. He was told that there was nothing wrong with the vehicle and the handling fault was due to the age and mileage of the car – more commonly known as being fobbed off.
Still not happy the customer then drove his car to another alignment & tracking specialist, this time in Stockport. The Stockport garage also only checked the front toe/tracking and charged the customer £25. The customer drove away from the garage still without a full four wheel alignment, tracking and geometry check and still with the vehicle pulling to the left and an incorrectly centred steering wheel. He was not impressed.
A friend of the customer told him to visit one of the national four wheel alignment, and tracking centres based in Ashton–under–Lyne. He did this and again the garage only checked the front wheel alignment, they adjusted the front toe and charged the customer £30.00. When the customer asked one of the staff why he couldn’t have a full four wheel alignment, tracking and geometry check, he was that he would have to visit a garage with all the specialist equipment and technical expertise to diagnose the problem and set the wheel alignment, tracking and geometry correctly.
The customer then logged onto his computer and trawled through various motoring forums dealing with wheel alignment issues in the Manchester, Oldham and surrounding areas (in fact the whole of the North West). He noticed that our name kept appearing in the forums as a highly recommended centre for four wheel alignment, tracking and geometry set up and we are only four miles away from Manchester City centre he decided to pay us a visit.
When the customer came to us he was very frustrated and angry and of course very sceptical of any garage being able to fully sort out the issues with the car. To date he had spent £85.00 and many hours of his time at so called specialist centres to find he still had the same problem with the steering of his car.
Although he had read all the great reports about our success in the four wheel alignment, tracking and geometry field, he was still apprehensive about whether we were just another so called ‘specialist’. Here we were, about to charge him another £40 and for what? Well, I re-assured him explaining that we dealt with customers from all over Manchester who had encountered the same problems with so-called wheel alignment/tracking specialists as him on a daily basis. I told him that if we couldn’t correctly set up the four wheel alignment, tracking and geometry then I would guarantee that there would be no charge. I promised him that we would correct the pulling to the left and steering wheel “not straight” issues.
We put the vehicle onto our Hunter DSP 600 four wheel alignment, tracking and geometry specialist ramp and connected to our specialist computer to measure all angles of all four wheels, including front and rear toe, front and rear cambers, caster angles and KPi.
Within thirty minutes we had fully diagnosed all issues with the vehicle whilst the customer waited in our waiting room. Indeed, the front toe/tracking was correct but the rear alignment and geometry was not. The o/s/r camber and toe were out of Ford manufacturer’s tolerances. This was the side where the suspension had collapsed and been repaired. What the Manchester, Stockport and Ashton centres had all failed to notice when “repairing” the vehicle or “checking” the four wheel alignment/tracking was the damaged/bent suspension rear trailing arm on the o/s/r.
The customer asked that we repair the suspension, which we did by replacing the damaged suspension trailing arm. We then re-checked the four wheel alignment, tracking and geometry and set it to manufacturer’s specifications, including the front and rear toes, front and rear cambers, thrust angle and caster angle – all at no further cost to the customer. So for £40.00 we had diagnosed the faulty steering – namely the damaged trailing arm, checked the four wheel alignment, tracking and geometry and provided the customer with an initial print out of the settings. We then provided the customer with another print out showing all the new settings.
So, take note. If you have a problem with your four wheel alignment, tracking and geometry or if you are experiencing handling problems, vehicle pull to left or right, tyre scrub or have a problem with a wrongly centred steering wheel you need to get all four wheels checked – not just two. Just having the front wheels tracked alone will not solve your problem!