How would you handle this nagging auto problem?

My car’s a 2005 Nissan Altima, and it has been pulling to the right for a while now. Though I’ve come to trust my local Nissan dealer pricewise-- they’ve been very decent to me about getting stuff done under warranty–they can’t seem to correct it. The last time I took the car back to them, saying the pull was still there, they aligned it again without charging me for it. (This despite my suggesting to them that a four-wheel alignment didn’t seem to be doing it.) Well, big surprise: it still pulls.

My question is, do I keep taking it back to these guys until they figure it out, or should I take it to one of the national tire chains and have them try and fix it? And are you generally better off going to, say, Firestone or Goodyear than a local mechanic for something like this, or vice versa?

Any thoughts are much appreciated. I don’t know who to call next!

Has the car ever been hit? Are you the original owner? When did this problem first appear?

No, but I bought it from Hertz so I’m sure it took a few hits. Had about 8,000 miles on it. A long time ago. It’s been well over a year since I first noticed it. And I foolishily ignored it for a while before first getting it checked out.

I wouldn’t have left those details out of the OP, but let’s move on…

You might be dealing with a problem that can’t be solved with an alignment job. I’d contact Hertz to see if they can tell you anything about the vehicle’s history. They’ll probably blow off that query. Have you tried Carfax? At least that might tell you if the car has been in a serious accident.

Tires with slipped belts can appear otherwise normal but cause a pull. Swap the front tires side-to-side to see if it makes a difference. If it does, new tires are called for.

While bent frame or suspension parts (such as might result from a collision) can certainly cause a pull, they do so by causing misalignment. An alignment might not be able to fix such a problem, but a properly done attempt should reveal its existence - usually by the impossibility of getting the alignment angles within specifications.

Another possibility is the steering rack or gear not being centered with the steering wheel in the straight ahead position. Even though the alignment would get the steering linkage thus centered (i.e., car goes straight ahead when steering wheel is pointed straight ahead), an off-center rack/gear can sometimes cause a pull as it tries to center itself. To check, turn the steering wheel lock-to-lock. It should travel the same number of turns from straight ahead to full right as it does from straight ahead to full left, within 1/8 turn.

Guys, I do appreciate all of this input. However, my question from the OP remains: where, in your esteemed Doper opinions, would you suggest I take it next for repair? Would you stick with the trusted dealer who’s having trouble locating the problem? If not, would you take it to a private mechanic or one of the big tire places?

Sorry, somehow I overlooked that question in the OP.

My suggestion is to take it to a competent independent shop that sells tires.

I may be stating the obvious, but I would also make sure all of your tires have equal pressure.

Does it pull all the time? Only when braking? Only when not braking?

Whatever it’s doing a fresh set of eyes is definitely in order. Even if the frame were bent you’d think that making sure all the wheels were pointing in the same direction would solve the problem. It sounds like your current mechanic is lacking in imagination–you could have a sticky brake cylinder, a bubble in a brake line, worn out/damaged tie rod ends (which should be apparent to the alignment guy), jacked up suspension bits, that bizarro tire thing Gary T mentioned…bunch of things.

I’d get in line with the Tire Shop (Goodyear, Tires Plus) suggestion because they also have a clue about suspension issues.

I wouldn’t have thought of this; great suggestion.

After some thought, it occurs to me that it’s odd that a dealership that has given otherwise good service would align a car twice and return it to the customer with it pulling. Which made me wonder - is it actually pulling, or are you sensing a normal amount of drift?

What I call pulling would tend to put the car in the next lane within a few car lengths. You don’t dare let go of the steering wheel for more than a second or so.

What I call drift is a slow movement that takes the slightest of finger pressure on the wheel to counteract, and you can let go of the wheel for several seconds without worry.

Roads are crowned to allow rain runoff, with the high point being in the center. Most of the time we drive on two-way roads which are sloping a bit to the right, and a drift to the right is caused by the road, not the vehicle. Might it be this that you’re experiencing?

GaryT– believe me, I’ve asked myself that repeatedly over the past year. That’s part of what contributed to my ignoring it the first few months-- "ah, that’s the road crown, " etc. But: no. I’m pretty sure it’s a pull.

Two things I also forgot about: one is part of the reason, I think, I’ve been able to go this long without finding a correction yet. Over the months, I would glance at my tires occasionally and not see any uneven wear. So I figured I was fine; it was either my imagination or the pull wasn’t serious (right or wrong, this is what I figured). Then just about a month ago I took a good long look at my tire patterns. Lo and behold, there was definitely uneven wear on the two front tires–I believe the outer rim of my right front was showing more wear, though I can’t remember if the left front was worn more on the outer or inner rim. But I decided to take it to my dealer one more time and say hey, look, the f*cker is *still * pulling. . . but I also asked him to rotate the tires. My logic was, the rear tires were more worn than the fronts, despite that uneven wear–and I’ll be replacing the rears in the next few months–so if these guys still can’t get rid of the pull, at least I’d be giving those front tires a “rest” for a bit. (And they *didn’t * get rid of it, of course.)

The second thing could be major, if any of what I’ve gleaned from the Net today is on the money: when I bought the car a good two years ago, the Hertz dealer very casually mentioned that the steering wheel was a little off-center, and that wasn’t a big deal to me, was it? (That means I may have bought a car that was misaligned from day one, yes?)

Sorry to top this, but any thoughts on that last part? Off-center steering wheel indicative of possible misaligned rear axle or something?

Sure, that’s possible, but a properly done alignment set-up (taking the measurements before doing any adjustments) is going to reveal it, and if that problem exists no one with a brain is going to say the car is aligned.

::: shrug:::
I once sent a car to a dealership to correct a minor steering wheel off center problem. When I got it back the steering wheel was 45 degrees out and the car pulled like a bastard. Looking at the printout, the guy only mounted the two front heads, and did a set the toe and go, apparently without locking the wheel in place.
:mad: :eek:

As you know, not every job comes out perfect. Some guys working on cars don’t seem to have an alignment gene, and can’t seem to do a good job to save their soul.

That may be my dealer, Rick!

Thanks for taking the time to post, guys. I made an appointment with a local tire place. We’ll see how much they wanna soak me f-- I mean, what their purely independent diagnosis may be, soiled not by rancor or profit motive.