If you spend enough years behind the wheel, you will inevitably run into more than one situation that will cause you to scratch your head. These situations tend to be most memorable, for their ability to bewilder the average motorist, due to the seemingly impossible circumstances that they present.
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One mind-boggling situation that perfectly illustrates the point above, is that which arises when one encounters a steering wheel that appears to be crooked. In such cases, a vehicle appears to steer off-center, but drives straight. Yet how, exactly, could this be?
In truth, vehicle misalignment is the single biggest cause of a steering wheel that appears to be off-centered. However, this misalignment can originate in a number of different ways, all of which require mechanical intervention to remedy.
Read on to learn more about the potential causes of your vehicle’s misalignment, and how such a condition can affect the orientation of your vehicle’s steering wheel.
Table of Contents
What Causes a Steering Wheel to Not Be Straight?
As mentioned above, the vast majority of issues pertaining to a steering wheel’s off-center orientation, come as the direct fault of a poor front-end alignment. However, the root cause of this misalignment often differs on a case-by-case basis.
Rectifying such an issue often requires one to diagnose the root cause of the misalignment itself. The following are several of the most common causes of front-end misalignment.
#1 – Normal Wear & Tear
Every vehicle’s front end will begin to age with time, presenting additional free-play within critical bushings and sockets. This excess play will eventually cause a vehicle’s alignment to stray from stock specifications.
It is for this reason that most major tire manufacturers recommend a front-end alignment, directly following four tire replacements.
While a certain degree of front-end component wear is to be expected with time, extreme wear will require the replacement of all affected steering/suspension components.
If such components are not replaced, one can expect their vehicle to require further alignment in the very near future.
#2 – Component Damage
Though somewhat rare, any number of a vehicle’s critical steering and suspension components can be damaged following a sudden blow. This often occurs when a pothole is traversed at high speeds, or when contact is made with a curb while a vehicle is in a forward motion.
This direct shock is transferred throughout a vehicle’s front end, often damaging the weakest of components in the process.
When one or more of a vehicle’s critical steering components are damaged, the front-end geometry is adversely affected. This instantly alters a vehicle’s front end alignment, often altering the orientation of a vehicle’s steering wheel.
Issues of this nature are only rectified by replacing all affected components and repeating the specified alignment procedure.
#3 – Wreck Damage
Even more detrimental to a vehicle’s front end alignment is the damage which is often incurred during a collision. A wreck that affects the front end of a vehicle can easily damage a number of critical steering/suspension components.
Many of these components directly affect a vehicle’s toe, caster, and camber values, thereby impacting alignment. However, unlike basic component damage incurred when striking a pothole, wreck damage often proves far more significant.
In many cases, a vehicle’s various steering/suspension mounts are critically affected during a wreck. This is generally the case in any situation where frame damage of one degree or another has resulted.
Unfortunately, damage of this type is not always repairable, at least without drastic intervention, which often proves too costly to move forward with.
#4 – Ride Height Modifications
A vehicle’s steering and suspension systems are expertly tuned to provide superior handling and ride quality. However, this is only true if a vehicle’s stock ride height has not been modified for any reason.
Modifications within this realm, such as the installation of a lift or leveling kit, can indeed impact a vehicle’s alignment, thereby causing a vehicle’s steering wheel to appear crooked while traveling in a straight fashion.
For this reason, it is extremely important to have an alignment performed by qualified professionals, directly following any modification that impacts a vehicle’s ride height.
This brings a vehicle’s alignment back within specification and ensures that your vehicle travels in a straight, true fashion.
As a side benefit, having a vehicle aligned also positively impacts tire wear, thereby allowing you to get the most bang for your buck.
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How to Fix a Steering Wheel That’s Off-Center
In reality, the only correct way to fix a steering wheel that is off-center is by having the affected vehicle’s front end aligned by a competent and qualified individual.
This brings a vehicle’s alignment back within specification, and should also re-center your vehicle’s steering wheel if done correctly. Such services are provided by the bulk of full-service shops and can be completed with a minimal expenditure of time.
Trained technicians will also take care to check for damaged or excessively worn front end components prior to, and during the alignment process.
Most shops will specify that any deficiencies of this type are to be repaired, before continuing with the alignment process. This stems from the fact that it is nearly impossible to properly align a vehicle that exhibits such signs of non-conformance.
Additionally, there are a number of valuable side benefits to having your vehicle’s front end properly aligned. A freshly aligned vehicle generally tracks much straighter than its unaligned counterparts, while also exhibiting far more consistent tire wear.
This provides a better quality ride, while ultimately saving motorists money in the long run.
What if the Steering Wheel is Still Off-Center After an Alignment?
If your vehicle’s steering wheel still appears off-center following an alignment, it is possible that the root cause of your vehicle’s misalignment condition has not been corrected.
This can occur if the technician who performed this service was not familiar with the alignment procedure for your particular vehicle.
In such instances, a vehicle’s alignment might actually be negatively impacted by such a service, rather than remedied. Continued issues of this nature can also occur if an alignment technician failed to recognize the presence of one or more damaged steering components. This can include a bent tie-rod or distorted steering knuckle.
In any event, further mechanical intervention will be required. In this instance, you might wish to select a different service center, than the one previously visited. However, some shops might stipulate that you must return to their location for follow-up work, in order to prevent being charged twice, for the same repair.