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I recently had my vehicle in for a front end alignment.

They told me all of my shocks were bad, causing all of the problems, and that they would not be able to align the front end with those bad shocks.

I spent $600 updating shocks on my 1994 Nissan truck.

  • 2 control arm bushings, installed $180
  • 4 Montroe SensaTrac shocks, installed $320
  • front end alignment and supplies $90

It does ride better, but there is still an issue.

When I turn the vehicle at speed (50 MPH or greater), I have to keep a bit of pressure on the steering wheel. Also, and corrections I make to steering while making my turn cause the truck to turn much sharper than I feel a vehicle should.

I don't really want to take the truck back to the shop again without having some kind of clue what is wrong with it, least I wind up spending another $800 in something I may or may not need.

Does this kind of steering issue sound like a common problem associated with something? If so, what is a realistic price to expect to pay to have something like that fixed?

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How long have you had the vehicle? You should have to keep pressure on the wheel when turning, so I'm guessing it's a lot more than it used to be? Having it turn sharper than normal is very odd. As parts wear, it tends to go the other way, towards not turning as well. Have you had any other work done on it recently that might have replaced some long worn out components and make it drive different from what you're used to? –  Brian Knoblauch Feb 13 '12 at 20:53
    
A center link was replaced over a year ago, but the shop that replaced the shocks was told to correct any front end problems. –  jp2code Feb 13 '12 at 23:05
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@jp2code Not sure how shocks can affect your alignment that bad, as they are not really part of the steering on a truck. A strut tower is a different story, but shocks basically keep you vehicle from being super bouncy. If anything the bounce can ruin your tires, but not throw your alignment off. –  FossilizedCarlos Feb 14 '12 at 1:47
    
Sorry. My comment above left out details. The center link was replaced over a year ago. The front end still felt bad, so I took the truck in about 4 months back. The shop installed all new Monroe Sensatrac shocks ($320), 2 control arm bushings ($185), and charged me $90 for a front end alignment. –  jp2code Feb 14 '12 at 19:11
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3 Answers 3

Replacing shocks on a 1994 vehicle sounds fairly reasonable (assuming that they were the original shocks). I tend to agree with the alignment shop that you needed to replace those before doing anything else. I replaced my wife's struts not too long ago and one was completely collapsed - on her car, that has a distinct effect on the camber of the wheel.

In terms of where you are now, I suspect that your toe on the front wheels is distinctly off, resulting in that constant pressure on the wheel. Handily, the toe is something that you can both easily examine and change yourself (especially since you have a truck with some ground clearance).

A simple check of you current toe settings goes something like this:

  1. Park the vehicle on the most level surface that you can find.
  2. Set the steering wheel to perfectly straight (seriously - tie a bubble level onto the wheel if you have to).
  3. Using a tape measure, measure the distance between the same distinct feature on the front side of both of your front tires. An easily spotted feature is the inner edge of the inner rain groove on your tires. Write this distance down.
  4. Repeat on the back side of your tires - make sure that you are measuring the distance between the same feature.
  5. On most passenger vehicles, you'll want the toe on the front end to be zero: those two distances should be equal.

This video provides an example of checking and adjusting toe using the string method. It's more complicated to set up, though not terribly difficult and is quite a bit more accurate.

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Good video. Will leaving the steering wheel locked be adequate to prevent it from coming "out of level"? –  jp2code Feb 13 '12 at 23:12
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@jp2code, no. You have to assume that every time you make a change, you're going to affect the steering wheel (even if you actually don't). Make change, go back and confirm level, repeat. It's tiresome but necessary to avoid ending up with a vehicle that tracks straight but with a slight twist to the wheel (I hate that). –  Bob Cross Feb 14 '12 at 12:03
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Replacing them for a second or even third time would be reasonable for a '94 vehicle. :-) Common off the shelf struts and shocks seem to only be good for 2-5 years/60,000 miles. OTOH, better ones will go further (I have 190,000 HARD miles on a set of Bilsteins (same struts, but have had to replace the factory bearing plates multiple times on them)). –  Brian Knoblauch Feb 14 '12 at 12:56
    
The shocks are less than 4-months old, Brian, so I doubt they are the problem. –  jp2code Feb 14 '12 at 19:15
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The tires can make a big difference in how a vehicle steers, especially a truck. I was just talking to a friend who had a similar issue due to the fact that he had wrong tires installed on his truck (they were only rated for lighter trucks). I would check the pressure and also the type of tires you have on.

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up vote 1 down vote accepted

I had to pull up the Service Manual in order to get the answer to this.

It just so happens that my truck is the less common Heavy Duty D21 Hardbody Nissan.

When the mechanic at the alignment shop performed the front end alignment on my truck, he used the settings for the standard D21 Hardbody Nissan.

Using the correct settings for my truck fixed the front end problem.

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