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Similar problem to Steering wheel “center” different from vehicle “straight”, except:

  • In my case there's no obvious cause, it just happened one day, so the "take it back to the shop" answer isn't an option for me
  • I'm primarily interested in how to identify and diagnose what's going on

For a little while, my steering wheel has been off by about 10 degrees. To drive straight, the steering wheel is positioned almost 10 degrees to the right; if I straighten the car, the wheels point so as to turn slightly left. It's perfectly steady in its (wrong) position and otherwise behaves as normal.

I'm not sure when or how this happened. There's no obvious event - a tire has been changed recently but I don't think the timing matches up. It seemingly just happened one day and has been like that ever since.

How should I go about investigating this?

I've got the Haynes manual for my car (1997 Toyota RAV4, petrol, automatic, FWD, power steering), and it includes steps for re-assembling the steering wheel and steering column, which sound like tasks that would be challenging but do-able for me, but I don't know if that's relevant or what I might be looking for. There are also instructions for re-assembling the steering gear.

  • 1
    How long has it been since your last alignment? You said it's perfectly steady when driving, is there any play at all in the steering wheel, meaning will the steering wheel move at all before activating the power steering and turning the wheels? – MooseLucifer Jul 28 '16 at 15:57
  • Sounds like a bad tire. – Moab Jul 29 '16 at 22:05
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I would have it aligned professionally, on a machine that addresses all four wheels and a particular value called the "thrust angle". This is not a DIY job. While there is an old phrase "Set the Toe and let it Go", this is really poor advice and is actually a joke about shady mechanics doing poor alignment work.

Do NOT attempt to adjust the steering wheel or steering column. While this seems a simple solution, it will cause the center of your steering rack to be offset. Gear pitch in this rack actually changes, so that the steering ratio "on center" gives a tight road feel while driving straight. Changing the relationship between the angle of the steering wheel and steering gear rack ruins this beneficial effect. (I suspect your steering wheel is "master keyed" or "master splined" to prevent such attempts at adjustment anyway.)

It sounds like the right front tie rod effective length got shorter, perhaps a small bend or some other shock jarring components into a slightly different location. (Tie rods rarely get longer unless adjusted so.)

Any good tire (sorry, tyre) shop should be able to provide this service. Although the cost may be a factor, there is a strong possibility this will be money well spent by extending your front tire life. Since tie rods almost always get shorter, not longer, this means your vehicle is tracking straight, but probably has excessive "toe in" which rapidly wears front tires.

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Your tracking needs adjusting. This requires some specialist tools but is quick and inexpensive to have carried out.

Tracking can be knocked out of alignment by hitting kerbs, pot holes or even bumping up and down the pavement. It can also go out of alignment over time.

  • This sounds likely - the roads are very uneven here. Got any more info on what tools are required? – user568458 Jul 28 '16 at 16:13
  • @user568458 if all you want to do is set the front end you'd need plates for the wheels to turn on a camber gauge and a tape measure plus 19mm and 14mm wrenches and specs for the alignment. They're not easy to do on the ground but it can be done. – Ben Jul 28 '16 at 16:37
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    @user568458 Buying some tools to do a poor quality job will probably cost you more than getting a tyre shop to do a proper job - especially if you mess it up and then wear out your front tyres in 5,000 miles. And if something suddenly knocked the steering 10 degrees off center, you need a professional to figure out why that happened, not just use a Band-Aid to cover up the symptoms. A tape measure might have been good enough on a 40-year-old car with cross-ply tires, but not any more IMO. – alephzero Jul 28 '16 at 23:09

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