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How to Correct Dog Tracking on a Truck

by Chris Stevenson

Dog tracking, also called wandering, involves a defect in the suspension parts or angles of the wheels on a truck. If the wheels of a truck do not square correctly with each other, the steering and ride of the vehicle becomes erratic. Dog tracking can be seen as the side to side movement of the truck on a level road as its tries to maintain a straight track. Various problems can cause dog tracking, like suspension component wear and wheel misalignment. A truck owner can perform some basic inspections and repairs to correct dog tracking before a professional wheel alignment.

Set the shifter of the truck in park or neutral, depending upon your transmission type. Apply the foot or handbrake. Use a tire iron to loosen the lug nuts on all the wheels, but keep them firm on the rim. Use a floor jack to lift the front of the truck and place two jack stands under the frame. Raise the rear and place two jack stands under the frame. Before removing the wheels, place a hand on the top of a tire and one hand on the bottom.

Jiggle the tire in a vertical plane -- back and forth toward you from top to bottom. Inspect all the tires this way. Any excessive play will indicate dry, loose or worn wheel bearings. You must have the wheel bearings inspected, replaced or repacked.

Inspect each tire for its proper size rating, according to your owner's manual specifications. All tires should conform to the same diameter, ply rating and type, tread design and height profile. Any mismatch will cause side-to-side pull or dog tracking. If you have a mismatched spare on the truck, remove it and replace it with a standard tire.

Inspect each tire for its proper inflation pressure with a tire gauge. Refer to your owner's manual for the correct pounds per square inch, or psi. Under-inflated tires will pull the vehicle to that side, causing you to adjust the steering wheel to compensate. This results in dog tracking and wandering from the center line of the road. Dog tracking also results if all the tires have been overinflated.

Use the tire iron to loosen and remove the lug nuts on all the wheels. Release the emergency brake. Pull the rear brake drums off by hand and spin the axle hub. If the axle hub resists firm pressure, inspect the brake lining and the wheel cylinder for jams. Make sure the hold-down and return springs hook to their proper positions. Use your hands to collapse the brake shoes in and out, freeing up the movement of any sticking shoes. Replace the drums.

Check the front brake rotors by spinning them. Feel for extreme resistance. Use a slot screwdriver to pry the pads away from the rotors on both sides if the calipers appear jammed. Make sure you have sufficient lining on the pads on both sides of the rotor.

Check front drum brakes by using pliers to remove the cotter pin in the castellated nut, then unscrew the axle nut with the pliers. Pull the drum off and inspect the brake shoes. Look for any binding. Replace the drum, tighten the axle nut just enough to allow minimal play and place a new cotter pin onto the axle nut.

Slide under the rear of the vehicle and inspect the leaf springs and shocks. Use a socket and wrench to tighten any axle U-bolts that hold the spring pack to the axle. Check the leaf spring eye bolts for proper tightness and good bushings. Tighten all eye bolts with a socket and wrench. If any of the leaf spring eye bolt bushings appear crushed or split, you must replace them.

Check all of the shock absorbers for loose or broken top or bottom mounting bolts. Use a socket and wrench to tighten any loose shock mounting bolts. Replace any broken bolts or stripped nuts. If equipped with coil-over shocks, inspect the bottom and top coil towers for tight mounts and correct coil seating. Look at the rubber bushings in the upper and lower control arms. The bushings should be round and well-seated in their sleeves. Any missing or deformed bushings must be replaced.

Place the wheels back on the vehicle and tighten the lugs nuts so that they are snug but not overtightened. Use the floor jack to remove the front and rear jack stands. Use a torque wrench to tighten the lug nuts on each wheel to the manufacturer's specifications in the truck's repair manual.

Take the vehicle to a certified alignment shop and explain the dog tracking symptoms of your truck to the technician. Provided your suspension, bearings and brake parts pass his inspection, he will know that you will need a complete alignment, adjusting for toe-in, camber, caster and thrust alignment. The caster adjustment will be most crucial for the dog tracking symptoms.

Although the truck owner can insure that his suspension, brakes and bearing components have been inspected and corrected for any failures, it is imperative that he take the truck to an alignment shop if the dog tracking continues. Trying to make alignment adjustments without the aid of a commercial alignment rack is beyond most car owners' expertise. Thrust angles and caster adjustments are best left to the qualified technician.

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About the Author

Chris Stevenson has been writing since 1988. His automotive vocation has spanned more than 35 years and he authored the auto repair manual "Auto Repair Shams and Scams" in 1990. Stevenson holds a P.D.S Toyota certificate, ASE brake certification, Clean Air Act certification and a California smog license.

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