How to Eliminate Jeep Wanderingby Tim Petruccio
Wandering can be caused by a single problematic source in your Jeep's steering, suspension, tires, or brakes. Some vehicles can wander so bad that it actually causes a pulling sensation to the left or right when you have your hands on the steering wheel. Check the tire pressure on your Jeep and make sure all four tires are properly inflated. If the wandering persists, more investigation is needed.
Take the Jeep out for a test drive. Test driving the Jeep can give you some clue as to the source of the wandering problem. Accelerate to approximately 35 mph and let go of the wheel. If the vehicle makes a sudden veer in either direction, then you probably have an alignment problem. Just to be sure, accelerate to the same speed again and gently press the brakes. If the vehicle veers more rapidly or harder, then your front brakes are not stopping the vehicle evenly. Return to the Jeep to your inspection area or workspace.
Raise the front of the Jeep, using a jack. Place jack stands just inside of either front lower control arm, underneath the front frame rails. Allow the suspension to hang freely for this portion of the inspection process.
Lay beneath the front end of the Jeep just inside the front wheel area, on either side of the vehicle. Place your hand on the tie rod, which connects the steering knuckles to the steering rack or steering arm.
Ask an assistant to wiggle the wheel and tire on the same side of the vehicle as you are positioned. Ask him to wiggle the wheel from side to side, placing his hands on the front and rear treads of the tires. If you feel a knocking in the tie rod, move your hand toward the wheel end of the tie rod, whereas if it gets weaker, then your inner tie rod is the culprit.
Ask your assistant to wiggle the tire in the same position that your are seated from top to bottom. Visually inspect for any movement in the lower and upper ball joints of the Jeep. Any play or knocking feeling from top to bottom indicates a bad ball joint, which will need to be replaced. Bad ball joints will cause a vehicle to become out of alignment and cause a wandering in the steering. Ball joints are the main link between the steering and suspension. Use a flashlight to see if necessary.
Remove the front wheel from the Jeep and visually inspect the front brake assembly. The front pads should wear evenly, or close to it. If you notice that one pad -- usually the rear side -- is wearing faster than the other, then your caliper may be sticking. In the event that your caliper is sticking, you can perform a self caliper slide lubrication service which should clear up the problem. If the caliper slides are too damaged, then chances are your caliper will need to be replaced as well.
Repeat Steps 3 through 7 to repeat this entire inspection on the other front wheel of the vehicle. Do not assume just because the vehicle is wandering to the right, that the source of the problem is on the right. A bad tie rod that has maladjusted toe inward, can push the vehicle to the opposite side of the road.
Visually inspect your front and rear stabilizer or sway bars. A bent stabilizer bar can cause a vehicle to lean or wander to one side or another. In the event that you find a bent or damaged sway bar or links, replacement of the faulty parts will be necessary.
Have the Jeep aligned professionally. Having the vehicle aligned after replacement of the part or parts that are causing the wandering, is essential to keeping the entire vehicle rolling straight.
Things You'll Need
- 2-ton or greater capacity floor jack
- 2 jack stands
- Tire iron
Tim Petruccio is a professional writer and automotive mechanic. His writing combines more than 20 years of mechanical experience in automotive service, service management, automotive education and business ownership. He assisted in the automotive beta, which launched March 2011.