It’s never a good feeling when you notice something wrong with your car. While there are a number of reasons that could be causing your car to pull to one side, what is certain is that you should have the problem fixed as soon as possible so that you aren’t endangering yourself or others on the road.
More often than not, a car pulling to one side is down to an incorrect wheel alignment, although other causes include uneven tire wear, complications in the braking system, worn suspension parts, bad wheel bearings, or low tire pressure.
The silver lining to your car problems is that if you’re willing to do a little sleuthing, you can often figure out the source of the problem and get it fixed quickly. The rest of this article will walk you through the most common reasons your car is pulling to the side, how to diagnose it, and how to fix it.
Why Does My Car Pull to One Side?
There are a number of reasons why your car might pull to one side, but in most cases, it’s down to an issue with your wheels, brakes, or suspension system.
Your wheel alignment, for example, serves the simple purpose of, well, aligning your wheels. The components making up this system are complex and integrated with other functions of your car such that if even one small thing is amiss, you may feel it in your steering.
Grinding, grating, jarring, and catching are all common symptoms you can feel when you’re turning the wheel, and depending on the issue, you might also hear pinging, rattling, squealing, and clunking coming from your suspension or wheels.
The sound your car is making as well as when the issue occurs—accelerating, turning, braking—are both incredibly important informational tools for either you or your mechanic to diagnose the issue.
Now that you understand why your car is pulling to one side and what information to keep track of, we’ll go through some of the most common causes to help you get the issue fixed as soon as possible.
One of the simplest problems to check, an uneven or low tire pressure in one of your tires can cause your car to pull to one side. This occurs because differing pressure causes one of the wheels to be higher or lower than the others, shifting the overall alignment.
Check the pressure on your tires regularly to make sure they are all within manufacturer-recommended parameters, and if the issue persists on one particular tire, you may want to examine it for defects, holes, or punctures.
One of the most common problems that can cause your car to pull is a bad wheel alignment. This happens when your wheels and axles aren’t lined up correctly.
You will almost certainly feel this pull whenever you try to steer straight, with your car wanting to lean to the left or right.
Getting your alignment fixed sooner rather than later is important not only for your safety, but also for the sake of your tires.
An uneven wheel alignment can cause more pressure on one set of wheels, meaning that you will need to replace your tires sooner than you should have to. In addition, wear and tear on your tires can also cause—you guessed it—your car to pull.
Bad Wheel Bearings
A small, but vital component in your wheels, the wheel bearings can eventually wear out over time and lead to some pretty frustrating behavior from your car. Keep your eyes and ears out for these common signs of a bad wheel bearing:
- Grinding or grading from the wheel when operating at high speeds
- Different sounds when turning left or right
- Play in your wheels
- Vibrations while turning
These symptoms are often quite distinct, especially the last one. Depending on the state of your wheel bearing, the vibration on your wheel can be downright aggravating on your hands. The simple solution to this problem is to replace the bearing.
Sometimes, you can locate which wheel has the bad bearing by listening carefully to where the noise is coming from, but at the end of the day, it might be better to take your car into the auto shop.
Make sure you keep a log of when the issue occurs and what the noises sound like to help your mechanic diagnose the issue.
Replacing the wheel bearing is a fairly long-winded process that will require you to take off the wheel, remove the brake caliper, rotor, hub assembly to even access the wheel bearing housing.
If you’re mechanically minded, then this might be a fun weekend project for you, but if not, then don’t stress out about the repair cost on this one.
Bearings tend to be pretty cheap and straightforward for an experienced mechanic to replace, and while your car is being serviced, your mechanic will often look at your wheels, rotor, and hub assembly to assess whether anything else needs addressing.
The suspension system in a car is designed to keep you comfortable while you ride. It’s profoundly complicated and made up of dozens of moving parts, which is why even a small part failure can cause your steering to go out of alignment.
As such, it’s important to have your suspension system checked out yearly to preempt any concerns that may arise before they lead to a dangerous situation on the road.
These parts can fail at any time, but it’s worth noting that you can significantly reduce the risk of suspension problems just by driving safely.
Driving over potholes, hitting curbs or road debris, going over speed bumps at high speeds, and collisions can also mess up your suspension.
Another tip to keep in mind is that if you’re having your suspension modified (like lifting), then it’s important that you also have an alignment done.
There’s nothing wrong with making modifications, but messing with the suspension system has repercussions elsewhere.
As such, you always want to make sure you have any changes performed by an experienced mechanic familiar with suspension systems.
Issues with Braking
Oftentimes, if you can narrow down that pulling sensation to when you touch on the brakes, the issue likely lies somewhere in the brake system.
A worn, damaged, or stuck brake pad, for example, can cause the car to pull when you’re braking since the stopping force of one brake pad is greater than the other, allowing the car to turn instead of stopping smoothly.
This, as you can probably imagine, creates a very dangerous situation on the road, especially if you have to slam on the brakes. Instead of stopping straight, your car might lurch to the left or right, putting you in the way of oncoming traffic.
If your brake pad is damaged or your brake caliper is malfunctioning, it’s definitely important to head over to a certified mechanic to have your brake pads replaced or your caliper fixed.
Issues with Acceleration
You may also be able to narrow down that the pulling only occurs (or is most prominent) when accelerating. If so, then you have good reason to suspect your suspension alignment in the form of a radial pull.
This occurs when the belts in the tire meant to maintain its integrity under pressure on the road break down, allowing the tire to pull. If this occurs, then you’re probably looking at a tire replacement.
There are also a number of other suspension components susceptible to failure over time that might cause the car to pull when accelerating such as a bad control arm bushing.
It’s even possible that this issue can occur after a wheel alignment was performed incorrectly. In any case, make sure to mention that the pulling is worsened or only present when you are accelerating to your mechanic.
That will enable them to start looking in the right place and might even save you a little bit of money on your labor costs.
There are a number of issues that can cause your car to pull while accelerating, braking, or just driving normally.
Driving like this is extremely dangerous both to you and to others on the road, so if you suspect an issue, try to establish the source of the noise and when the issue occurs to be able to diagnose the issue.