Wheel Alignment shop scams

These days, front end alignment shops can't be bothered with setting caster and camber. What would you expect for only $60? On the older GM cars this adjustment requires changing the shim pack if it's out of spec. That involves adding or removing some sheet metal shims from the upper control arm mount. On newer Fords and many other newer models with strut suspensions, such as a Ford Taraus, the factory spot welds have to be ground out (three minutes with the rotozip) and the top of the strut tower moved a small amount.
Around here in Maryland, the scam it to take your $50 or $60 bucks and twiddle the toe-in. When the computer print out shows the camber or caster is out, they circle it and tell you that the car can not be brought to specs without a lot of expensive work.
I've been through this debacle twice now!
The first time, I showed the shop owner that the camber before and after alignment was completely unchanged. I asked him if we went out the parking lot and open the hood on my car, would I see evidence of wrench marks on the shim pack bolts showing that his mechanic had at least made an attempt to bring my vehicle into specs. He promplty tore up the invoice, said no charge and asked me to leave. That was on the GM.
Yesterday, I had the same crap from a different shop for our Ford. "We can't bring this into spec but it doesn't matter" said the shop manager. "It's so close and it won't tear up tires or effect handling". "We are saving you money becuase we would need to change expensive parts to fix this".
This was a Maryland State approved inspection station offering to return the car to the road with the right front and left rear wheels out of factory specs and the car pulling to the side. The fact is that we brought the car in because it could not be maintained within the highway lanes easily and it was eating tires up at the edges.
Again, I asked the shop manager, if we go out to the parking lot, will I find that you have released the factory spot welds and attempted to adjust the out of spec camber condition? Well, they had to find the mechanic, but he couldn't be found. Next came an offer to complete the alignment for an increase in price. This was after they had already replaced a satisfactory ball joint that was not loose but caused some squeaking. (Thank you Ford for eliminating grease fittings!)
When I offered to bring the Ford shop manual out to show what a front end alignment required for a Taraus and that this was certainly included in the listed price for "four wheel alignment", I was asked to leave. I told them I would leave when the job was completed to my satisfaction for the posted price. Customers were watching with keen interest. A refund was promptly offered. I left with my good but squeaky ball joint swapped (a twenty dollar part) and my full refund, but the car was still misaligned and twirlling around on the highway.
Maryland State Inspection Station huh? I will call the Maryland State Police next time this happens, as they oversee licensing. I don't see how a Maryland approved inspection station can release an auto that can be adjusted to spec yet fail to do so when paid for the job. Live and learn!
In talking with an ex dealer shop manager, he told me that he has the same trouble with his Ford pickup. He can't find a shop to align anything other than tow-in and his Ford truck eats tires every 10,000 miles. It's been this way since new. His rear tires are original. He gave up on alignment shops after the second $60 walletecomy, and now buys inexpensive tires. He didn't know anyone who would do the job. Sad state of affairs when a mechanic can't locate an honest shop!
I found a shop that does repairs after collisions and they are attending to my alignment now. I explained what I expect as a result and they are okay with that.
I am posting this here to that others are not sent away from alignment shops believing that their car cannot be made safe to drive and aligned to factory specification without replacing most of the front end. These shops don't even attempt a full alignment. If the camber is out of spec, they don't even try. If it is in spec, it is gravy for them. If not, they simply advise the customer it can't be done and charge the shop rate for an unsastisfactory job. I've gotten better alignments using a monkey wrench and a tape rule.
Buyer beware!
Better luck to you others out there! comments?
noone@nowhere in Maryland
Reply to
no one
That is why when I replaced the struts/springs in my 94 Taurus *I* drilled out the spot welds myself on the top of the front strut towers before taking it in for an alignment. I expected there would be complaints from the shop doing the alignment. I have also found that if you take your car to a *real* shop - i.e. not chain stores like Tires Plus - they do a much more careful & thorough job. It costs a little more - but the way the job is done is worth it in my book.
One time, long ago and in a galaxy far, far away I had to have a tire patched. So I took the wheel off the car and ran it over to a local Tires Plus. When I got the wheel back I found that their tech couldn't even mount the tire on the rim in the right direction. The rims on my car are directional, and stamped in the aluminum on the rim is RH & LH for which side of the car the rim belongs on. Also, the tire had a arrow indicating which direction the tire was supposed to be mounted. I guess this was all too much for the tech to understand and he mounted the tire backwards on the rim. When I pointed it out to the rep behind the counter he proceeded to get mad at me and tell me "That is why we asked you which side of the car the tire was from!". I explained that when I brought it in I had told him Left Front and then showed him the stamping on the rim and the arrow on the tire. He huffed and puffed and grabbed the wheel from my hand and sluffed off into the shop area. This is why I only took the wheel to the shop, god only knows what that tech monkey would have done with an impact wrench and lug nuts....
Reply to
Dave Hammond

Right. People don't realize that this is often the place to go. I mean, afterall, they see a shop and an ad...
The shops have a lot of work and know what they are doing. Often, they have picky as hell customers and so actually DO the work. They HATE having to re-do stuff as well due to their workload, so a fix is almost always correct the first time.
They also have no problem with welding or grinding a bit.
Reply to
Joseph Oberlander
Makes you wonder what kind of training people get anymore. I had a bad body twist on my full size gm car for years. On the highway, every time I eased up on the gas the car would shift to the right and I had to correct the steering to straight the car out. Same thing happened when I stepped on the gas again. Three garages told me it was front end ball joints loose or some front end problem. One place told me it was the transmission linkage. Another told me it was worn out rubber body mounts because I had the car oiled every year. I told everyone of them it was something in the rear of the car. They refused to believe me. Finally I was in a small garage on the other side of town for rear brakes and drums and one of the guys told me he noticed the control arm bushing was worn out. I had it replaced immediately and never had the twisting body syndrome on the highway again. Makes you wonder how many mechanics really know what to look for anymore.
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Snipped for space, not content
I worked in several dealerships and other different shops for 18 years before I dropped back into school to tweak computers. A reputable shop dealing with a car from say 1994 on will give you two printouts. The specs as your car came in, and the specs after the alignment. Camber and caster, depending on the car, can have a clearance of between +2 and -2 of factory spec. Thrust alignment, having the rear track with the front has similar clearances. If you go in and talk to the alignment mechanic before the job is started because you have issues, he WILL work the alignment without going strictly by spec, but will look into the problem. He may have to align it out of spec to get it to drive right.. If you have allowed a shop to replace parts, did you ask to keep the old parts? Do that up front and your chances of being ripped off drop by 100% if you have MARKED your parts. It is a shame that it comes to this but there are rip-off artists everywhere anymore. Best advice, find a shop you feel comfortable with, but never relax your vigilance. Check your bills and printouts from alignments or emission tune-ups. If you have questions, ASK. Then ASK someone else to compare answers. Do some homework, google is your friend.
/just my .02
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Here's one that happened to me last year. I took my 2000 F-250 4x4 to the local chain type tire place to get a quick alignment because it was pulling very hard to the left. When I got out of the truck, a kid's meal cup fell out and rolled against the back of the front tire. I'm ashamed to say that I was too lazy at 6:00 AM to bend down and pick it up. a few hours later I got a call from them with a $800.00 laundry list of parts that the truck needed in order to be ok. I declined and went back to pick up the truck. As I walked up to it guess what I saw? Lo and behold, the cup was still there, wedged against the tire. The truck had never been moved! I walked into the place and confronted them on it. Of course I got the standard acting job where the guy shuffles through some work orders and says "Oh man, I'm sorry. You are 100% correct. We had another truck like yours in here and we got mixed up and called you about his truck by mistake. If you give us about 20 minutes we can get yours in and look at it right away!" I declined and after making sure that all of the other customers in the place knew exactly what had happened I took my truck and left. I went to a collision shop (where I should have gone to start with) and got it aligned for $50.00 with no parts needed!
Reply to
Keith Stelter
True story....
I picked up a screw in a tire...and brought the car into a Goodyear (Mr. Goodwrench) located on Route 40 about 5 miles west of Baltimore. (maryland). Tire was still holding air but my low tire pressure warning light was on. Just as a precaution I left the driver's manual on the seat open to the page that describes how to reset the warning light.
Well, they worked on the car for 1 1/2 hours.... The service manager comes over to me and says the tire is fixed but THREE mechanics worked on the car for an hour and can't get the warning light to go out. Therefore the car is defective and I need to bring it back to the dealer for repairs.
I pick up the car....it takes me 2 seconds to reset the light. I walk back inside and let the service manager know that the problem that 3 mechanics couldn't repair in an hour was just fixed in 2 seconds without going to the dealer.. The service manager had an attitude to begin with....and just glared at me. She obviously didn't want to be working there.
So I start driving the car and notice my accessories are not working.... takes a minute to find the cause... a blown fuse. You can put two and two together....luckily nothing else was destroyed by these monkeys.
A courtesy call back to the store manager makes me feel sorry for all the consumers that have to depend on these incompetents for auto repairs. Car was a 2002 Monte Carlo
True story.
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I bought a new set of tires for my 92 Caprice a few years ago and the shop offered free alignment with the purchase so I took the bait.
Tech did the alignment, handed me the printout and I left. When I got home and actually looked at the printout, it was in effect a screen dump of the computer on Hunter rack he used for the alignment. IOW it was about 10 pages long and actually had all the printed instructions to properly align the car.
So I'm looking at the summery and it says something like: (these numbers are made up just to illustrate a point)
Spec. Toe -1.6 to -2.0 Measured Toe -0.1 **
It was off for every other angle as well.
So back I go to the shop and show the manager the print out and he proceeds to ask me why this is out of spec because - 0.1 falls between - 1.6 and -2.0!!!
I had to draw the idiot a number line to show him his error at which point he agreed it was out so back on the rack it goes.
This time I stand and watch the tech read the screen and follow the directions which basically consisted of two rows of asterisks (**) one on top of the other and instructions as to what bolt to turn and in what direction to line the asterisks up with each other.
My car looked like this for a given angle:
**************** ****************
After: ******************** **********************
It's supposed to look like this:
******************** ******************** (or close).
at which point he hits the enter key and moves on to the next angle.
I called the manager in and had him scroll back the screen to see his tech's handy work.
Bottom line was the manager did the alignment himself, while I watched and he asked me to never come back again.
I told him that would not be a problem.
That place is still in business to this day and I wonder how many cars are driving around with screwed up alignments due to their ineptness.
P.S. A great way to find a good shop is to ask a place that does collision work who they use.
Reply to
In some cases, like mine, the shop that does the body work will also do the alignment, they don't farm it out...
Reply to
Mike Levy
There is a great shop here in Tulsa. Everything I take to them they get right. I rebuild and maintain the front end myself on my fleet then take them to the shop to fine tune my eyeballing assembly. They always say, man you sure take care of this stuff! There is no way they could tell me that I need parts! I had to go back once because the car would slowly drift off center. In about 15 min they tweaked it just a bit and it was perfect! I put another 100k on that car. BTW this shop is privatley owned.
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Lots of replies... it looks like many others have been down this road before.
I got a call from the shop yesterday evening. They have drilled out the strut spot welds and with the strut top moved all the way over to the extreme end of it's range, it's still not quite centering up at the alignment goal.
They also have obtained the rear bushing cam kit because just as I told them, the right rear was out on camber and Ford has no factory adujsters for it. The shop was closing for the day when the Ford part arrived. When I left the car, I told them Ford had quoted me a price of $75 for this kit. I inquired about the part listed in the service manual and I suppose they designed a newer and cheaper solution. He told me the camber kit ended up only about $6. Big smile on my face on that one!
He won't know the outcome of the alignment until Monday when they complete the rear camber kit installation and line everything up. They stopped work when the knew they needed the rear camber kit. He says the front left front steering camber issue could be a bent strut or steering knuckle. I tend to agree, as I went through a pothole that swallowed up the tire and blew it out a year ago... the onset of all the problems. He was going to see if he could get within specs and let me know.
I am optimistic that I've found an honest shop that will do the job right. The question now, I guess is how perfectionistic to be about this camber setting if it requires a new strut or steering knuckle to make it right.
no one in maryland
Reply to
no one
"no one" wrote
I don't think that this shop is particularly competent if they are willing to try to compensate for an obviously bent part. The right thing to do is to replace the bent component/s. One of the reasons that there are so few adjustments on front wheel drive vehicles is that unless you have bent parts, the factory setting will usually be close enough for the life of the vehicle. Plus the fact that camber/caster settings on front wheel drive vehicle with McPherson struts are not nearly as critical with regard to pulling problems as they are on a vehicle with upper and lower control arms....i.e.: rear wheel drive trucks. Which is why you have all sorts of camber/caster adjustments on trucks, but almost none on FWD vehicles. Other then slotting struts or towers.
If you want it done right, have them figure out what the bent component is and replace that.
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I think the lack of adjustments on newer vehicles reflect several things. One is probably closer tolerances held during the car fabrication, expecially with "unibody". Another may be less shift of the alignment with age when McPherson struts are used. I suspect the main reason is cost savings. Weld it and live with it. People trade in every three years anyway. They trade in sooner if the car eats tires. My friends truck with McPherson struts ate tires since delivered new and no one will repair it. Maybe he got a Monday Ford.
I believe that alignment issues stem not from the use of an A arm suspension in favor of McPherson Strut suspension or vice versa, but rather from the lack of vehicle frame in the newer designs. My 82 truck has an A arm suspension and with 140,000 miles it tracks better than the Taraus did new. And the truck has the antique recirculating ball steering, A arms, leaf springs and all that antique stuff. It doesn't have rack and pinion steering or McPherson struts. It has the dreaded upper control arm bushings and all the rest. I can place it within an inch or two in my lane without effort and keep it there as road camber changes. It has never improperly consumed tires. But the truck is fabricated on a sturdy frame that runs the length of the vehicle. It has grease fittings througought the suspension linkage and I attend to them. None of the parts on this 21 year old truck squeak like the tie rod end on the newer Taraus, but then the Taraus has no means of lubricating any fittings. In fact, the Taraus even lacks the holes to add fittings! At least our Thunderbird had drilled holes where fitting could be added. "Lubricated for life?" Yeah, the limited life of a dry unlubricated part.
Until the shop puts my car back on the rack with the rear camber adjuster part added to the left rear wheel, we won't know where we stand with it. Given the fact that the right front and left rear wheels were both out of range for camber (rear is not adjustable without this kit added) I suspect there is a good chance the frame has a problem. (Recall that I drove through a deep pothole with enough speed that I blew a tire). DC is filled with potholes. (and pitfalls?)
It may not be worth putting a 1996 Taraus onto a frame machine to bring it back square if that is the problem, so moving the factory settings seems reasonable to me. What does not seem okay is to send a customer away saying "it's out and that's okay, it won't hurt tires and handling" . That is what the first shop said without having even attempted to sent camber. Recall I brought it in because of handling problems and tire consumption issues.
Also, I asked the second shop to set the alignment to the dead center of the factory spec range. He was saying that he may not quite reach that... not that he could not be well within published limits. He is not slotting holes, but following the shop manual proceedure to make camber/caster adjustments. That involves releasing the spot welds and shifting the upper strut tower location within the factory range of the bolts. He's not determined that any parts are bent yet, this was his first quick look-see when he discovered that indeed the left rear kit would be needed. He pulled the car off the lift and ordered the part. He was simply speculating that the strut might be needed if the adjustment range is not adequate and I want it set to perfection.
If the frame is okay and a new strut is needed to correct the front alignment to perfect, what would that likely cost?
Thanks much for you thoughts. If there is something I am missing... I'm no expert, please share.
no one in maryland
Reply to
no one
Welcome to the club!
I drive mine until the bottom falls out!
87 T-bird with 190,000 miles 92 Caprice with 310,000 miles 00 Dodge Caravan with 50,000 miles (I'll be happy if that one makes 100,000)
03 VW Jetta with 9,000 miles.
All cars have original engines and trannys.
Reply to
You are not alone: 94 Ranger 4 cyl...235,043 miles...original engine and clutch 67 Cougar XR7...153,433 miles...one rebuild of the engine at 73,000 with trannie swap C4-C6 49 Ford PU with Flat head V8...90,233...original engine and trannie, two clutches and a complete brake overhaul, plus a 12 volt conversion @ 25,000
Love those Fords, the good ones just keep going
Reply to
Reece Talley
So do I, then I use the parts on other Fords. I'm am now ready to pull the engine & trans outta the 1984 CV. I will convert the front dress and pan to early-style and shove it into my 1973 Montego. The CV get's junked, the Monty get's sold, the Monty's 351C gets rebuilt for the 1968 Cougar. Got my weekends booked for a while.
Reply to
Whole Lotta Tom
I had a '69 GP with this kind of problem. The car was at a Sears for an alignment because it pulled to the right . It was aligned the first time by a mechanic and inspected. Got the car back home and drove it for a couple of days. It started pulling hard again. Took it back a second time and the guy rechecked the alignment. He adjusted it again and said he inspected the front end again and said it was ok. I drove it home, it pulled hard again, so now I went under the car to inspect it. Here I found that the front lower control bushing had gone so bad that the bolt had worn through the bushing and was rubbing on the control itself. It wore the control arm so much that there was only 1/4" of metal thickness left on the arm before the bolt would have completely worn through, releasing the arm at the lower front. I was a kid of 18, never worked on a suspension, but nonetheless took it apart and replaced the control arm from a '70 Buick. After the work I took it back to Sears for the third alignment attempt. The manager pulls my car in, the mechanic turns around, and starts cussing so that the whole shop can hear him and starts throwing tools. He starts talking to the manager and said he's not working on this car again! The manager walked over to me and diplomatically suggests that I take the car to a frame shop because the frame is bent. I looked at him and said, "you go back out there and tell mouth that I had to put on a new lower control arm because he failed to do the very first thing he was suppose to do, an inspection!" Manager did just that. The mechanic looked at it, saw it had a new control with new bushings and a new balljoint, and shut his mouth but glared at me. The manager came back and said he was amazed that I did that myself and he apologized for the mouth mechanic. Car drove perfect after that.
still holding
need to bring
manager had
Reply to
"no one" wrote
Cost savings are always a part of the equation, but the fact is that the geometry of a Mcpherson strut front suspension makes it less sensitive to camber/caster setting as far as pulling problems. You will just have to trust me on this, as I've had many years of aligment and front end experience at the dealership level. I've rarely seen a GM FWD vehicle (GM is what I work on) that needed adjustments to caster/camber for a pulling condition, unless there had been some sort of damage to components. And in that case you replaced components.
This really has nothing to do with frame design. Your 82 truck is probably just set up properly. Believe me, late model GM trucks had all sorts of alignment/wandering/pulling problems that were directly related to improper caster settings right from the factory. These trucks have a wide range of adjustment built right into the front suspension so that you can easily (well, once you have removed some knockouts) make camber/caster adjustments. During one stretch in the late 90's, almost every vehicle in the shop that had a pulling/tracking complaint was a truck, s/truck, or the M/L vans. These all have upper/lower control arm front suspension setups.
I suppose that if money is the issue, then yes, it's not really worth having to do a frame pull, if that's really what it needs. Just because you hit a pothole, usually doesn't mean that the frame will be out. If you can't bring the suspension back to factory spec with the adjustments that are available, then I would be looking for the damaged components more then a bent frame. If the Taurus has a separate subframe (which I think it does) often you can loosen the subframes and get some camber/caster movement be moving the subframe on the body. We often do this on the GM FWD vehicles and you would be amazed at how much movement you can get between the subframes and bodies.
He sounds pretty accomodating. If you can't get it exactly to the center of the factory spec range, I wouldn't worry too much about it. You just wouldn't want your cross camber, and/or cross caster measurements to be out of range.
Not much labor, as far the part, I don't have access to that info. It looks like about 2.0 hrs to R & R one strut.
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