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Old 10-11-2010, 04:50 PM   #1
CodeName_88
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Alignment keeps going out of whack

So here's my story....

I bought my 323i last year. When I first bought it, the steering wheel centered properly, so I didn't bother to go get an alignment. Slowly but surely, the steering wheel's center position would slowly move to the left. My mechanic said it's doing so because of bad ball joints, and that I could hold off the new ball joints for a while.

Six months after I bought the car, I noticed that suspension would make a loud grinding noise when the car was stationary and the wheel was turned to either side fully. Thought it was time to get it checked out - turns out ball joints and bushings were worn out on both sides, so just got new control arms. Got an alignment then, and it was fine for a week or so, but the neutral position started moving to the left again.

Changed the oil on my car a few weeks later, noticed that the front right strut was leaking. Got new struts, and thought that since I would be getting new tyres, I would get them and the alignment at the same time. Got some new Continental ExtremeContact DWS's, and got the alignment yet again. Same story - drove from Boston to New Jersey the next day, and by the end of the trip, the alignment was slightly off yet again.

Any idea where it's going wrong?

Thanks for the help!
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Old 10-11-2010, 06:10 PM   #2
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It's your bushings to the arm struts. I forgot what it's called now. It's under your car front tires. It like a rubber boot that connects to the arm and to the mount of your car. Go on YouTube "BMW control arm bushing replacement"


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Old 10-11-2010, 06:22 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CruzBMW View Post
It's your bushings to the arm struts. I forgot what it's called now. It's under your car front tires. It like a rubber boot that connects to the arm and to the mount of your car. Go on YouTube "e46 worn out struts"


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Are you thinking of the end links?

Or maybe tie rods?

OP, if the alignment was good for a while but then went out again, it might be that another part has failed, or it might be that the alignment wasn't done properly...as in, maybe something that should've been tightened, was tightened enough. But, if it's sway bar, I don't think that would affect alignment, but the tie rod, if the ball joint is loose...either failing or not tightened properly, would certainly affect your alignment, and that sounds like the only thing in the front that's possible.

Also, the rear wishbone has a concentric washer in it to adjust toe (I think...might be camber)...so do you recall if they aligned the rear?

Anyway, all that said, number one, get tire pressure as exact as you can get it. Start with door jamb pressure and adjust minimally from there...I like at the max in front, and in the middle of pressure in the rear..coz I don't like understeer...but side to side pressure differences of even a 1/2 pound would steer your car, especially at speed.

HTH

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Old 10-11-2010, 06:24 PM   #4
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All the bushings/control arms are new in the front. Or is it another bushing that I'm overlooking? In that video, he only talked about control arms and their bushings and ball joints.

Tie rods are also fine. There's nearly no play at all when I try to fiddle around with the wheel when the car is jacked up.
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Old 10-11-2010, 06:25 PM   #5
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If you replaced the control arms, then you should also replace the front control arm bushings and rear trailing arm bushings. These bushings are what hold the control and trailing arms in place after the alignment. The good news is you've already replaced the struts and control arms, so there's little else to wear out on your suspension for a while.

Is the wheel slowly falling out of alignment or is there play in the wheel, where you can wiggle it back and forth without the car changing direction?
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Old 10-11-2010, 06:28 PM   #6
CodeName_88
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Originally Posted by dmax View Post
Are you thinking of the end links?

Or maybe tie rods?

OP, if the alignment was good for a while but then went out again, it might be that another part has failed, or it might be that the alignment wasn't done properly...as in, maybe something that should've been tightened, was tightened enough. But, if it's sway bar, I don't think that would affect alignment, but the tie rod, if the ball joint is loose...either failing or not tightened properly, would certainly affect your alignment, and that sounds like the only thing in the front that's possible.

Also, the rear wishbone has a concentric washer in it to adjust toe (I think...might be camber)...so do you recall if they aligned the rear?

Anyway, all that said, number one, get tire pressure as exact as you can get it. Start with door jamb pressure and adjust minimally from there...I like at the max in front, and in the middle of pressure in the rear..coz I don't like understeer...but side to side pressure differences of even a 1/2 pound would steer your car, especially at speed.

HTH

Doug
Thanks for the help Doug - our cars look exactly the same by the way.

I am really anal about my tyre pressures - they are set to 35/38 and I check them weekly. I checked them last week and it also seems like tyre pressures on the left side of the car go down a lot more than the right side. As in, right side was 34.5/37.5, left side was 33/36.5

Does this help with diagnosis?
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Old 10-11-2010, 06:32 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by LittleChrist12 View Post
If you replaced the control arms, then you should also replace the front control arm bushings and rear trailing arm bushings. These bushings are what hold the control and trailing arms in place after the alignment. The good news is you've already replaced the struts and control arms, so there's little else to wear out on your suspension for a while.

Is the wheel slowly falling out of alignment or is there play in the wheel, where you can wiggle it back and forth without the car changing direction?
Front control arm bushings are also new - rear trailing arm bushings were fine I think.

The wheel is slowly falling out of alignment, there is nearly no play in the steering wheel. When the wheel is at the center position, the car drifts to the right noticeably. It's not an issue with steering tightness, as it's very tight after the control arm/strut replacements and drives wonderfully if not for the alignment issue.
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Old 10-11-2010, 07:04 PM   #8
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Thanks for the help Doug - our cars look exactly the same by the way.

I am really anal about my tyre pressures - they are set to 35/38 and I check them weekly. I checked them last week and it also seems like tyre pressures on the left side of the car go down a lot more than the right side. As in, right side was 34.5/37.5, left side was 33/36.5

Does this help with diagnosis?
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Originally Posted by CodeName_88 View Post
Front control arm bushings are also new - rear trailing arm bushings were fine I think.

The wheel is slowly falling out of alignment, there is nearly no play in the steering wheel. When the wheel is at the center position, the car drifts to the right noticeably. It's not an issue with steering tightness, as it's very tight after the control arm/strut replacements and drives wonderfully if not for the alignment issue.
Based on the tire pressures as reported, you'd be pushing considerably to the left...with help from both the front and rear rt. side being higher than the left. If your car is pushing to the right still, that's a significant out of alignment. It might be trailing arm bushings as noted, and certainly worth a look.

But, the tie rods, either not being moved to where they're supposed to be, or in fact loose at their ball joint, seem like they'd account for more drifting off. Since you said it's slowly getting worse...a few possiblities...

Again, the tie rod might not have been adjusted properly...either not to the correct position, or the nut wasn't tightened sufficiently and it's worked out (if that's possible...and I'm not positive it is...though that nut is there for a reason, so if not tight enough, I think you'd get an issue from that. Similarly, that tie rod end's ball joint, if loose, would lead to a little squirreliness (I'm guessing).

If it's getting worse, the other thing I'm wondering about, since last alignment was done after control arms...what CA, which CAB did you get? If AM, I've heard of some guys putting those in backwards, and if aligned that way, you'd then have an issue with alignment when the CA works the bushing out (again, not sure of specifics...I'm oe, all the time!). But also, even with proper CA and bushing, it's also possible that the CA wasn't seated properly in bushing, for whatever reason...again if aligned that way, it'd change as bushing and CA 'grow together.'

...and I hope they checked your tire pressures before alignment...and although I'm sure they didn't load your car up with 450 pounds of sand, I hope they had a machine that could otherwise compensate for this...and I know some do...don't know if all do.

So, maybe some bad parts yet, maybe bad install, maybe bad alignment...I just don't know. But I do think that if you go back to shop who did all this work and just say, it's out of alignment again, they should at least, inspect and redo alignment for you.

BTW, your tire pressure sound too high in front...I'm supposed to be, if memory serves, something like 29-31 in front, and 33-41 in rear depending on load. Right now, I'm around 32-35 (please don't report me!)...and am dialed in nearly perfectly to neutral steering, and a little throttle induces enough oversteer to push me around turns without me turning anymore.

Very sensitive car to minor things...though I don't think your tire pressure, if it was what you had it at (before you lost air), shouldn't have affected alignment that much....and they certainly should've checked pressure beforehand.

Got to eat...HTH

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Old 10-12-2010, 04:43 PM   #9
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The alignment will not hold if there are any suspension components that are worn out. Have the entire suspension inspected for parts with too much play or parts that are bent before having the alignment done again. Consider using another shop in the future since an inspection of suspension components is step one in getting an alignment.
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Old 10-14-2010, 12:11 PM   #10
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Something is loose or just plain worn out. Maybe it's time to give a second thought to the rear of the car. When RTABs go bad, the rear suspension starts to effect steering. Bad bushings allow toe changes in the rear. It's called rear wheel steer. If you have original RTABs, and 75K plus miles they are most likely shot. Who is doing the aligment? Has a BMW shop had a look at the car?
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Old 10-15-2010, 02:10 PM   #11
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Just got another alignment.... turns out it was the rear that was out of alignment, not the front. The front values haven't changed since two months ago.

I changed the RTAB on the right rear side as it was making a knocking noise and had completely disintegrated. Should I change the left RTAB? Could that be the only problem?
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Old 10-15-2010, 06:18 PM   #12
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Also, Town Fair are doing the alignment. I would recommend NE people to stay away. I've never gotten anything but poor service from those people.
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Old 10-16-2010, 02:30 AM   #13
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Just got another alignment.... turns out it was the rear that was out of alignment, not the front. The front values haven't changed since two months ago.

I changed the RTAB on the right rear side as it was making a knocking noise and had completely disintegrated. Should I change the left RTAB? Could that be the only problem?
As components in the back axle deteriorate, like the right RTAB it stresses other components. Change the left RTAB to get longer life out of the alignment and to settle down the rear end.
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Old 10-17-2010, 12:38 AM   #14
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Another thing to be cautious about is what equipment they have. I know caster on a e46 needs special tools a d if the shop doesn't have them they will do all they can except for that. The shop were I am leaving soon doesn't have that equipment and they still take them in for alignments.
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Old 10-18-2010, 11:57 AM   #15
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Just got another alignment.... turns out it was the rear that was out of alignment, not the front. The front values haven't changed since two months ago.

I changed the RTAB on the right rear side as it was making a knocking noise and had completely disintegrated. Should I change the left RTAB? Could that be the only problem?
Changing any bushing on only one side is a cardinal sin!
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Old 10-18-2010, 03:08 PM   #16
CodeName_88
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Another thing to be cautious about is what equipment they have. I know caster on a e46 needs special tools a d if the shop doesn't have them they will do all they can except for that. The shop were I am leaving soon doesn't have that equipment and they still take them in for alignments.
Everything seemed fine in the post-alignment printout I was given, including caster. I will post the values just to make sure!

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Changing any bushing on only one side is a cardinal sin!
Sorry! I'll change the other one soon, promise! It's just that I was a poor college student who had changed FCABs, front control arms, an engine belt, e-brake and sensors, the rear brake rotors and pads, and a rear wheel bearing, and the other one seemed fine, so I decided to leave it at that for the time being.
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