Make sure wheel alignment is complete

So most of us have taken off the winter tires. To your dismay your tire man said your summers are “worn out” and you bought four new ones for your trusty steed.

So most of us have taken off the winter tires. To your dismay your tire man said your summers are “worn out” and you bought four new ones for your trusty steed.  Hopefully you agreed to a wheel alignment to go with the new set of rubber.  Hopefully your wheel alignment technician did not leave out a critical step.

There is a new procedure in wheel alignment for many newer vehicles.  If your vehicle has some type of computer aided stability control system it probably has a steering angle sensor.  The last required step of your wheel alignment procedure could be a “steering angle sensor reset.”

Prior to these steering angle sensors, the last step of the wheel alignment procedure was to centre the steering wheel. All steering wheels have a symmetric design and that little finishing touch of a superior wheel alignment job results in a steering wheel that sits symmetrically in your hands as you go straight down the road.

How do you know if your steering angle sensor was reset?  Well ….. you don’t.  You may end up with an ESP, VDC, or wiggly vehicle diagram light stuck on after work was done or you may not.  You may end up with a vehicle that does not respond as it should.

The steering angle sensor is mounted on your steering wheel shaft.  It is usually just above the gas pedal and brake on the steering shaft.  It is an electronic device that indicates the position of the steering wheel.  This sensor provides an input to some of the onboard computerized control systems with names like ESC (Electronic Stability Control), EPS (Electronic Power Steering), AS (Active Steering), VRS (Variable Rate Steering) and  the list goes on.

Suffice to say this steering angle input is used to electroncally anticipate what the driver is trying to tell the vehicle to do, steering wise, and these fancy acronym systems are determining how they should react to this input.

The reset part of the procedure has to insure some basic inputs are true. When a perfectly aligned vehicle is travelling straight down a level road the position of the steering angle sensor should be zero.  If it is not, it needs to be reset. As usual the reset procedure varies with different vehicles.

Some alignment machines have built in systems to guide the technician through the proper procedure.  Some only give the manufacturers written procedure but not the computer interface to do the job.

When it is time for a wheel alignment make sure you are getting the whole job. Steering angle reset is a necessary step with many newer vehicles.

Trail’s Ron Nutini is a licensed automotive technician and graduate of mechanical engineering from UBC.