Since my last update, I’ve driven the car about 100 miles, including some aggressive corners, without any problems. However, the steering wheel still won’t recenter after a turn. I’ve thoroughly greased all of the steering linkage pivot points and examined the steering column and all other parts for binding or interference, to no avail. I’ve now come to the conclusion (with some help from an internet forum) that the alignment settings must be off – specifically the caster setting. There are basically three things that define the alignment of a car: toe, which is the amount the front wheels point in or out, camber, which is how much the top of the wheel tilts in or out, and caster, which is how far the wheel is rotated forward or backward from the axle centerline. Apparently not enough caster results in too much resistance for the wheel to return to center after a turn. So it looks like I’ll be back at the alignment shop on Tuesday.
I also took some time to try and locate the source of the grinding noise the car makes on low-speed bumps and turns. I thought I had figured it out when I noticed that the lower fender has a patch panel that was within a 1/4 inch of the tire when I turned the wheel about halfway:
I assumed the tire was articulating backward enough during a bump to contact that lip, creating a sound not unlike a baseball card in a bicycle spoke (on steroids). So out came the snips:
Apparently I was wrong, because the noise is unchanged, and I still can’t replicate it no matter how hard I jump on the fender or rock the car back and forth. I’m confident it’s not anything serious, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying – or embarrassing, since it likes to do it in crowded parking lots.
Regardless, I’ve been driving the car enough to really appreciate the changes I’ve made. The car now stops on a dime (relatively speaking), tracks straight, handles much better, and just feels nicer to drive. Once the alignment gets fixed, I look forward to really flogging it a bit.