If you notice your car pulls to the right or left when driving, this article and video has tips on what parts to check and how. Whether you feel the car pulling while trying to stay straight or you feel a pull to the right or left when braking, these tips review how you can tell if it’s from an issue with the suspension or brakes and what you can do to fix it yourself.
Why Is My Car Pulling Left or Right?
If your car, truck, or SUV pulls to the right or left, it’s usually because there could be a problem with steering and suspension parts, like a steering shaft, or brake parts, like the emergency brake.
Parts That Can Cause a Car to Pull to Either Side of the Road
Parts to Diagnose If Your Car Pulls to the Left or Right
Steps to take if your car pulls to the left or the right
- Raise and Secure the Vehicle
Wear hand and eye protection when checking the front end. Park the car on a level surface. Place wheel chocks on the front and back wheel as this will help ensure vehicle wont shift once lifted with jack and jack stand. Lift the wheel 1-2 inches off the ground, which is enough to get under the front.
More on how to use jack stands
- Check for Ball Joint or Wheel Bearing Movement
Grab a pry bar to use for leverage. Place the pry bar down along the ground under the wheel. Pull the pry bar up and down and look for movement from the ball joint or wheel bearing. In the video featured in this article, we felt some movement and heard clunking, but neither of these parts caused the pull.
More on how to check the ball joint
- Check for Movement in the Brake Rotor
Spin the wheel to get access to the top of the brake rotor. Insert a pry bar through the rim to access the rotor. If you’d like to protect the rim, place a rag underneath the pry bar. Place a pry bar against the top of the rotor and the bottom of the rim, pry up and down and feel for movement. In our example, it felt tight, as the rotor should be.
- Check for “Play” or Movement in the Tie Rod
Grab the tire at the 3 and 9 o’clock on wheel and the move tire side-to-side and feel for movement to check tie rods.
- Spin the Wheel and Listen for a Howling Wheel Bearing
- Test Parts in Steps 2 – 5 on the Opposite Side
- Test for Steering Lash
With the vehicle lowered to the ground, enter the passenger compartment of the vehicle. Shake the steering wheel side-to-side to check for steering lash, which is how much the steering wheel moves without the wheels pivoting.
This is to diagnose the steering shaft, which is generally under the hood. Look at the joint to see if there is any movement in that area. If your vehicle has a pitman arm or idler arm, check those as well.
More on diagnosing the steering shaft
- Test for Brake Drag
It’s easiest to check the brakes if you can raise and secure all four wheels in the air. Spin the wheel and feel for dragging or resistance. Brake drag will cause friction and a pull. If you find one of the wheels dragging, remove it and inspect the brakes further.
- Check the Brake Rotor for Damage
- Open the Bleeder Screw and Check for Brake Fluid
Check the brakes for damage or moisture. Remove the boot from the bleeder screw on the brake caliper. Open the bleeder screw and check for a steady trickle of fluid. Fluid steadily trickling out means you have a good flex hose and that gravity is pulling brake fluid from master cylinder to brake caliper.
If no fluid drips, you might have problem with flex hose where it collapsed or and issue with the bleeder screw.
More on bleeding the brakes
- Check the Brake Pads
Insert the pry bar into the brake caliper between pads and rotor and pry up against the area and see if the caliper moves. Remove brake caliper bracket and caliper. Inspect the brake pads and make sure they can move around inside the brake caliper bracket. If the pads were stuck in the bracket, they’ll press against the brake rotor but won’t release when the brake pedal is released. This means there will be constant friction and that will cause drag. Check the brake pad material and see if it’s swollen, damaged, or contaminated, like from a fluid leak. This can cause pads to hang up or overheat
More on when you should replace brake pads
- Check the Brake Caliper
Remove the brake caliper slider bolts. Carefully remove the brake caliper from the bracket. Inspect the boot on the caliper piston(s). The one in this example is ripped, and fluid could be leaking out or contaminants like water could be leaking in and causing the car to pull left or right.
If the boot is ripped, replace the entire caliper. Test the piston by pushing it in. If the caliper has more than one, you’ll need to push both in. You might be able to test piston with an old brake pad and a c-clamp, or you can find different brake caliper piston tools at 1aauto.com. The pistons should move in easily. If one or both don’t go in, you’ll need to replace the broken caliper.
A caliper frozen stuck on position on left side will drag left side of rotor and pull vehicle in that direction, especially if in front of car.
If the brake caliper is frozen in the outward or relaxed position, the caliper isn’t stopping the vehicle, so you’ll feel a brake pull from the other side doing all the work and drifting the vehicle over.
More on how to check for a seized brake caliper
- Check the Brake Caliper Bracket
Inspect the brake caliper bracket. Remove the slide pins from the brake caliper bracket. In our example the boot slid off and there is plenty of rust and corrosion inside the housing. Grab onto the sliders and give them a twist, inspecting if you can pull them in and out. They should function properly and flow freely. In the video in this article, the slider is completely seized.
- Check the Emergency Brake
Inspect behind the rear rotor. In this example the spring at the back area where the e-brake cable connects to the actuator is completely contracted. This means the e-brake is being held on when it shouldn’t be.
The e-brake cables could be the cause of a pull to the right or left. They lead from the front to the rear of the vehicle and the sheathing on it can wear if it’s hitting something, and moisture can leak in and freeze the cables.
Remove the rotor to further inspect the emergency brake parts. The e-brake actuator has a piece along the backside and another piece that should line up closely against each other. If the e-brake is on, it will push out the brake shoe, and the gap in this area indicates it’s pushing out the shoes where it’ll hit against the rotor, and that can cause you to have a car that pulls to the right or the left.
Check for signs of moisture, like debris build-up, which means there’s contamination in area, like from a leaking brake caliper or axle seal leaking.
Inspect the inside of the rotor for scoring that can indicate the shoes have had too much contact with rotor, as we noticed with the brake shoes that were left hitting the inside area of the rotor and causing excessive friction and a pull.
More on diagnosing the emergency brake
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