Just about 2 years ago, the steering rack failed on my 1996 Lexus SC400 at 132,000 miles. Reconditioned rack #1 went bad in 3 weeks, and replaced with another. Reconditioned rack #2 also failed in about 2 months, and was replaced with a brand new rack.
Every time I got the car back, the steering feel was horrible even though they claimed they did an alignment (which they ended up doing every time I returned with the car). The last straw came when I was driving up a freeway entry ramp that had the pavement scraped in vertical lines, and the steering felt like a snake undulating left and right. Pissed, I finally took it to a Lexus shop where they performed an alignment and the car seemed to handle better. While satisfactory, it still was not the same as before the rack went bad. However, 2 weeks later the steering wheel was cocked to the left and the car was out of alignment. It went in yet again for an alignment at an independent shop and everything seemed fine – it was done better than by Lexus. Now two weeks after the latest alignment the steering wheel is cocked to the right and I’m beginning to feel the snake undulations again. What is throwing the car out of alignment? I live in Tampa, and the roads where I travel are in good condition, no potholes, I’m not running into curbs, and my wife doesn’t drive the car.
A few websites mention the control arm bushings, so I took it into an independent Toyota/Lexus repair shop that I found and have been happy with. They said they couldn’t find anything wrong.
One last thing: the rotors need to be replaced all around the car. The front rotors are warped, but I don’t know that that could throw the alignment off. I held up on spending the money for them because of the steering issues. I love this car and would like to keep it, but I’m at the end of my rope in dealing with it. Any help in the matter would be greatly appreciated.
There are two problems presented: first is the insinuation that your wife cannot drive a car without throwing the front end out of spec. I suggest a date night with dinner and a movie for compensation. The second is the number of mechanics who didn’t replace a single bushing. The rubber on this car is positively ancient, it needs to be replaced. Many people drive older cars on occasion, unaware of the ravages of time on clearances and component decay, and simply assume that “The Good Old Days” were truly awful. False.
Putting a new (OEM) rack, new air springs, control arms, bushings in my ’95 Lincoln Mark VIII was a serious wake up call: all of a sudden the steering went from stereotypical Detroit land yacht to something disturbingly close to the heft and accuracy of a late-model AMG Benz. Did a similar transplant to our 1972 Mark IV: lo and behold, the yacht’s tiller gained the accuracy (if not speed in lock-to-lock turning) of a Camry LE. This isn’t a load of bunk, it happened.
So get serious: rubber and ball joints get out of whack after 10+ years and 100+k miles on the road. It’s time for a complete suspension rebuild, even if it doesn’t seem necessary. Rubber can look fine. Ball joints may not pop and knock in the middle of the night, but it’s time to replace damn near every moving part in the suspension.
Of course, if this was an undesirable vehicle, this is the time to consider scrapping it for something less claptrap-tastic. But a Lexus SC400? This is a no brainer, if you want showroom-fresh dynamics, you rebuild the entire front clip. And it’ll be worth it. Off to you, best and brightest.
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