By on April 18, 2017

Mazda 6 Grand Touring Interior, Image: Mazda/

TTAC Commentator AbqJay writes:

A couple of months ago I bought a slightly used 2016 Mazda 6 Grand Touring with 18,000 miles. The car is my wife’s daily driver; I drive it about once a week, and for longer trips, such as a jaunt I took from our home in Albuquerque to southern California in December. It’s hard to believe, but this is my first wrong-wheel drive car. The Mazda 6 is roomy, has decent power, gets fabulous mileage, and has an interior filled with creamy leatherette seating and trim, and soothing blue LED lighting. Since no one wants to buy this car, we got a great deal on it. So far so good.

Then I drove it to Cali.

On the drive, I noticed the steering is heavy. As in really heavy. As in my wrists hurt after driving it for about 20 minutes on the interstate. It feels like I am wrestling with it, even though the steering appears to be dead center.

It doesn’t feel like it needs an alignment, and doesn’t drift when I take my hands off the wheel. Is this torque steer? I have felt it before in other front-wheel-drive cars where the manufacturer has been unconcerned about offering a decent driving experience, like the Mitsubishi Galant I once had as a rental, but I don’t remember it feeling quite like this. And in other front-drivers, like my mother-in-law’s 15-year-old Camry or the Ford Fusion we rented a couple of years ago, the steering was reasonably light and the torque steer minimal. I don’t think there are issues with the front suspension. The tires are the original Dunlops, and they don’t show any unusual wear. There’s some curb rash on the rims, but it appears to be cosmetic.

This is bumming me out because of all the issues with this car raised in the reviews I’ve read (rough ride, loud wind noise, smallish back seat), this wasn’t one of them. I thought this car was going to be a pleasure to drive. I bought this “certified pre-owned” from the dealer, so I don’t see any point taking it to them, since they are going to tell me there’s nothing wrong with it. (If there had been anything wrong with it, they would have caught it and fixed it, right?) Should I take it to be looked at by an independent shop?

Sajeev answers:

You don’t see the point in taking it to the dealer after paying for CPO warranty coverage? Son, you must be pullin’ our collective legs.

Go to the dealer, as this sounds like steering wander that’s a derivation of a known problem with a documented repair

If that Mazda service bulletin doesn’t help, you’re up a creek without a paddle: what you describe isn’t torque steer (185 lb-ft isn’t enough to mess things up on the highway) and a matched set of tires (even bad ones) shouldn’t cause what you describe.

Any ideas, Best and Brightest?

[Image: Mazda]

Send your queries to [email protected] Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice. 

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45 Comments on “Piston Slap: Zoom, Zoom … Wander?...”

  • avatar

    I remember that last-generation Sonatas (2009-2014) had similar problems with the early models (wandering on highway) – my 2013 Malibu had the warranty extended on the EPS rack due to “sticking” on the highway (I never noticed the problem).

    It’s probably the electric power steering rack, or how its firmware is responding (poorly) to near-center boost with rack component wear.

    • 0 avatar
      Land Ark

      I experienced what you’re talking about in a rented Optima about 4 years ago. I was in Arizona and driving to and from Tuscon from Scottsdale. The entire trip the car would not respond to slight steering input. I would have to make multiple degree adjustments to actually get it to change course and once it finally caught it would be too far in the other direction. So it was constantly wandering from left to right.
      It was very aggravating and it was definitely not something I would have been willing to live with.

    • 0 avatar

      Does the Mazda6 use EPS?

      • 0 avatar

        Yes, the 6 has electrically-assisted power steering. There is a motor mounted to the steering column.

        The steering on my new 6 Touring does not fight me on the highway. Sounds like OP has an issue with EPS or maybe a tire or suspension/tie rod. A dead, dying or malfunctioning EPS motor could cause this symptom.

  • avatar

    Steering rack is loosing boost at highway speed.

  • avatar

    The guy reminds me of the folks that think that the oil is going to change itself. If it didnt drive that way before then why wouldn’t you take it in. Even if it did its not normal as I can attest at renting three of them that the steering is pretty light.
    But you can always just let the CPO warranty run out and just be sad.

  • avatar

    I’m with Sajeev on this one:

    You have a warranty. Use it.

    There’s a very good chance that they didn’t drive it from ABQ to Cali during their CPO inspection. This means that there’s a very good chance that they didn’t notice this problem. Hell, they probably just drove it to a local restaurant for lunch.

    Remember that inspections for CPO certification are done by humans who make mistakes (or just pencil whip the crap out of the inspection checklist).

  • avatar

    is the car tramlining (following grooves in the road?) you might be fighting that. It’s worse when you have wide front tires; it was very easy to feel in both of my Mustangs.

  • avatar

    My 2016 Mazda 6 Sport has 17″ tires and has had no heavy steering or wandering issues as described by AbqJay in the post re: his car equipped with 19″. The Mazda toe check procedure which Sajeev linked to the piece might provide the answer but I would also check the tire inflation (36 PSI in my car) all the way around as well. I’ve noticed the some service techs seem to ignore what the car requires as listed on the door sill—they either under inflate or over inflate. This may a case of the latter.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t think the 19″ have any extra width on the 17″ though, so it shouldn’t technically aggravate a steering issue. I’m going to echo the larger sentiment here: OP has a warranty. Use it.

    • 0 avatar

      My ’15 Mazda6 hasn’t been all sunshine and daisies, but I’d never call the steering heavy. That reminds me, I have felt this on my dad’s ’15 Camry which has *much* heavier steering and probably shouldn’t. Hmm.

  • avatar

    Sounds like a definite issue to take the car back to the dealer over. It’s certainly not normal. My 2016 6 doesn’t have those symptoms.

  • avatar
    Corey Lewis

    How has your wife not complained about the car, since she drives it every day? Just the first thing which came to mind for me.

  • avatar

    1. No… CPO does NOT mean they catch well.. anything.

    I went to buy a CPO XTS V-Sport. The guy was bragging about their inspection, and I started pointing things out- failing mirror (autodim- turned black), alignment issues, among other things.

    The salesman insisted that since its CPO they’d fix any of those things if we brought it to them.

    What it appeared like was ONCE they CPO certified it, the OEM would PAY for the warranty services, but until they CPO’d it, THEY had to pay for the repair services, so in fact they were NOT repairing them.

    I don’t think this is in the interest of OEM CPO programs, but it makes sense from an incentive standpoint.

    2. Try the hyundai sonata. The EPS is so light on that thing I drive with a finger, literally. I drive with a single index finger. At first it drove me nuts, but now for boring driving its great.

    3. I almost bought a Mazda 6 and did not notice what you are referring to, so I’d bring it in, especially in light of number 1…

    • 0 avatar

      This. Why anyone expects a used car dealer to be trustworthy in any way, shape, or form, is frankly baffling to me. CPO warranties are a joke.

      The same person (or organization) selling you the car is the one telling you that he inspected and repaired a bunch of stuff? Nah, that’s not fishy at all.

    • 0 avatar
      Land Ark

      I bought a CPO and had a check engine light come on the next morning accompanied with the engine feeling like it was about to stall, but wouldn’t actually stall. It was obvious they had just cleared the code and hoped it wouldn’t come back during the test drive. Fortunately for them, I bought it out of state and they never had to deal with it. (Intake manifold gasket issue)

      I test drove a CPO IS350 recently and I pointed out the flakey looking info screen, which is an issue on nearly 100% of them. The salesman said that if I bought it, they would fix it for me before delivery. I didn’t bother asking why they wouldn’t just fix it since they’d have to do it anyway – I knew the answer. (The anti-glare film they put on it deteriorates very quickly and starts flaking off. If you touch it with anything including a cleaning cloth, it will scratch it.)

  • avatar
    heavy handle


    Maybe you should do an article on torque steer. It seems there’s a lot of confusion out there as to what it is or isn’t. It’s certainly not something that would bother any modern car at constant throttle on the highway.

    • 0 avatar

      Reminds me of the shop my dad would take his vehicles to, a place that only did alignment, brakes, and shocks.

      The owner complained about ignorant customers who would complain after an alignment of a FWD car about “torque steer”. He asked one to take him for a ride. The guy gets to a stop sign and floors it on take off, of course the wheel jimmies and twitches in his hand.

      The shop owner looks at him calmly and says: “Have you thought about not flooring it unless necessary?”

  • avatar

    Torque steer has nothing to do with steering feel on the highway….

    To me, it sounds as if the OP isn’t familiar with Mazda “zoom-zoom”. Heavier than average steering effort is normal in cars with performance intentions, such as the Mazda 6 (and really, all Mazdas). It has nothing to do with being FWD, either – steering effort is a product of the power steering boost and little else on modern cars (without going into the type of steering boost, system or suspension esoterica).

    Tire inflation COULD have an influence, but unlike a previous poster, I’d check for under-inflation, not over-inflation. The tires themselves could also be part of the issue – sticky high-performance rubber could make the steering heavier, though the OP didn’t specify which Dunlop tire model…

    Finally, there’s always the option of driving another Mazda 6 to see if it behaves similarly, but that would require GOING TO THE DEALERSHIP, which is the final piece of advice I’d offer. The car is CPO – use the warranty!

    • 0 avatar

      Well, he did say that they are the original Dunlops. Which means they are crap OEM tires and definitely not “high performance”.

      • 0 avatar

        Can speak from experience. The OEM tires on the 6 SUCK. They are loud, rough, and just not a good experience. I can’t wait to replace them with some Continentals.

        • 0 avatar

          Unfortunately I was in your boat and at 30k miles, finally replaced the Dunlops with well-researched, cushy quiet tires. Hardly any improvement. 6’s are just louuud.

          • 0 avatar

            I don’t have a problem with my car’s noise, really. I came from a lowered Mazda3 with a custom exhaust, though, so I’m jaded to car noise.

            I still hate these Dunlops, though.

          • 0 avatar
            Peter Voyd

            May I ask which tires you chose as a replacement for your 6?

    • 0 avatar

      This is my guess. OP isn’t used to a car that requires heavier steering input at highway speeds. I find this a feature, not a bug, on my CX5.

  • avatar

    I recently drove a used, low mileage 2008 Acura TL. It was a bear to drive on the highway, much like the OP described. Even at low speeds it took a lot of muscle to steer, reminding me of a ’81 Malibu that I had that liked to throw the power steering belt.

    I thought it was the nature of the car until I asked some other Acura TL owners.

    I’m guessing now that the steering pump was having issues. Too bad, I would have bought that TL if I hadn’t had that bad steering experience.

  • avatar

    Start with a good alignment shop. Too much caster and the wheels push harder, returning to center.

  • avatar

    The OP said the steering wheel was dead center so the linked service bulletin is not relevant. He also said it does not drift with hands off, so the tramlining suggestion does not apply.
    I’m also puzzled why the wife does not complain. Women generally have less strength and would be more likely to complain about a stiff steering issue.
    I suggest the OP find another similar car to compare. Even if that means renting one for a day, it may be cheaper than taking it to the dealer for diagnosis only to be told there is nothing wrong.

  • avatar

    It can’t be torque steer, because the Mazda6 engine doesn’t make enough torque. That is why the car feels slow.

    Take it back.

  • avatar

    Perhaps the caster angle has been set too high? From what I understand, Mazda sets that higher than normal for extra heft/feel for steering. Maybe you hit something and it caused more caster to be set in.

    • 0 avatar

      I wondered the same thing about caster. The suggestion about deteriorating power assist is another logical possibility but seems unlikely on a car so young, so this would seem to be the leading suspect.

      • 0 avatar

        “…this would seem to be the leading suspect.”

        Not to mention, speed is factor. Around town, he didn’t notice the extra effort, but Abq to SoCA means 75 mph mimimum, if you plan on getting there in a day.

  • avatar

    My moms Passat had the same problem you described. Turned out to have been a separated belt in one of the tires. Couldn’t tell by looking at the tires. Everything appeared fine. At town speeds it was hard to detect. but once you hit about 70 it would do what you describe. I ordered new tires for her and when they removed passenger front it was found.

    If it only wanders to one side it could be radial pull. The belts in the tire wore funny.

    Either way I would bring it to dealer have them take a look. If they don’t notice anything try rotating tires to see if it alleviates issue. If not get new tires.

  • avatar

    Curb rash on a one-year-old CPO car? Um, no. And even a minimal test drive should have revealed the highway-steer deal.

    But at this point, yeah…take it in.

  • avatar

    One would think that CPO means that a competent mechanic went over the car in fine detail, replacing any component that was defective or significantly worn. According to the independent mechanic who has served us well for 40 years, nobody goes over the car that carefully. Only obvious problems, that would interfere with a sale, are fixed. Subtle problems, that won’t become noticeable for a year or two are ignored or not found at all. (I suspect this is what has happened to AbqJay.) That makes CPO nothing more than an extended warranty. If you bring a problem to the dealer’s attention before the warranty expires, they will repair it at no charge. If a marginal component, that should have been replaced during the CPO inspection, lasts through the warranty before failing, too bad for the buyer.

    • 0 avatar

      Another “one,” perhaps one who wasn’t born last night, would expect any stealership to live up (down) to their well-earned reputation of cheating the customer AND the OEM.

    • 0 avatar

      Dealer’s aren’t allowed to use the manufacturers warranty for reconditioning during the cpo process. And honestly/sadly, most dealer tech’s cpo inspections from my experience are fluid/ filter/ wiper/ brakepad/ tire inspections and other issue’s get put off till after sold when they can again be deemed warranty issue’s.
      Also, tech’s aren’t be allowed to upsell warranty work aside from safety issue’s and/or something with major damage potential.

  • avatar

    “… I don’t see any point taking it to them, since they are going to tell me there’s nothing wrong with it”

    This is called “projection” in psychology. Wondering if the author suffering from procrastination issues? “I am too lazy to take damn car for warranty repair. But wait, I don’t need to because…[whatever he said here] . It is much easier to to write to TTAC than pick up butt and go solve the real issue.” In other words, when you don’t solve your issue for some reason, you project on others, making them “guilty” in not solving your issues.

  • avatar
    Daniel J

    When I test drove a 2016 Mazda 6 a few months ago, I do remember that the steering was pretty heavy at highway speeds. It took a little force just to change lanes.

  • avatar

    I’ve noticed my wife’s BMW has always had unnaturally heavy and slow steering on the highway. I find it annoying, she doesn’t even notice. On the BMW, variable ratio and assist steering is a feature. It might also be a feature on the Mazda.

  • avatar
    Click REPLY to reload page

    CPO means they will certify that it was actually previously owned.
    Yeah, I’m a cynic, but dealing with car dealerships will make you that way.

  • avatar

    Doesn’t CPO inspection mean “We asked an actuary how much we should wager that we’ll get to ignore this post sale?”

  • avatar

    There are a number of reasons for this problem.
    1. Excessive positive caster, makes the car really stable on the freeway but a b%%^h to turn. (Unlikely unless you have two bent front struts or control arms)

    2. Damaged front tie rods, if the boots are torn and are out of grease they can sieze and make turning difficult.

    3.-most likely- The new Mazda 6 has electronically assisted steering that is a multi-ratio, multi speed unit. They are designed to reduce the amount of power assist to improve steering feel at higher speeds and increase assist at lower speeds. You can have a problem with any number of components to cause the system to do this. Anything from a bad can bus twisted cable to the module (because it needs speed information, etc), the programming of the module itself, steering angle sensor or the rack is wearing out…but usually you would have no assist at all if that was the case. Use your warranty get the thing on a diagnostic computer and they will find out whats wrong with it in an hour.

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