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Nissian truck

Wheel Alignment Rattle

By: Don Stec

She walked into the shop waiting room area and announced loudly for all to hear.  I have had three wheel alignments, two of the shops were incompetent and the third is a crook.  Can I trust you to solve my problem?  What is the problem with your car I asked?  I need a wheel alignment she said.

She was angry when she came in and said the names of the shops loudly so all in the office and waiting room could hear. The shops were well known. I knew they were not incompetent and certainly not crooks.  I was embarrassed for them when customers could hear her. She had demanded her money back and the first two complied, she called them incompetent, the third would not, so she called the third a crook.

Again I asked, what is the problem with your car? Nothing that a good wheel alignment won’t fix she said.  I replied, you have had three wheel alignments and you still have a problem.  I need to know what you think is a problem. She replied, I don’t know why I should have to help you and still pay for a wheel alignment.

Well three shops didn’t solve the problem, maybe it is not related to a wheel alignment. It definitely is she said.  Well, if you won’t tell me I will only work on your car by the hour.  I will align it and you can test drive it. If the problem is not gone we will go back on the clock. You can test drive it and I will go back on the clock again until I discover a problem only you know and will give me no information about.

But that could cost a lot of money she said. Yes I replied, but it’s as if, you are asking me to find a lost object, but you won’t tell me what the object is. Finally, she understood. She said, there’s a rattle in the front end, it shows up every time I hit a bump. A good wheel alignment should have fixed that.

It can be very difficult to repair a car for a person who does not want to spend money. It is even more difficult if the person insists on a specific repair and withholds information needed to properly analyze the problem.  Then they may call you incompetent or a crook because the results were not as they expected. 

Originally my inclination was not to offer to work for this person but my curiosity got the best of me.  I was curious about the rattle that a good front end alignment would correct, that’s why I offered to take it for a test drive.  I hoped I could vindicate the three other shop owners and show her the rattle would be nothing a front wheel alignment technician would look for.

Let’s take it for a test drive I said. We pulled out on the road and the noise sounded during the first roughness of the pavement. She said,  “there it is.”  I heard it I said, let’s go back to the shop.

It wasn’t just a rattle, it was loud, multiple bumps from something heavy under the hood.  I’m sure she felt it in the steering wheel, as a hard bump would resonate throughout a unibody style car.

I opened the hood and the first thing I looked at was the battery.  Sure enough someone had recently replaced the battery and apparently had forgotten to tighten the securing bolts and the battery could just bounce around in its tray.

I tightened the bolts and asked her to take it for a test drive.

She came back excited.  It’s fixed she announced!  What was it she asked.  Someone replaced the battery recently didn’t they I asked?  Why yes, we did she said, but what would that have to do with the wheel alignment?  Nothing I said.  The person who installed the battery forgot to tighten the securing bolts and the battery was just bouncing around.

From the look on her face, I suspected she or someone in the family installed the battery.   “I’m really embarrassed she said.”

She asked me what she owed me, I told her nothing, it was easy to find because you gave me a clue… but I do think you owe the other three shops an apology I said.  I didn’t expect her to comment but she agreed and said she would call them.

A few days later two of the shops called me to thank me for vindicating them.  Wow, she actually did call to apologize.  I asked if she had offered to pay them and they both replied yes but they refused to accept the money because they did not want to do business with her again.

Modern vehicles are very complicated, but they are more dependable and last longer than ever.  Unfortunately it is now much more difficult for the average owner to have knowledge about their vehicle.  Help your mechanic by providing a list of symptoms. It is better not to demand a specific repair, let the mechanic make the decision based on the symptoms. This will help and hopefully save you some money too.

We always ask why a person thinks they need a wheel alignment, because often the problem is not the wheel alignment. We always road test before the repair so that we can experience the symptoms the customer is complaining about.  We frequently discover a tire low on air or a damaged or defected tire. Also common is an odd size tire on the vehicle, a sagging spring or worn parts.  A trunk full of tools or other property stacked on one side of the trunk is another common occurrence and the list goes on. 

Got a problem with your vehicle?  Coachmaster is a full service collision repair shop, specializing in total vehicle alignment.  Give us a call if we can help.  530-243-1310 or stop by the shop at 6851 Eastside Road, Redding CA.