Front-End Job Might Be Too Much for a Novice

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Aug 25, 2016

Dear Car Talk:

My parents have a '67 Mustang that has been sitting for a few years. They're going to allow me to drive it if I can fix it myself. The car runs and drives, but the front tires bend in. The top end of each tire bends in toward the frame. I really do not know what is causing this or how to fix it. I would love any advice on what to do or what to check. I don't know where to begin.

-- Michael

You probably want to begin with a part-time job mowing lawns, Michael. That'll help you earn enough money to take the car to a front-end specialist.

I know you want to fix it yourself, but since you're dealing with the wheels that steer the car, you have to start by finding out whether it's safe, or can be made safe. So the first thing you should do is take it -- or tow it -- to a shop and ask them to try to align it.

There are three planes of alignment: There's toe in/toe out, which is whether the fronts of the wheels point in (like someone who's pigeon-toed) or out (like a duck-walker). There's caster, which is the forward-back position of each wheel. That determines how much the steering "self-corrects" back to straight after you make a turn. And then there's camber, which is when the top of the wheel leans in toward the rest of the car, or out away from it.

So you have positive camber, Michael. That's not necessarily a positive thing, but that's what we call it.

And you want to know why. It could be something simple, like it just needs to be aligned. Or it has worn-out or broken springs.

Or it could be that, back in 1987, your Mom went flying over a 10-inch curbstone at 20 mph and bent everything under the hood. That may also be why your folks stopped driving it. But in order to figure out what's wrong, a shop is going to have to evaluate the condition of all the parts that hold those front wheels in place -- the ball joints, the tie rods, the control arms, the control-arm bushings.

And then they're going to have to prescribe a fix. And if you're mechanical and you have access to tools and a mentor, then you may want to try to fix it yourself. Or if it's beyond your capabilities, then keep mowing lawns until you can pay the shop to do it for you.

But start with professional help, Michael (don't feel bad ... a lot of our readers need professional help). Start by finding out what it will take to make the car safe, and then make your repair plans accordingly. Good luck.


Get the Car Talk Newsletter