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2003 Honda Accord (Honda)
2003 Honda Accord (Honda)

You & Your Car

Replacement tires, cockeyed steering and a whole lotta hassle Add to ...

I have a 2003 Honda Accord with Michelin tires. One in the front got a bad flat so I bought two new ones from Costco. They were not the exact same model but Costco said they were the replacement for what was a discontinued model. It's a family car so I didn't drive it again for a week or so. But when I did, I noticed that the steering wheel was no longer on centre. The steering didn't pull or vibrate or anything untoward - the steering wheel was just cockeyed a noticeable amount while driving.

I didn't make the connection with the tire replacement, and thought that someone might have hit a curb or something (unlikely, given that we live in a mostly curb-free rural area). So I paid for an alignment check. Everything was within spec. Winter came and I put on my snows, and voila! Wheel dead on centre again. Hmmm. In the spring, I made a point of rotating the tires, and discovered that the wheel was again cockeyed, but this time in the opposite direction. Hmmm again. So I went to Costco and they looked at all four tires, pronounced everything fine, and told me that it must be the alignment. I told them I had had that checked, and that the problem went away with snows installed. They said to get it checked again.

Instead, I decided to do some experimentation. I got out my air gun and jacks and spent an afternoon mixing and matching winter and summer wheels on all four corners of the car. I eventually isolated the suspect tire. When that particular wheel was on the car - front or back, left or right - the steering was cockeyed. When it wasn't, the steering was straight.

I don't see anything amiss visually, with the wheel or the tire. The tire's codes match its mate and it's not uni-directional. And again, the car doesn't pull at all and the steering wheel doesn't shake at any time (acceleration, cruising, or braking). I've just put my snows back on and the steering is straight once again. I've run this scenario by a few people, and nobody has a clue. Ideas? - Chris

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The only thing I can think of is that one of your two new tires is a different size than the other, specifically a different diameter.

While that makes no sense from a production point of view, it would explain the change in steering wheel position.

What makes it hard to understand is that the tires obviously have the same nominal diameter i.e. 14 or 15 inches and fit the same wheel - I have to assume that you did check the tire size, not just the codes.

It is remotely possible that the shop had a couple of Hondas in for changes that day and may have substituted or mixed up one of the wheels from your car with that of another which was a different size, say a 16-inch wheel instead of a 15. They would both fit the bolt pattern and might even look the same.

Failing that, I would measure the rolling diameter of the two tires. Use a liquid marker or perhaps chalk to make a line across the tread from side to side. Roll the vehicle forward or backward until there are two marks on the ground. Measure the distance between the two lines. Repeat for the other tire. If there is more than a couple of millimetres difference that may be your problem - but it would have to be considerably more to affect the steering wheel noticeably.

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