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Any advice for a bent frame?
Old 07-10-2005, 08:47 PM   #1
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Any advice for a bent frame?

My spouse spun out on an exit ramp yesterday and piled the '97 Nissan Altima's rear end up onto a guardrail. She's fine but the car's condition is debatable. Let me describe the situation (in excruciating detail) and then ask for your advice.

It was a dark & stormy night. She's a very cautious driver and she says she was probably only doing 25-30 mph on the exit (she'd just passed a speed trap so she'd slowed down even more than the exit usually warrants). About halfway around the uphill circle (to the right) the front end started hydroplaning and drifting left. She turned the wheel more to the right and broke the hydroplane but of course the car immediately whipped clockwise 180 degrees. She says she straightened out the wheel but she never got around to braking before the car's rear end rode up on the guardrail.

The car is a front-wheel drive with a five-speed stick shift, power steering, & ABS (not that the ABS had a chance to do its job). The guardrail crumpled the bottom of the muffler and lifted the car up by the struts going to the rear wheels. A guardrail section also scraped the body under the left-hand side (below the driver's seat) and crushed a small hollow metal beam but it didn't appear to crumple any brake lines or fuel lines. The front left wheel fell into a concrete hole (just the right size!) and the FR wheel dug itself in to the axle. So the car was completely off the ground when I arrived. And of course it was raining.

I dug out the FR wheel. I managed to jack the FL wheel above the hole and I supported the tire with a wood post (there were plenty of wood scraps laying around!). Then I used our trusty two-ton Taurus tank & a ratchet strap to pull the Altima down off the guardrail and back onto its own tires (which weren't even flat).

We local garage claims that the wheels & brakes are OK. The car runs fine, there are no drips or stains, and it's not losing any fluids. We've driven it at 60 mph and it doesn't pull or drift, the steering wheel doesn't shake, and the brakes don't pull or drag. The car doesn't seem to crab or to be visibly misaligned-- the rear wheels track through puddles right behind the front wheels. The hood was unlatched but it latched when I pushed it down. Heck, the tires don't even seem to be out of balance let alone misaligned.

The garage guys claim that they can't check the wheel alignment because the rear frame is bent up and to one (unspecified) side. They admit that they don't have any frame-alignment skills but they're probably right about the bending-- I'd opened the Altima's trunk and now it won't latch shut.

We don't care about the cosmetic scrapes & dings. I can replace the muffler and I think I can get the trunk to latch shut again (or else I'll use a bungee cord). We bought the car in cherry condition a couple years ago and now it has about 80K on it, which means we'd drive it on this island for another couple decades. The only other owner was the proverbial little old lady who ran to the dealership at the first hiccup and always paid them to do every bit of recommended maintenance. (She had the receipts to prove it, and CARFAX validated the VIN history.) This is the first "adult" car we've ever owned and it's been absolutely flawless. OTOH we don't carry collision insurance and we only have $7K into it so we're reluctant to pay a lot for repairs when we could easily replace the car for under $10K.

Any advice on what I should discuss with a frame shop? Despite being symptom-free, is the car too dangerous to drive?? Is there anything else we should be watching out for? What's the worst that could happen, hypothetically speaking, if we continued to drive it 2-3K miles/year for the next 10-15 years without aligning the frame?
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Re: Any advice for a bent frame?
Old 07-10-2005, 09:07 PM   #2
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Re: Any advice for a bent frame?

Wow, seriously interesting car question. My 92 Taurus SHO got totalled last year. Mostly side damage. I could have bought it back from the insurance company and fixed it to run legally but I didn't ultimately trust a realigned frame and I wasn't sure what else would go out of alignment (bearings?). If you have a frame shop you trust you could ask them about safety and alignment issues since they have seen a lot of adjustments. Fortunately Hawaii doesn't have as many fast roads. I used to hit 100+ on back CA and NV roads so I wanted to know the car would work.
But what you described sounds fixable, its amazing what the frame folks can do.
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Re: Any advice for a bent frame?
Old 07-10-2005, 09:46 PM   #3
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Re: Any advice for a bent frame?

Sounds like a great question for Click & Clack, the Car Guys on NPR.

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Re: Any advice for a bent frame?
Old 07-10-2005, 10:00 PM   #4
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Re: Any advice for a bent frame?

Any advice on what I should discuss with a frame shop?* Despite being symptom-free, is the car too dangerous to drive??* Is there anything else we should be watching out for?* What's the worst that could happen, hypothetically speaking, if we continued to drive it 2-3K miles/year for the next 10-15 years without aligning the frame?

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I'm sure you've got several big body shops on the island.* I'd get 2 or 3 quotes before you do anything else.* Some of that frame stuff gets a little subjective so expect some differences.* If you are thinking of keeping this car for 10-15 years you ought to at least see what it would take to get it right.* Do you have access to any of the military bases?
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Re: Any advice for a bent frame?
Old 07-10-2005, 10:18 PM   #5
 
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Re: Any advice for a bent frame?

Have someone drive behind you and see how the car tracks.* Is it crabbing sideways?

IMHO unless there is something seriously wrong, a frame shop would be a waste of time.* It's not an exact science.* The "frame," such as it is, is a complex cage.* *Could you smash a bird cage and bend or will it right again?* Probably not.* Neither can the frame shop. A truck/SUV frame would be another matter, but we're not talking about that.*

Now, admit it, you always wanted a car with personality.....
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Re: Any advice for a bent frame?
Old 07-10-2005, 11:47 PM   #6
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Re: Any advice for a bent frame?

Current model unibody cars are pretty much hosed once they get any sort of warp in the 'frame'. Unlike many trucks and cars of yesteryear, they dont have a true 'frame'. You can pay your money and get some 'straightening', but although you dont see much in the way of 'sideways' driving, you'll be buying new tires every few years. If it gets pulled straight, other than wanting to buy inexpensive, relatively hard rubber tires (lots of fairly good chinese made tires are cheap and of firm rubber make) and living with the tire noise, it'll be safe for a good long time. Some suspension parts and body isolation parts will wear faster (relative to how good the 'frame straightening' is).

The key is road noise. If you really remember how quiet the car was before the accident, after the work is done listen carefully to the tire sound. If there is a louder tire 'hum', you've got issues.

If the damage was reasonable...and by the way, slipping up on a guardrail may not be good enough for 'reasonable', you might want to fix it up and dump it for something else. But I doubt it'll be 'unsafe' or do more than cost you a $200 set of cheap hard rubber tires every 2-3 years.

Based on what you've said and without a visual look-see of my own (but you're welcome to drop me a set of plane tickets...you've got the address ) I'd say that the damage is limited to the unibody framing on the wheel well on the side that you'd probably expect it to be...the one that was hung up. A very good body shop with experience willl probably knock it back into approximately the same shape it was before the accident for something in the sub $1000 range. You wont know the diff. Front end screwups are another matter; trailing problems arent that bad.

But if you'd like me to say that its a total and you need that slick new ride, as much as you'd hate to pony up the $$$, I can be bought...
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Re: Any advice for a bent frame?
Old 07-11-2005, 08:52 AM   #7
 
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Re: Any advice for a bent frame?

Sorry to hear about that!* Here are my thoughts:

1. Since it drives fine, all you really want to know is:

* *Is it safe to drive?

So I'd say talk to as many shops as possible, taking their advice with a grain of salt, or course, since they'll want to cover their a$$es, and get business.

2. You'd probably have trouble selling it, since most people will be afraid of the words "bent frame."* So it might be worth the effort to do what you need to do so that you can run it into the ground.

3. Don't forget how much you saved by rescuing it yourself.

4. I had a Toyota Celica with a cracked frame.* Had it welded, but friends told me "Oh it will never be the same, etc."* They were wrong -- I had that car for years with no problems.

Keep us posted!
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Re: Any advice for a bent frame?
Old 07-11-2005, 09:20 AM   #8
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Re: Any advice for a bent frame?

My advice, sell it. Find a sucker buyer and offload. I doubt you can fix it to your satisfaction.
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Off to a frame shop and a junk yard...
Old 07-11-2005, 12:31 PM   #9
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Off to a frame shop and a junk yard...

Quote:
Originally Posted by yakers
... and fixed it to run legally but I didn't ultimately trust a realigned frame and I wasn't sure what else would go out of alignment (bearings?). If you have a frame shop you trust you could ask them about safety and alignment issues since they have seen a lot of adjustments.
Fortunately Hawaii doesn't have as many fast roads. I used to hit 100+ on back CA and NV roads so I wanted to know the car would work.
But what you described sounds fixable, its amazing what the frame folks can do.
We'll eventually get estimates from frame shops-- once we learn who's good & who's not-- but we're still asking around. Luckily the car seems to be working fine so I'm not sure that we need to rush this.

100 mph-- yikes. The highest speed limit I've seen here is 60 mph. Once we went 75 downhill with the tradewinds behind us.

Quote:
Originally Posted by REWahoo!
Sounds like a great question for Click & Clack, the Car Guys on NPR.
REW
We thought of C&C too because my FIL listens every week-- so that's exactly why we can't query them. I can't imagine discussing this with him until we have quotes from at least two frame shops with more credibility than we "crazy kids" will ever have. It's not that he knows different or better, but he will surely worry.

Quote:
Originally Posted by JPatrick
I'm sure you've got several big body shops on the island. I'd get 2 or 3 quotes before you do anything else. Some of that frame stuff gets a little subjective so expect some differences. If you are thinking of keeping this car for 10-15 years you ought to at least see what it would take to get it right. Do you have access to any of the military bases?
We use the Pearl Harbor Subase Auto Shop (their service writer has a lot of experience, nice guy), and they immediately punted. They don't do much more than tires & tune-ups. The writer didn't have any referrals either, but I'll see if I can reach the manager next week.

Quote:
Originally Posted by tozz
Have someone drive behind you and see how the car tracks. Is it crabbing sideways?
IMHO unless there is something seriously wrong, a frame shop would be a waste of time. It's not an exact science. The "frame," such as it is, is a complex cage. Could you smash a bird cage and bend or will it right again? Probably not. Neither can the frame shop. A truck/SUV frame would be another matter, but we're not talking about that.
Now, admit it, you always wanted a car with personality.....
No crabbing, thank goodness. I wish I'd taken a photo before I hauled it off the guardrail, because I expected a lot more damage & trouble than we got. And I share your skepticism about a frame alignment-- if the worst problem turns out to be a sprung trunk then we're not spending any more money.

The body dings do give it a personality! No one will ever challenge that car on a lane change... and we can finally go diving at Kahe Point Beach without worrying about someone breaking into the car.

Quote:
Originally Posted by ()
Current model unibody cars are pretty much hosed once they get any sort of warp in the 'frame'. Unlike many trucks and cars of yesteryear, they dont have a true 'frame'. You can pay your money and get some 'straightening', but although you dont see much in the way of 'sideways' driving, you'll be buying new tires every few years. If it gets pulled straight, other than wanting to buy inexpensive, relatively hard rubber tires (lots of fairly good chinese made tires are cheap and of firm rubber make) and living with the tire noise, it'll be safe for a good long time. Some suspension parts and body isolation parts will wear faster (relative to how good the 'frame straightening' is).
The key is road noise. If you really remember how quiet the car was before the accident, after the work is done listen carefully to the tire sound. If there is a louder tire 'hum', you've got issues.
If the damage was reasonable...and by the way, slipping up on a guardrail may not be good enough for 'reasonable', you might want to fix it up and dump it for something else. But I doubt it'll be 'unsafe' or do more than cost you a $200 set of cheap hard rubber tires every 2-3 years.
Well, we crawled under the car some more and perhaps the problem isn't as bad as we thought.

There isn't much frame, is there? A couple girders connected to the area around the rear wheels but not much else. The Altima's rear seat doesn't fold down because there's a metal plate across the back, and I bet it's to stiffen the passenger compartment enough to make the "frame" even flimsier lighter.

Spouse says that the road noise is exactly the same-- no better, no worse. We had a bad batch of tires last year (separating tread) and she heard those right away so I think there really is no difference. She can hear the muffler's tiny exhaust leak so perhaps the frame is bent enough for the garage to notice but not so bad that driving will make it worse. (Now I'm wondering-- did the garage really bother to put the car on the rack for a wheel alignment or did they just write up the paperwork? Hmmm...)

I think the guardrail pushed up the back of the trunk and sprung the latch alignment. It was easier to bend the top half of the latch to match, and now the trunk shuts. It's not pretty but it's usable. (This alignment could only be accomplished from inside the trunk, and there's a lever inside the trunk that I thought was an escape latch but isn't, and it's a good thing that my spouse was supervising. I only had to ask once and she hardly even hesitated.)

Quote:
Originally Posted by TromboneAl
Sorry to hear about that! Here are my thoughts:
1. Since it drives fine, all you really want to know is:
Is it safe to drive?
So I'd say talk to as many shops as possible, taking their advice with a grain of salt, or course, since they'll want to cover their a$$es, and get business.
2. You'd probably have trouble selling it, since most people will be afraid of the words "bent frame." So it might be worth the effort to do what you need to do so that you can run it into the ground.
3. Don't forget how much you saved by rescuing it yourself.
4. I had a Toyota Celica with a cracked frame. Had it welded, but friends told me "Oh it will never be the same, etc." They were wrong -- I had that car for years with no problems.
Keep us posted!
Quote:
Originally Posted by Eagle43
My advice, sell it. Find a sucker buyer and offload. I doubt you can fix it to your satisfaction.
I think we'll spend some quality time with Oahu's fine frame shops and be very reluctant to spend any money on it unless the wheel alignment is demonstrably gross. A junkyard muffler, a little epoxy on the bumper, more stories for the family archives. Gosh, and I was wondering how much surfing I could do when the school break is over.

Rescuing that car wasn't so much about the money as it was the challenge and the easiest solution to a busy day. One of the other Reservists spun out on that ramp a few years ago and checked with the DOT; he says they claim the ramp couldn't be built to specs because there's not enough room. (As you exit the main highway the ramp's radius shrinks tighter & tighter like a Vulcan death spiral.) As a result there's an accident there every few weeks. A patrol officer dropped by to fill out a "Minor Accident Report" and it'll be interesting to see if the state wants to discuss the guardrail with us.

Spouse's "satisfaction" standards seem pretty low, so who am I to make more work for myself? By the time we push this car off a cliff sell it'll be an island bomb and this problem will be the least of its worries. Unless this misalignment starts chewing up tires & brakes, I can handle pretty much anything up to A/C leaks or engine computers.

Thanks again, everyone. I'll keep this posted.
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Re: Any advice for a bent frame?
Old 07-11-2005, 02:09 PM   #10
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Re: Any advice for a bent frame?

If the car is driving straight and you do not care about the look of the car.... do not fix it!!

I had an old car that had a bent frame and it drove just fine... but, it would wear tires out faster than normal, but rotating them kind of helped... just had to buy tires a bit more often than normal but still cheaper than fixing.

That is if they can fix properly.
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Re: Off to a frame shop and a junk yard...
Old 07-11-2005, 04:39 PM   #11
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Re: Off to a frame shop and a junk yard...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Nords
No one will ever challenge that car on a lane change
Nor will they want to park next to you.... this really sounds like a win-win
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No bends!
Old 07-15-2005, 11:49 AM   #12
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No bends!

We spent a little quality time in our local junkyard trying to separate an old Altima muffler from its coupling. I busted most of my knuckles (despite years of scar tissue from dragging them on the ground), rounded off the nuts, and gave up. The nuts were completely rusted to the bolts and when I found myself contemplating a battery-powered reciprocating saw I decided that a $30 muffler (with quite a bit of its own exterior rust) wasn't worth the trouble. (I put the reciprocating saw on my birthday list anyway. I'm sure I'll find something to use it on.) We briefly discussed pulling off its bumper but the junked car's dark purple is a terrible match for our white car. Considering the hassle factor, spouse decided that she likes the idea of having a scarred white bumper and banged-up fenders when she's signaling lane changes during rush hour.

(The junkyard trip wasn't a total loss. We found an old Taurus and scavenged its tail light sockets, its roof rack, a ventilation louver, and the pushpins holding its trim panels to the door frames. It was only $40, we're in for a fun weekend, and we know where to go if we need additional "affordable" Taurus parts...)

I called the Nissan dealer about a new muffler-- $500. (Apparently the replacement OEM mufflers are made with 18 kt gold.) I called several auto shops at $200 and even the local Navy Exchange price was $160. Keep in mind that all these prices are just for the muffler, and not for its installation. I still have to separate the old muffler from its bent tailpipe and straighten the tailpipe before the new muffler will hang properly (without banging the undercarriage).

Surprisingly the best bargain appears to be eBay. IAHarleyGurl is selling me one for $125 via UPS 2-day air. (Fantasizing about the name-- priceless.)

I made an appointment at our local frame shop. When I arrived they were appalled to discover that they had allowed one of the uninsured public to enter their august domain. (Remember that Animal House scene where the frat boys wander into Otis' bar?) Since I wasn't working under collision insurance I couldn't afford their service. One of the mechanics finally took pity on me (maybe they just wanted me to get out of their parking space), crawled underneath for a few seconds to discuss it with me, then declared the car fine. As TH has pointed out, it's hard to damage the "frame" on a unibody car that doesn't really have one, and at least the frame shop provided peace of mind. We notice a slight steering-wheel wobble at 65 mph but it's too small to fuss about.
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Re: No bends!
Old 07-15-2005, 11:58 AM   #13
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Re: No bends!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Nords

Surprisingly the best bargain appears to be eBay.* IAHarleyGurl is selling me one for $125 via UPS 2-day air.* (Fantasizing about the name-- priceless.)
Eh, "she" is probably a bearded 350lb guys in his 50s missing half his teeth. Ain't the internet great?
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Re: Any advice for a bent frame?
Old 07-15-2005, 12:03 PM   #14
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Re: Any advice for a bent frame?

Sounds like one of JG's film collection!
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Re: All done.
Old 07-31-2005, 01:44 PM   #15
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Re: All done.

The new muffler installed in 10 minutes and works fine, especially after using some goop to seal the muffler union to the rest of the tailpipe. I think that muffler is permanently attached to the rest of the car now, although I'm not planning on having to do any more work on it for the next decade or so.

While the muffler was off I realized that the rear stabilizer bar (behind the rear wheels) really took a beating on the right side. Its bracket is bent forward and the bar is wrapped under the right shock absorber, after missing various brake lines & other componenets by mere millimeters. But it all has enough clearance and seems to be doing just fine in its new configuration. Since the rear wheel alignment doesn't have any detectable problems, I'm going to ignore it unless the rear wheels need work someday. At a minimum it'd be a new bracket and a new stabilizer bar. Now that the new muffler is hanging we don't hear any more knocking noises.

Spouse worked off her self-imposed guilt feelings by scrubbing the rear bumper with rubbing compound & applying touch-up paint. It looks fine while also being just chewed-up enough to keep the tailgaters away.

I hope this is my last update on this car. Thanks again for all the advice!
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Re: Any advice for a bent frame?
Old 10-15-2005, 03:33 PM   #16
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Re: Any advice for a bent frame?

Quote:
Originally Posted by yakers
Slight subject shift, how is the car working out? Tires wearing evenly? Pulling a bit?
The goop sealing the muffler/tailpipe joint is pretty brittle, so when the joint flexes it eventually falls out. I've replaced it once but the tailpipe still has a lot of shimmy between the muffler & catalytic converter. About the only way I can see to fix it is to hose-clamp fireproof cloth around the tailpipe where it rattles the most.

I used three new hangers on the replacement muffler-- two used ones from a junkyard and one brand-new retail one. You can guess which one broke. I've pulled that back together with a hose clamp & duct tape while I order a new hanger.

The steering wheel shakes a bit above 60 mph, which is new, but we hardly ever get the car up to that speed. No pulling or braking issues. The tires are pretty new and they're not showing much (if any) wear. We'll have to give that a couple more years before we even drive enough miles to merit a tire balancing, let alone the possibility of a front-end alignment...

Other than a crumpled bumper & fender, you'd never know it was in an accident.

Coincidentally the state has replaced that entire stretch of guardrail, added new landscaping, banked the road with an asphalt patch, and grooved the patch for better rain drainage. Many of the Reservists in my spouse's unit drive by there on drill weekends and tease her about having the work done. I don't think they're going to send us a bill but...
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Re: Any advice for a bent frame?
Old 10-15-2005, 06:46 PM   #17
 
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Re: Any advice for a bent frame?

Quote:
The steering wheel shakes a bit above 60 mph, which is new, but we hardly ever get the car up to that speed.
It could be that the tires just need balancing. This happens to us every few months, and especially after rotating the tires. I don't know why they don't stay balanced.
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Re: Any advice for a bent frame?
Old 10-15-2005, 07:25 PM   #18
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Re: Any advice for a bent frame?

More calcium in your diet?

JG
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Re: Any advice for a bent frame?
Old 10-15-2005, 09:05 PM   #19
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Re: Any advice for a bent frame?

Quote:
Originally Posted by TromboneAl
It could be that the tires just need balancing.* This happens to us every few months, and especially after rotating the tires.* I don't know why they don't stay balanced.
Could be. Usually we can tell the rebalancing by the road noise and the tire shake (not the steering wheel). Haven't rebalanced this car since Jan 2004, but we rarely put more than 3000 miles a year on either car.

I'm not unhappy with the car right now and (this is the opinion that counts) neither is my spouse, but I have this nagging feeling that bringing the car to the shop for a simple rotate & balance is going to have the mechanic slouching out to the service desk shaking his head in despair...
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