A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

Why do some cars seem to drive down the road sideways?

January 16, 1987

Dear Cecil:

I never drink and drive but I swear every Chevy Nova (pre-1985) and Olds Omega (same car--different label) I see is driving down the road sideways. Well, not quite sideways but at an acute angle. Was this the product of foresighted GM engineers trying to provide a more panoramic view for drivers and passengers alike, or merely a flashback from my chemical abuse days?

Cecil replies:

I don't know where you young people learned to be so sarcastic--certainly not from me. For your information, the peculiarities of the Nova have nothing to do with either your mental state or GM's desire to simplify angle parking. Older Novas and Omegas, as well as Pontiac Venturas and Buick Apollos, are vulnerable to an embarrassing defect that involves misalignment of the rear axle. The axle, you see, is attached to the car by a couple of leaf springs, the things under the car that look like a horizontal parenthesis. (Cecil loves these homely metaphors.) In the center of each spring there's a locator pin that's supposed to fit into a hole in the axle assembly and keep it lined up properly. Unfortunately, the pins have an annoying tendency to shear off, whereupon the axle slips out of parallel and the car heads around in a circle. To overcome this, the driver has to keep the front wheels turned in the opposite direction, with the result that he heads down the road sidesaddle. This problem was most common in Novas from the mid-70s; supposedly some cars were already goofed up when they left the factory. GM, for its part, says, "Don't consider this a manufacturing problem." In other words, sucker, it's your problem. Happy motoring.

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