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A BARGAIN, BUT NOT A SQUARE DEAL

Dear Tom and Ray: I recently bought a 1990 Ford Bronco II. It has a fairly bad pulling problem. It's been pulling to the right since I've had it. When I took it to the shop, they replaced the two front bushings which connect the frame to the radius arms. Needless to say, it still pulls -- even after $300 worth of bushings and an alignment.

The front right tire is "sticking out" from the truck an extra half an inch. It's not angled or anything else. The guy told me the frame is not bent and all the front-end parts are OK. I'm 17 and have been steadily emptying my bank account on this thing. Please help me.
-- Ethan

Tom: Well, if you're saying that the right front wheel sticks farther out of the wheel-well than the left front wheel, then you probably need a new mechanic, Ethan. Because it sure sounds like the frame is bent.

Ray: It sounds like the whole differential assembly has been shifted over somehow. Most likely because your frame is no longer rectangular. It's now a parallelogram. (Since you're only 17, you might actually still remember your 10th-grade geometry and know what that means.)

Tom: Here's the whole scenario. You're 17. You don't have much money to spend on a car. You see an ad for a Bronco that's unbelievably cheap. So you buy it before anyone else can snatch it out from under you. Why was it so cheap? My guess: Because it had been in an accident, had a bent frame, and the previous owner couldn't stop it from pulling to the right.

Ray: So before you dump another night's worth of pizza-delivery money into this thing, Ethan, take it to a collision specialist and ask him to check out the frame. You want to know if it's bent, and if it can be straightened. If it can be straightened, you should then be able to properly align the wheels and keep it from pulling.

Tom: But if the frame can't be straightened, it's time to send this old Bronco to the glue factory and cut your losses. Good luck, Ethan. And don't forget to have a mechanic check out your next used car before you buy it.

Write to Car Talk in care of The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, N.Y. 14240. Tom and Ray can't answer your letter personally but will run the best letters in the column.

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