This is regarding a 2001 BMW 325xi. Last year, all four tires on our 325xi were reaching the end of their normal life (~55k miles) so we took them in for replacement. We also had the the alignment done at the time. Its my wife's car and she immediately said the car felt "different". We took it back to the tire dealer and they assured us it was just the fact that we had new tires and the alignment had changed the feel slightly.
These new front tires wore very fast; they went bald in about 10k miles. We took these back to the same dealer who basically gave us new front tires for free and checked the alignment. We thought it must have been that the initial alignment had been bad. It was, but for the wrong reasons.
I was changing the brake pads on all four tires a few weeks ago (about the limit of my mechanic ability) and found that the front left drive shaft has a LOT of play in it. When I raised the front right tire (using the correct jack and jack location) to replace the pads, the wheel was rock solid; no play. When I then raised the front left tire, I noticed that the wheel had at quite a bit of play. In retrospect, we had noticed the car wandering some, but had stupidly accepted it. The drive shaft to the front left tire moves in and out about 1/4 inch. In just the right circumstances (driving downhill, making a gradual right turn, followed by a sharp right turn) we could feel the steering "pop". We now realize that was the front left tire suddenly shifting.
I'm not much of an auto mechanic (I'm an aircraft avionics design engineer), but the few times that I have seen alignment done, the vehicle was driven onto a fixed platform and the caster, camber, toe-in, etc were all measured with the wheels stationary. I am guessing the guy who did the alignment (I was not there for this one) must have parked the car and the left wheel happened to be at one extreme of its play. He set the alignment like that, but as soon as the car came off the alignment jig, the play allowed the alignment to go out of wack and the tires immediately starting wearing bad.
Is it possible this damage was done by the initial tire installation and alignment or is it more likely that is happened as a result of everyday driving (say right before or right after the initial tire installation and alignment) ?
Why would the tire installers not have noticed that the left front wheel had this kind of play either time they installed new front tires ?
Has this happened to anyone else?
What kind of repair costs are we looking at?
Any other comments?
I appreciate any inputs on this. I am not much use for autos, but if you have any aircraft related questions, please ask. [I know - wrong forum.]