Not everyone knows why your car might need a wheel alignment. Unless you work with a mechanic or are a mechanic yourself, it might not be obvious right away what the point of the alignment might be. Below is a detailed outline of what you need to know before getting a wheel alignment done on your car.
What Is the Purpose of a Wheel Alignment?
Your tires and their condition are going to influence your car's suspension system. It is important to know why you should keep your wheels aligned and what benefits they have. There are many reasons to keep an eye on your wheel alignment and knowing what they mean will help you know how to better care for your car in general.
The alignment of your wheels serves a couple of purposes. The first and foremost is a safety concern. The way that your tires interact with the road can influence how they wear down and how they grip the road in the future. Especially in the case of rain, snow, and ice, you want to make sure that your tires can properly grip the road and get everyone to their destination safely.
Increasing the Life of the Tires
If you keep up with having your alignments done, they will help make sure your tires wear evenly, and that they don't overly wear down on one side. This helps to ensure you can keep your tires for longer, and you will have to purchase tires less frequently. In the end, this will save you a lot of money, since tires can be expensive, depending on the brand.
Car owners are always looking for ways to make their gas last a bit longer and not have to spend quite so much at the pumps. A proper wheel alignment minimizes your rolling resistance, meaning your car doesn't need as much fuel in order to move forward.
Is There a Need to Have Wheel Alignments Performed Often?
While it might be a good idea to have the alignment inspected on a regular basis, it is not always true that you need to have an alignment performed often. Your vehicle's alignment might be in great shape. However, it is best to have a professional check your alignment, as he or she might be able to catch some early warning signs that you need to have a wheel alignment performed.
There is a difference in checking the alignment and having the alignment fixed. You might have your car's alignment inspected and nothing might be wrong with it. However, this inspection could help catch problems that arise from normal wear and tear of the vehicle which will inevitably happen the more you drive it.
Signs You Need a Wheel Alignment
There are some signs you can look for to know if you need an alignment performed on your vehicle. It is good to recognize these signs and get your car into a mechanic once you notice these symptoms occurring. Check out these instances and see if they sound like your car.
Off-Center Steering Wheel
If you are driving and your tires are straight, take a quick look at your steering wheel. Does it look like it is off-center? Do you need to tilt your head in order to look at the logo on your steering wheel correctly? If so, this is a good indicator that you need your alignment fixed. Once you center your steering wheel and move forward, it should remain centered and not at an angle.
Veering in a Different Direction
If you find that when you loosen your grip on the steering wheel and the car moves either left or right on its own, there might be an alignment issue. If you were to drive down a road and remove your hands from the steering wheel (don't actually do this, always be safe) the car should drive in a straight direction. If you find that your car moves to the left or right with little to no steering, have a professional check out the alignment.
Irregular Tire Wear
Say you recently replaced your tires, or have been getting them rotated regularly. Do you still find you wear the tires down on a particular side faster than the opposite side? This may indicate an alignment problem. If you are putting pressure on all four tires evenly, there shouldn't be a tire wear problem. If the pressure gets distributed unevenly, consult a mechanic. Even if it isn't an alignment issue, it should still be checked out by a professional.
Check Your Wheel Balance
If your steering wheel vibrates for no reason, your tire might be off-balance. This isn't necessarily an alignment issue, but it could lead to further issues down the road and should still be addressed as soon as possible. This will prevent further damage and will ultimately save you money on labor and car parts.
Everything You Need to Know about Wheel Alignment
There are some words and concepts you should know before getting your alignment done. This will help you better understand what the mechanics are working on and what they are talking about when they suggest possible solutions.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, your caster is the "slight, usually backward tilt from vertical of the axis of the steering mechanism of an automobile for giving directional stability to the front wheels." This is the piece that focuses on self-centering steering. This explains why it feels easy to straighten out your car's direction after you have turned left or right. If it is difficult to straighten your car back out, you might have an alignment problem.
Merriam-Webster says the camber is the "setting of the wheels of an automotive vehicle closer together at the bottom than at the top." It is set up this way to ensure your tires have maximum contact with the road, which helps with the grip mentioned earlier in this article. You want your car to be able to grip the road properly. The camber alignment can cause the wear to differ between tires.
The toe is defined as the "adjustment of the front wheels of an automotive vehicle so that they are closer together at the front than at the back." This affects the angle your tire is sitting at in comparison to the road. If it is scraping against the road at an angle, it will create a sawtooth effect on the tread of the tire. It can become very obvious after a couple thousand miles of the tires being on the road.
When to Get Wheels Aligned
Your inspections (done at least once a year) are all you really need in order to check your alignment to see if it should be fixed. However, if you get into a serious accident, hit a large pothole or curb with a lot of force, or notice a difference in your car's handling, then you should get the alignment checked out. Be leery of anyone who insists that alignments are preventative or that you need them done on a more frequent basis.
Don't Fall for These Scams
There are a number of scams out there that some mechanics want you to fall for in the hopes of spending more money with them. Here are some things you shouldn't do and tricks you shouldn't fall for.
Premium vs. Cheap Alignment
Dishonest mechanics might have you believe that there is such a thing as a "premium" alignment versus a "cheap" wheel alignment. An alignment is an alignment. The service is performed, or it isn't. Therefore, if you see two different types of alignments advertised, get out of there as fast as you can.
The Alignment Is Preventative
You can always check or verify if you need an alignment performed on your vehicle, but the alignment itself isn't preventative. It falls under the category of repair due to alignment needed due to an accident or for normal wear and tear.
New Wheel Alignment Machinery Is Better
The simple truth is, whether the machinery is on its first alignment or it's on alignment number two hundred, the true difference will be the technician running the machine. If they know what they are doing, then your alignment will come out just fine.
Not All Potholes Damage Your Car's Alignment
While it is true that some potholes will cause considerable damage to your car, they will not always hurt the alignment of your vehicle. You would have to be going at a speed that would mimic a serious car accident or have similar circumstances. If you have a minor speed bump or pothole issue, don't panic until you know your car's alignment is messed up.
It certainly helps to have more information about your wheel alignment before going to see a mechanic. This will help you not fall into traps or fall for scams that dishonest mechanics might try to pull on you. The more you know, the better you can feel about taking your car to get it checked out.