To make sure your vehicle is in best condition, you should get a tire alignment at certain intervals. This is one of the most important services that your car needs. How long you should go between tire alignments depends on the type of vehicle you have, your driving habits and other factors. It is usually recommended to get a tire alignment once every 2 to 3 years. But it’s best to follow the recommended interval stated in your owner’s manual.
If there is no information about how often you should get your wheels realigned in your car owner’s manual, it is recommended to bring your vehicle to an auto repair shop or service center for a tire alignment checkup at least once annually.
Typically, the wheel alignment of a vehicle will be at least slightly off after 1 to 2 years of driving. But it is not necessary to have your wheels realigned every year if your vehicle has a good grip on the road, has evenly worn tires, or doesn’t drift to one side.
Circumstances That May Need More Frequent Tire Alignments
Keep in mind that there are certain conditions that may require your vehicle to get a tire alignment more frequently than the usual intervals. For instance, performance-oriented cars and wider tires typically require wheel alignments more often. Also, if you usually drive in harsh conditions or over potholes, you may need to have your wheels realigned more frequently, especially if you experience these:
- Your car is veering from side to side.
- There’s a flapping noise when you are driving, which could mean you have alignment issues, underinflated tires, or both.
- Your car is jarred after hitting a pothole.
Read on to learn more about tire alignments.
Do I need an alignment every time I get new tires?
Not necessarily. While a wheel alignment is not necessary when you get new tires installed, it is a good idea to do so. Doing alignment will make sure that all four tires are properly angled with each other and the road.
How much does tire alignment cost?
Expect to spend between $65 and $100 for a front-end alignment. Considering you’ll only have to do this once every one to two years, you should not think twice to make it a regular part of your car maintenance routine.
To make an alignment even cheaper, some car care facilities offer lifetime alignment packages for only around $200. You’ll get a scheduled alignment for your vehicle every 6,000 miles or as necessary for as long as you own the vehicle.
How do I know if I need an alignment or balance?
It is important to note that there are certain signs which indicate that your wheels need to have realignment. So besides going for a tire alignment checkup on your regular schedule, you will need to have your wheels realigned when you see the following signs:
- You experience sharp pulling in one direction. It can be a sign of under-inflated tires but if it persists to pull in one direction after you properly inflate your tires, it’s an indication that you need to get a wheel alignment.
- You notice a slight pulling in one side. This is not as recognizable as the sharp pulling issue but it is still a sign that your wheels are not aligned correctly. To check whether your car has a mild pull, go to a vacant parking lot that has a level surface. Drive your vehicle slowly in a straight line and take your hands off the steering wheel. If you notice the vehicle drifting to one direction, then it is confirmed that you need a tire alignment.
- You can feel vibration on the steering wheel. This vibration may be caused by unbalanced tires or misaligned wheels. When your wheels are not properly aligned, the vibration happens due to the tires pulling in opposite sides.
- Your steering wheel is crooked. Pay attention to your steering wheel when you are driving. You may not be fully aware that you are driving with the steering wheel off-center to make up for wheel misalignment. If this is the case, it may be necessary to realign your tires.
- Tire wear is uneven. Check your front and rear tires if they have the same wear patterns. If they do not have the same wear patterns, it may mean that your wheels are misaligned.
Do I need a 2 or 4 wheel alignment?
The answer is YES. Most vehicles these days (cars, small SUVs and vans) need a four-wheel alignment. There are some vehicles that come with solid rear axles where only their front wheels can be aligned. But even in two-wheel alignments cases, the mechanic can inspect the rear tires for damage that may affect your car’s handling.
In cars where all four tires can be aligned, they should all be aligned. If they can’t, your front wheels should be aligned, and the rear axle should be checked.
Why does my car need tire alignment?
If your car is misaligned, your tires will wear out prematurely and may lead to dangerous driving hazards. When a car is out of alignment, its tires will wear unevenly and will start to change in appearance by appearing torn or rough. Poor tire tread on tires will compromise your car’s ability to stop, especially in inclement weather. So when you notice your tires looking unusual, take your car to a service center or an auto repair shop for inspection.
Even if your car’s manufacturer did not indicate a time interval for when alignments should be conducted, trust your instincts. Your car is likely properly aligned when it is able to drive in a smooth, straight line. Still, you need to have it checked on regular intervals or even at every oil change and also when you’ve bought new tires to prevent uneven tire wear.
The alignment process involves a series of measurements and movements to establish the exact position of alignment for your car. Each car has its own recommended set of specs that must be kept for correct alignment.
Can you align your own car?
Unlike some other car maintenance tasks that can be DIY, a tire alignment needs the expertise of a professional mechanic and an alignment machine. A tire alignment refers to the process of aligning wheels of a car with one another and the road’s surface. To do this, the suspension is brought to its proper configuration and positioning. It also includes adjustment of certain parts.
Essentially, the role of a tire alignment is to square a vehicle’s wheels and axles with one another in order for them to move in the same direction. It also ensures the steering wheel is perfectly centered.
How do I check my alignment?
The automaker designates standard angles for aligning a vehicle’s tires, and are specified in degrees. Although it is best to leave your wheel alignment in the hands of a professional car technician, it is possible to do it on your own with the right tools. Here is how you can do it:
- Lift both front wheels on jack stands.
- Inspect your wheel one at a time beginning at the front of the car. Determine which direction each wheel is pointing. When the tire is pointing toward the center of the vehicle, you will need to tighten the outer tire rod. On the other hand, when it is pointing outward, you will need to loosen the tire rod.
- Loosen the nut connecting the outer and inner tire rods so that you can loosen or tighten the tire rod.
- Loosen or turn the outer tire rod counter clockwise if the wheel has to be positioned more inward. On the other hand, tighten or turn the tire rod clockwise if it has to be positioned more outward.
- After making the necessary adjustments, turn the wheel straight. Check to see if the tire is still tilting in the wrong direction. If that wheel is straight, do the same process with the rest of the wheels.
- Take your car for a test ride. See if it is now driving straight.
What causes your alignment to be off?
Misalignment of your tires can be caused by worn components in the car, the road, or the driver. The following are three of the most common reasons your tires may fall out of alignment:
- Unexpected impact or disturbance from hitting something like a pothole, going too fast over a speed bump, bumping into a curb, or due to an accident.
- Suspension parts such as poor shocks or struts, become loose or worn, which affects the tire alignment.
- Car modifications, for example, lifting. The suspension is made to work within a specified height designated by the car manufacturer. When the height of the car is modified, you must also adjust the suspension, or else, you risk misaligning the car.
The size of some bumps may seem not big enough to make a significant impact but when hit hard enough it can still cause misalignment. The greater the impact, the likelier it is for your car to be misaligned. This is due to the fact that metal used in the suspension can easily flex, over time. Its shape and angles also alter when hitting curbs and potholes which cause the alignment to be out of place. We cannot always predict road conditions and prevent all accidents from happening, but you can take precautionary steps to avoid misaligning your wheels by driving safely.
How do I prevent tire alignment?
You can avoid dealing with misalignment issues by checking the tire pressure of your car frequently and adjusting them to the recommended PSI specified by the car manufacturer. Make sure to have your vehicle serviced for front-end alignment when you have uneven tire treads, you’ve recently installed new tires, or if you start noticing bad alignment symptoms as follows:
- Steering wheel shaking
- Bumpy ride even on smooth roads
- Vehicle tracks grooves in the road
- Uneven tire tread
- Difficulty in keeping the steering wheel straight
- Car pulling to one side
What are common misconceptions about car alignment?
- Alignment is part of your regular maintenance. Tire alignment is categorized as a repair, not scheduled maintenance. If you notice an obvious pulling in your car’s steering, you have uneven tire wear, or you got into an accident with your car, a tire alignment might be necessary.
- Hitting a pothole will misalign your car. Not necessarily. Your car’s alignment will only be affected when there is a massive impact such as in an accident or other instances where the impact is strong enough to bend steel. Your average pothole or bumping into a curb does not always cause major damage to require an alignment
- You need an alignment when you have excessive tire wear. When most of the tread on your tires is gone, you most likely need new tires. Uneven tire wear may indicate a need for alignment, not excessive tire wear.
- Alignment is the culprit when the car pulls to one side. While it is often responsible for cars pulling to one direction when driving, it is not the only reason. Tires having low air pressure, having different sizes or tread designs can also be the reason for the same issue.
- A tire alignment will stop vibrations. If your vehicle vibrates, especially when driving at high speeds, alignment is probably not the problem. It is more likely because of damaged tires, transmission problems or damage or worn drive axles, suspension components or brake components.
- The newest alignment machine will give the most accurate results. People tend to think that the newer the technology is, the better it is. However, when it comes to the accuracy of a car’s wheel alignment, it has more to do with the technician’s skills than the equipment itself. A better way to determine if you are getting quality service is if the alignment takes 60 to 90 minutes to complete. If it’s done after 20 minutes, it is probably not done properly.
In general, a tire alignment should be performed every 2 to 3 years. But it is best to refer to your owner’s manual to know how long you should go between tire alignments. However, there are instances that may require tire alignments outside the recommended schedule and you’ll have to be aware of them. These include car pulling to one direction, uneven tires and vibration on the steering wheel.