A few issues that your vehicle may demonstrate if you need a car alignment include uneven tread wear on the tires, vehicle pulling in one direction, the steering wheel is off-center, and the steering wheel vibrates. Car alignment can be repaired by a mechanic, usually for less than $200.
Maintaining your vehicle’s alignment helps your tires perform properly and improves vehicle handling.
A car alignment needs to be done at least once per year if not more. This service should be included with regular maintenance. Tire places and some oil change retail shops offer the service. You can also ask about tire rotation which is also recommended from time to time.
Alignment issues occur gradually due to road conditions and normal wear and tear on the vehicle. If symptoms are caught early and diagnosed by a professional, a car alignment is a simple, inexpensive service.
Knowing the symptoms bad alignment, how the realignment is done, and estimating the cost are essential in determining if the service is worth it. This article outlines these common questions.
What Is a Car Alignment?
A car alignment, also known as a wheel or tire alignment, helps your tires perform properly and last longer. It also improves handling, keeping your vehicle from pulling, or vibrating.
When you drive down the road, the car should naturally head straight. If you take your hands off the wheel, and the car drifts left or right, you have an alignment problem. It’s tempting to let this problem go if it’s not seriously pulling, but the truth is you shouldn’t. It’s bad for the vehicle, and it’s dangerous.
A car alignment refers to adjusting the system that connects a vehicle to its wheels. Proper alignment adjusts the angles of the tires affecting how they make contact with the surface.
How Is a Car Alignment Done?
A car alignment is an elaborate process that brings the vehicle’s suspension into the proper configuration. The alignment should be performed by an experienced mechanic with the proper equipment.
A car alignment requires centering a vehicle’s wheels and axles with each other so they move in the same direction. The mechanic adjusts four suspension angles known as toe, thrust, camber, and caster. The mechanic also makes sure the steering wheel is centered. It’s part tech, part physics.
Each car manufacturer indicates standard angles for the alignment. The type of alignment you receive depends on your car’s suspension. For this reason, taking the car to a certified mechanic for the work is recommended. The equipment isn’t at everyone’s disposal, and each car is slightly different.
A four-wheel alignment is for all-wheel drive or front-wheel drive vehicles with adjustable rear suspensions. If you don’t have an all-wheel-drive vehicle, your car may only need a front-end alignment.
Once the alignment is complete, ask for a printout from the mechanic, showing before and after images of the suspension alignment.
How Do You Know If You Need a Car Alignment?
There are numerous indicators to tell you if you need a car alignment:
- Uneven tread wear on tires
- Vehicle pulling in one direction
- The steering wheel is off-center when driving straight
- Steering wheel vibration or shaking
If the inside or the outside of the tires are wearing faster than the rest of the tire, you may need a car alignment. This could be limited to one tire or could affect all tires.
You can tell how a person carries their weight by looking at how their shoes or flipflops look after months (or years) of use. The same goes for tires. A quick inspection of the tread shows if the car alignment isn’t on target.
A misaligned car could cause the vehicle to pull left or right without steering correction. Additionally, when driving straight, the steering wheel may be positioned to the left or right of the center.
You may experience steering wheel vibration as pulsing feedback or shaking of the steering wheel, regardless of road conditions.
These symptoms can be potentially dangerous if you’re driving in wet conditions and the vehicle hydroplanes.
When your car hydroplanes, the tires lose traction with the road surface. On top of this, if your car is not aligned properly, it could cause the vehicle to drift out of the lane you are in.
What Happens When Your Car Is Out of Alignment?
Tire misalignment can be subtle, so you may not even realize you need a car alignment. Mechanics have precision equipment to check your alignment and fix it if needed.
Again, this is why professional car care beats the DIY version. The tools at their disposal help make for a safer ride.
Driving a car that is misaligned could lead to several issues. Don’t let the cost of a car alignment scare you. It is an inexpensive service and your safety is worth it.
Tire alignment problems normally occur gradually due to poorly maintained roads and normal wear and tear of a vehicle. More drastic causes include parking against the pavement, crashing into large road obstacles, or hitting potholes at high speeds.
If you live in an area that experiences extreme winters, this scenario may sound all too familiar. When winter begins to fade into spring, it brings warmer weather during the day and freezing temperatures at night. The freezing and thawing have a huge impact on the quality of roads, often leading to potholes.
Imagine driving and dealing with the blunt force from hitting a large pothole. We have all done it, and most of us spend the next few minutes apologizing to our vehicle. If we live in an area where this frequently happens, we cause damage to the tires, suspension, and can even slowly misalign our vehicle.
If we avoid having a car alignment done, over time, the symptoms will worsen. With each passing day, we take more risks. The symptoms could become so severe that we lose control of the vehicle. This could cause more damage to the vehicle, ourselves, and others.
Take your vehicle to a mechanic when you notice symptoms. They can inspect the vehicle and confirm a car alignment needs to be done.
By driving conservatively, you will place less strain on the steering and suspension components meaning that it is safe to drive your vehicle for some time while symptoms are present. However, don’t let time get away from you as this could quickly turn into a more serious problem.
How Much Does A Car Alignment Cost?
The cost of a car alignment depends on the number of wheels, make and model of the vehicle, and local labor costs. If you’re worried about how much this kind of work will run you, take a deep breath. The repair, on its own, is rather affordable in terms of car repair costs.
A front-end alignment involves the two wheels on the front of the car and costs between $50 to $75. A four-wheel alignment involving all four wheels costs between $100 to $150.
Some car models require specialized equipment or have a design that makes this task more difficult for the mechanic. Mechanics will charge more to cover the cost of the equipment and the additional time is taken to complete it. Sometimes its better to get this service done at a dealership, by the way.
The mechanic may need to do other services at the same time, such as tire balancing, which can increase the cost as well. It isn’t uncommon to find out the car has this problem during a routine oil change, driving up the cost of the bill. Don’t skip it, though. You’ll be sorry later if you do.
Under normal driving conditions, an alignment should be done once or twice per year. If you drive on rough roads or drive aggressively, then you may need to have it done more frequently.
There is no guaranteed length of time that your vehicle will stay aligned. Your peace of mind is worth having the inexpensive repair made. While this isn’t a repair that you can do yourself, unless you are a certified mechanic or professional, you do have another option: sending the car to the junkyard.
Can I Do a Car Alignment Myself?
While you could perform a car alignment yourself, it would not be with the precision of a mechanic using professional equipment. If you yourself are a mechanic, then by all means, go right on ahead!
There are several resources online that suggest using string and an angle finder. This could take hours, if not longer. This service is best left to a mechanic.
There are some misalignment issues you can remedy. They include removing unnecessary weight from the trunk, maintaining correct air pressure in your tires, and driving conservatively. These little hacks might be worth trying before bringing the car to the neighborhood garage.
If you have a mechanic you frequent, call them first to get a quote. This isn’t an expensive service, and because you have visited them before, you know they are trustworthy.
If you don’t want to have this service done to your car, you have other options. You could sell the car or send it to the junkyard.
Is Fixing a Vehicle That Needs a Car Alignment Worth It?
Poor car alignment can shorten your tire’s life and compromise steering and suspension. If you don’t want to replace tires as often or deal with replacing suspension parts, have your alignment checked with regular services like an oil change.
Properly aligned tires make better contact with the road and extend the life of the tires. They also better absorb shock which improves gas mileage.
A car alignment takes about an hour. Sometimes it is considered a drop-in service but you should call your mechanic in advance. A scheduled service should lower your wait time.
During the alignment, the mechanic may find worn suspension parts that need repair. This allows you to replace them before it becomes a more costly repair or a dangerous problem.
$75 to $150 is a small price to pay compared to what the expenses could be, but if you don’t want to have a car alignment done, there are other options.
You could sell the car privately or trade it at a dealership.
Another excellent option is sending the car to the junkyard.
Junkyards are easy to do business with and offer payment in cash. When your car arrives, the valuable parts will be removed and then the vehicle gets recycled.
Everything Lines Up: Car Alignment Preventative Maintenance
When everything lines up the way we want it to, we can feel happier navigating the road of life.
Misalignment is not something you can easily see with an untrained eye. Your car may be overdue for an alignment.
Understanding the symptoms of a misaligned vehicle is crucial in knowing when to have this service done. If you catch symptoms early and nothing else needs to be repaired, this is an inexpensive service.
If you have your car aligned by a mechanic, ask them to inspect the tires and suspension separately. If you have a damaged suspension part, it’s best to replace this before the car alignment, as the damaged part affects calibration.
Also, let your mechanic know you want a printout with measurements of what your alignment looks like before the work is done. Then ask them for another printout after the alignment is done. This way, you can verify the service was done correctly.
If you decide not to have this service done, remember that you have options. You can store the vehicle and wait to make a decision. You could sell the car or better yet, you can send the car to the junkyard.
Our vehicles are a huge investment, so we need to be sure to maintain them correctly. Vehicle maintenance may cost a few hundred dollars but emergency repairs cost much more. Regular maintenance plays an important role in the comfort of our journeys.
Pay careful attention to car misalignment symptoms to save yourself time, money, and keep yourself safe.