Knocking your car out of alignment is easier than you think. All it takes is a big pothole, a speed bump taken too aggressively or an accidental roll on the road. Sometimes even routine wear and tear is enough to ruin everything.
Having a properly aligned car may not seem that important, but if ignored, the consequences can be costly. When your wheels are out of alignment, it affects your overall suspension system and steering, which can lead to bigger problems like premature and uneven wear on your tires.
How do you know if your vehicle’s front end needs an alignment? Why is wheel alignment so important? Here are the three biggest reasons to always keep your car’s wheels in alignment and work in unison.
#1: Get the most life out of your tires
When your wheels are out of alignment, it causes your tires to wear unevenly. As tires wear out, their life expectancy decreases, and they need to be replaced sooner. A vehicle that is out of alignment puts more stress on your suspension and steering system, causing other parts to wear unevenly. To avoid costly repair services or having to purchase replacement tires more often, check your alignment as part of your regular maintenance schedule.
#2: Save money on gas
Although they may seem unrelated, a properly aligned vehicle also gets better gas mileage. When your wheels are out of alignment, they aren’t working optimally together, which makes your engine have to work harder to propel your car forward. This has a negative effect on fuel efficiency as more gas is required to help the engine work overtime. Keeping your tires properly inflated can also help you save money on gas. Under-inflated or worn tires likewise require more fuel to accelerate.
#3: Enjoy a smooth ride
Wheels that are out of alignment can cause your car to veer to the left or right, making it harder to control. If your steering wheel is pointing straight ahead but your car is drifting to the right or left, your alignment is likely off. When you have to constantly adjust to compensate, it makes for a rougher overall ride and also takes your focus away from driving. When the wheels are aligned, your car runs smoother, and you don’t have to work as hard.
What is an alignment?
Getting wheel alignment is actually a very sophisticated process. Your mechanic will lift your car into the air, attach devices to each wheel, and use an alignment machine that is connected to a computer to help make accurate measurements.
The machine helps square the car’s wheels and axles so they’re all running in the same direction. Your mechanic will adjust the suspension angles and make sure your steering wheel is centered. Each vehicle’s manufacturer has specified specifications and standard angles for alignment. The goal is to have all four wheels parallel and sitting flat on the road with the steering wheel centered.
All-wheel drive vehicles or front-wheel drive vehicles with independent or adjustable rear suspension require four-wheel alignment so all four wheels are aligned in a rectangle, parallel to each other, and perpendicular to the road. All other vehicles typically require front-end alignment to accommodate front axle components.
When do you know you are out of alignment?
Luckily, it’s relatively easy to tell if your car is out of alignment. Pulling is the most common sign of a problem. If you’re driving on a smooth, straight road and your car pulls to the left or right without turning the wheel, your alignment needs checking.
After you turn, your steering wheel should immediately return to the center position. If it is slow to return or feels loose, it may be a sign that there is a problem with the alignment. If your steering wheel is shaking or flickering, this can also be a sign that you need your wheels aligned.
Also, take a look at your front tires. Is the walk uneven enough? If the tire is bald on one side or is wearing unevenly, it’s a sign that something is out of alignment.
To ensure that your wheels are aligned and that you are getting the most out of your tires, you should add a wheel alignment to your list of regular vehicle maintenance services. Your vehicle manufacturer will have a recommendation on how often you should get your alignment checked, and they should always include an alignment when you buy a new set of tires.