A wheel alignment realigns the angles of the wheels so that they are set to drive on their axis (straight) and not pulled in any direction. If your car isn’t aligned when you drive your steering wheel will feel like it is pulling to one side or the other, and if you get into any accidents the wheels may hit other cars they could cause further damage to your own vehicle.
When to get an Alignment?
It is not always obvious when you need to get your car aligned. Here are some of the common symptoms:
- The steering wheel is off-center or pulling to one side.
- You can see a drastic visual difference in tire wear across the driven wheels. When starting off, the car pulls towards the same side as your worn tire and then corrects itself as you drive forward.
- Your steering wheel has paint scrapes on it (but no dents).
- Your tires have uneven tread wear and have a thumping sound when they go over bumps. You are hearing a knocking or thumping noise from your tires when going over bumps.
One thing to note is that visual damage to the vehicle body or its fittings is not necessarily a good indication that your alignment is out of whack. No two accidents are the same, and no two impacts will cause exactly the same damage to all four suspension components. If you’ve had an accident, it is recommended that you get a qualified technician to inspect your vehicle before trying any DIY alignment.
How many miles should you get a wheel alignment?
If you notice these issues after around 40,000 miles, a wheel alignment should be done. If you notice these issues after around 20,000 miles, a wheel alignment should be done.
The symptom of your steering wheel playing out (no pun intended) to one side or the other is usually caused by improper tracking of the steering system.
If your steering wheel isn’t straight, it means that the wheels on that side of the car are out of alignment and when you make a turn they pull more to one side than the other. This happens due to wear in the suspension and steering components which cause them to lose their accurate alignment.
How often should you get an alignment?
The frequency of alignment checks will depend on the quality of the roads you drive on and the amount of miles your vehicle is driven.
In other words, a car in Los Angeles that spends its time driving over and between freeway expansion joints should be checked more often than a car that drives on a flat, smooth surface.
A general rule-of-thumb for most vehicles is to have an alignment check every 30,000 miles. If you’ve noticed your wheels are wearing unevenly or your steering wheel is pulling to one side when going straight that’s usually a good indication that it’s time for the alignment to be checked again.
How do you know when it’s time for an alignment?
First, as discussed above, if your car is pulling to one side when going straight that’s a sure sign that the wheels are out of alignment and it’s time to get them checked.
If you don’t notice any pulling while you’re driving, then you should be checking your tires more often. Any time that you notice uneven tire wear or hear a thumping sound from under the vehicle when driving over bumps it’s time to get your wheels aligned.
How long can you go without an alignment?
As long as your wheels are straight and you aren’t noticing any pulling to one side or the other you can technically go without an alignment for quite a while.
What happens if you don’t get an Alignment when it needs it? If you run an alignment check and your car is perfectly aligned then there’s no need to worry that the wheels are out of alignment.
However, if your car is pulling to one side when driving straight then it’s time to get it checked out. The longer that you allow your car to be out of alignment the more damage will be done.
Even if your wheels are straight, if they aren’t aligned properly it causes uneven wear on the tires. This will lead to you spending more money on tires in the long run.
Is it bad to drive with bad alignment?
Not only will driving a car with bad alignment cause damage to your tires, but it can also affect the mechanical health of your car.
If you notice that one side of your vehicle seems to be hitting everything when you’re driving or that the steering wheel pulls to one side, then make sure that you get the alignment checked out as soon as possible.
Preventing Alignment Damage
As good maintenance is better than a repair, prevention is always best, and keeping on top of your wheel alignment can prevent further damage and potentially avoid an accident as well.
Is a lifetime alignment worth it?
Lifetime alignments are a great way to save money on wheel alignments for the life of your car. The idea is that when you buy a lifetime wheel alignment, you never have to get it checked again.
Which cars come with lifetime alignments? Lifetime alignment packages are commonly available on some Honda, Mazda, Nissan, and Toyota models.
Robert Anderson is a world class motorhead who rebuilt his first carb at age 10, his first engine at age 15, and completed his first full hotrod build when he was just 18! Previously, he has ran a part warehouse, delivered pizzas, and managed the service department for a $20 million/year revenue dealership. Robert knows cars like few others and he is passionate about sharing his knowledge.