A tire or wheel alignment is recommended in order to help your tires perform properly and help them last longer. Undergoing a tire alignment also improves handling and keeps your vehicle from pulling in one direction.
What is a tire alignment?
When we refer to an “alignment” we are talking about an adjustment to your vehicle's suspension. Not an adjustment of the actual tires or wheels themselves. A proper tire alignment makes sure your car drives straight and handles properly, ultimately making your ride safer. Also, your vehicle tends to get better gas mileage after an alignment, because your tires will be properly aligned with the road.
Some vehicles require only that the front wheels be aligned, but this is not standard. Most vehicles require a four-wheel alignment. Tire alignment differs by vehicle make and model, which is why you may want to do a bit of research before bringing it in to your local mechanic. (Of course you're always welcome to bring it into Saddleback Automotive for a free evaluation!)
Every vehicle has unique alignment specifications. These specifications are determined by the vehicle manufacturer for make/model. The size, weight, and use of your vehicle all contribute to the correct alignment angles.
How do I know if I need a tire alignment?
There are several indicators that you may need a tire alignment:
- Uneven tread wear
- Vehicle drifting to the left or right
- Steering wheel location when driving straight
If you're drifting to one side of the road or another, your steering is off, or the angle of the wheel is misaligned, you may have an alignment problem. Underinflated tires should also be investigated as they can also cause a vehicle's steering to drift to one side or the other.
Signs of tire wear, such as the tread being worn down along one edge, is another sign of an alignment issue.
Vibrations in your wheels are different from alignment problems. Vibrations are probably caused by wheels being out of balance or bent (potholes can do that) or because parts of the suspension are worn, and getting your wheels aligned won't solve those problems.
How do vehicles lose their wheel alignment?
It doesn't take much, that's for sure. There are many ways for your car to lose its alignment. You'll be familiar with most of the causes, but what you probably didn't think was that each one could do quite a number on your vehicle's alignment.
Wheel alignment can be thrown off by:
- Pot holes
- Hitting the curb
- Bumping into concrete parking stalls
- Fair wear and tear — as vehicles age, rubber components start cracking or lose their elasticity and ball and socket joints develop looseness. They start to give a little more, progressively getting slightly worse over time.
Alignment angles are measured in tenths and hundredths of degrees or inches. Over time, a slight misalignment can cause a lot of uneven or premature tire wear.