What Is Wheel Alignment? (Plus, Signs Your Car Is Out of Alignment)

Proper alignment on car

When your wheels are in alignment, it means your car is straight and in balance. If your vehicle is out of alignment, you may feel your car pull to one side or notice your tires are wearing unevenly. This puts undue strain on your car’s structure and systems, and can be unsafe for you and others on the road. 

This blog post will examine wheel alignment in more detail: why it is important, what causes it, how to identify alignment issues, and what to do if you suspect you’re out of alignment. 

What Is the Purpose of Wheel Alignment? 

Your car’s alignment is important for the safety and functionality of your vehicle. Proper alignment ensures: 

  • Safety. Good handling is a key component of safe driving. A car that’s out of alignment can be unpredictable and unstable, pulling to one side or losing traction, especially in poor conditions. 
  • Tire longevity. Misalignment causes uneven tire wear, which means you’ll need to replace your tires more often. 
  • Better fuel efficiency. When your car has to work harder to stay on the road or move in a straight line, it puts a strain on the engine. This leads to higher fuel consumption. 
  • Comfort. Misalignment causes vibrations, drifting, pulling and other disturbances that can make the car ride uncomfortable for drivers and passengers. 
  • Overall vehicle health. Ignoring misalignment can lead to bigger issues down the road. Regular alignment checks can catch problems before they become bigger and more expensive. 

What Causes Wheel Misalignment? 

There are a variety of factors that go into knocking your car out of alignment. Some common culprits include: 

  • Poor driving habits. Jumping the curb, sharp turns at high speeds or slamming on the brakes regularly can all cause your car to shift out of alignment. 
  • Road hazards. Potholes are a real hazard here in Northeast Ohio, but impact with anything in the road can lead to misalignment. 
  • Under-inflated tires. Driving on under-inflated tires can cause your car to drift or pull, leading to misalignment. 
  • Overdue maintenance. Wheel alignment should be part of your regular preventive maintenance. If you haven’t been to the shop in more than a year, you’re likely due for an alignment. 

Signs Your Car Is Out of Alignment

Pulling or drifting is one of the first signs that your car needs an alignment check — but it’s the steering wheel that’s a dead giveaway. Here are a few common steering issues that can arise as a result of misalignment: 

  • Vibration. Shaking or vibration under your hands as you grip the wheel. 
  • Loose steering. Also known as “free play,” this is when the steering wheel travels farther than you intended when turning. 
  • Hard steering. It’s hard to steer or it takes more effort on the steering wheel to get the car to respond.
  • Odd steering wheel position. Your steering wheel is off-center even when driving in a straight line. 

Other signs of misalignment include uneven tire wear and squealing tires as you turn or accelerate. If you notice any symptoms of incorrect wheel alignment, bring your car to a trusted auto technician right away. 

What Is Done During a Wheel Alignment? 

The good news is alignment is routine for qualified mechanics, and it’s usually an easy fix. 

When you bring your car in, your technician will recommend one of three types of alignment — front-end, thrust or four-wheel — depending on the type of car and suspension configuration.

During your alignment, the technician will center your car on the alignment lift and fix each wheel with an alignment sensor. The sensors will flag misalignment and let the technician know which adjustments need to be made. 

The whole process typically takes about an hour, but timing may vary depending on how severe the misalignment is and the type of vehicle you have. 

How Much Does a Wheel Alignment Cost? 

According to Nerd Wallet, the majority of drivers can expect to pay about $100 to $200 for alignment on all four tires. There are factors that can raise or lower the cost of an alignment, including: 

  • The number of wheels. A front-wheel alignment will cost less than an alignment that includes all four tires. 
  • Type of car. If you drive a luxury or highly customized car, expect to pay more, especially if your technician needs specialized equipment to conduct the alignment. 
  • Add-ons. If your technician notices other issues during the alignment, such as axle damage or suspension issues, those repairs will add to the cost of the alignment. 

When Should I Get a Wheel Alignment? 

The first place to look for the answer to this question is your owners manual. Each vehicle is different. If your manual doesn’t specify, the standard is to have your wheels aligned every two to three years — or if you hit something or feel symptoms of misalignment. 

While you may not need realignment every year, you should add “check alignment” to your annual preventive maintenance schedule. It’s always better to catch minor misalignment and correct the issue before it starts affecting your car or driving.  

Where Should I Go for a Wheel Alignment? 

Most dealerships and auto shops can perform alignment services. A local shop like Boyce can give you a competitive rate and the customer service and attention that you and your car deserve. Make an appointment today

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