Have you noticed a change in the way your car handles while you drive?
Does your vehicle drift to the right or left while driving straight ahead?
They may be a sign of trouble with tire alignments.
What causes misaligned wheels?
When you drive your vehicle, it can undergo a lot of stress, even under normal driving conditions. Potholes, curbs, even dips in the road can all cause damage to the way your wheels operate.
Overall, there are three causes of wheel misalignment:
- Sudden impact – this is caused by hitting something in the road, such as a pothole.
- Worn parts – over time, parts start wearing down and can cause a problem with the way your tires connect with the road.
- Height adjustments – all vehicles are designed with specific guidelines in place. If you make modifications to the parts on your car, it can impact the way it performs. This includes adjusting the height of the suspension system, without adjusting for the way the wheels connect with the road.
How do you know if the wheels are misaligned?
Like other parts on your vehicle, if tires are in need of alignment, it gives warning signals to let you know. Pay attention, and you can catch minor problems before they escalate into bigger ones.
Gas efficiency – have you noticed your fuel costs are rising? If you’re spending more at the pump without any other explanation, it could be a sign of wheel misalignment. If a vehicle doesn’t drive straight, and you’re constantly adjusting the wheel to keep the car in its lane, it increases fuel consumption for this trigger effect.
Tire wear – when tires are correctly aligned, they move in a straight line. They connect perfectly with the road, and all parts of the tire wear evenly. If tires are in need of alignment, you’ll start noticing uneven tread. That’s because you’re consistently adjusting the car to keep it on track, and various parts of the wheel are connecting with the road differently than the rest of it. This extra pressure on the tires is caused by back and forth movement, which causes premature wear and tear.
Drifting side to side – if you’re driving on a straight road, the steering wheel should sit straight, and your car should move forward effortlessly without adjustment. If you start feeling it drift side to side, needing more control from you to keep it within the lane, it’s a sign the wheels are misaligned.
Flats and blowouts – notice your tires are flat more often? Need to adjust the air pressure regularly? Misalignment causes tire tread to wear faster due to unequal pressure on each of the tires. That means as you drive, the tire becomes more susceptible to punctures, loss of air pressure, and eventually control over the vehicle. If the problem is allowed to persist, it puts you at more risk of a blowout, which can lead to total loss of control and cause accidents.
Unusual noises – as with other systems on your vehicle, always pay attention to the noises it makes as you drive. For example, if you hear a squeal coming from the tires as you move, it’s a sign to schedule an inspection to ensure the safety of your vehicle.
What problems can wheel misalignment cause?
Today’s vehicles have around 30,000 parts. They are all intricately designed to work together to keep you safe while you drive.
As one part wears out, it can quickly impact other parts within the system. That one part can escalate and impact a variety of components if you don’t act quickly. That also escalates the dollars you’ll spend repairing your car.
One of the most common problems with wheel misalignment is causing uneven wear on the tires. This wears out the tires faster, affects performance, and will eventually create unsafe situations, possibly from a blowout.
Misaligned wheels also show up as lower fuel economy. Because it takes more energy to keep your car under control, it shows up in the form of lowering your gas mileage. While you might not notice this right away, if you consistently track your gas mileage, you can be alerted to this potential problem quicker.
How do you fix tire alignment?
Luckily, fixing a problem with tire alignment is relatively easy to fix when you bring it into an experienced mechanic. They will use a wheel alignment machine to check the alignment and adjust the various components of your vehicle, according to the manufacturer’s guidelines of your car. They will potentially make adjustments in three different ways:
Camber – adjusting the camber means adjusting the tilt of the tire relative to the way it sits on the road. A positive camber is when the top of the tire leans away from the car, while negative camber leans towards the car.
Caster – caster involves the angle of the steering wheel pivot point as it sits according to the front and back of the vehicle. A positive caster is angled forward, while a negative caster is angled backward.
Toe – toe settings impact the vehicle’s handling related to the way the tire sits on the line of the vehicle.
Mechanics continue to refine the adjustment of the wheel until the tire alignment is straight.
How do you prevent wheel misalignment?
The best way to prevent wheel misalignment is to stick with a regular maintenance schedule. If you or a mechanic catches a problem before it escalates, you reduce the risk of potentially costly repairs, as well as accidents that can form from a damaged vehicle.
Avoid curbs and potholes – be aware of the way you drive. Avoid severe shock of the suspension system by moving slowly through dips and bumps, avoiding connection with curbs, and avoiding potholes whenever possible. If you hit a particular severe bump, it pays to schedule a maintenance visit and have your car checked out.
Avoid accidents – accidents are called accidents for a reason, yet many drivers receive minor damage regularly. If you bump a curb, back into a pole, or sideswipe a rail, it can cause extensive damage, some of it might not be immediately visible. While you might not choose to bring in your vehicle after every situation, scheduling regular checkups throughout the years can alert you to minor problems before they escalate out of control.
If you suspect your tires are out of alignment, schedule a maintenance visit soon.