When you drive your car off the showroom floor, everything about it is in perfect condition.
From the moment it hits the open road, your car is at risk. Slam on the brake pedal and it impacts your braking system. Hit a pothole, and it can knock your wheels out of alignment.
The trouble is, most of the damage done to your car isn’t something that impacts it right away. Instead, it accumulates over time.
That pothole in the middle of the lane you always drive in to work? Yep, every time you hit it, it continues to impact your car. Bolts can loosen. Joints can come apart. And wheel alignment? Yep, that happens gradually too. Every bump you hit, every pothole you hit a little too hard, every curb you scrape and bump, it all adds up over time.
Why is wheel alignment important to my vehicle?
Wheel alignment is important for one very obvious reason: driveability. If you want a smooth ride as you drive to work, drop the kids off at school, or take your family out on the open road, a periodic wheel alignment is mandatory to keep your car working properly. Of course, there are other reasons too.
If your wheels aren’t connecting with the road properly, it also means your tires are being impacted every mile you travel. If a wheel is bent, it pulls the tires away from the road in certain spots. That means uneven wear. It also means the lifespan of your tires will be shortened.
When your wheels are in proper alignment, the entire suspension system is working together, keeping you pointed in the right direction. Without movement, you move in a straight line. But when wheels are out of alignment, that balance can shift and turn. Have you ever felt a pull to the right or left when you’re moving down an open stretch of highway? That’s a problem with your wheel alignment. It can cause other systems more wear as you overcompensate for the problem.
All of these extra problems can cause one more failure – gas mileage. It takes more energy to overcompensate for problems throughout your vehicle. If you start to see a slip in mileage each time you fill up your tank, it might be a wheel alignment issue.
How will I know if I have a wheel alignment problem?
Wheel alignment isn’t something you’ll find a dashboard warning light for. Instead, you’ll only discover you have a problem in one of two ways.
1. Regular checkups. If you let one of our mechanics check out your car periodically, we can find and correct issues before they become bigger problems.
2. Watch your tires. The easiest way to tell if you have a wheel alignment problem is to watch your tires for uneven wear. The tires should wear evenly across the tread. If you notice excessive wear on the inside of the rear tires, for example, it’s an indicator you may need an alignment. It also could be a sign of too much weight in the trunk.
How will my driving be impacted if the alignment is off?
Watching for uneven wear on your tires isn’t the only sign of an alignment problem. There are other noticeable signs you can watch for as you drive.
- When your vehicle pulls to the right or left as you drive. You’ll tighten your grip on the wheel as you feel your car slowly moving one way or the other.
- A steering wheel that looks crooked instead of straight. As you drive, your steering wheel should return to its original position. If you have to turn it slightly to keep it in the lane, it may be a sign.
- Your tires may squeal and make noises. That high pitch squeal is because the wheels aren’t connecting the way they should.
What it takes to calibrate a vehicle’s wheel alignment
You can’t look at your wheels and know you have a problem. It requires precision to ensure your wheels are calibrated perfectly, giving you the smoothest ride possible.
When you bring your vehicle in, alignment is performed using advanced computerized alignment equipment. Weights can be mere fractions, bringing all four wheels into alignment.
- Measures all four tires and sets the alignment according to manufacturer’s guidelines. The more accurate this process is, the smoother your ride. It’ll also improve your gas mileage.
- Provides an accurate reading. You can’t eyeball this, which is how it was performed years ago. Today’s technology is better than ever, meaning we can get accurate readings to ensure you’re driving out of our garage with the best alignment possible for your vehicle.
- Understands the guidelines for your vehicle. A Prius will have different requirements than a large SUV.
How long does it take for a wheel alignment?
Like every service we perform, it depends.
If everything goes smoothly, you can be back out on the road shortly. But as we dive in and discover problems, it may lead to other issues.
Each wheel may have up to three alignment angles that need adjusting. They’re called caster, camber, and toe. Three alignment angles – four wheels – that means up to 12 adjustments needed for servicing. You can’t drive in, plug it in, and go. It may take a little time.
Because you have four wheels, all four must be adjusted at the same time. Performing one wouldn’t give you the right calibration to ensure your entire vehicle is driving the way it should. Instead, it’s essential to adjust the front wheels to be at a proper angle to ensure the back wheels operate correctly too.
An alignment check inspects both the steering and suspension systems. It will ensure your tires are pressurized correctly, and are still in good operating condition. It will adjust camber, caster, and toe angles, as needed. That may mean new parts and labor charges, depending on the issue. And finally, a road test. We want to drive it, to ensure it feels good when connecting with the road.
Sometimes your warranty requires occasional wheel alignments to ensure it’s in proper working condition. Check with your manufacturer, to ensure you stay within compliance.