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Why Is Wheel Alignment Important?

A red car's wheel alignment being measured

Over time, regular driving and tire wear and tear can knock a vehicle out of alignment. The improper wheel alignment of a car can impede vehicle performance, wear out the tires, damage the suspension and create unsafe driving conditions. Fortunately, recognizing the typical signs of misalignment is simple, and a qualified technician can get the vehicle back up to par and road-ready in no time.

Whether you’re a daily driver or a mechanic looking to learn more about tire alignment, we have plenty of tips to help you out. This guide covers the basics of wheel alignment, including common signs and causes of misalignment and the benefits of a properly aligned vehicle.

What Is Wheel Alignment?

While the name may suggest otherwise, tire alignment doesn’t involve adjusting the wheels themselves. Rather, it requires adjusting the vehicle’s suspension — the system connecting a car to its wheels — to restore the tires to their correct angles.

That way, the tires make proper contact with the road, and the vehicle stays on track instead of pulling in one direction. Correct wheel alignment helps keep tires functional and extend their service life.

Car's wheel on a tire alignment machine

Signs That a Vehicle Needs a Wheel Alignment

Here are some symptoms indicating a vehicle may need a tire alignment:

  • Vehicle drifting to the right or left while driving
  • Premature or uneven tire tread wear
  • Squealing tires
  • Shaking or vibration from the steering wheel
  • Loose or unresponsive steering wheel
  • Crooked or off-center steering wheel when driving straight

If one or more of these signs are present, a licensed technician should inspect the vehicle for misalignment.

What Causes Wheel Misalignment?

Various factors can throw a vehicle’s alignment out of whack, from sagging springs and frequent off-roading to fender benders. Alignment issues can come gradually or emerge suddenly from severe impact. Here are some common causes of tire misalignment:

  • Heavy, abrupt impact: Sudden, sharp impact from potholes, curbs and minor car accidents can bend or shift components out of place. For this reason, avoiding aggressive driving habits is important to keep a vehicle from coming out of alignment.
  • Wear and tear: Gradual wear on a car’s suspension system can also lead to alignment problems. Suspension springs and shocks naturally wear out over time, causing vehicles to fall out of alignment. That’s why regular maintenance can help prevent vehicle misalignment. Conditions like rugged roads and frost heaves can also bend and damage these components, interfering with the car’s alignment.
  • Carrying excess loads: Heavy loads can weigh down and strain the back end of a car to the point of misalignment. Avoid storing heavy, bulky items in your trunk as much as possible, and remove things you don’t need.
  • Vehicle modifications: Certain car adjustments can affect alignment. Some examples are lowering or lifting a vehicle, or replacing steering or suspension parts that affect tire angles. Suspension systems are designed for specific heights, so changing a vehicle’s height without modifying the suspension can easily throw off its alignment.

How Often Should a Vehicle’s Wheels Be Aligned?

Wheel alignments aren’t usually part of routine maintenance. They don’t have hard-and-fast time intervals or mileage requirements. However, it’s important to recognize the signs that your vehicle is due for an alignment.

Most experts recommend having your wheel alignment checked whenever you rotate your tires, which is about every six months or 6,000 miles driven. It’s also wise to have your vehicle suspension checked if:

  • You recently changed your vehicle’s tires.
  • You regularly go off-roading or drive on rough roads.
  • You made sharp contact with a pothole or curb.
  • You recently lifted or lowered your vehicle.
  • You notice uneven tire wear.
  • You were recently in an accident.

What Do Mechanics Look at When Examining Wheel Alignment?

A mechanic should inspect these three areas during a car alignment:

  1. Camber: The camber is the inward or outward angle of the tire when viewing the car from the front. Excess inward or outward tilt signifies misalignment that needs to be corrected. Worn ball joints, bearings and other suspension components can cause camber misalignment.
  2. Toe: The toe alignment is the extent of the inward or outward tire turn when viewing the vehicle from above. Proper toe alignment is essential for even tire wear and extensive life span.
  3. Caster: The caster is the angle of the steering axis when viewing the car from the side. A positive caster tilts the steering axis toward the driver. Meanwhile, a negative caster tilts the steering axis toward the front of the vehicle. A correctly aligned caster is key for steering, cornering and overall stability. It keeps the car on a straight path, helping the steering wheel return to a straight position after turning.

Wheel alignments are fairly quick, usually taking anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. Of course, this timeframe can vary depending on a few factors, including:

  • The type of alignment
  • The type of vehicle
  • The mechanic’s experience
  • The condition of the vehicle’s components

Why Does Tire Alignment Matter?

Ultimately, proper alignment protects a vehicle’s tires from premature and uneven wear. Some benefits of wheel alignment include:

1. Better Vehicle Performance

Tires are responsible for 20%-30% of a vehicle’s fuel consumption. They primarily impact fuel efficiency through rolling resistance. Misaligned wheels force the car to work harder, thus using more gas.

Properly aligned wheels will roll more smoothly down the road. The vehicle won’t have to work as hard or consume as much gas to move forward, boosting gas mileage and saving the driver money in the long run.

2. Cost Savings

Besides saving money on gas, correctly aligned tires can be cost-effective in other areas. Alignment issues put significant stress on your vehicle’s suspension system, which can lead to premature wear and tear, tire blowouts and failure.

These problems warrant extensive and costly repairs. Correctly aligned wheels help mitigate premature wear and damage, offering cost-saving opportunities in repairs and servicing.

3. Safety

Properly aligned vehicles provide the highest degree of safety on the road. Misaligned tires can cause the vehicle to drift left or right. This can be dangerous, especially on busy roads.

Additionally, improper alignment increases friction between the wheels and the road. This heightens the risk of a tire blowout, which can cause the vehicle to lose control and veer off course. Having your vehicle’s alignment inspected and adjusted keeps you and other drivers safer on the road.

Find Reliable Tire Alignment Equipment at Liftnow

Proper alignment is critical for vehicle safety and performance. When conducting these repairs in your auto shop or garage, an automotive wheel aligner comes in handy. At Liftnow, we have state-of-the-art wheel alignment equipment available.

Chances are, your customers rely on excellent services and advanced equipment to diagnose and address alignment issues. When you purchase equipment from Liftnow, you’ll have high-quality auto repair products at your disposal. Fill out our form to request a quote for a wheel aligner, or contact our team with any questions.

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