Knocking your car out of alignment is a lot easier than you might think. All it takes is one big pothole, a speed bump taken too aggressively or an accidental roll over a curb. Sometimes even regular wear and tear is enough to throw everything out of whack.
Having a properly aligned car may not seem that important, but it can have costly consequences if overlooked. When your wheels are out of alignment, it affects your overall suspension system and steering, which can lead to bigger problems such as premature and uneven wear on your tires.
How do you know when your vehicle’s frontend needs alignment? Why is wheel alignment so important? Here are the three biggest reasons to always keep your car’s wheels aligned and working together.
#1: Get more life out of your tires.
When your wheels are out of alignment, it causes your tires to wear unevenly. As tires wear, their life expectancy shrinks, and they have to be replaced sooner. A vehicle that is out of alignment also puts more stress on your suspension and steering systems, causing other parts to wear unevenly as well. To avoid expensive repair services or having to buy replacement tires more often, have your alignment checked as part of your regular routine maintenance schedule.
#2: Save money on gas.
Though they may seem unrelated, a properly aligned vehicle also gets better gas mileage. When your wheels are out of alignment, they're not working together optimally, which makes your engine work harder to make your car go forward. This has a negative effect on fuel efficiency because more gas is needed to help the engine work overtime. Keeping your tires properly inflated can also help you save money on gas. Underinflated or worn out tires similarly require more fuel to move them forward.
#3: Enjoy a smoother ride.
Wheels that are out of alignment can cause your car to pull to the left or the right, which makes it harder to control. If your steering wheel is pointed straight ahead, but your car is drifting to the right or left, your alignment is likely off. When you constantly have to adjust to compensate, it makes for a rougher overall ride and also takes your attention away from driving. When wheels are aligned, your car runs smoother, and you don’t have to work so hard.
What does an alignment entail?
Getting a wheel alignment is actually a very sophisticated process. Your mechanic will raise your car into the air, attach devices to each wheel and use an alignment machine that is linked to a computer to help make precise measurements.
The machine helps square the car’s wheels and axles, so they are all moving in the same direction. Your mechanic will adjust the suspension angles and make sure your steering wheel is centered. Each vehicle’s manufacturer has designated specifications and standard angles for alignment. The goal is to have all four wheels parallel and sitting flat on the road with the steering wheel centered.
All-wheel drive vehicles or front-wheel drive vehicles with independent or adjustable rear suspensions require a four-wheel alignment, so all four wheels align in a rectangle, parallel to one another and perpendicular to the road. All other vehicles typically just require a front-end alignment to adjust the front axle components.
When do you know you are out of alignment?
Luckily, it is relatively easy to tell if your car is out of alignment. Pulling is the most common sign of a problem. If you are driving on a smooth, straight road and your car pulls to the left or right without you turning the wheel, your alignment needs a check.
After you make a turn, your steering wheel should immediately return to the center position. If it is slow to return or feels loose, it could be a sign that there is an issue with the alignment. If your steering wheel is shaking or shimmying, this could also be a clue that you need your wheels aligned.
Also, take a look at your front tires. Is the tread noticeably uneven? If tires are bald on one side or wearing down unevenly, it is an indication that something is out of alignment.
To ensure that your wheels are aligned and you are getting the most out of your tires, you should add a wheel alignment to your list of regular vehicle maintenance services. Your vehicle manufacturer will have a recommendation on how often you should have your alignment checked, and you should always include an alignment when you purchase a new set of tires.
Need to get your alignment checked or schedule another maintenance service? Stop by one of our many auto repair shops in Cleveland today and have one of our expert mechanics take a look.