What is tire alignment?
Tire alignment, also referred to as wheel alignment is readjusting the position of the car suspension to its rightful alignment. While there are numerous DIY car maintenance procedures you can do individually, tire alignment requires you to visit a professional or consult your mechanic.
Which types of tire alignment can you get?
There are several wheel alignments that commercial garages offer. Let’s have a look at them.
1. Thrust angle alignment
Thrust angle should run through the center of the car at a right degree angle to the center of the rear axle. If the center of the rear axle is not at this angle with the thrust line, then the rear wheels will not follow the front wheels. As such, you’ll be required to steer in the opposite direction to drive at a straight line. Mechanics ensure that the alignment is as it should be.
2. Four-wheel alignment
This type of alignment adjusts all the wheels and the thrust line. This is most common in high-end sports cars for optimum handling and performance. If you need this type, it is recommended you visit a qualified mechanic although it is not necessary for a common vehicle.
3. Caster alignment
This involves adjusting the angle of the steering axis to the tire base patch. Normally, an incorrect caster alignment is due to an accident or hitting a surface, deforming the shape of the car. Mechanics typically repair the body to achieve the ideal alignment.
4. Camber alignment
Camber is the position of the wheel to the vertical axis. There can be positive, zero, or negative camber. Normal cars should have zero camber to prevent the tires from unevenly wearing out. Positive and negative cambers are caused by damaged control arm bushing and strut mountings.
5. Toe alignment
Mechanics ensure that the distance from the front and rear of the tires to the center of the car is the same. Your car will require toe alignment if it has toe-in or toe-out.
How often should I get my tires aligned?
Well, the frequency at which you should have your tires aligned depends on numerous factors. They include but not limited to the miles coverage, driving habits, type of car, type of roads you use frequently, and more. Fortunately, most owner’s manual indicates how frequently you should seek alignment services.
While not a rule of thumb, most mechanics recommend you have your car wheel aligned once per year. This will ensure the suspension, steering axis, and tires are in check. If yours is a sports car, have it checked at least twice a year.
When should I have my tires aligned?
How can you tell your car needs a wheel alignment? Let’s find out.
Car pulling to one side: If your car is pulling to the right or left while driving, it is a clear indication of misalignment. You, therefore, require to visit the garage for alignment.
- Vibration: Ever experienced your steering while vibrate while driving? It is due to misaligned or unbalanced tires. This happens because the wheels are pulling in opposite direction.
- Uneven tread wear: The tread of your tires should wear evenly in normal circumstances. However, in the case of misalignment, they will tend to wear rapidly on the edges.
- After getting new tires: While not necessary, you should have your tires aligned if it’s been long since you last sort alignment services.
What causes misalignment?
Misalignment can be caused by the following factors:
- Height modification: If you change the height of the car without adjusting the suspension, the car is likely to suffer from misalignment. This is because suspension springs support specific heights.
- Heavy impact: This can be caused by an accident or hitting potholes as you drive.
- Worn out parts: After long car use, suspension springs can wear out resulting in to change in car alignment. To avoid such scenarios, have your car serviced regularly. And if this happens, you’ll need to replace the parts.
How long does wheel alignment last?
How long the alignment will last depends on the amount of tear and wear, but a normal alignment takes up to an hour or so. Most commercial garages will require you to book a session in advance.
What is the difference between wheel alignment and wheel balancing?
Wheel alignment is all about the position and angle of the wheel when mounted on your car. While balancing on the other hand involves working on the wheel itself. Wheels are not the same and can have uneven sections.
Mechanics use precision technology to spin the wheel identifying flaws in it. For example, some sections might be heavier than others. To ensure even distribution of weight, they use lead weights to attach to the lightweight sections.
Do you need to align all four wheels?
Yes. If your car supports four-wheel alignment. Some car models have a rigid rear axle that does not require alignment. If you own such type of a car, a two-wheel alignment will be enough.
What are the consequences of not aligning your car tires?
Here is what happens if you do not align the wheels of your car
- Decreasing fuel efficiency: This because the drag caused by the misaligned wheels causes stress to the engine. This means that more fuel is consumed as you try to handle it properly.
- Uneven tread wear: In a car that is aligned, the treads of each wheel will wear out evenly. When tires wear along the edges, the car becomes more prone to heat buildup and sudden blowouts. Besides, they can affect the axle and other parts.
- Inefficient steering system: At this point, the wheels pull in opposite direction. Meaning that you’ll have a hard time steering the vehicle in a straight line. This can cause fatal accidents along highways, especially in wet conditions.
So, how often should you get your tires aligned? As soon as you experience the above indicators. This is to prevent further damage to your car. And to ensure optimum alignment, consult a qualified mechanic or visit a reputable garage.
Sam is Automole’s editor-in-chief and classic car enthusiast. Sam is studying mechanical engineering at Cockrell School of Engineering, Austin. He also writes for many top automotive publications and appears on the Collecting Cars Podcast.