Over the cause of years, you are likely to come across numerous lifetime wheel alignment services near you. They are cheap and allow you to keep your car in check. While rightly so, some car owners deem them unnecessary partially due to bad experience from quack wheel alignment providers.
In this article, we devour this topic so that you can make the right decision when purchasing a plan. From things to look out for in a service provider and costs to reasons why you need one. But, much of that later, first let’s describe this term.
What is a lifetime wheel alignment?
This is self-explanatory. It is a plan you can buy to receive a free wheel alignment for a lifetime. A good example is the Firestone lifetime wheel alignment service. If you purchase their plan, you get a free alignment after every 6,000 miles or six months as long as you still own the car.
Why lifetime wheel alignment?
Purchasing a lifetime wheel alignment plan comes with numerous benefits. Let’s look at a few.
- Your car is always stable: With the right alignment, your car will drive smoothly since the tire treads will wear evenly. Besides, you’ll be in full control of the car when it comes to steering.
- Increased tire lifespan: Misalignment causes your tires to wear unevenly which can cause enormous friction between them and the road. With properly aligned wheels, the tires’ contact patch will be even hence improved lifespan.
- Increased fuel efficiency: Since you are having your wheels aligned twice a year, the car will be in proper posture which eliminates instances of drag which causes stress to the engine resulting in decreased fuel efficiency.
- Cheaper: If you cover more than 6,000 miles within the stipulated timeline, then a lifetime wheel alignment plan is cheaper compared to going for a one-off alignment session once in a while.
What to look for in a lifetime wheel alignment plan?
Many garages offer lifetime wheel alignment, however, how they package their deals is different. So, be careful which commercial garage you settle for. Ensure that they offer all the services they claim to and in a professional way.
Several garages will intentionally tweak your car so they can upsell other services. Services you never needed in the first place. For example, they can fill your car tires with the wrong pressure or forget to place back crucial parts. In the end, you’ll have to purchase other services to fix such intentional errors.
Do I need a lifetime wheel alignment?
Well, ask yourself the following questions.
1. Do you plan to have the car for a long time?
Garages will offer lifetime wheel alignment services to the car you registered with. So, if you decide to sell it after a few years, then the plan gets canceled. That said if you plan to have the car for more than five years, purchase the plan. However, if you’ll sell it in a year or two, you are better off declining the package.
2. How many miles do you cover?
Like Firestone, most commercial garages will have your car wheels aligned after 6,000 miles. Now, ask yourself, can I cover these miles in six months? If so, you definitely need a lifetime wheel alignment plan. Otherwise, you can go for a normal wheel alignment at your local garage.
3. Where do you want to permanently reside?
If you are the on-the-road type of person, this plan will do you more harm than good. Why? Because you’ll have to visit the actual garage. If your career demands you to move from city to city after a few months or years, do not settle for the package.
If you are however sure you’ll reside in a certain city for many years, then you are likely better off buying a lifetime wheel alignment plan.
What happens during wheel alignment?
Wheel alignment is basically adjusting the suspension of your car back to its default mode. There are three main areas that a mechanic focuses on. They are camber, toe, and caster. Here is a brief explanation.
- Camber: This is the angle of the wheel relative to the vertical position. Simply put, it is the tilt of the wheel – inwards or outwards – when viewed from the front of your car. Your car should have zero degrees camber. Negative camber is when the wheel tilts inwards while positive camber is when the wheel tilts outwards.
- Toe: This is the distance of the front and rear of the wheel to the center of your car. When the front of the wheel is close to the center, it is called toe-in. on the other hand, when the rear of the wheel is closer to the center of the car, it is called toe-out.
- Caster: This is the angle at which the steering axis is at. At an angle of zero degrees, we have a zero caster. When the axis is ahead of the tire contact patch it is called positive caster, and this is the recommended axis.
The mechanic will also check the air pressure, treads, and condition of the tires.
When should you get a wheel alignment?
- Car pulling on either side: When a car pulls on one side while driving, it is an indication that it needs an urgent wheel alignment.
- Using a rough terrain road for long: If you drive on a rough road frequently, it is recommended that you visit your garage for wheel alignment.
- Car wandering: When driving, your car can seem to move from side to side without your input. This is a sign that the wheels are misaligned.
- Tires wearing out unevenly: Another way to tell if your car needs alignment is if the tires treads wear unevenly.
Is it worth buying a lifetime wheel alignment package? Yes, if you cover more than 6,000 miles in six months, you plan to own your car for long, and if you are a permanent resident of our current location. If this is not you, regular alignment once in a year will do you good.
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.