What Is A Tire Alignment? (Do You Need One + What Causes It)

Tire alignment is one of the most important maintenance procedures for your car because it addresses several different components at once.

If you’re struggling with any part of the process, whether it’s its benefits, causes, symptoms, and other related topics, we’ve got you covered.

What Is A Tire Alignment?

Tire alignment is the process whereby your vehicle’s suspension is adjusted in order to have the wheels at angles that are conducive for better wear, handling, and overall performance. Your vehicle’s manufacturer is the first to align your car, and any alignment after that should follow their specifications because they’ve calculated the optimal conditions for operation.

We’re going to discuss alignment further below, including what it does, how often you should get it, what throws it off, and more below!

What Does Tire Alignment Do?

During wheel alignment, your car’s suspension and steering are adjusted to make sure that the tires make proper contact with the road.

This ensures that your wheels wear evenly and that your internal components don’t struggle to operate any of the wheels.

What Is The Difference Between A Tire Alignment And Balance?

Tire alignment corrects the angles of the tires, so they make contact with the road as intended by the manufacturers.

On the other hand, a tire balance is done to ensure weight is distributed properly across all wheels.

What Causes Tire Alignment Issues?

One of the most straightforward ways your wheels could be knocked out of alignment is through sudden impacts, such as what happens when you hit a curb or pothole.

Different components of your car, such as the suspension or tires getting worn over time, could also cause alignment issues.

If you modify your car’s height but leave the suspension untouched, you could cause alignment issues.

As we’ve established, the manufacturer calibrates the optimal specifications for operation, and when they’re not maintained, they cause problems.

What Happens When Your Car Is Out Of Alignment?

Having your car out of alignment for too long means the tires don’t make proper contact with the road, so their rate of wear becomes more uneven over time.

Your car will also struggle to operate the wheels in this state, and this will cause increased strain on the internal components such as the drivetrain.

How Do You Know If You Need A Tire Alignment?

How Do You Know If You Need An Alignment?

If you notice unusually uneven wear across your tires, you may be due for an alignment.

Additionally, if you notice your car pulling to one side without you steering it that way, it might be because your tires are not aligned properly.

You can tell if you have alignment issues if your steering wheel or chassis shakes – the latter of which can be felt through your seat – even when driving on a smooth road.

You should also check your steering wheel to see if it’s off-center. If you’re driving straight, but the 12 o’clock position is to the right or left of center, you should get your wheels aligned.

How Often Should You Get An Alignment?

As we’ve established above, misalignment is caused by how you treat your vehicle, meaning that how often you need to realign your wheels also varies from person to person.

If you notice the signs listed above or you’ve been in an accident recently, including one where you only bumped into something, you should get your wheels checked out.

You could also be proactive with this to make sure you catch issues early before they get out of hand by checking your wheels every 6,000 miles (about 9,700 km), every six months, or every time you take your car to the shop for any other procedure such as balancing, tire replacement, etc.

How Long Does A Car Alignment Take?

How Long Does A Car Alignment Take?

Tire alignment usually takes about 1 hour, but you should set aside more time in your schedule just to be safe in case you have to replace components.

How much time alignment takes depends on the number of wheels being aligned, the extent of maintenance required, and the level of expertise of the mechanic.

Two-wheel alignment will take less time than four-wheel alignment, about 30 minutes vs 60 minutes.

If you have an older vehicle, you could spend more time getting it aligned because it’s more likely that it needs some components like nuts, bolts and sleeves replaced.

A less experienced auto mechanic could also take longer, and they could perform the procedure for as much as 90 minutes.

Basically, tire alignment is usually a quick procedure, but you should schedule it in advance and be prepared for it to last longer than expected.

Should I Get New Tires Or An Alignment First?

You can get new tires either before or after alignment because they don’t affect them.

Your tires can only affect alignment if you get ones that change the height of your car, but if the difference isn’t too drastic, modern suspension and steering systems should be able to handle it.

Can New Tires Throw Off Alignment?

New tires can’t throw off alignment because alignment is determined by the suspension, which usually isn’t affected when changing tires.

What Does A Tire Alignment Cost?

This depends on where you go for the service, but for a standard car getting its tires aligned at a local shop, it should cost between $65 to $100.

If you’re taking a luxury vehicle to a high-end dealership, however, you could pay as much as $200 for the service.

If you are looking to learn more, you can also see our posts on how long will tires last with bad alignment, how long do SUV tires last, and how common are flat tires.

Conclusion

Tire alignment adjusts your suspension to make sure the wheels make contact with the road evenly according to the manufacturer’s specifications.

This helps your tires to wear evenly while maintaining control and not overworking the drivetrain.

Alignment corrects the angles at which your wheels contact the road while balancing distributes weight evenly across all four tires.

Misalignment is caused by tire wear or impact to the tires by hitting objects or following an accident.

You can tell your tires are out of alignment if your car starts pulling to one side on its own or shaking even when driving on smooth pavement, your wheels wear unevenly, or your steering wheel is off-center.

For a standard vehicle, alignment on all four wheels costs between $50 and $100 at a local auto shop, but it could be higher for luxury vehicles and when you get the service from a dealership.

It takes about 1 hour on average, but it could be as little as 30 minutes or as much as 90 minutes, depending on your exact situation.

Your tires usually don’t affect alignment because operations involving tires don’t interfere with the suspension, so you can replace or rotate them freely without worrying.

You should get your wheels aligned when you notice signs of misalignment, but you can also have your vehicle on a regular schedule so you can spot issues and nip them in the bud.

You can also get it done when you take your car in for other maintenance procedures such as alignments, getting your oil changed, and more.

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