What is a Wheel Alignment?

What is a Wheel Alignment?

Car ownership is a big responsibility and there are plenty of things to maintain to ensure your car is road-worthy. But nothing can cause most car owners, especially new ones, to scratch their heads than this question: what is a wheel alignment? It is among the top items on your car maintenance checklist, and if you haven’t given it much thought, then it is time you should.

Key Takeaways

• Wheel alignment is an important part of your vehicle maintenance that ensures your wheels are in the proper position.
• Wheel alignment is important as it promotes a longer lifespan for your tires, improve fuel efficiency, promote better handling, and deliver a comfortable ride.
• Wheels can get misaligned when driving on bumpy roads, hitting a curb, or any driving activity that causes sudden impact on your car.
• Failing to fix misaligned wheels can be a safety hazard as it can cause wheel vibrations and make you lose control over your car’s steering.

What is a Wheel Alignment

What is a Wheel Alignment?

Wheel alignment involves adjusting the wheel’s angles. The ideal position is that the wheels should be parallel to each other and perpendicular to the ground. This adjustment is crucial because it ensures that the wheels are connected to the vehicle’s suspension system. Meanwhile, the suspension is responsible for ensuring the four tires move at the same speed and toward the same direction.

However, some manufacturers will set optimum tire alignment recommendation, so you must refer to that to improve handling and performance. Proper wheel alignment is also a safety concern, which is why expert car mechanics recommend you look into it.

Why Does Wheel Alignment Matters

Is wheel alignment important? Yes, it is!

However, we’ll explore the reasons why you need to know what is a wheel alignment and its impact on your car’s performance.

1. Tire Lifespan

If you’re wondering how long do tires last and how you can extend its lifespan, wheel alignment is part of the answer. Misaligned wheels cause premature wear on your tires, significantly reducing its lifespan. If you want to reduce the long-term replacement costs of your tires, make sure you get your wheels aligned regularly.

2. Fuel Efficiency

Proper wheel alignment increases the fuel efficiency of your vehicle. When wheels are misaligned, it causes the engine to work harder, using up more fuel. On the other hand, wheels that are properly aligned minimizes the rolling resistance and can move more efficiently.

3. Better Handling and Driving Performance

Misaligned wheels can bring a host of other issues. It can cause vibrations to the steering wheel, affecting the overall handling and driving experience. Fixing the wheel alignment can provide better handling and a smoother ride, ensuring comfort and better steering response.

4. Road Safety

Wheel alignment is critical because it impacts your road safety. Misaligned wheels are a road hazard since it makes it difficult to control the car, especially under extreme weather conditions or when dealing with sudden turns. You can expect more stability with properly aligned wheels.

5. Improved Suspension

Wheel alignment is closely linked to the vehicle suspension system. The latter is crucial in protecting your car from accidents. When wheels are not in proper alignment, it can cause wear and tear on your suspension system. Thus, correcting the alignment helps to prevent damaging your suspension components.

What Causes Wheels to Become Out of Alignment?

Driving through potholes and similar road conditions are the most common cause of wheels being out of alignment. Therefore, you must avoid driving through potholes, especially large ones. When you accidentally hit a pothole or hit a curb, make sure to check your wheels immediately.

Aside from hitting potholes, any form of impact or sudden disturbance can cause misaligned wheels.

Signs of Incorrect Wheel Alignment

Before you know what is a wheel alignment and when you need one, you must recognize the signs of bad alignment.

• Vehicle pulling to one side while driven
• Steering wheel vibrations
• Uneven or rapid tire wear
• Positive or negative toe
• Positive or negative camber
• Off-centered steering wheel when driving

How to Do Wheel Alignment

When you bring your car into a mechanic for a wheel alignment, they will use an alignment machine and conduct a visual inspection. They will determine the steering angles with three checkpoints:

Caster – It refers how much tilt the steering axis has when viewed from the side. The steering axis is an imaginary line that impacts balance, stability, and cornering.
Camber – It refers to the inward or outward tilt of the wheels when viewed from the front.
Toe – It refers to how the two sets of wheels (front or rear) are positioned parallel to each other, which could either be inward or outward.

Using the data collected, the mechanic can make a comparison of the manufacturer’s recommendation for the specific make and model. Using the alignment machine, they will make the necessary corrections to fit within the manufacturer specifications.

After the wheel alignment adjustment, they will conduct a test drive to ensure the issue is fixed and the steering is corrected.

What Happens If You Don’t Get Your Wheels Aligned?

Neglecting proper wheel alignment leads to a host of potential issues, such as quick and uneven wear on your tires. When your tires are worn-out, your car is vulnerable to road safety issues and it makes your ride uncomfortable as you lose stability.

Therefore, you should not wait before you get your wheels aligned. It is a small amount to pay in exchange for your safety and improved ride quality.

How Often to Get Wheel Alignment

There is no specified frequency on when to get wheel alignment for your car. It depends on your driving conditions and habits. However, most mechanics suggest you have your cars checked for proper wheel alignment once every two years, even if you don’t see any of the above symptoms.

It is recommended that you do this when you frequently drive on bumpy road conditions as it makes your car prone to misalignment. But, really, there is no such thing as having your wheels checked for alignment too often. It will be helpful in the overall maintenance of your car to ensure it is road-worthy.

What is a Wheel Alignment

The Bottom Line

Getting a wheel alignment is one of the many items on your vehicle maintenance checklist. It is a simple job that will only take an hour or less to complete, and yet it can significantly improve your car’s safety. Therefore, you should have your alignment checked as part of the car’s routine maintenance schedule. When your safety and the car’s longevity is concerned, you should not make any compromises.


How much does it cost to get a wheel alignment?

The cost of wheel alignment varies on the job scope, car’s make and model, your location, and the mechanic. However, it is a relatively inexpensive job that costs around $75 for a single alignment. Again, this rate could vary depending on where you get your car serviced.

Can you do a wheel alignment yourself?

No. Wheel alignment is not a DIY project because it requires specialized machinery and expert knowledge.

Does wheel alignment affect steering?

Yes, some symptoms of misaligned wheels can be evident in the steering. It becomes more difficult to control and you experience vibrations. A misaligned wheel can create a domino effect on other car components.

How fast will tires wear out with bad alignment?

It depends on the extent of the misalignment issue, but this can cause your tire to wear out faster than if there was no alignment issue. If you want to extend your tire’s lifespan, you should consider fixing any misalignment problem.

Should I get new tires or an alignment first?

Either way works, but if you need to replace your tires, it is best to replace your tires first and then get the alignment fixed.

How long can you drive with a bad alignment?

For minor alignment issues, you can drive up to 20 miles. However, driving with a bad alignment is not recommended as it can be a safety concern.

Does alignment affect ride quality?

Yes. Misaligned wheels make your ride feel bumpy and less stable.

Does tire height affect alignment?

Yes. Therefore, it is important to check the manufacturer’s recommendation on the ideal tire height when getting new tires. Or if you want to increase your tire size, you should adjust the alignment.

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