What is the wheel alignment? The wheel alignment is the process of checking and adjusting the angles of the wheels relative to each other and to the car body. To perform the wheel alignment, the vehicle is placed on an alignment rack. Special sensors are mounted on each wheel. The computer controlled device measures the actual angles of the wheels. Based on the measurements, a technician adjusts the wheel angles (called toe, camber, caster, etc.) that are adjustable to the specifications. Before doing the wheel alignment, the technician will typically test drive the vehicle, adjust the tire pressure, as well as check the ride height and basic suspension and steering components (e.g ball joint, tie rod, strut, etc.). If any steering or suspension component is found to be bad, it should be replaced before doing the wheel alignment. After the alignment is done, you will usually get a printout showing the wheel angles before and after the alignment. Measurements that are within specifications are usually shown in green. The 4-wheel alignment is always the best option, as the 2-wheel alignment involves adjustment of only two (front or rear) tires.
Why the wheel alignment needs to be done. The wheel alignment needs to be done because over time the wheel angles change. This happens as a result of deforming and wear of various rubber bushings in the vehicle suspension and sagging of the springs. Besides that, the wheel alignment needs to be checked after hitting large potholes and curbs, as well as after accidents. The wheel alignment also needs to be done after replacement any of the major suspension or steering components. Similarly, it should be done after lowering or rising the suspension.
What are the symptoms of improper wheel alignment?
– the steering wheel is off center when driving straight
– the vehicle pulls to one side when driving on a straight and level road
– the vehicle doesn’t hold the road well, feels unstable, wanders from side to side
– tires screeching when turning
– tires wear unevenly
How often should the wheel alignment be done? For most cars, there is no specific requirements. Your mechanic will typically recommend doing the wheel alignment every two-three years. Often, the wheel alignment is recommended when new tires are installed. The alignment should be done more often if your car has wider tires or if it’s a sporty car, e.g. Audi, BMW, Mazda 3, Nissan 370Z, etc. From our experience, we can tell that if you re-check the wheel alignment after a year or two of driving, usually it will be slightly off. If you hit a large bump, the alignment will most likely be off.
What are the benefits of doing the wheel alignment? Your tires as well as suspension and steering components will last longer and your vehicle will handle better. You might notice that after the wheel alignment, the car holds the road better and feels more stable. Again, this is even more noticeable if you have a sporty car or wider tires.
How much does it cost to do the wheel alignment? The prices vary between $50 and $180 depending on the vehicle. You might be charged more if some of the adjustments are badly rusted or seized. For better results, look for a repair shop that has a newer, more advanced wheel alignment rack. On average, the wheel alignment takes from 40 minutes to an hour.
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