- Wheel alignment is a regular maintenance service that takes care of a car’s suspension system
- You should take your car for wheel alignment once a year or every 6.000 miles
- Toe, camber, and caster angle alignment are an integral part of tire alignment
- You can get a good wheel alignment price by looking out for deals
- Common issues that stem from a misaligned vehicle are vibrations, difficulty when steering, pulling, fuel consumption, and more
Owning a vehicle, whether new or old, comes with specific costs tied to it. Vehicles require regular care and attention, from insurance and gas to detailing and maintenance.
Even though everything tied to your vehicle’s proper functioning is important, there are some things that you need to pay closer attention to. These things are mainly internal, i.e., specific car parts that are responsible for the safety and functionality of your vehicle.
In this category, you will often find engine maintenance, breaks, spark plugs, oil and filters, various lights, tires and tire pressure, and much more. All of these things are important and need to be maintained regularly. Today, however, we’re focusing on tires and wheels.
In this article, we’ll be going over what wheel alignment is, how much does wheel alignment cost, where you can have it done, and why having it done is so crucial.
Wheel Alignment: Why Is It Important
Even though there are roughly 278 million personal and commercial vehicles in America, not all car owners understand the specifics of vehicle maintenance. Because of this, before we get into the cost of wheel alignment and other important details, we’d like to explain what wheel alignment actually is and why it’s so important.
Wheel, sometimes also called tire alignment, is a process that deals with adjusting your car’s suspension. The suspension system connects the car to its wheels and ensures a smooth, well-controlled ride.
Suspension is also important for maintaining your car’s shock absorption. For example, when you hit a pothole on the road, your vehicle’s suspension is responsible for not letting the impact affect you and your vehicle. Think of it as a sort of bounce allowance that prevents harsh dips and raises from causing damage to your car.
There are several components to your car’s suspension system. Usually, it includes the tires, tire air, shock absorbers, and various linkages that connect the body to the wheels. The steering system is also an important component here.
When you take your car for a wheel alignment, your mechanic takes this system as a whole and uses it to adjust the angles upon which your tires touch the ground. Every vehicle has an optimal angle for this, but regular usage can affect and alter it.
If your wheel’s angles are askew, you can experience things like vibrations, your vehicle pulling to one side, uneven tread wear, and an off-center steering wheel. Given that precision is detrimental to safe driving, having your wheels aligned is a necessary part of ensuring your car runs smoothly and correctly.
Furthermore, aligning your wheels at the proper angles can help with tire longevity and the overall lifetime of your vehicle and its parts.
Do Misaligned Wheels Increase Accident Risk?
Misaligned wheels do increase the risk of an accident by making the car more difficult to steer and control.
When driving with misaligned wheels, your car may experience many difficulties, resulting in small collisions or more severe traffic accidents. This is especially true during the winter when driving happens on wet or frozen roads that, by themselves, affect how your car moves.
Furthermore, misaligned wheels can cause friction within the vehicle, which may end up damaging other parts of your vehicle. This friction can most severely affect the state of your tires, causing them to thin out and lose pressure which can lead to an accident.
It’s also possible for this misalignment to affect the way your brakes work and respond.
How Wheel Alignment Works
Now that you know more about why wheel alignment is so important, we’d like to go over what the process includes. The elements of wheel alignment are directly connected to the wheel alignment cost you can expect, which can help you understand the investment better!
Whenever you take your car in for a wheel alignment, your mechanic will generally check these three things.
When talking about the toe, we’re talking about the angle of the tires when viewed from above. The optimal position would have the tires parallel to each other and the vehicle; however, this may not always be the case.
There are two main toe positions that can affect your driving. The first one is when the wheels are facing in, also called toe-in. The second is when they are facing out, called toe-out. Both toe-in and toe-out are improper alignments and require work.
Issues resulting from a misaligned toe include diminished durability, uneven wear across all tires, difficulty turning or taking sharp corners, and straight-line stability when going at high speeds.
The camber is similar to the toe, but it concerns the angle of the tires when looked at from the front.
The two main camber misalignments are positive and negative camber. If positive camber is occurring, your tires are facing outward. If negative camber is in question, your tires are tilted toward the inner part of your car.
Issues that come up with misaligned camber include uneven tread, premature tire wear on one side, pulling issues to the side with a more positive camber alignment, and other steering issues.
The caster alignment is viewed from the side of the vehicle and deals with the steering axis. A properly aligned caster angle helps balance the steering and provides optimal driving stability.
The two caster misalignments are the positive caster, which has your steering axis tilt toward the back of the vehicle, and the negative caster has the steering axis tilt toward the front.
Issues that stem from misaligned caster angles are vehicle wandering, inability to easily hold a straight line, heavy steering, pull, and tire wear.
Aside from the toe, caster, and camber alignment, tire balancing is another part of the usual tire alignment process that is usually included in the wheel alignment cost.
Although different from wheel alignment, tire balancing is often done when wheel alignment is, as they are tightly connected to each other. This process covers any weight imbalances between the tire and the wheel.
In this context, there are two issues your vehicle may have. The first is static balance, which addresses the balance issues in terms of vertical movement. The second is dynamic balance, which addresses balance issues in vertical and lateral movements.
Unbalanced tires can cause vibrations in the steering wheel, poor fuel consumption, uneven and quicker tire wear, and significant steering issues that can get worse at higher speeds.
Wheel Alignment Process, Machinery, and Specifics
Your mechanic will usually use various tools and machinery to check if your car has any of the aforementioned issues.
The very first step of the process, however, is usually to either take the car for a test drive or ask the owner about any potential issues they may be facing. Through this, your mechanic will get a good idea of the vehicle’s state.
After this is done, your car will be raised up using a hoist. The elevation is super important during this process, as it allows for easy access to the suspension system and delivers optimal results. Before beginning the alignment, your mechanic may replace any parts that are damaged or worn down. They may also check the tire pressure and adjust it accordingly.
Once this is complete, your mechanic will hook your car up to an alignment machine connected to a computer via devices that clamp to the wheels. With the help of this machine, your mechanic will know exactly which alterations to make to bring your car back to the center and align it according to manufacturer recommendations.
It’s important to note that each type of vehicle has different alignment specifications and requirements which must be followed.
How Much Does Wheel Alignment Cost?
To understand wheel alignment cost, we need to look at the different types of wheel alignment available.
There are usually three different types of wheel alignments you can get: front-end alignment, thrust alignment, and four-wheel alignment. All of these are fairly different from one another and also differ in cost, so let’s take a look.
Front-end alignment is an alignment process that only looks at the front axle of your vehicle. It’s the most basic alignment option and is usually not recommended for modern vehicles. The front wheel alignment cost is the cheapest option around, although it doesn’t offer complete results and should only be used in specific settings.
This type of wheel alignment combines front-end alignment with thrust alignment to ensure all wheels are in the position they need to be in. Much like the front-end alignment, thrust alignment is only recommended for vehicles with a strong and solid rear axle.
A four-wheel alignment is a combination of front-end alignment, thrust-angle alignments, and rear axle positioning. It’s the most comprehensive alignment service your vehicle could receive.
4-wheel alignment is usually recommended for four-wheel and all-wheel drive vehicles as well as vehicles with front-end drive that feature independent rear suspensions. If you’re unsure whether your vehicle falls within this category, it’s best to let a mechanic check it out and recommend the service you need.
The 4-wheel alignment cost is the highest among the bunch. However, this type of alignment delivers the most optimal results and brings your car to its intended state.
The Cost of Wheel Alignment
The tire alignment price you can expect will always be dependent on the type of alignment you’re getting. Even though some of the options are cheaper, it’s always important to remember that they may not be exactly what your vehicle needs.
Usually, wheel alignment prices vary between $50 to $200. This price is strongly connected to the type of alignment, any possible damage done, the location of the shop, how much manual labor is used to fix your vehicle, and so on.
Given that tire alignment should be done yearly, an investment of this size may not be in accordance with everyone’s budget. However, wheel alignment is one of the most important maintenance procedures for your vehicle, so saving up during the year for the appointment is definitely worth it.
Getting the Best Wheel Alignment Price
Different auto shops will offer different alignment prices, so it’s always best to shop around to ensure you’re getting the best deal available. Many shops often offer discounts on this necessary service, so you can save up.
Furthermore, it’s also imperative not to wait when you notice your car is off-center. By waiting, you’re allowing more time for further damage to develop, which can cost you much more than the alignment itself.
Even though wheel alignment costs between $50 and $200, any extra parts that need replacing will be extra. Given that misaligned vehicles experience more severe wear and tear, taking the car in for an alignment is best when done immediately, as you will be saving up on those extra parts.
When to Get Wheel Alignment Done
Optimally, wheel alignment should be done once a year. Another marker you can use is the manufacturer’s recommendation. Usually, alignment is recommended after around 6.000 miles, so if you travel a lot with your car, you’ll need to get a tire alignment more frequently.
Vehicles that often drive on uneven or rural roads should also get realigned more often. This is especially true for vehicles not designed for off-road use, as bumpy roads may throw your car off-center more easily.
Furthermore, we’d like to emphasize that the once-a-year rule should only be followed if your car doesn’t experience any issues in the meantime.
Things you should look out for that may mean your car is misaligned include:
- Vibration in the steering wheel
- The car pulling to one side
- Difficulty maintaining a straight line when the steering wheel is centered
- Difficulty maintaining a straight line when moving at higher speeds
- Tires that feature uneven wear-and-tear
- Poor fuel economy
- Difficulty when turning around or taking sharp corners and more.
If you notice any of these issues or if you hear any strange sounds coming from below your vehicle, you should definitely bring your car in for an alignment. Another cue for taking the car in should be hitting a curb or a pothole as well as when changing any parts within the suspension system.
You can also look at your vehicle’s wheels occasionally to make sure the tires are perpendicular to the ground and parallel to each other. If anything seems off, it’s time for a quick check-up.
DIY vs. Professional Wheel Alignment
While it is possible to DIY wheel alignment to save up on the wheel alignment cost, it’s important to understand that you may not be able to do as good a job as a mechanic would.
Given that alignment in a shop is done using machinery, special tools, and computers, by doing it yourself, you won’t have access to these items. The entire alignment process will have to be done using only your senses and simple tools, which may not do the best job, even if you follow an online tutorial or a manual.
Furthermore, you need to factor in the time, effort, and potential investment in tools that you’ll need to complete the maintenance, which also adds up. If, by any chance, you don’t do as good of a job, you’re risking further damage to the suspension system and the vehicle as a whole.
Wheel alignment prices may be high for some, especially if realignment is needed more often, but the process ensures your safety while driving, which should never have a price. With alignment being such a necessary procedure, auto shops often offer specials on it, allowing drivers to save up on the service.
How Much Does an Alignment Cost: Conclusion
Wheel alignment is a service whose price is always justified.
Even though you shouldn’t overpay, setting the money aside for this maintenance procedure is an integral part of responsible driving. By having your tires realigned, you are saving up on many future repairs and replacements, making wheel realignment a great investment for the future.
When getting your wheel alignment, make sure to also have the mechanic balance your tires and check every part of your suspension system. By staying on top of everything, you can experience your vehicle’s optimal performance and enjoy every perk it has to offer.
If you haven’t taken your car in for an alignment, we urge you to make your appointment today! You can also share this article with your loved ones to increase their awareness of the importance of the service and remind them to take their vehicle in as well.