Auto Wheel Alignment the most misunderstood auto maintenance item?

Autos & TrucksMaintenance

  • Author Robert Willumsen
  • Published February 7, 2015
  • Word count 1,074

Most of us worry about running out of gas or having a belt or hose fail resulting in a breakdown on the side of the road. That is why we practice preventive maintenance on our vehicles — that and to keep the cost of driving down. But one important part of preventive maintenance that may get overlooked by most motorists is a periodic alignment inspection.

Most people don't realize their car is out of alignment and even when the some of the symptoms like, minor uneven tire wear, your car pulling a little to one side or the steering seems a little loose are evident. A DMV study where they randomly inspected miscellaneous cars off the road found that 9 out of 10 cars needed a wheel alignment and the drivers weren't even aware of it.

Alignment is a complex topic covering a variety of terms and a miscellany of parts. When your wheels are out of alignment, your tires aren't pointing in the right direction. This will affect your steering, brakes and suspension, but more importantly, it could affect your safety and the durability of your tires and all the parts controlling them.

Having a car with badly aligned wheels leads to other connected problems. Your braking system does not work to optimal levels. The tendency to pull to one side due to uneven tires causes problems in the steering system. It also leads to uneven braking. Improper wheel alignments will affect the suspension of your car. The suspension in a car is made up of complicated and delicately balanced parts, and it is important that it should be perfect, not to mention that changing/repairing your suspension could cost an awful lot.

Correct alignment is much more than just keeping you tires straight on the road. Technologically advanced vehicles which have the following systems may experience warning lights and/or system shut down if your vehicle is out of proper alignment.

(1) Traction Control Systems

(2) Stability Control Systems

(3) Variable or Dynamic Steering

(4) Lane Assist

(5) Adaptive Cruise Control

It is very important to consider the safety factor too. Have you ever driven a car which pulls itself to one side all the time? You probably know how difficult it is to drive on a wet or iced road even with perfectly aligned wheels. With badly aligned wheels, you are taking on unnecessary risk. Is it worth having an accident and endangering the lives of loved ones?

It doesn't take much, that’s for sure, Alignment angles are measured in tenths and hundredths of degrees or inches. There are many ways for your car to lose its alignment. You’ll be familiar with most of the causes, but what you probably didn't think was that each one could do quite a number on your vehicle’s alignment.

Wheel alignment can be thrown off by:

(1) Pot holes

(2) Hitting the curb

(3) Bumping into concrete parking stalls

(4) Driving on bumpier roads, such as gravel


(5) Fair wear and tear - as vehicles age, rubber components start cracking or lose their elasticity and ball and socket joints develop looseness. They start to give a little more, progressively getting slightly worse over time. Worn control arm bushings, worn out shocks and struts can also be a serious problem with uneven tire wear.

Cost of Not Having Your Alignment Checked Vs The Cost Of An Alignment

When the wheels of the car are not aligned there is uneven pressure on the tires. They tend to push against each other. When that happens the car faces uneven friction and much more resistance from the road surface. This means that your car has to work that much harder to move forward and more fuel is burned than normal. Improper alignment can reduce fuel efficiency by as much as 10% - about 29 cents per gallon. In addition, the tires can wear out more quickly. That is a cost of about $187 per year in extra gas

If your tires are bowed out of alignment by just .017 in., it's the equivalent of dragging your tire sideways for 5 miles for every 1,000 you drive. Depending on how severe the alignment is, you can take an 80,000 mile tire and wear it out in 40,000 miles. Obviously if you have an alignment that is severely out, you can wear the tires out in a couple thousand miles. Cost could be an additional $30.00 per year. In extreme cases and you go through 2 sets of tires in a single year that's an additional $400 cost you could of avoided by having an $80 alignment.

When your wheels are out of alignment, the uncontrolled ride puts a strain on your steering and suspension including the shock absorbers and struts. The cost to replace both front Strut/Shock Absorbers is estimated by to be between $354 and $866 for a 2012 vehicle depending on make and model. It is recommended that you replace your shocks every 50,000 miles or about 4 years of normal driving. Reducing the life by 25% due to misaligned wheels cost you on average $152.50. In addition worn shocks don't just hamper driver comfort; they can harm overall suspension performance and reduce brake efficiency, cornering ability and anti-lock brake system effectiveness. So when shocks go bad, it's out with the old and in with the new.

All told the damages (tires, fuel economy, suspension) from running your vehicle with misaligned wheels for a year could be $369.50 per year or $30.80 per month. This excludes the impact on latest advanced technology found on today's cars. Keeping up with your wheel alignment service keeps your car running right. You reduce your risk of breaking down on the side of the road, which keeps you and your passengers safer while driving. The thumb rule is that you should get you wheels aligned once every 6000 miles or 6 months, whichever is earlier. Your owner's manual to see how often the manufacturer recommends having this service. You should also get your wheels aligned or at least checked by a professional if you have hit something large enough to cause alignment issues.

Many repair shops like American Auto Air & Repair in Reno, NV will do a free alignment check if asked. These courtesy checks do not include any adjustments but will make you aware of any misalignment issues that need to be addressed. After the initial check American Auto Air & Repair uses state of the art high-definition digital imaging wheel alignment technology and extensive training to insure that all the vehicles we align are brought back to precise manufacturers specifications .

Robert Willumsen, Business Operations Manger at American Auto Air & Repair in Reno, NV. and

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