Nearly six out of every ten cars driven in the US are out of alignment. A fact that should be worrisome for every car owner. Why? Because a misaligned car increases the risk of accident, tire damage, and excessive fuel consumption.
In this article, you will find answers to questions like how long does a wheel alignment take, how often should you do wheel alignment, and how much does an alignment cost?
Furthermore, we will provide you some tips to help you know when your car needs alignment and how to go about it.
Let’s dive right in!
Table of Contents
What Is A Wheel Alignment?
The wheels and tires of vehicles are designed to fit perfectly to promote long tire life, smooth ride, gas mileage, and good road contact. But, just as everything wears out due to usage, the tire and wheels gradually deviate from their position.
Hence, the need for wheel alignment.
Wheel alignment is the adjustment of a car’s suspension to achieve a suitable wheel angle for the tires to make proper contact with the road. Some alternative names for wheel alignment are tracking, breaking, or just alignment.
Some motorsports drivers opt for unusual wheel alignment angles because that gives them better control of the car. But for modern cars, after the wheels are aligned properly, you should reset the car before driving it.
The reason for this reset is to ensure that your car’s Advance Assistance System is not altered. These systems include electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes, lane departure warning, etc.
Why Do You Need A Wheel Alignment?
The reason for a wheel alignment is to avoid damage to your car and save yourself the stress and cost of fixing it.
Below are some common problems that can arise if you refuse to take your car for alignment.
- Uneven tire wear and tear
Tire wear and tear is a normal occurrence that comes with regular usage of your car, but uneven tire wear and tear is caused by improper wheel alignment.
And, this can pose a real threat to the driver’s safety if ignored.
- Poor car handling and risk of accidents
Except you are a formula one driver, you might not be able to control a misaligned car at high speed.
And, this is because cars that are not aligned need special attention to keep them on the center of the road since the tire shifts to either of the two sides.
- Damaged suspension components
Car suspension components involve the systems that join a vehicle to its wheel; some of these components are tires, tire air, shock absorber, springs, and linkages.
So, these features mentioned above can be damaged if your vehicle is not properly aligned, and it will cost more money to fix the damaged parts than to get your car wheels aligned.
- Higher fuel consumption
The rolling resistance of your car is increased when your vehicle wheels are not properly aligned.
And, rolling resistance is the force your vehicle needs to move from a rest position. The fuel supplies this force, and the resistance occurs at the tire.
So, if you align your car’s wheels, it will reduce the resistance at the tire and then decrease the fuel required to move your vehicle.
When Do You Need A Wheel Alignment?
There is no technology yet to determine exactly when your car will need a wheel alignment.
But, just like the human body system, specific illnesses have their unique symptoms that could tell you the likely threat to your health. It is the same with your car; it gives off some signals to indicate that your car needs alignment.
Here are some of these signals:
- Your car steering wheel is not in a central position
At the earlier stage of your wheel being misaligned, you will notice that your steering wheel is not centered. And, this is noticeable when you are driving on flat straight pavement.
Though, some discrepancies may be allowed due to the crown of the road. The crown of the road is the highest point of the road, usually the midpoint of the road.
Nevertheless, the emblem on the steering wheel should always remain central, and if it is slightly off by some degrees, then there is a need for alignment of the wheels.
- The vehicle pulls to one or the other side
The vehicle pull can be tested with a simple routine whenever you are driving your car.
You can remove your hands from the steering wheel and drive straight for just a few meters at low speed. If the vehicle pulls to one or the other side, then your vehicle needs alignment.
You can only carry out this test on a seemingly flat road because the crown can tilt the car to one or the other side.
- Abnormal tire wear
To detect misalignment through abnormal tire wear will require the services of an expert, especially a qualified technician.
So, you have to take advantage of your routine car checkup or when you visit a mechanic shop. Ask the technician to check your tire wear whether they are okay.
And, from his observation, he can make an experiential guess whether it is tire pressure, alignment, and suspension condition problem. If he says an alignment is due, you can go on with the alignment procedure to get your car back in shape.
- The steering wheel is loose when driving
Another obvious symptom of misalignment is the feeling that your steering wheel is loose when you are driving. You can feel this like your car is sloppy around corners, and you are wandering across the road.
When you start to feel these signs, it’s a call for you to take your car for an alignment session with a technician.
- The steering wheel does not return to center
It is normal for your steering wheel to return to the center after taking a turn, but if it does not, then alignment is needed.
- The vibration of the steering wheel
If your steering wheel is vibrating, that is a very bad sign because the problem could be more than just alignment. You should take your car to the technician immediately, and it could be due to misalignment and other factors.
How Often Should You Do Wheel Alignment?
The standard recommendation from most manufacturers is to get your car aligned after every 10,000 miles covered. But being a good or bad driver could either decrease or increase the miles covered before getting your vehicle wheels aligned.
Sometimes it might not be due to bad driving because bad roads or bumpy roads can shorten alignment intervals. So, if you are a very courteous driver who rides on good roads, you can go for wheel alignment once every 3 or 4 years.
However, if you notice any of the symptoms mentioned above of misalignment, you should get your car’s wheels aligned immediately, ignoring the 10,000 miles coverage.
How Long Does An Alignment Take?
Some factors impact the duration of a normal car alignment, such as; waiting time, prior damages, and excessive play on any ball joint, suspension, track rod, or steering brushes.
These factors can increase the actual alignment time because it takes time to replace damaged components.
So, on average, it will take about an hour to carry out the alignment process. The least possible time is 45 minutes, while the most is about 2 hours.
How Much Does A Wheel Alignment Cost?
When buying and selling goods or services, you are often advised to get a second or even third opinion on the actual cost before buying or selling.
And, that is what we will be presenting to you in this article. We will be introducing numerous companies and the cost of their alignment services.
Check out the table below for some companies’ various services and their prices.
Walmart auto repair center renders car alignment services. They offer front-wheel alignment and four wheels alignment for $50 and $80, respectively.
Which is about the cheapest you can get your four wheels and the front-wheel car aligned.
- Firestone Complete Auto Care
Firestone offers you a free wheel alignment check and a reasonable price of about $70 for their standard wheel alignment and $160 for their lifetime wheel alignment.
This offer from Firestone is among the best prices you can get in the market of car alignment services.
- Goodyear Auto Services
The auto repair services of Goodyear are quite cheap compared to others, as they provide the front-end alignment for $60.
Which is about the lowest you can get, and they also provide a free Goodyear wheel alignment check.
- Pep Boys
Pep boys are an auto repair giant due to their outstanding reputation, but their prices are more expensive when compared to the other companies.
The cost of a front-wheel alignment is $80, while the four-wheel alignment goes for $90.
- Sears Auto Center
Sears offer similar alignment services like Firestone auto care company, but at a slightly higher price.
The price for the standard wheel alignment is $75, the one-year alignment plan is $95, while the lifetime wheel alignment will cost you $190.
Despite the cost of the services, you are assured of the best car alignment services.
A car alignment service with this company will cost you $70 for a front-end alignment and $90 for the 4-wheel alignment service.
It is almost similar to the Pep Boys company but a little cost-effective for front-end alignment, but the same price for the 4-wheel alignment.
- Big O Tires
Unlike Midas, big o tires front-end alignment costs $80, and the standard wheel alignment costs $70.
Now that you have seen different options, it is now left for you to choose whom to do your car alignment. Here, I will give you a tip to help you make the best choice since they are top-notch and excellent at their job.
First, consider the price and ensure you get the least cost for the kind of alignment you want if it’s front-end, 4-wheel, standard, or lifetime alignment. Then, select the one that is closest to you. Simple, but a very helpful tip to save you some stress.
Can You Drive With A Bad Wheel Alignment?
You can drive your car with a bad wheel alignment, but you should only try this under unavoidable emergencies. Because it has a fatal impact on your vehicle, and the tires are at risk of being blown out.
This tire blowout can occur due to excessive pressure on the tires, while driving at high-speed. And, not to mention the impact on your fuel mileage again because more force will be needed to move the car.
Risking your life driving a misaligned car is not worth it, except life is also at stake. Do your best to get the car aligned and in good shape.
The need to get your car aligned cannot be overemphasized, as we have provided a proper breakdown on how to identify the problem and where to seek help immediately. Though, it might seem costly for just a simple task. But it will save you more than you spent doing it.
Besides, it is just once every three or four years. So, spending a few dollars on car alignment now will help you save hundreds of dollars in repairs and spare part purchase.
You should pay attention to the signs and symptoms of misalignment and be proactive in fixing the problem. Ensure you avoid procrastination, as you do not know the extent of the damage it has done to your vehicle.
Now, the ball is in your court, so what will you do? If I were you, I would get my car checked right now with one of the highlighted companies.
- Why Is My Steering Wheel Not Straight After Alignment?
When this happens, it is usually because of the improper alignment of your car wheels. Meaning that the technicians poorly did the work. But it could also be due to bad control arm bushing or related-suspension problems.
So, immediately you notice this, contact the auto repair company where you did the alignment to have them cross-check. Because the issue may not be the alignment but a bigger problem, which might require the total inspection of your car.
To ascertain whether the wheel bearing, suspension, brakes, and steering are in good condition. But, to avoid a situation like this, ask for a routine check before alignment. Some companies offer free car check-up services.
- Do Wheel Spacers Affect Alignment??
Yes, wheel spacers will not only affect your car’s alignment, but it can also affect the suspension warranty.
- Can I Self-align My Car?
Yes, but you will need to have the expertise and right tools to self-align your car. Considering your safety and that of your car, you are advised to visit any auto repair company and seek their services. As you have read, wheel alignment services are not very expensive and it can last you for 3-4 years.
- Is Wheel Balancing Necessary For New Tires?
Most auto repair/maintenance experts recommend that the wheel balancing of new tires is necessary. The lifespan of the new tires can be positively impacted and reduces the risk of your tire not rolling smoothly, as they ought. So, to avoid these concerns, simply carry out wheel balancing for your new tires.