Wheel Alignments: Fact vs Fiction
At RoadMart Inc. in Troy, AL, we do a lot of wheel alignments – alignment jobs are a big part of our core business. We do run across customers from time to time who have some misconceptions about what an alignment really entails, so we’d like to take a moment to clear a couple of things up…
“Someone told me that I should get my car in for a wheel alignment every year…”
Well, not exactly. You may want to have alignment specs checked yearly, but wheel alignments aren’t a maintenance or preventive maintenance detail. They’re more of a repair item; alignment problems result from a hard hit on a pothole or curb. With the right driving habits and no incidents like that (fingers crossed), your alignment angles are usually good for years.
“My car’s pulling to one side. That’s a sure sign of a wheel alignment problem, right?”
No, not always. A vehicle can pull to one side due to an underinflated tire, a tire that’s starting to fail, or even front tires that are of different sizes or tread patterns. Even a strong crosswind or irregularities in pavement, such as a crown and slope to the right, can cause a persistent pull to one side. Before jumping the gun, try a tire rotation and see if that has any effect.
“Vibration and shimmy mean wheel alignment issues”
Nope. Vibration or shimmy are just about always a sign of tire problems, such as a tire that needs balancing or has gone out of round. Sometimes vibration also results from driveline issues or suspension problems, but hardly, if ever, due to poor alignment.
“My car won’t stay in alignment. Nobody seems to be able to fix it”
Chances are, someone just isn’t doing the job right. There are several adjustment angles involved, and even a minute amount off-spec can affect drivability. Someone’s missing something. In some cases, if a vehicle’s old and has put in a lot of hard miles, there can be enough slop and wear in steering components that it becomes hard for it to stay aligned. If that’s the case, your shop should advise you what parts are worn and recommend what you need to do to repair things and fix the problem.
“Four wheel alignments are nothing but a scam”
Well, for many newer vehicles, four-wheel alignments are a necessity. The rear suspensions on most newer model vehicles are adjustable, enabling the technician to make more precise adjustments to ensure the front wheels are lined up properly relative to the rear. This is the “thrust angle” alignment; without the front wheels and rear being trued up with each other, the car can “dog track” down the road, resulting in drivability and handling issues. If your car’s manufacturer recommends four-wheel alignments, then four-wheel alignments are what you should get.
“I keep seeing advertisements for places that use the latest alignment equipment. They must be better, right?”
There’s no doubt that technology has improved the science of adjusting steering geometry. A newer alignment rack can make the job easier, or can allow for more precise adjustments, but it will still always come down to the tech who’s doing the actual work. A good, experienced tech can get an alignment completely in spec using a 1960s-era alignment rack, while a tech who’s untrained, sloppy or rushed can’t get it right with a state-of-the-art machine. Keep this in mind…a good, precise alignment should take about 60 to 90 minutes to complete. If you’re in the waiting area for 20 minutes and they come out and tell you your car’s done, chances are someone was cutting some corners. Nobody’s good enough to do the job that fast.
Just remember these indicators of alignment problems:
· Consistent pull to one side on straight, un-crowned pavement
· Uneven tire wear at inside or outside edge of tires, or “sawtooth” pattern across tread that can be felt by running your hand along the tread surface
· Steering feels “heavy” or clumsy
· Steering wheel has to be held off-center to stay in a straight line
· Steering wheel doesn’t center itself readily after rounding a corner
If you’re noticing any of these problems, make an appointment with us at RoadMart, Inc. for a wheel alignment!