Having your car aligned is part of normal maintenance, and manufacturers recommend your alignment be checked periodically, and adjusted whenever a problem crops up. Having your car aligned is an inexpensive repair, while ignoring an alignment problem can end up costing you a lot of money.
The Mechanic’s Job in Aligning
While many people refer to alignment adjustments as a “wheel alignment,” it’s actually the suspension that’s being measured and balanced. In state-of-the-art shops, your tires are clamped between highly sensitive paddles, that feed information into a computer about the position of your wheels. The mechanic will adjust the suspension angles between the axles and the wheels. He’ll also take the time to make sure the steering wheel is centered, and to inspect the suspension for any damaged or worn parts.
What Causes Alignment Problems?
The alignment of your car’s suspension is very delicate, and it can be easily thrown off balance. The same technology that makes your car handle so smoothly makes it a little more difficult to keep balanced. Bumping into the curb, driving on rough roads, running over road debris, and other minor hazards can throw your alignment off enough to require an adjustment.
Signs That Your Alignment is Out
The nice thing about alignment problems is they’re pretty easy to spot early. If your alignment is out by even a little bit, your car will start to have one or more of the following symptoms:
A vibrating steering wheel
You must hold the steering wheel off-center to get your car to go straight
Your car will drift to one side or the other if you don’t keep pressure on the steering wheel
The tires are wearing unevenly. Not just from tire to tire, but from the inside to the outside of any one tire.
What Happens If You Don’t Have Your Car Aligned?
If you notice symptoms of your alignment being out, but put off having the problem corrected, it will cause damage to your car. The most minor problem is your tires will wear unevenly, and wear out more quickly. This will cost you extra money when you have to replace your tires early. Poor alignment also reduces your gas mileage because of increased resistance. Suspension repairs can add up when things aren’t running smoothly. An alignment usually costs less than $100, so you can really save some money by getting it done on time.