Wheel alignment is preventive maintenance that's mistakenly overlooked by many owners. Wheel alignment not only prevents your vehicle from pulling to one side or the other, it also significantly improves the life of your tires, enhances braking performance and improves fuel economy. All these benefits lead to the most important result: improved safety. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about wheel alignment.
What is a Wheel Alignment Service?
Wheel alignment is part of standard maintenance which consists of adjusting the relative angles of the tires so that they are set to the manufacturer's optimal specification. The names of the most common alignment adjustments are camber, caster and toe.
Benefits of Wheel Alignment
Properly aligned tires will track straight and true, which not only improves fuel economy, but also maximizes the life of the tire, saving you money in the long run. It's important to note that the average tire costs $100, so take this into account if you're on the fence about paying for wheel alignment. In regards to safety, an aligned tire will not make your vehicle pull to the right or left. Moreover, your vehicle will also drive more smoothly when properly aligned. Inclimate weather driving will also be significantly improved by allowing the tires to gain maximum traction on slippery surfaces like rain, sleet or snow.
Types of Wheel Alignments
The vast majority of vehicles on the road today need either Front Wheel Alignment or Four Wheel Alignment. Front Wheel Alignment focuses on adjusting and aligning only the two front wheels/tires, while Four Wheel Alignment addresses the alignment of all four wheels/tires. Most front-wheel drive (FWD) vehicles only need Front Wheel Alignment, but we suggest erring on the side of caution and getting all four aligned, especially when purchasing new tires. In most scenarios, a quick check of the static alignment measurements will confirm whether or not an Four Wheel Alignment is needed. The technician performing the procedure will know best.
Wheel Alignment Costs
Prices will vary depending on where you live and the year/make/model of your vehicle, but as a general guideline, a Front Wheel Alignment should cost between $40 - 75, while a slightly more labor-intensive Four Wheel Alignment will normally run between $60 - 100. Again, prices will vary depending on your vehicle and the shop performing the work. Our advice is to check the reviews on Yelp and/or call around for pricing before deciding.
How Often Should You Get Your Wheels Aligned?
As a general rule you should follow your owners manual recommendations, but a general rule of thumb is to have your tires and wheel alignment checked every 10,000 miles. If you drive on roads that are riddled with potholes and uneven pavement, you should get it checked more frequently (5,000 - 7,500 miles).
If your vehicle is pulling to one side or "wanders" at highway speeds, the tires are definitely wearing unevenly. You have your vehicle checked as soon as possible. Over time, a vehicle will go out of alignment. The tie-rod ends, ball joints and upper control arms either wear out or fall out of adjustment. Moreover, hitting a pothole or banging into a curb can often throw a vehicle out of alignment as well.
If your vehicle only calls for a Front Wheel Alignment, be sure to only pay for that service. You should NOT have to pay for a Four Wheel Alignment, so be wary of unscrupulous shops that try and tack on an additional "premium" up-charge.
In some cases, if you purchase new tires from a shop, they will perform a Four Wheel Alignment at no additional charge. Again, this depends on the shop and if they have the capacity and knowledge to carry out a proper alignment. Your best bet is to shop around and ask. If you own a newer vehicle, alignment might even be covered at no additional cost, so check your paperwork to see if your vehicle qualifies.
If you own a used car, the service is at the mercy of your discretion.
Regardless, it's important to note that the average set of four tires will run between $400 - 1,500 installed. Bringing that fact into light makes the cost of a wheel alignment seem like a bargain, doesn't it?