The wheel alignment is checking and adjusting the wheels’ angles relative to each other and the car body or frame. The vehicle is placed on an alignment rack. Special sensors are mounted to each wheel. The computer uses the sensors to measure the wheels’ actual angles (called toe, camber, caster, etc.), so the technician can compare them to the specifications for the vehicle. Based on the measurements, a technician corrects the wheel angles that can be adjusted to the specifications.
Before doing the wheel alignment, professional wheel alignment services offered by NOLAAutomotiveRepairs.com technicians will test drive the vehicle, adjust the tire pressure, and check the ride height and necessary suspension and steering components (e.g., ball joint, tie rod, strut). Can you get an alignment with bad tie rods or control arms? If any of the steering or suspension components are wrong, it should be replaced before the wheel alignment.
After the alignment is done, you will usually get a printout showing the wheel angles before and after the alignment. See the sample wheel alignment report below. The top portion shows measurements taken before. As you can see, some curves are in red, which means that they are out of specifications. The bottom part shows all angles are within specifications (green).
Why does the wheel alignment need to be done?
The wheel alignment needs to be done because, over time, the wheel angles change. This happens due to the deforming and wear of various rubber bushings in the vehicle suspension and sagging of the springs. Besides that, the wheel alignment needs to be checked after hitting large potholes and curbs and after accidents. The wheel alignment also needs to be done after the replacement of significant suspension or steering components. Similarly, it should be done when lowering or raising the suspension.
What are the symptoms of improper wheel alignment?
- The steering wheel is off-center when driving straight
- The vehicle pulls to one side when driving on a straight and level road
- The car doesn’t hold the road well, feels unstable, wanders from side to side
- Tires are screeching when turning
- Tires wear unevenly
How often should the wheel alignment be done?
For most cars, there are no specific requirements. Your mechanic would typically recommend doing the wheel alignment every two-three years or if there are signs that the alignment is off. Often, the wheel alignment is recommended when new tires are installed. The alignment should be done more often if your car has wider tires or a sporty vehicle, e.g., Audi, BMW, Mazda 3, Nissan 370Z, etc. From people’s experience, if you re-check the wheel alignment after a year or two of driving, usually, it will be slightly off. If you hit a large bump, the alignment will most likely be out.
However, if your vehicle holds the road well, doesn’t pull aside, and tires are wearing evenly, doing the wheel alignment every year is not necessary. Carmakers typically don’t include the wheel alignment in the vehicle’s maintenance schedule, but advice checking it if you find a tire is worn unevenly.
What are the benefits of doing the wheel alignment?
Your tires, as well as suspension and steering components, will last longer, and your vehicle will handle better. You might notice that the car holds the road better after the wheel alignment and feels more stable. Again, this is even more noticeable if you have a sporty car or wider tires.
How much does it cost to do the wheel alignment?
The prices vary between $50 and $180 depending on the vehicle. You might be charged more if some of the adjustments are badly rusted or seized. For better results, look for a repair shop with a newer, more advanced wheel alignment rack. On average, the wheel alignment takes from 40 minutes to an hour.