How often should tires be aligned?
With regular maintenance and care, cars can last for many years — even decades. Along with getting the oil changed, the brakes checked, and other scheduled maintenance performed, you should get your car’s tires aligned about every two to three years, depending on manufacturer recommendations. Proper alignment helps keep the ride smooth, improve gas mileage, and ensure your car runs at its best longer. Because many drivers don’t know how often they should have their vehicle’s tires aligned, we will review this common maintenance step and its frequency.
What is a tire alignment?
A wheel or tire alignment is a process that brings a car’s suspension into its proper position. A technician adjusts the components so all the wheels align with each other and the road surface. A trained mechanic will use a machine designed to check the wheels and make adjustments to the angles as needed for each individual car and wheel.
The latest machines use technology that links to a computer and helps the technician make precise measurements. They essentially make the wheels and axles square with each other, so every component moves in the same direction. The factors technicians and machines consider include:
- Toe: The inward and outward turn of the tires
- Camber: The inward and outward angle of the tires
- Caster: The steering axis angle from the side view of the car
- Thrust: The angle at which the wheels are pushing
Technicians can perform several types of alignments, and what you need depends on your vehicle’s drivetrain:
- Four-wheel alignment: All-wheel-drive vehicles or front-wheel-drive vehicles that have an independent rear suspension or an adjustable rear suspension need a four-wheel alignment. This type of alignment adjusts both axles.
- Front-end alignment: Front-wheel-drive vehicles require a front-end alignment. This process involves adjusting only the components of the front axle. The mechanic will adjust the front wheels so they head straight toward the geometric center of the car. They don’t adjust the rear wheels, because they should already be in line.
- Thrust-angle alignment: Rear-wheel-drive vehicles require a thrust-angle alignment. This process involves aligning the rear wheels and rear axle so they are parallel with the front axle.
Signs you need tire alignment
Although you need a professional inspection to determine if your vehicle is out of alignment, you can watch for visual and tangible signs indicating you should bring the car into your dealer’s service department for an assessment. These include:
The car pulls to one side
If your car pulls to the left or right, it has most likely come out of alignment. If you find you have to adjust the steering wheel constantly to keep the car straight, you should bring it in for an inspection.
Uneven tread wear
If you notice uneven tire wear, it could be because of the alignment. Inspect the wear across the width of the tire. If the inside or the outside of any tire is wearing faster than the other, this indicates an alignment problem.
The car or steering wheel shakes
If you feel the car shaking when you accelerate or feel the steering wheel vibrating as you get up to speed, it’s most likely because of the alignment. You should not feel any vibration in your hands when you place them on the wheel. If you do, bring your vehicle to a certified Volkswagen mechanic so they can diagnose the problem or confirm the car needs an alignment.
Crooked steering wheel
This is an often-overlooked sign because it happens gradually, and you get used to how the steering wheel looks. Check your steering wheel the next time you get in the car. If it appears off-center, it means you’ve been using it to make corrections for your vehicle’s misalignment.
How often should I have my tires aligned?
Tire alignments don’t follow a specific timeline, but most manufacturers suggest you have one done every two to three years. In most cases, your mechanic will check the wheels, suspension, and axles when you bring the car in for routine service or tire changes. They can determine if it needs an alignment at that point.
If you drive over rough roads regularly, you might need an alignment more often — sometimes as frequently as once a year. Hitting a large pothole or getting in an accident might affect your alignment, as well. If you feel any pulling or vibrating after driving over a large bump, have your vehicle assessed.
Another rule of thumb is to have the alignment checked every 10,000 to 12,000 miles when you get new tires or have the tires rotated. If you make it a part of your regular maintenance schedule and ensure it’s aligned before you see signs of a problem, you’ll avoid damage and unnecessary wear and tear later on.
How does an alignment help my car?
Making sure your car is aligned provides many benefits. It reduces wear and tear on your tires, and it can help the steering components and suspension last longer.
A properly aligned car will stay stable when driving over any road, particularly at highway speeds. It will also handle better, and it’s safer. Because a misaligned vehicle can cause uneven tread wear, it can affect stopping distance, which can be dangerous.
A car that’s out of alignment often burns more fuel because it has to work harder. After you’ve had your car aligned, you’ll probably notice you get better gas mileage when you get back on the road.
What causes tires to come out of alignment?
A vehicle can get out of alignment over time as you drive, or it can take place suddenly. If you accidentally hit a large pothole or slide into something when the road is slick or wet, you can cause the vehicle’s alignment to get out of whack.
Whether it’s time for scheduled maintenance or you feel one or more of signs of misalignment, bring your car to Volkswagen of Marion to have one of our certified technicians assess it.