Winter is a-coming! Not to mention the historic storms and fires from East to West coast. Rough roads, cooler temperatures, ice and snow. These all can negatively influence your tires and therefore alignment.
So, here are the top 5 things to let you know you may need an alignment, followed by the top 5 things to be wary of when having an alignment done.
How do you know?
Handling – If your vehicle is drifting left or right, on a level road, something is going on.
First look at your tires and see if you notice uneven wear on either outside patterns or inside, closest to the engine. (Check the back tires too) **This is a good weekly practice
Crooked Wheel - Your steering wheel is not centered when your tires are pointing straight. This could be another issue, but most likely it is an alignment issue.
Vibrations – If you are not off-roading and it feels like you are, that’s a problem and it’s serious.
Vibrations have consequences that include shaking crucial parts, bolts and lug nuts loose. We don’t want you singing “You picked a fine time to leave me “loose wheel”.
Loose Steering – If your steering feels slow to respond, it is most likely your alignment.
You hit a major pothole, drove over the curb, went on an unscheduled off roading detour in a ditch or breakdown lane. It’s a good time to get a checkup, before your tires are irrevocably damaged. (I have not noticed a grassy island in front of me in a parking lot a few times and went right over it pulling out of a space. (Not good for alignment)
All that being said, sometimes you do NOT need an alignment. The best way to avoid being charged for an alignment when it is not needed is to know your alignment specifications for your vehicle. When I started in this business, I thought my vehicles were aligned if all of my tires faced straight ahead when the steering wheel was centered. I was amazed to find out that between 1960 – 2016, there are over 25,000 variations of alignment specifications for vehicles sold in North America alone. Why?
Well, OEM manufacturers spend millions of dollars making sure your vehicle performs to the best of its ability, with maximum fuel efficiency and handling and that includes alignment. Alignment specifications vary based on the vehicle weight, size of tire and wheel, purpose of the vehicle and many more reasons. In most cases, the caster angle is set and stable and is a positive degree angle. Camber is almost always a negative setting to ensure the best grip and handling and toe is almost always close to 0, which means your tires are mostly straight. Here’s an illustration.
With all of the different vehicles, weights, customizations, etc., this makes for a lot of different specifications out there, but your vehicle has one set, provided by the original manufacturer and your alignment person should have access to those specs.
So, top 5 things to watch for to ensure you need an alignment and it is adjusted properly:
Know your alignment specifications & Pressure (PSI)
Some owners’ manuals include specs and tire pressure info. They may be difficult to find. If they are not listed in your index, you should be able to the manufacturer, dealer or just send me an email. I’ll send them to you. ***Pressure can vary wildly depending on weather conditions. You can gain 8-10 lbs of pressure in the heat and lose that amount when it is cold. Just be aware that pressure can also effect your alignment readings.
If a shop or mobile mechanic or tire dealer wants to charge you for an alignment and you have not noticed any symptoms, ask them to check the alignment and provide a print out or show you the degree readings prior to performing the work. This will also give you confidence in their knowledge prior to letting them adjust your alignment.
Keep in mind that all vehicle alignment specifications provide a range. As long as you are within the range provided by the manufacturer, your alignment is fine. The sensitivity of measuring equipment, no matter what brand, makes it difficult to get an exact reading twice. That’s why there is a range.
Ask when the last time was their machine was calibrated. This can be important with large alignment equipment. A jolt one way or another can throw an alignment machine out of calibration. The last thing you need is a problem created rather than being adjusted. This has happened to me personally.
If you run into a situation where a shop, dealer, or any service provider, is not willing to show you the alignment spec reading prior to performing work, get out! I had a maniac chase me into the parking lot once when I refused to let him do any further work on my MR2 because he would not provide a printout prior to me committing to getting an alignment.
Wheel Alignment is a simple thing on paper but has a lot of intricacy and can cause headaches that could easily be avoided. Rest assured, you can keep your wallet aligned by making sure your vehicle is aligned. Trust me, I have no depth perception… That’s all I’m sayin’.
Tess aka Ms. QuickTrick
The Alignment Maven