A happy life is a balanced life. We balance our checkbooks. We balance our time between work and family. Occasionally we get to balance a baby on our knees. We also need to find balance in our car.
When that balance is “off, ” your wheel alignment needs realignment. A proper alignment increases fuel efficiency when you drive and is a good practice to do a few times over the life of your car – similar to other maintenance services.
Keeping your car’s front-end aligned will make for safer driving. That is good for all the rest of your life balance issues.
What Is a Wheel Alignment?
When you understand the importance of what is wheel alignment, you’ll be able to make an informed decision about when and why you should get one. A wheel alignment can also be referred to as a front-end alignment. It is an adjustment that keeps your car driving straight.
A car that is out of alignment can experience faster tire wear. That can lead to replacing your tires sooner than you anticipated. Poor vehicle alignment can create a significant suspension failure. It can also create an unsafe driving condition with a loss of traction. That is amplified when driving in bad weather.
It’s important to note that a proper wheel alignment involves all four tires on most cars. I didn’t realize this until I took an alignment course. A wheel alignment aligns wheels in relation to the car, the front and rear wheels and the ground.
This is most important on all-wheel drive (AWD), Four-wheel drive (4×4), and vehicles with independent rear suspension – because these all have camber, caster and toe settings on each wheel.
If the auto shops near you don’t offer four-wheel alignment services, you might not get the most accurate service.
Deep Dive Into the Wheel Alignment
A deep dive into your wheel alignment could reveal terms about your car that you might not have previously known about. Do you know what a camber, toe, or caster are? I’ll admit that I was clueless. Now, I’m well-versed in all things CTC. Your pick of car mechanic will be familiar with those terms. That is what they will check and adjust for your alignment repair session. This is what those terms mean:
To understand the camber, you need to stand in front of your car and look at the wheels. The camber is the tire angle you can see by looking at the vehicle from the front. If the tire goes too inward or outward, you’re dealing with positive or negative camber.
How does your camber get out of alignment? It can occur with bearings, ball joints, or other suspension parts that wear down throughout daily driving.
In almost all cases, uneven tire wear is a sign of a bad alignment. having uneven wear on the front wheels is the most common sign that your camber isn’t correct.
The toe also deals with an inward or outward turn. The difference is that the toe is determined by looking at the wheels from above. Stop what you’re doing and look down toward your own feet. Are they pointing straight ahead? Then they are perfectly aligned. Are they pointed outwards or inwards?
Then they are out of alignment. Now imagine that your feet are your tires.
That’s the toe. Toe. Feet. Get it?
The car caster refers to your steering axis. This is what helps you drive straight without drifting into another lane. The caster also helps make safe turns and contributes to the overall stability of the ride. To assess the caster, you must move around to your car’s side. A positive caster means the steering axis tilts toward the driver. A negative caster tilts in the opposite direction.
Your car will be aligned when the camber, toe, and caster are in sync.
When Do You Need to Get an Alignment on Your Car?
You would never roll up to your mechanic and tell them that your “caster is off.” That would only happen if you were a seasoned auto mechanic. For the rest of us, we have to rely on some common issues to determine when we need to get an alignment on our car.
The first sign of your car being out of alignment is the drift. No, this is not the kind of “Fast and Furious Tokyo Drift.” The drift is a tendency for your car to drift to the left or right when you pump the brakes.
You’ll also notice the drift if you’re driving down a long stretch of highway and the car drifts to one side or the other. You might have an alignment problem if you constantly pull on your steering wheel to stay in your lane.
A word of caution: You should never let go of your steering wheel when driving to test your alignment. You can tell if you’re drifting with your hands on the wheel.
Before you go into full out-of-alignment panic mode, you might want to check your tire pressure. Just one overly inflated tire can create the same drifting conditions when driving.
Driving in poor road conditions is another reason why you might need a car alignment. It would only take one major smash into a pothole to throw a car out of alignment. The same can be said for hitting the curb hard.
A car that is out of alignment can trigger excessive tire wear. Repeated scuff marks on your tires are a good sign of misalignment – this can lead to a loss of traction. If this problem persists, you raise the risk of a tire blowout.
How Often Do I Need an Alignment?
Don’t feel guilty if you’re driving in a car out of alignment. Every car will eventually be out of alignment. You should set up an alignment every six months or 6,000 miles. You don’t want to go beyond “two oil changes” without getting an alignment.
Any time that you have your tires rotated is a good time to check the alignment. It might not take 6,000 miles to be thrown out of alignment. A complete tire replacement is also a good time for an alignment.
What Is Involved in an Alignment?
An alignment procedure involves adjusting the camber, toe, and caster. Aren’t you glad that you learned all about those issues? This specialized repair requires an experienced mechanic, the right tools, a proper diagnosis, and a car lift. This should not be considered a fast fix.
How Much Should You Expect to Pay for a Wheel Alignment?
The cost will always be a factor with any type of auto repair. Fortunately, a wheel alignment should not be an expensive repair like replacing a transmission. There are several factors to consider when determining the wheel alignment cost.
- The number of wheels: A front-end alignment will mean adjusting the two front wheels. This can cost in the range of $50 to $75. A car with four-wheel drive could see those costs double.
- Make and model: A luxury car will mean a more expensive tire alignment. That is because those models typically require specialized equipment. They can also be more time-consuming for the mechanic.
- Add-on repairs: You might need to balance your tires or make suspension repairs. Those would have to happen before the alignment and can run up the costs.
The Location Factor
Location is also a factor when determining the cost of a front-end alignment. Consider getting an alignment on the best-selling 2020 Toyota Camry. According to Kelley Blue Book, this is what you can expect to pay for an alignment based on your location:
- New York City – $138 to $168
- Los Angeles – $119 to $140
- Chicago – $138 to $162
- Dallas – $109 to $128
- Orlando – $121 to $143
- Atlanta – $126 to $148
- Philadelphia – $135 to $159
You might also find that your car dealership offers alignment services. They could be part of your warranty program. That would be worth checking out.
Does Big O Tires Do Alignments?
Big O Tires has been providing tire replacement services for over 60 years. They are getting the job done right. They also offer wheel alignments as part of their auto services. The alignment will begin with a free inspection. That inspection includes looking over the steering, suspension system, and tire pressure. Replacing your tires at Big O Tires would be the perfect time for a new alignment.
Does Costco Do Alignments?
While you shop a Costco for rotisserie chicken or a giant box of peaches, you can get your tires aligned at Costco Auto Repair. Costco is a membership service but they do offer affordable repair rates. The savings could more than pay for membership fees. Costco also reminds drivers that your alignment can be hit out of balance due to daily scenarios like potholes or even more severe accidents.
Does Discount Tire Do Alignments?
You might find discount tires at Discount Tires. However, you won’t find alignment services. They don’t perform them.
Does Walmart Do Wheel Alignments?
Unlike Costco, you will not be able to get a wheel alignment taken care of when you shop at Walmart Auto Care Centers. It is not part of their long list of automobile repairs.
Does Sam’s Club Do Wheel Alignments?
Sam’s Club offers good deals on tires, but they do not perform alignments. This might mean a separate trip to align the car after installing the new tires.
List of the Top 10 National Chains That Do Wheel Alignments
Many national chains provide wheel alignment services. Many of these chains specialize in tire sales, but they also offer other tire services (they may do a free alignment check with the purchase of a set of tires as well). Here is the list of top 10 national chains that do wheel alignments:
- Precision Ture Auto Care
- Big O Tires
- Just Tires
- Pep Boys
- Goodyear Tires
- Bridgestone Tires
As you can see, there are plenty of options to explore when looking for a tire alignment. So as long as you pay attention to your vehicle’s performance on the road, you won’t have any issues.