How many times have you asked yourself, “Is this vehicle maintenance absolutely necessary?” Determining when to have vehicle maintenance and repairs performed can be a juggling act involving time, money and safety. Your vehicle’s wheel alignment may not be the first maintenance item on your mind, but perhaps it should be.
So what does a wheel alignment entail, why is it important and when should you have a wheel alignment performed? We explain the “what, why and when” to help you answer those questions.
What is a wheel alignment?
A wheel alignment adjusts the angles of a vehicle’s wheels to meet the manufacturer’s specifications, which are directly related to the vehicle’s suspension system. The proper adjustment keeps a vehicle’s wheels running smoothly and in alignment with each other and the road.
Your vehicle’s suspension system—the components that control the ride and handling characteristics of a vehicle—determines the type of alignment your vehicle requires. All-wheel-drive vehicles require a four-wheel alignment; both axles must be aligned for all four wheels to align in a rectangle, perpendicular to the ground and parallel to each other. Most front-wheel-drive and rear-wheel-drive vehicles require a front-end alignment. In this case, only the front-axle components are adjusted to the angle at which the vehicle’s rear wheels point relative to the vehicle’s center, so that the rear wheels and axle are aligned parallel with the front axle and perpendicular to the center line of the vehicle. The exception is front-wheel-drive vehicles with adjustable or independent rear-suspension systems, which, like all-wheel-drive vehicles, need an all-wheel alignment.
Often, when a vehicle’s suspension is disturbed, its wheels can be knocked out of alignment, causing steering issues, premature tire wear and decreased fuel efficiency.
Why have a wheel alignment performed?
When a wheel alignment is needed, it should not be put off. A properly aligned vehicle has many benefits–most important, safety. For example, proper alignment allows you to safely control your vehicle while enabling less stress to the vehicle’s steering equipment and structure. In addition, alignment extends tire life. Improper alignment causes tires to wear unevenly, decreasing the longevity of tires and reducing fuel efficiency.
When is a wheel alignment needed?
If you notice steering problems, including the vehicle drifting to the left or right when you are steering straight, have your alignment inspected. If your vehicle was in a collision that resulted in damage to the vehicle’s frame, or if the vehicle was driven over a pothole or grazed over a curb, an alignment inspection is recommended. An alignment and balancing are also suggested when you put a new set of tires on your vehicle.
As with any vehicle maintenance or repair, it is crucial to follow the manufacturer’s owner’s manual. Read through the specifications, and note questions. Then, follow up with a mechanic you can trust. Your mechanic should be able to answer any questions you have and may also recommend a timeline for your vehicle’s maintenance, not only giving you time to prepare financially but also providing peace of mind.
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