We all know our vehicles need a wheel alignment from time to time. If you don’t do it often enough, you risk wasting precious time and money replacing your car tyres prematurely. But how do you know when to check the wheel alignment on your vehicle? Before answering this question, let’s take a quick look at what a wheel alignment is and how it affects your car.
A wheel alignment is a series of measurements and adjustments made to your car to ensure all the wheels are parallel to each other (to the degree of the manufacturer’s specifications), and then a second series of adjustments to ensure the wheels are perpendicular to the ground.
The measurements are as specific as possible and will vary depending on your vehicle’s year, make and model. The whole point of maintaining a good wheel alignment is to minimise the resistance your tyres create. Having them roll smoothly and in line with each other helps you save on fuel costs and will make your tyres last longer.
Take a look at this series of pictures showing three of the main measurements that go into a wheel alignment:
As you can see, there are several ways that a wheel can go out of alignment, and any wheel being out of alignment will affect your whole vehicle.
That’s all well and good, but what is ‘out of alignment’?
The correct wheel alignment settings are very precise and sensitive. There are 360 degrees in a circle and each of those degrees is made up of 60 minutes. Many vehicles have a tolerance of less than 10 minutes before a wheel is considered out of alignment. That’s just one-sixth of a degree.
The next thing to consider is what makes a car go out of alignment. Understanding this can help you avoid the hazards and driving habits that cost you money.
Your car can go out of alignment in a variety of ways but the most common is hitting something with your tyre at force. This is usually running over a pothole or an obstacle in the road like the gutter. This kind of sudden jolt can put your wheel out of alignment immediately.
If you have an incident like this, you should definitely have your vehicle checked as soon as possible. Given the sensitive tolerances and the direct impact they have on your finances, it’s better to check the alignment if you’re uncertain.
The second most common way for a car to go out of alignment is through normal wear and tear in your front end and the suspension. Worn parts shift over time and this can have an impact on your wheel alignment. Often having a simple alignment check done will alert you to issues before they turn into major problems.
Also keep in mind that any time you replace a part of your steering assembly or suspension, it’s wise to have an alignment check as well. Most good mechanics will include this in the job.
The final way that you may find your wheels out of alignment is also a result of regular wear and tear, but this time in your tyres. After all, an alignment is a series of very precise adjustments that are designed to give your vehicle the best possible performance and safety, so the diameter of your tyre can have an effect on your alignment. As your tyres wear through normal use, their measurements change slightly and so does your alignment.
This is why it’s important to regularly check your alignment. General car maintenance guides suggest that you check your wheel alignment every 10,000km or twice a year, whichever is most often. This is to ensure that you never get too far out of alignment before it’s adjusted.