Rockville Auto Repair

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Do I Really Need an Alignment?

Proper suspension alignment assures your tires meet the road at the proper angle, your wheels are pointing straight and your tires are centered in the wheel wells. It adjusts the angles of your vehicle wheels to original specification to maximize gas mileage, proper road contact, a smooth ride, and the longest tire life.

An alignment service is important to do when:

  • You get new tires.
  • Suspension parts are replaced or adjusted.
  • You’ve impact with a curb or road debris.
  • It’s been a year since your last one.
  • You notice uneven tire wear, steering pull, or an off-center steering wheel.

Charles Automotive & Tire recommends an alignment after the installation of new tires. This helps you get the most life from your new tires. Wheel alignment checks are always advised after a significant impact or uneven tire wear is detected.

Also, get a check annually, or twice yearly if you typically travel on rough roads. Regular checks are important because alignment issues aren’t always obvious. The wrong toe angle can go unnoticed and so can atypical tire wear. Cars usually go out of alignment gradually, so you may not realize how much it was impacting drivability, gas mileage or tire wear until it’s corrected.

The most common signs of misalignment are pulling to one side while you’re driving, unusual tire wear and/or a steering wheel that’s off-center even though your vehicle is pointed straight. But these symptoms can have other causes, sometimes simpler and sometimes not.

Steering pull can be caused by road conditions. If the asphalt has grooves that are slightly farther apart than your car’s axles, you may feel a pull as the tires on one side ride slightly higher. If the road is noticeably higher in the center, the vehicle may veer as the tires try to find a level surface.

Torque steer is a pull that happens during acceleration, from a difference in power being delivered to the wheels. A pull only during braking could be from a caliper on one side sticking.  A failing tire and improper tire rotation are two more causes of steering wheel pull.

Poor alignment may not be the issue if your steering wheel sometimes tugs in one direction and then the other. A bent or worn suspension part — ball joints, strut bearings or tie rods — could be to blame.

Atypical tire wear may be the result of worn shocks or struts, bushings or springs, or from carrying heavy loads (all of which can also put your vehicle out of alignment). Uneven wear can also be caused by driving on over-, underinflated or imbalanced tires.

An off-center steering wheel can be caused by worn steering or suspension parts. Just getting an alignment won’t fix the root cause.

One last common point of confusion: Vibration while underway is often a symptom of out-of-balance tires, not bad alignment.

Lifting or lowering a vehicle will affect your toe, camber or caster angles. So will repair or replacement of suspension and steering parts — struts, shocks, ball joints, tie rods, bushings or control arms. If one of these components is damaged, it’s a pretty good bet your vehicle’s alignment is out of spec. If you don’t fix them before your vehicle is aligned, you’ll soon have the problem recur.