Like a Doctor, But For Your Car

Wheel Alignment Maintenance Steps That Are Often Neglected by New Car Owners

It's not uncommon for new car owners to struggle with maintenance. The basics tend to be pretty well known. You need to change the oil a couple of times per year, and occasionally, the car needs new tires or new brakes. One maintenance need that new drivers often take longer to become aware of is wheel alignments. If you're a new driver, you'll really benefit from learning the basics of wheel alignments in this article.

What is a wheel alignment?

Your car obviously has four wheels. For the car to travel straight, and for it to respond to the steering wheel and turn appropriately, those four wheels need to be aligned. This actually means a few things. First, each wheel needs to be lined up so that then the car wheel is straight, the wheel is completely straight in relation to the body of the vehicle. Second, each wheel needs to be placed so that it sits at the correct angle relative to the ground. And third, the wheels need to sit a proper distance from the opposing wheel.

Auto care specialists actually have terms to refer to these three aspects of alignment:

  • Caster: The tilt of the wheel on its axis.
  • Camber: The inward or outward tilt of the wheel, relative to the center of the vehicle.
  • Toe: The difference in distance between the fronts of the two opposing tires, and the backs of the same opposing tires.

If this all seems a little complicated, that's okay. All you really need to know is that a professional needs to put your tires in the right spot, relative to the car and the other tires.

How do you know you need a wheel alignment?

Experts generally recommend getting a wheel alignment each time you have the tires replaced. However, you may need one more often than that. A wheel can get knocked out of alignment if you hit a curb or a big bump. Wheels can also slowly move out of alignment if your tires are wearing unevenly or if you drive on cambered roads all of the time. It's best to pay attention to how your car is driving, and then schedule an alignment if you notice any of the following signs.

1. Drifting to One Side: If the car always seems to be pulling to one side when you drive it, this can be a sign you need an alignment. You may always find yourself nudging the steering wheel in one direction or the other. You might feel that if you take your hands off the wheel, the car will either drift off the side of the road or into the opposing lane.

2. Loose Steering: Do you feel like you have to turn the steering wheel a little before it "kicks in?" A good term for this is "loose steering," and it often means your wheels are not properly aligned.

3. Uneven Tire Wear: Take a peek at your tires from time to time, either before you hop in the car or right after you hop out. The wear pattern should appear pretty even. If all of your tires seem to be wearing more on one side than the other, or if one tire is wearing more than the others, then you need an alignment.

Wheel alignments are not needed as often as oil changes, but they are still essential maintenance for a car. If you think your wheels may need to be aligned, contact a tire shop or auto car shop near you. This is considered a routine service, and almost all garages should offer it.