Keeping your vehicle in optimum condition is good for the environment and your pocketbook. Many drivers are good at getting their scheduled oil changes, but others overlook something just as important, even when confronted by clear performance evidence. Getting periodic wheel alignments is a straightforward process and one that's surprisingly affordable, considering the value it brings to a vehicle's smooth operation. Rather than repeatedly replacing worn tires, an alignment may be a better option.
Alignments come in one of two forms: two-wheel and four-wheel alignments. Two-wheel, or front-end alignments, usually cost between $40 and $65, while four-wheel are $50 to $95 as of 2009. Costs vary depending on the shop doing the work and the equipment it uses. Alignments are primarily labor only jobs, so local market conditions dictate the price. Most repair shops run periodic specials or have coupons to help keep prices reasonable. Vans and some four-wheel-drive vehicles sometimes incur extra costs, so be sure to inquire about pricing before having work done.
When a vehicle's tires are out of alignment, the tires wear more and unevenly, control suffers and fuel economy is reduced. Tires are often forced out of alignment after accidentally striking curbs, parking blocks, road debris and potholes. Once the tire is out of alignment, its orientation to the center-line of the vehicle is off-center. This may not always be visible to the eye, but the effects on driving will be unavoidable.
Although not always visible, indicators can show an alignment is necessary. Excessive tire wear is the major visible proof of need, but it can also be detected if the vehicle pulls to the left or right, has pronounced vibration or shimmy, or if the steering wheel is not centered when moving straight ahead. Most manufacturers suggest an alignment at 10,000 miles.
Alignment cost often includes tire rotation to promote even tire wear. It may be tempting to only have a two-wheel alignment, but if the car is severely out of alignment, the back tires may degrade faster. Some establishments offer a warranty on alignments, and some also give lifetime alignments and rotations with the purchase of new tires.
Wheel alignment is important to the life and good health of any vehicle. Spending time and money to keep wheels in proper alignment now will save hundreds of dollars later by improving fuel economy and reducing the number of new tires needed over the life of the vehicle.
- "Auto Repair for Dummies"; Deanna Sclar; 2009
- "How to Repair Your Car"; Paul Brand; 2006