Do you feel something’s wrong with your auto based on its running condition and performance? Maybe it’s time to get your four-wheel drive vehicle aligned!
A tire alignment is like the vitamin of cars — the regular maintenance that keeps them well conditioned.
To achieve the ultimate comfort you need when driving, you must have your wheels checked and realigned at your go-to auto repair shop or in-house mechanic and when you feel like having misaligned wheels.
In this article, we will be going more into detail about what tire alignment is, how long an alignment takes, the entire process of doing tire alignment, and more.
What Is a Tire Alignment?
Many of us might not know what tire alignment is but is doing the actual thing.
A tire alignment is a process made when misaligned wheels must be aligned correctly and on the road’s surface. This ensures that your four wheels will not move in opposite directions.
Wheel alignment requires you to undergo a tedious wheel alignment procedure conducted by an expert using a specific wheel alignment machine, such as a computerized wheel alignment machine.
In this regard, you can’t simply do a do-it-yourself tire alignment.
The proper tire alignment is done by bringing the suspension system to its proper positioning and configuration and having certain components be adjusted correctly.
The alignment depends on your vehicle’s suspension system and the process of its power distribution to your wheels.
Tire alignment isn’t the same for all types of vehicles, including modern vehicles, such that a four-wheel drive auto would require a four-wheel alignment, and a front-wheel drive would need a front-end alignment or thrust-angle alignment.
How Long Does an Alignment Take?
For vehicle owners who are used to the comfort that their car brings, asking how long does an alignment take and bringing your misaligned wheels to a service center can truly be a pain in the ass.
However, the good news is car alignment won’t take you long. Upon bringing your car into the shop, it will usually take an average of 30-60 minutes.
Tire alignment typically depends on your car’s model, type of alignment, the initial condition of your existing components, and the technician’s experience.
The Process of Tire Accurate Alignment
The tire alignment process involves a lot of technical stuff, such as adjusting the suspension system, including suspension angles, and positioning the steering wheel in the center.
Your tire alignment process will depend on the type of alignment you’ll get. Commonly, these types include the following: front end or two-wheel and four-wheel as well as single alignment.
Note: Your vehicle manufacturer assigns the standard angles in specific degrees for the alignment of tires.
1) Four-Wheel Alignment
The four-wheel alignment is one of the most common types of alignment people avail from a wheel alignment center. Usually, four-wheel alignment cost more than a hundred dollar.
From its namesake, this service will adjust the alignment on all wheels of your auto but is not limited to a four-wheel drive vehicle.
This service also applies to six-wheeled vehicles by checking and adjusting the front and rear of the vehicle, the whole suspension system and its components, and more.
Getting a four-wheel alignment usually takes 60 minutes or more and involves the following steps:
Step 1: In a straight line position, lock the steering wheel. Then, apply the brake pedal depressor when measuring the caster or camber.
Step 2: Fit the center line and measuring heads to the front wheel alignment. Then, switch on the lasers.
Step 3: Check if the number of laser lines hitting scales is the same on both scales. If yes, then they are all good. However, adjust the rear toe to correct any thrust angle deviation if they are different.
Step 4: Read toe scales and calculate rear toe. Afterward, adjust the rear axle or wheel bearings to the correct settings and wrap up with the two center line scales with the same reading.
Step 5: The front wheels and measuring heads must fit together, and centerline scales to the rear wheels. Afterward, calculate and adjust using the same procedure as the vehicle’s rear.
STEP 6: If you’re standing under the auto, all toe and thrust angle readings must be visible.
Step 7 (Optional): Camber and castor angles adjustment.
2) Two-Wheel Alignment or Front-End Alignment
Unlike having four wheels aligned, a front-end alignment, commonly known as two-wheel alignment drive, only comprises adjusting the vehicle’s front steering and suspension.
Since we are only dealing with two tires, it will most likely run faster than the alignment of four wheels, which will only take 30 minutes or more.
During this wheel alignment procedure, your technician adjusts, manipulates, and angles suspension components and other components within the steering system. The front toe, camber, and caster are also precisely angled.
Commonly, two-wheel alignments are offered only for the vehicle’s front tires.
As you may notice, some service centers only offer two-wheel alignments since they can’t measure the rear components of the vehicle.
How Important Is It to Get Tire Alignments?
Not getting the proper wheel alignment your vehicle deserves will cause you and your car big trouble and hassle — excessive drop in handling capability, being constantly pulled in a single direction, and inability to control tire movement properly.
Besides being a probable cause for accidents and further damages, failure to realign tires may lead to uneven wear, which means having them replaced more frequently than usual.
A misaligned wheel will likely result in tire blowouts, damaged wheel rims, and suspension.
How Often Should You Get Tire Alignments?
Like the tire alignment process, tire alignment interval varies depending on the condition of your vehicle’s wheels, vehicle’s performance, driving habits, and even your car model.
Generally, it is recommended by most mechanics that a wheel alignment should take once every two or three years or just having an annual checkup. Thus, we recommend still following the interval stated in your owner’s manual.
Just a reminder: Have a wheel alignment whenever you change your tires.
When Do You Need a Tire Alignment?
Tire alignment is needed when you just had your new tires attached. More so, some visible symptoms will tell you that you require a tire alignment, which includes the following:
- Your car is sharp, pulling in the same direction (drifts to the left or right)
- Slight pulling
- Balance steering wheel vibration
- Crooked steering wheel when driving straight
- Bent rim steering wheel vibration
- Uneven tire wear
- Ball joints are wearing out
- Difficulty in wheel balancing
- Poor air pressure
What Are the Tire Alignment Angles to Consider?
Traditionally, your mechanic will adjust alignment angles based on the following:
1) Toe Angle
Toe angles are the methods by which your wheels are aimed, as viewed from above. For example, a pair of tires in front aimed inside the forward edges have toe-in; meanwhile, a pair of wheels aimed at outer edges have toe-out.
In a nutshell, correct toe adjustments and proper toe are needed for life span extension of your tires and avoiding uneven tire wear, excessive wear, and wear out of a ball joint.
2) Camber Angle
While the toe angle is viewed from above, the camber is where the car can drive diagonally across a slope without tipping over from true vertical as viewed from the front of the vehicle. In short, this is the vertical line angle of the tires if you’re looking straight at the vehicle.
Camber angles are measured in degrees of angle. Generally, the camber angle is positive if the top of your tire tilts outward and negative if it tilts inward. Nevertheless, most vehicles have a slight negative camber for stability purposes.
3) Caster Angle
Like camber angles, casters are also measured in degrees of angles; hence, it is not measured for a rear wheel. Caster angle is the forward or backward angle of the tilt of the steering axis as viewed from the side of your car.
Ever wonder why your steering wheel can still return to a straight position after a turn and how your vehicle stays aligned properly on a straight line course? It’s because of the power of the caster. A negative caster causes your steering wheel alignment to be unstable and shaky.
Cupped wear of front tires is most likely caused by the extremely negative caster and the related shimmy. If the caster is unequal from side to side, the vehicle will pull toward the side with a less positive (or more negative) caster.
4) Thrust Angle
The thrust angle is between the rear axle direction and the vehicle’s geometric centerline.
When rear tires are pointed straight ahead, the thrust line and the geometric centerline are the same, meaning there is no thrust angle.
A crooked steering wheel and deteriorated steering bushing may come from the alignment of the front wheels to the centerline with the rear tires driving along a different thrust line.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Here are the most frequently asked questions for a tire alignment.
Can You Do an Alignment in 30 Minutes?
Commonly, tire alignment take an average of an hour to complete. How long does an alignment take depends on your car’s model, type of alignment, the initial condition of your existing components, and your technician’s experience.
Therefore, 30 minutes would be okay as long as the existing overall condition of your vehicle is bearable.
How Urgent Is a Wheel Alignment?
Getting your tires aligned is urgent as it may be a probable cause for road accidents, emergencies, and even deaths.
A proper alignment of wheels is needed to handle a vehicle well on the road.
Furthermore, regular wheel alignments increase the life span of your vehicle’s tires.
How Much Does a Wheel Alignment Cost?
The cost of an alignment depends on several factors: the car’s model, type of alignment, the initial condition of your existing components, and your chosen auto repair shop.
For reference, front-end alignment involving two wheels on the front of the auto generally costs anywhere from a base fee of $50 to $75. Meanwhile, four-wheel alignments are more costly, usually ranging from $100 to $150.
Unbalanced tires in the middle of the road due to a bad alignment may cause a lot of hassle and damage to car owners, including increased fuel consumption, costly repairs, and unusual driving habits.
This applies not only to vehicles with wheels but also to two-wheel drive autos.
Better be safe than sorry by having your car tires aligned!