One thing that many people worry about is their car’s tires going flat. While this is a big issue, it’s obvious when it happens, which means most people will immediately fix the problem. Wheel misalignments, on the other hand, aren’t as common. Even when they occur, many drivers will have no idea there’s a problem.
That’s why it’s important to be aware of everything a car owner should know about wheel alignments. That way, if they ever notice a problem, they’ll be able to react quickly and make sure the misalignment doesn’t cause any further damage.
What Can Cause a Misalignment?
Before we get into the finer details about alignments, let’s go over what can cause your tires to become misaligned. More often than not, this issue will occur after hitting a large bump. Some examples include:
- Driving through a pothole at high speeds
- Running over a large piece of debris
- Hitting a curb or speed bump too hard
An important thing to note here, though, is that not all of these events will result in a misalignment. Sometimes it’s just the luck of the draw. But if you have older or worn-out parts in your car, it’s more likely to happen.
Obviously, after a bad car accident, your car is also likely to experience a misalignment. However, since a majority of the damage may be elsewhere on your car, some people might forget to check the alignment. Double-checking this is vital before getting back on the road.
The final thing that affects alignment is time. That’s not to say that a stationary car will eventually have alignment issues. It has more to do with little bumps or hits. Over the course of a few years, smaller damages could eventually misalign your wheels.
What Types of Misalignments Are There?
Since wheels need a free range of movement, they can become misaligned in quite a few ways. It all depends on how much pressure a hit applies to them. No matter the type of misalignment you have, you must deal with it promptly. Here are the types you should be aware of.
If your tires are tilted upward or downward, you’re dealing with a camber misalignment. Generally, tires should be perfectly perpendicular to the ground. This is easiest to see if you look at your car directly from the front or back. If the top of your tire leans inward toward the body of your car, it has a negative camber. If the top of the tire leans outward, though, that’s a positive camber.
Next, we have the toe misalignment. This type comes from the term “pigeon-toed,” which is when a person’s feet naturally point inward. The same thing happens with your wheels in this type of misalignment—the front of your wheel points inward toward the body of your car. Of course, the opposite is also possible here. When the front of your tire points outward, this is known as a “toe-out” misalignment. This alignment issue is visible from viewing your tires from the top of your car.
Another common form of misalignment is the caster, which deals more with the steering axis than the tires. The steering axis is the point where the tires connect with the axle of the car. If you don’t keep this section directly lined up with the heaviest parts of the vehicle, your car can’t handle itself properly. If the steering axis has shifted too far forward, it’s in a positive misalignment, and if it’s too far back, it’s in a negative one. If your tire appears to have shifted too far forward or back in the wheel well, this could be why.
How Can You Tell It’s Time for an Alignment?
Even though we talked about being able to see misalignments when looking at your car from certain angles, most untrained professionals won’t be able to notice these imperfections. The reason for this is that most alignment issues are minuscule. However, just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they’re not messing up your car. So how can you know if your tires are misaligned?
The easiest way to tell is if you notice your car pulling in one direction or the other while driving in a straight line. While this will sometimes have to do with the contour of the road or strong winds pushing your vehicle, if you regularly experience this, you probably need a realignment. You may also discover this issue if you notice that your steering wheel isn’t perfectly straight when driving in a straight line. This is essentially the same problem, just a different way to recognize it.
Another key indicator that your wheels are misaligned is constant vibrations while moving. Most of the time, you’ll feel these vibrations in your steering wheel, but occasionally, you might feel them closer to your tires. While that will be harder to notice, it’s possible, especially if you’re used to the standard feel of your car.
Finally, even though you might not notice the slight misalignments by eye, you may see them in the treads of your tires. If there’s an excessive amount of wear on one side of the tire and not the other, it’s probably not coming into contact with the road correctly. This almost always means your wheel is misaligned.
What Happens If You Don’t Get an Alignment?
The main thing all car owners should know about wheel alignments is that not fixing them can damage other parts of the vehicle. Obviously, your tires will suffer the most. If the wear-and-tear is bad enough, you’ll likely need to buy brand-new tires.
On top of that, if you let the issue go on long enough, the vibrations could damage the engine and steering column over time by loosening the sections that help hold them in place. Worst of all, your gas mileage will take a hit as well. Since your vehicle will have to expel more energy to drive correctly, you will burn more gas.
Because of all that, you should always go in for a realignment whenever you suspect this could be an issue. Fortunately, that’s something we can assist you with here at the Wheel and Tire Superstore. We perform wheel alignment services for our customers all the time. Plus, if you come in for another reason, we can let you know if your car is experiencing any tire alignment issue way before it becomes a significant problem.