When having a vehicle, one of the most common and probably the most cumbersome issues you’ll face is having a bad wheel alignment … again.
So you may be wondering, what causes a bad wheel alignment? And why does it seem like it comes back around after you’ve just fixed it?
The first thing you want to do when you think you have a bad wheel alignment is to confirm that the problem is actually caused by having a bad wheel alignment and not something else. Here are ways to check your wheel alignment.
Signs of a Bad Wheel Alignment
1.Pulling to One Side of the Road
A bad wheel alignment will feel like your car is being pulled to one side of the road. An easy way to confirm this feeling is to drive on a straight and after setting the steering wheel to continue on the straight, with hovering hands ready to catch the wheel, let go of the wheel. If the vehicle drifts towards one side after multiple attempts, you can be sure this isn’t just a feeling but the alignment really is off.
2. Steering Wheel is Off-centered
This may be a light giveaway of a bad wheel alignment. If it is worse than a tiny pull, you won’t just feel the pull, but actually see the bad wheel alignment with the steering wheel itself. An uneven steering wheel is a dead giveaway of a bad wheel alignment.
When driving down a straight road, your steering wheel should be parallel to the road and line up perfectly even against the road. If the emblem on your steering wheel is tilted while driving straight, the steering wheel is uneven.
3. Loose Steering
A different sign, which may be the most dangerous, of a bad wheel alignment pertaining to the steering wheel is a loose or inconsistent steering wheel. As you are making a turn, if it feels inconsistent or you feel the steering wheel is loose in comparison to the turn of the car, you should have this promptly diagnosed and fixed.
There’s a chance this is not the case of a bad wheel alignment but because this can obstruct safe and responsive driving, it should be handled before you lose complete maneuvering of the vehicle.
4.Vibrating Steering Wheel
Another feeling, possibly an observable sign is a vibrating steering wheel. You may even hear the vibrating of the steering wheel as you increase the speed. For this case, there are multiple culprits that create a vibrating steering wheel. In short, you should not be experiencing vibrations when you drive, unless it’s on a bumpy road. If you only feel the vibration when braking, there’s a higher chance the culprit is the brakes and not wheel alignment.
5. Uneven Tire Wear
Checking your tires can confirm the uneven alignment. With uneven alignment comes uneven wear on the tires. Measure the tread depth on every tire. Overall, is it even throughout all the tires? Rotating your tires will help with the evenness of tire wear, but if it has been a while since your last tire rotation, this will also cause uneven tire wear.
6. Squealing When Driving
The most alarming sign of a misalignment is the sound of squealing. Apart from the squealing when braking, which is due to the brakes rather than alignment, if you hear squealing when accelerating or making turns, your vehicle is practically screaming bad wheel alignment. If this is the cause, what is happening at this point is the tires may be touching the road at a wrong angle, causing it to create some irregular road noise, one being squealing.
Top 3 Causes of Bad Wheel Alignment
After confirming the telling signs of a bad wheel alignment and knowing the issue, you may be wondering, What caused my car to go out of alignment? Here are top causes of a bad wheel alignment.
1. Impact on Selected Tires
If you’re guilty of bumping or going over a curb, hitting a pothole too rough, going fast over speed bumps, or have been in an accident, your tires may have experienced a shift in pressure which causes a bad wheel alignment.
Check the pressure of each tire with a tire pressure gauge. Is there a clear sign of uneven tire pressures? Now, don’t be alarmed if the readings are off by 2 or 3 psi like 38, 40, 40, 41. If they are not within five psi of each other, then that’s when it’s an issue.
Possibly a free, do-it-yourself fix, all that has to be done is to fill up the tires with the same psi, the recommended pressure is different for every car and is found in the vehicle’s owner’s manual.
Otherwise, after so many impacts on the suspension, it may cause damage and result in a misalignment. In this case, Rather than filling up the tire pressure, you would have to fix the suspension and then get an alignment.
2. Bad Suspension
Loose or even worn out shocks and struts can affect the wheel alignment. The suspension is the main component connecting the wheels of a car to the whole of the car. If the wheel alignment is off, the wheels in accordance with the whole of the car are off. Anything that is affecting the suspension of the vehicle will most likely also affect the alignment of the vehicle.
3. Vehicle Height Modification
If you’ve raised the ride height of your vehicle (referred to as “lift”) without properly enhancing the suspension, your suspension may not be working in accordance with that height. The suspension of your car is manufactured for a specific height of the vehicle. Changing the height can cause the suspension to be misaligned with the vehicle.
Three Types of Wheel Alignment
When going in to get a wheel alignment, there are various ways they can go about it. There are three common types of alignments they may do in accordance to the terrain, vehicle and driving performance.
Toe Wheel Alignment
- Toe alignment: A vehicles’ wheels can be aligned to have an inward angle (Toe-in) or an outward angle (Toe-out). This seemingly irregular alignment is designed to aid in the handling of your vehicle with the force it creates during common driving scenarios. Long straight drives generate force between the tires. In this case, the best design is the toe-in or positive toe. Alternatively the toe-out or negative toe alignment benefits front-wheel drive handling with smoother turning.
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- Caster alignment: The caster angle is the angular displacement of a vertical line to the kingpin or the steering axis, which is the centerline of the upper and lower ball joints. The caster alignment involves angling the steering axis forward (negative caster) which is towards the front of the vehicle or backward (positive caster) which is towards the rear of the vehicle.
- Camber alignment: For a camber alignment, the wheels are angled in a way where, when facing the front of the vehicle, the tires are either tilted inward (negative camber), which looks like the bottom of the tires are wedged further from the car, or outward (positive camber), which looks like the bottom of the tires are wedged towards the car.
Benefits of Wheel Alignment
A bad wheel alignment can cause problems. The benefits of getting an alignment is avoiding these problems and increasing the efficiency of your vehicle. Although you can continue driving with a bad alignment, every tire change or tire rotation should also include a wheel alignment since the new tires can change the wheel alignment.
Keeping up with wheel alignments will prolong the tread life of the tires. What can be seen as a sign of bad wheel alignment, uneven tire wear will demand a tire change sooner despite there being thicker tire tread depth on most of the tires.
Having good wheel alignment will also maintain good handling for your vehicle. No vibrations or off-centered steering wheels will impact your vehicle’s performance. In turn, you will have better gas mileage as there is less resistance during your drives.
Wheel Alignment Costs
According to Repairpal, the average cost of a wheel alignment falls between $161 and $198. Tire alignment costs will vary between different types of cars. Checking your wheel alignment may be free of charge at tire servicing shops. When new tires are necessary, which is usually every 25,000-60,000 miles, a wheel alignment is recommended
If you have any signs of bad wheel alignment, it is best to have it checked out and properly fixed as it can lead to poor drivability, handling, and possibly even safety.