Behind the Wheel

How Do I Know When My Car Is Out of Alignment?

February 14, 2020
Potholes: The unavoidable bane of every driver’s existence. Hitting even the smallest little divots in the road can pop a tire, damage your suspension and throw your alignment out of whack. And once your vehicle’s wheels get misaligned, a whole slew of new problems will begin to arise.

However, wheel alignment problems don’t always rear their ugly heads the moment you run through a pothole. In fact, because there are no warning lights to indicate a problem with your alignment, it can take an entire pothole-hitting season before you begin to notice the telltale signs and symptoms. So how can you tell when your car is out of alignment and in need of some professional TLC?

What Are the Warning Signs That I Need a Wheel Alignment?

When vehicles are aligned properly, the tires are pointed in the same direction: Straight. Over time, those angles will be tilted off-center, and you’ll begin to notice the following symptoms that indicate your vehicle may be out of alignment:
  • Veering to the left or right when you release the steering wheel
  • Uneven tire tread wear, especially on just one tire
  • Steering wheel pulls in one direction
  • Steering wheel vibrates, particularly at high speeds
  • Tires may make odd noises if they’re making contact with another component of the car
  • The steering feels loose

What’s the Difference Between Wheel Alignment and Tire Balancing?

When you need your tires balanced, you may notice the same or similar symptoms of an out-of-alignment vehicle. However, tire balancing and aligning wheels are two different services.

Wheel alignment – it’s the same service as front-end alignment, four-wheel alignment or tire alignment – seeks to correct the car’s suspension and how it connects to the wheels themselves. The job of a wheel alignment is to angle every tire the same, so they’re making all making contact with the road at the same approach.

Balancing tires involves fixing any changes in the distribution of weight on or around the tire, wheel and rim. The most common cause of an imbalanced wheel is tread wear; when your tire’s tread begins to diminish, it can alter where and how much weight is placed on the wheel. Typically, a shaking vehicle is the most obvious sign that you need your tires balanced, and that service should be performed along with every (or every other) tire rotation.

What Happens if I Don’t Get My Wheels Aligned?

The importance of having your wheels properly aligned can’t be overstated: It could save your life!

Now, that’s not meant to frighten anyone; it’s unlikely your wheel alignment issue will result in a truly life-endangering situation. Often, the common problems – the vehicle’s veering too sharply, for instance – will become such a nuisance that you’ll be forced to visit an auto service center for an inspection, wheel alignment and potentially even a new set of tires.

However, the danger is always present. When your car’s wheels get out of alignment, your tires suffer the brunt of things; tread will wear mega-fast, and with that wear, the risk of sudden tire damage increases, thus increasing the risk of a catastrophic accident. Uneven tire tread can even cause your vehicle to slip in inclement weather, which is obviously quite dangerous in certain situations.

Additionally, even the slightest misalignment can affect your fuel consumption. While this isn’t likely to be visible to the naked eye, your wallet will notice; and isn’t your wallet the one who calls the shots?

Can I Perform a DIY Wheel Alignment?

Unless you have a repair shop hidden away in your garage, aligning your wheels at home would be difficult. A wheel alignment utilizes an advanced system that calculates your vehicle’s current and preferred wheel angles – and that’s not even including the equipment necessary to dismount, realign and mount your wheels.

Wheel alignment is quite affordable at a service center, and it should be performed every year or two, or per your vehicle’s recommended maintenance schedule. There’s really no reason to skip it.

Sure, you can report and request those pesky potholes be repaired, but that won’t magically cure your misaligned wheels. The only solution is an inspection and professional wheel alignment performed by a good mechanic or auto service technician. If you need a wheel alignment, new tires or just a simple look-see under the hood in Kansas City, I’d recommend scheduling an appointment at a McCarthy service center.

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