Driving over uneven pavement or potholes can cause your vehicle's wheels to become misaligned. Assuring proper wheel alignment is one of the essential components of vehicle and tire maintenance. A car that's misaligned will unevenly wear your tires at an alarming rate. Additionally, wheel alignment does not just affect wheels or tires; it also involves a vehicle's suspension system. If the road becomes bumpy or uneven, a balanced wheel alignment may be your saving grace when you need to make a fast turn.
Wheel alignment problems can be caused by several factors such as road conditions, hitting potholes, and driving over snow. Excessive braking can cause alignment issues, especially if your brakes are gripping on one rotor more over the other. Sometimes the wear and tear of suspension parts such as the shocks, struts, or springs can lead to wheel misalignment. Additionally, any height modifications such as "lifting" may result in a future problem.
Here are a few symptoms that you may need a wheel alignment:
- Your vehicle drifts to one side or another while driving straight:
While you're driving on a straight road with little to no traffic, remove your hands from the steering wheel and let the vehicle guide itself for a bit. If it drifts toward one particular side, slightly maintain the balance of the steering wheel and retest again. If the vehicle still veers toward one side of the road, the wheels need to be realigned. The more the car veers to one side, the harder it will be to drive straight, and the worse the alignment problem will be.
- Your vehicle has uneven tire wear:
Wheels that are correctly aligned will have similar rubber depth on their tires. If you notice that one tire is more worn then the others, the wheels may be misaligned. It's essential to measure the tire tread depth on both sides of each tire for the most accurate results.
- Your tires squeak or squeal:
If tires become unevenly worn due to misalignment, they may start to squeak or squeal when accelerating or making turns. If worn brake pads are not the issue, consult your trusted automotive specialist to inspect the problem.
- Your steering wheel is uneven, loose, or vibrating:
While driving, your steering wheel should always remain straight and centered. During a drive, if you notice the emblem in the center of your steering wheel is off-center, even by a few degrees, there may be an alignment problem. A loose steering wheel that takes a very firm grip can also be dangerous as it decreases the turn by turn response time. If you have to fight your steering wheel to keep it straight or notice any significant vibrating, consult an automotive professional.
Wheel alignment is an easy issue to ignore and leads to costly repairs and significant tire wear. When tires wear unevenly compared to each other, it affects the car's ability to brake or stop. Manufactures do not have set time frames on when to check wheel alignment, so it is best to stay vigilant. If you happen to notice any of the above signs and have concerns, do not hesitate to bring your vehicle in for an inspection.