A tire alignment is pretty standard for a regular maintenance visit to the auto repair shop. Knowing when to take your vehicle for an alignment is crucial if you want to maintain your smooth drive and maintain safety while driving.
The average alignment takes between 30-60 minutes. However, the type of alignment, vehicle model, and condition of components can make this process shorter or longer.
Tire alignment visits can vary from scheduled regular intervals or when you notice any symptoms of tire misalignment. Let’s take a deeper look at what exactly alignments are, and why some can take longer than others.
What Is a Tire Alignment?
Tire alignment refers to the process of steadying the tires of a vehicle with one another and with the surface of the road. The tires and axles are aligned with one another to make sure that they move in the same direction.
This process is done by ensuring the suspension is in its proper positioning and configuration. It is also achieved by adjusting specific components around the wheels, e.g., making sure that the steering wheel is centered perfectly.
Tire alignments differ from other maintenance tasks because it’s usually done by a qualified professional at a service station. This is because it needs an alignment machine which most car owners don’t have as part of their toolset. It also requires expertise which they don’t have either.
The type of alignment a vehicle needs depends squarely on its suspension system and how it distributes power to the tires.
The vehicle manufacturer has set standards for suspension angles that the tires should be used during an alignment in degrees. These types will be discussed at length in this post.
Continue reading to find out the importance of wheel alignment for your vehicle. You will also learn how you can tell your tires are out of balance.
How Long Do Alignments Take by Type?
How long an alignment takes will differ based on the condition of the car parts and the vehicle’s make.
1. Four-Wheel Alignment
Regarded as the most comprehensive type of tire alignment, it is probably what you will get when you take your car in for an alignment. It involves aligning all four wheels of your vehicle. This type of alignment includes trucks with more than 4 wheels, e.g., six-wheelers.
Simply, it means that the vehicle goes through a thorough inspection and both the front and rear parts of the vehicle receive an alignment. This type of alignment typically takes 30 – 60 minutes. However, certain factors can extend this time to more than an hour.
Although getting a four-wheel alignment is more comprehensive and worth it, there are cheaper and quicker alternatives.
2. Two-Wheel Alignment
Compared to the Four-Wheel Alignment, it’s quicker and cheaper. In this type of alignment, inspection and alignment occur for the front wheels only. Although a customer can choose to have their rear wheels adjusted, this type of adjustment is usually offered for the front wheels.
Two-wheel alignments usually take more than 30 minutes. This is because most of the time goes into the setting up and tearing down of the adjustment equipment. This process can take 15-20 minutes of the entire alignment time. It also costs 25% less than the four-wheel alignment cost.
Therefore, this type of alignment might not be quicker than the four-wheel alignment. Despite this, auto repair shops offer this service because it’s faster than other alignments, which means they can work on more cars. They also do front two-wheel alignments because the equipment they have cannot inspect the rear components of the car.
3. ‘Toe-n-Go’ Alignments
You can also get a quick front wheel toe adjustment which lasts 15-20 minutes. Technicians hate this type of alignment for many reasons, mainly because they like to do quality work for their customers.
This process focuses on fixing the toe, which is responsible for chewing the tires. Fixing the toes is what this alignment focuses on, compared to the other alignments that include other components such as the caster, chamber etc., during an inspection.
Here, some machines will only show the toe adjustments. In such cases, technicians can’t do anything and will just focus on adjusting the toe. However, it’s important to note that the toe is sometimes the only thing capable of adjustment in some vehicles.
You can ask your mechanic if your vehicle is one of these vehicles. You might also want to ask for the before and after measurements if you are unsure what kind of alignment your vehicle got. The mechanic can explain what they did just for your peace of mind.
Wheel Alignment Angles of a Vehicle
These are the angles that need inspection and adjustment if something feels off.
1. Camber Angle
You can detect the camber angle is off if you are standing in front of your vehicle and there is a slight incline on the vertical line.
This is the problem if your tires are wearing off unevenly. This type of misalignment can be brought about for many reasons, the most common being that a ball joint or bearings have failed.
2. Toe Angle
You can check the toe angles from above the vehicle. Check to see if the wheels are angled either inward or outward. If so, they need an adjustment.
3. Caster Angle
The work of the caster angle is to aid in cornering, balance steering and maintaining vehicle stability. You can check the caster angle from the sides of the vehicle.
A positive caster means that the wheels are bent towards the driver. However, a negative caster means that the wheels bend towards the front of the vehicle.
Why Do Some Alignments Take Longer Than Expected
1. Car Model
A smaller vehicle will take less time to align than a bigger vehicle. Typically, newer models will be quicker to align compared to the old ones.
If essential components used in an alignment inspection of a vehicle are hidden behind other large suspension parts or frames, it will take longer to complete an alignment.
2. Components’ Condition
If your components are rusty or seized, it will take longer because they are difficult to adjust. This is typical of old vehicles.
Technicians will have to either heat the nuts or use a WD-40 lubricant to loosen tight components.
3. Your Technician’s Expertise
A technician with more experience will take a shorter time for an alignment than the one with little experience. Since the cost of an alignment is the same regardless, it’s better to go with the one who will work faster.
Remember that experience isn’t always better; therefore, go with a mechanic you trust!
Why Alignments Are Needed
1. To maintain a Smooth Ride
A tire alignment ensures that the wear on all the wheels is even thanks to distributing weight across all the wheels.
This makes for a smoother ride because the wheels are balanced, and the steering wheel and the wheels are moving coherently.
2. Maintain Efficient And Safe Operation Of Your Car
When the vehicle is aligned correctly, no vibrations and abnormal shakes distract you while driving.
These symptoms usually indicate that something is wrong and, if left unchecked, can cause more significant damage that will cost more to repair. It’s also not safe to drive a car that is shaking or vibrating.
3. It’s Necessary For Modern Vehicles
Tire alignment is considered a basic but critical car maintenance service for modern vehicles. Because they are lighter than older vehicles, it’s hard to notice vibrations.
They also come with lower-profile tires for style and better performance. Therefore, regular alignments prevent future problems in modern cars.
How to Know When You Need an Alignment
1. Unusual Vibrations
This is the easiest way to detect misalignment of your tires because you can feel an unusual vibration through the steering wheel. At high speeds, you are likely to feel vibrations across your front cabinet.
If your front tires are misaligned, the vibrations will be felt on your front seats.
Similarly, if your rear tires are misaligned, the vibrations will be felt on your back seats.
2. Difficulty During Steering
When your vehicle is out of balance, you will likely have a hard time maintaining control over the steering wheel.
Turning will no longer be as smooth as it was before. You are at a higher risk of getting into an accident because difficulty in steering means that you can’t reduce your response time in case of an emergency.
3. Uneven Wear Of Tires
If a specific set of tires are wearing faster than others, they are carrying the bulk of the weight.
Consequently, the vehicle is out of balance and requires tire alignment.
4. More Fuel Consumption
Misaligned tires exert more pressure on the engine, which means it will require more fuel to perform their extra work.
This pressure comes from the resistance created by unbalanced tires while driving.
Average Alignment Cost
If your vehicle has no other issues that need to be addressed, tire alignments are relatively cheap. You will need $75 and $200 for a single alignment and an extended warranty, respectively.
However, these are rough estimates and could differ depending on the technician you take your vehicle to.
Additional problems that could lead to more costs can be tire equilibrium and suspension problems. You will also pay more for an alignment of your vehicle that has a specialized design.
You might want to look closely at your warranty agreement to see if an eventual alignment is covered on your warranty or extended warranty. Check to see if your auto repair shop has any offers on limited or lifetime warranties on their job.
This can save you a lot because alignment is a regular maintenance service!
What Can Happen if You Drive a Vehicle With Bad Alignment
Think that your vehicle might be out of alignment, but aren’t that worried about it? Well, you should be!
Here are a few of the things that may happen if you continue driving a misaligned vehicle:
1. Your suspension system and tires will start wearing unevenly. This increases the risk of a blowout which makes driving unsafe.
2. The steering wheel might be unstable and pull the car to the side even when driving straight on a flat road. If you are turning and can hear screeching sounds, the brakes’ effectiveness might be compromised0 or a damaged suspension.
3. The wheels might not go where the steering wheel commands. This will lead to you maintaining a tight hold to maintain a straight drive. This can lead to exhaustion as well as increased fuel consumption by the vehicle.
How Often to Get Your Vehicle Aligned?
Several factors will determine how often you get your vehicle an alignment. They include the make of your car, your driving habits etc. However, mechanics recommend a wheel alignment annually or every 10,000 miles or so.
It’s okay to get an alignment once every two or three years, but you should consult your owner’s manual to get the recommended interval by the manufacturers.
If your car has wider tires or has more stress put on it, i.e., cargo trucks, race cars etc., you will need to have it aligned more frequently. Consider getting an alignment each time you get new tires.