Car alignment might feel like a set-it-and-forget-it maintenance item. The reality, though, is that rough roads, potholes and worn-out suspension components can all conspire to pull your vehicle’s alignment out of spec.
Fortunately, there are a number of signs that your vehicle may have an alignment issue. When you discover one, you usually can get to a garage well before your vehicle incurs serious damage. Let’s take a look at three symptoms that indicate an alignment problem.
1. Uneven Tire Wear
This is the big one — the most common clue that your car alignment isn’t within factory specifications. If the tires on one side of the vehicle are showing additional wear that simply isn’t visible on the other side, then there’s a strong chance that your alignment is off.
Obvious wear, such as baldness on just the inside or outside of the tire tread, is easy enough to spot. More subtle alignment issues, however, might take a tire tread depth gauge for you to determine whether there’s an actual problem.
Of course, not all types of uneven wear represent an alignment problem. If there are worn-down patches of tread spread seemingly at random across the tire, then that’s indicative of a suspension issue at that wheel, rather than an issue with the alignment. If the wear is along the center strip of the tire or evenly distributed at the inside and outside edges, then that’s related to over- or under-inflation of the tire itself.
2. Pulls and Tugs
If you find yourself regularly correcting the steering on your car or truck as you drive down the highway, or if you can feel a constant pull to one side or the other while in motion, then there’s a strong chance your car alignment needs to be corrected.
Most often, these types of tugs and pulls are caused by suspension components that have either bent or moved out of place due to impacts with potholes, curbs or other asphalt insults. Before you make the appointment for an alignment, however, make sure to check your tire inflation on each side to confirm it’s the same.
3. Feeling the Vibe
If your car alignment isn’t properly set, you might notice that your vehicle doesn’t drive quite as smoothly as it did before. Particularly at higher speeds, an alignment issue can reveal itself through vibrations in the steering wheel and the front of the car, as the tires move out of sync with each other.
Again, it’s key to make sure that the vibration isn’t being caused by a tire problem (worn rubber, sidewall bumpers or an unbalanced wheel), or a suspension problem (worn-out bushings or loose components).
Don’t wait until poor alignment has done significant damage to your vehicle’s suspension and tires before addressing the issue. If you find yourself experiencing any of the above symptoms while out for a drive — and if you can’t remember the last time you had your car aligned — then it’s probably time to put your vehicle back up on the rack.
Check out all the steering and suspension parts
Photo courtesy of Flickr.
Having been bitten by the car bug at a young age, I spent my formative years surrounded by Studebakers at car shows across Quebec and the northeastern United States. Over ten years of racing, restoring, and obsessing over automobiles lead me to balance science writing and automotive journalism full time. I currently contribute as an editor to several online and print automotive publications, and I also write and consult for the pharmaceutical and medical device industry.