When Is It Time for an Alignment?

November 11th, 2022 by

A black car is shown during a Morris IL tire shop alignment.

Resist it all you want; maintenance is part of your responsibility when it comes to car ownership. The work isn’t done after you purchase and drive your new car back home. Short and long-term car ownership requires a lot, and regular maintenance is a must if we want to be safe on the road, preserve the condition of our beloved vehicles, and conserve ownership costs. While everyone is surely aware of routine oil changes, typically performed at 3-5 month intervals or after a few thousand miles, eventually, you also need to service your vehicle’s alignment. Your car’s alignment is integral to keeping your wheels moving in the desired direction. When the wheels are misaligned, you increase wear and tear on multiple points of the vehicle and create potentially hazardous driving conditions.

Misalignment contributes to fuel economy, premature tire wear, and difficulty steering. Not only does steering become more uncomfortable, but it can also be dangerous. If you’re wondering when you should get an alignment, stay tuned as we break down the milestones, and timelines, so you can keep your car running like new and prevent unnecessary headaches. For Illinois residents looking for a reliable Morris IL tire shop to handle any alignment issues they may have, look no further than Thomas Nissan of Joliet and our team of expert technicians to tackle any problem you may have.

How Do Cars Lose Their Alignment?

Losing your wheel alignment is a common occurrence and can feel, at times, unavoidable. You lose alignment for a variety of reasons, sometimes for reasons you can control and sometimes just due to naturally occurring wear and tear. Alignment can be damaged by driving over potholes, hitting a curb, bumping into concrete parking stalls, or knocking into barriers with your wheels while parallel parking. Have you ever accidentally driven your wheel over a curb while parallel parking? It’s not just a bruise to our egos; it’s also a bruise to our alignment. Sometimes one such incident is enough to ruin the alignment, and sometimes it’s the cumulative effect of months worth of poor decisions.

Alignment is also naturally worn down over time as vehicles age through no fault of the driver. Even the best and most considerate drivers will eventually have to deal with their alignment. It is a natural part of putting mileage on the odometer. Over time, rubber components will lose their elasticity and begin to crack, causing inevitable damage to the alignment. Furthermore, ball and socket joints will develop a looseness over time, and as they start to go, they progressively worsen.

While good driving habits can help prevent the inevitable, there isn’t much to be done about the natural wear and tear of those internal parts. You can take a few precautions to help delay these issues. First, always practice caution when you’re behind the wheel. Hitting curbs and concrete barriers is a quick way to ruin not only your alignment but integral parts of your wheels and suspension. It also helps reduce pressure on your back axle if you keep your trunk clear of heavy, bulky items, removing them after each transport. Too much weight in the trunk will throw off the alignment. Keeping uneven tire pressure across your tires will also contribute to alignment loss, so always address tire pressure issues as soon as they arise. Once alignment is damaged, it cannot bounce back without human intervention.

A tire is shown in close up.

The Consequences of Bad Alignment

You may be wondering what the repercussions of damaged alignment are on your vehicle and why checking it even matters in the first place. Because poor alignment will damage other parts of your vehicle, like your tires and joints, unchecked alignment issues will cost you more money in the long run. Poor alignment is also generally dangerous, careening your vehicle to the left or the right when you intend to go straight, putting you in harm’s way.

When Should You Have the Alignment Checked?

If you’ve been driving for a long time, you have felt the sensation of damaged alignment. It feels like your car is being yanked to the side, especially if you let go of the steering wheel for a moment. Sometimes the pull feels quite sharp, and sometimes it’s a very light sensation. It is likely that if you suspect you need an alignment, then it’s time. When taking your vehicle to a trusted technician, they will check on your alignment by measuring the angles in tenths and hundredths of degrees or inches. The slightest misalignment is capable of speeding up the damage to your tires.

One easy way to keep track is to check your alignment at every other oil change. This will help your tires last longer and help prevent the dangerous conditions that come from a lack of control over your steering. The general consensus is to check it at the first sign of misalignment. If you suspect misalignment, you may be experiencing a pulling sensation from your steering wheel toward the left or right. If you’ve recently hit a curb, driven in rocks or gravel, or encountered a severe pothole, you might sense something is off.

Have you recently looked at the wear on your tires? Uneven tire wear can be a tell-tale sign of misalignment since one of the negative effects is extra damage to your tires. Check the tread on your front tires to see if it matches. Once you’ve done that, perform the same tread check for your back tires. If you don’t feel confident in your abilities to read tire tread, a trusted mechanic should be able to point out if uneven wear is present.

Be mindful of what is happening with your steering wheel. A vibrating steering wheel can signify misalignment or uneven tire pressure. You can eliminate uneven tire pressure as a contributing factor by measuring your tire pressure with either a low-cost instrument you can keep at home or find one at your local gas station. The vibrating sensation of the steering wheel is caused when tires pull in opposite directions. Similarly, a crooked steering wheel is a key identifier of a potential problem.

In a safe setting, you can drive straight at a slow speed and momentarily release your hands from the steering wheel. If your car begins to pull left or right without your interference, you’re likely experiencing textbook misalignment. Without being alerted to a misalignment, you should still have it checked out by professional technicians at every 6,000 miles as part of your overall maintenance plan.

A silver car is shown getting a tire alignment.

We’re Here for All Your Alignment Needs

Nobody wants to spend thousands of dollars on a vehicle they love and rely on only to have it damaged by their own negligence. We wouldn’t look the other way when it comes to maintenance, like oil changes, and alignment should be treated in a similar regard. Intact wheel alignment is crucial for getting the best driving experience. When your car was brand new, the manufacturer configured it with precise OEM specifications. These specifications are necessary for your vehicle to drive as it’s supposed to. The tire angles and positioning help you with steering, protect your tires, and keep your vehicle running to the best of its ability.

If we keep a car long enough, it’s inevitable we will have to do routine maintenance and repairs, but keeping an eye on your alignment will curb some costly repairs and keep other issues at bay. Proper alignment will extend the life of your tires and help to keep you safe on the road. Proper alignment will also help with your fuel efficiency, saving you money at the pump. Watch out for these signs of misalignment, and always have it checked out by a trusted professional every 6,000 miles. Your future self will thank you. We welcome you to visit us here at Thomas Nissan of Joliet for all your alignment maintenance needs. Call or conveniently schedule an appointment on our website. Our service center is here for you, whether it’s an alignment, routine maintenance, or any repair you may need.