Oil changes and tune-ups aren’t the only services to which you should routinely treat your vehicle. Another similar service that you may need to administer to your vehicle from time to time is an alignment service.
Just like other forms of routine maintenance, alignment service comes with its benefits and can be identified by a number of symptoms that your car may be exhibiting when it needs one.
But first, what exactly is an alignment service?
What Are Alignment Services?
An alignment service, which may also be called a wheel alignment, actually doesn’t have anything to do with the wheel’s themselves – although it does predictably affect their alignment. Rather, an alignment has everything to do with the vehicle’s suspension system.
The vehicle’s suspension system, which is housed underneath the vehicle, performs a number of functions for that vehicle. Perhaps most obviously, the suspension system helps to soften the ride for a car or truck.
Even a road that looks smooth is actually quite rough. Without a suspension system, you’d be feeling every little thing that the road had to offer. Anything that couldn’t be absorbed by the tire’s rubber or pneumatics would go straight through the car and into you.
And the tires do absorb some of the vibrations of the road – but only a little. It is the suspension system that is mostly responsible for any comfort you experience while you’re driving your car.
It does this through a complex system of springs and dampers – or sometimes struts, which are a combination of the two. Most vehicles have one of two types of springs – either coiled springs or leaf springs. Coiled springs take the form of the familiar coil that most people think of when they think of a spring. Leaf springs look a little bit like a wide “U.”
These springs absorb some of the energy from the road as your vehicle rides over it, but once they absorb it, they need to release that energy in a controlled manner. That’s where the dampers come into play. Vehicle dampers contain pistons and pressurized oil.
When the springs release some of their stored energy into the pistons in the dampers, the pistons convert some of that energy into heat, which saves you from experiencing it in the form of a shock or a jolt.
If a car has struts, it has what is effectively a coil spring wrapped around a damper – the function of this unit is basically exactly the same as the method described in the immediately preceding paragraphs.
While the function the suspension system plays in aiding comfort is obvious, what may not be so obvious is that the suspension system also enables a driver to maintain a much higher degree of control over the vehicle, assuming all of the components are well maintained and tuned.
The suspension components, which make up the entire system, will also impact a vehicle’s alignment, which affects how the tires make contact with the road surface. If one of the components is not adjusted properly or there is some other issue with the suspension system, you will experience diminished control over the vehicle and it will be harder to track smoothly.
What alignment services do, then, is check the car to see how certain elements of its tracking for camber, caster, and toeing – and then adjusting the suspension to rectify any issues that are discovered.
Camber: Looking at the vehicle from the front, head-on, camber is the angle at which the tires contact the ground. Camber can be either positive, negative, or neutral (in which there is no discernible angle). Positive camber occurs when the top of the tire is angled away from the car and negative camber occurs when the top of the tire is angled inwards.
Caster: The caster angle is the angle at which the steering axis intersects a vertical axis driven through the tire when faced from the side. A positive caster angle, which means that the steering axis is behind the vertical axis of the tire (when viewed from the side) is desirable because it will cause the tire to want to track straight when no force is applied to the steering wheel.
Toe Angle: Finally, there is the matter of toe angle, which may be described either as toe-in or toe-out. A toe-in angle means that when the car is viewed from the top, the leading edges of the tires are angled towards each other. Toe-out means exactly the opposite, that the leading edges of the tires point away from each other. Which one is preferable depends on the design of the vehicle as well as whether or not it utilizes front-wheel drive.
It’s important to know that each individual has particular alignment specifications and that no two cars should necessarily be aligned in exactly the same fashion. Taking these into consideration will help an automotive professional identify what changes if any need to be made to your alignment so that your vehicle will handle better. Regardless of that, here are some signs that your vehicle may be due for alignment service. If you notice any of these, it might be time to start thinking “I’d better find a provider of service for an alignment near me.”
Signs Your Vehicle Is in Need of an Alignment
- Your steering wheel is not where you would expect it to be – it’s not centered
This is probably the most obvious sign that you need to find “alignment near me” as soon as possible. If you’re starting to notice that your vehicle tracks relatively straight when the wheel is off-center, then you almost certainly need an alignment because something is definitely wrong. Occasionally, this becomes a problem after hitting something (like a curb) but it can also develop slowly over time.
- Your car pulls or drifts to one side or the other
Have you ever been driving and noticed that your car seems to want to pull to one side or the other, or that it’s constantly drifting across the road surface? This often occurs seemingly without your input as the driver. Well, in some instances, it can be caused by irregularities in the road surface – so if it happens once, it’s not something to worry about. However, if you start to notice a pattern, it probably means that something is wrong with your alignment.
- Excessive vibrations or “shaking”
Similar to “pulling” or drifting, sometimes vehicles that need an alignment service will rattle, shake or vibrate. Usually what happens is that when you get to a certain speed, your steering wheel will start to vibrate or shake back and forth very rapidly – although it sometimes occurs all the time. Either way, if this happens it’s a sure sign you need to have your alignment inspected.
- You notice uneven tire wear
This one requires you to get in front of your tires and actually inspect the wear on the treads, and honestly, even if you do find uneven wear, you might be able to fix that with a tire rotation instead of an alignment service. However, sometimes that uneven wear is caused by an alignment issue and has to be addressed accordingly.
- Your steering feels loose or unresponsive
Occasionally, an issue with alignment will present in the form of steering that feels mushy or unresponsive. If it seems like there’s an unusual amount of play in your steering wheel, it can indicate an issue with your front alignment – which means you’ll need to get on down to the car care center to have that alignment checked.
- You notice a weird sound when steering
Odd sounds from your tires from steering can indicate a whole host of things, not the least of which is your car’s alignment. However, it is a sign that there may be something wrong with it, and if you notice that those sounds start to become a chronic problem, then you need to have it investigated whether it’s an alignment issue or not.
- Your steering wheel doesn’t want to return to center after a turn
Another big sign that your car is not properly aligned is if your steering wheel doesn’t want to return to the center after you’ve made a turn. If your vehicle is well-aligned, your steering wheel will want to return to true center, even during a turn – if it doesn’t, it’s almost certainly time for you to get your car to the service center for a wheel alignment service.
Now that you know what to look for when you’re keeping your eyes peeled for issues related to alignment, be aware that there are a number of benefits from having your vehicle regularly services – and many of them are due to keeping your alignment maintained as it should be.
Benefits of Receiving an Alignment Service
Having an alignment service performed brings with it a wide range of benefits for your vehicle, including some of the following:
- Increase the lifespan of your tires
One of the most tangible issues that arise from driving with poor alignment is that your tires will wear unevenly. In many cases, unevenly worn tires are responsible for the feeling of pulling or drifting that you’ll experience while you’re driving.
Naturally, if your alignment improves, your tires won’t wear as unevenly, which will extend their practical lifespan. That’s convenient for you, but most importantly, it saves money!
- Improve your fuel economy
Something else to note is that driving with a poor alignment will cost you extra fuel. When you drive with poor alignment, you’re counteracting the “good” engineering of the vehicle that achieves its intended fuel economy.
Forcing a car to track when it doesn’t want to or exerting extra forces on the tires and suspension all adds in extra friction, which chews up more fuel.
- Reduce the potential for other, more expensive auto repairs
Driving around with a poor alignment can also cause damage to the other components of your vehicle, and the longer you drive around without a proper alignment, the more damage you may end up doing to your tires, brakes, and suspension system. If you have a serious alignment problem, that can even incur damage to your transmission or differential.
Those are serious problems, but you can prevent them all with a simple alignment service to ensure that everything is operating as it should be!
- Improve your handling – which improves safety
Because a proper alignment will ensure that your vehicle’s tires contact the road at the proper angle, are balanced, and track properly, it will also improve your handling and therefore your safety.
Having a service for alignment performed as a component of routine auto care will ensure that your vehicle handles as it was intended to – and a car that handles better is safer for everyone – both in the car and on the road!
- Experience a more comfortable ride!
Finally, if you needed one more tangible reason to make sure that your alignment is well adjusted, consider the fact that one of the keys to a smooth, comfortable, enjoyable ride is a proper alignment.
All other things being held equal, your car will ride more smoothly and respond better to the road as well. For those of you who needed one more reason to take your car in for an alignment service, there it is!
Before You Go Looking for “Alignment Near Me” Call Us Up!
At Borst Automotive, we place a huge emphasis on the values of integrity, honesty, and quality work. We believe things should be done right the first time – and we treat our customers like family.
If there’s something about your vehicle that needs addressing, we’ll figure out what it is and carefully explain the steps you should take to correct it. Additionally, our technicians are all A.S.E. Certified and combine many years of experience to bring you the finest team of technicians in the area.
Call up the Borst Automotive location that’s nearest you today if you want to learn more about alignment services or the other automotive repair services (including emission repair services) that we offer. You can also call us to make an appointment – although you can also book a car service appointment online!