How do I know whether my vehicle needs a wheel alignment?

Question:

If I get a wheel alignment, does it accomplish the same thing as balancing my tires?

Answer:

Wheel alignments and tire-balancing are different procedures. We talked last month about balancing your tires and how the procedure can solve the problem of uneven wear on your tires. A wheel alignment can also extend the life of your tires, and more:

  •  If you find that your car has been “pulling” to the left or the right, handles poorly, has uneven tire wear or the tires have been squealing as you turn a corner, an alignment will often solve the problem.
  • When the wheels are aligned properly, other parts “mesh” more efficiently, and so you tend to avoid some expensive repairs that you otherwise might have incurred. Of course, this benefit applies to almost any general maintenance issue.
  • After you get your wheels aligned (pointed in the same direction!), It can contribute to improved fuel efficiency.  But the most common, most noticeable benefit from a wheel alignment is the life-expectancy it will add to your tires. A proper alignment prevents the extra scrubbing, sliding and rubbing that your tires might otherwise experience.

Bottom line: It’s good to consider getting your wheels aligned (or at least checked!) when you strike a curb or large pothole, purchase new tires, are having work done on your steering or suspension, or after you have been driving in relatively rough conditions for an extended period.