How Long Does An Alignment Take? Signs Your Vehicle Begs For It

Wheel alignment, or as it's sometimes called tire alignment, takes around one hour if there are no breakdowns in suspension. If the car has problems with alignment bolts and suspension elements, it may take up to two hours to align the wheels in your vehicle.

Wheel alignment is a highly needed procedure that will allow you to prolong the life of tires, ensure optimal brakes, smooth driving and higher safety on highways. The alignment should happen once every 2 or 3 years or every time you have your car suspension and steering system repaired.

What is actually a wheel alignment?

Wheel alignment is the process of aligning the wheels and tires with the surface of the road and with one another. Here, Wikipedia writes about the process, so you can read more.

Basically, it's the adjustment of the vehicle's suspension in such a way that the tires touch the ground with their entire working surface. This ensures optimal ground grip, better stability on the road.

What are camber, toe and caster?

Guys from Bridgestonetire explain that the wheel alignment is basically the adjustments that are concerned about three main factors - camber, toe and caster.

Camber is the inward and outward angle if viewed from the front of the vehicle. In some sport cars the optimal camber may be negative - this ensures better vehicle stability on the road. But for the sake of tire lifespan the optimal camber angle is the centerline.

Toe is the inward and outward angle when viewed from above the car. Toe in and toe out are major problems that can boost fuel consumption, affect the steering and cause other problems. The toe angle should always be aligned according to the center position.

Caster is another angle that shows the position of steering axis viewed from the side of the vehicle. Bad caster angle causes unbalanced steering and bad stability.

Wheel alignment procedure with timelines

  1. The technician checks tire pressure - 3 minutes.
  2. The car is put on special equipment with measuring tools - 2 minutes.
  3. The measuring equipment is mounted on each wheel - 10 minutes.
  4. Checks are completed, the computer registers toe, camber and caster angles - 3 minutes.
  5. The technician aligns the wheels with the help of special bolts and nuts - 20 minutes.
  6. Checks are repeated with new angles analysis - 3 minutes.
  7. The technician fastens all bolts and nuts that he used for aligning the wheels - 10 minutes.
  8. You get instructions and also report about the job that was done - 2 minutes.
  9. You pay money for the service and leave the service station - 3 minutes.

How often should I get wheel alignment?

The best thing to do is to follow the owner's manual recommendations. However, most technicians agree that aligning your wheels will be needed every 2 or 3 years.

There are some situations when wheel alignment is highly recommended:

  • steering system was repaired;
  • suspension was repaired;
  • new tires were bought;
  • you hit a big pit on the road.

In these cases, wheel alignment angles may be changed, and you will need to check it.

There are also signs that your vehicle begs for wheel alignment procedure:

  • uneven tire wear that you can see when looking at the tire's working surface;
  • vehicle pulling to the side when driving;
  • steering wheel position is not like usual - steering wheel is turned a little left or right, but the car keeps moving straight;
  • steering wheel vibrates, especially when you reach the speed of 80-90 mph.

These are the red signs that say that your car badly needs wheel alignment as soon as possible.

What do I need: wheel alignment or wheel balancing?

Wheel balancing is needed when one wheel doesn't rotate in correct way. You won't see any troubles in the speed of up to 40 mph, but then the car may start shaking, vibrating, pulling a little to the side. The symptoms are quite similar to wheel alignment problems.

That's why you may start with what's cheaper. It's usually cheaper and faster to check wheel balancing and then, if everything is OK, you may order wheel alignment.

Can I align the wheels by myself?

Unfortunately, it's completely impossible. The angles of toe and camber are hard to register without precise computer equipment. Also, you will need to know where the alignment fasteners are and how to use them. It's safer and easier to use special service station for this.

What if I don't want wheel alignment?

If you don't want to pay for wheel alignment, you will probably have to buy new tires sooner. Also, you'll need to put up with poor steering and worse safety when driving your car. Better find the cheapest offer in your city and complete the procedure. But pay attention that the toe and camber angles can be aligned correctly with the help of a professional wheel alignment machine only. So make sure there is such machine in the service station you chose.

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