Wheel Alignment 101: How Long Does It Take?

Wheel alignment is a common maintenance task that all car owners deal with. 

However, some try to avoid it thinking that it is too time-consuming or costs a lot. 

That’s not true. Getting your tires aligned probably takes up an hour or 2 in normal circumstances, and the costs are not that high as well.

Read on to learn more about wheel alignment and its importance for the smooth operations of your vehicle.  

Wheel Alignment: What is It and Why is It Important?

Tire alignment is a simple concept. It means to ensure that all the wheels are moving in the same direction when moving. 

Doing so ensures a smoother driving experience and also allows you to have maximum control over the car.

Basically, wheel alignment deals with the contact forces between the tires and the road. 

These contact forces play a huge part in moving your car around and proper alignment ensures that the force from each tire is acting in the same direction. 

Any deviation can be the cause of losses and inefficiencies that will affect your overall experience.

The suspension of your car plays an integral role in keeping the wheels aligned. 

There are different types of alignment and the right kind depends on your vehicle type. 

All-wheel drives need 4-wheel alignment while front and rear wheel drives will need a front-end or thrust angle alignment respectively

Now coming on to the importance of tire alignment

Naturally, it’s quite necessary to ensure that all your tires are properly aligned for the best performance. 

You’ll see a significant drop in the overall driving experience with a misaligned car as it will be quite difficult to handle.

The car will consistently go in one direction and that can put you and your passengers in jeopardy.

Furthermore, misaligned wheels can create a lot of problems financially as well

Your tires will deteriorate faster with uneven wear and your suspension components will also take more load.

As a result, you’ll have to get your tires replaced sooner and get the suspension repaired more frequently.

How Often Should I Get My Wheels Aligned?

Better driving habits and good roads can minimize the chances of misalignment but can’t eliminate them. 

Generally, your tires will need alignment once every two years no matter what. However, the two-year window is for drivers who are extremely careful and commute only on pristine roads.

For regular drivers, it’s better to get the alignment checked on a yearly basis. 

The process is not too expensive and doesn’t take that much time as well. 

Schedule a visit every year and that would help you ensure that your tires, suspension, and other essential components are in perfect condition.

Signs That You Need Tire Alignment

In addition to visiting the tire shop for regular maintenance checks, you should be on the lookout for major signs of damage to your vehicle’s alignment. 

Here are a few tell-tale signs that you need to get your wheels aligned.

1. Crooked Steering Wheel

How do you know that you are driving your car in a straight line? Obviously by the steering wheel. 

If you notice that is not the case and the car comes on a straight path after off-center to compensate for the misalignment, then it’s time for a visit to the workshop.

Generally, an off-center steering wheel indicates that the car only needs alignment on the front axle. 

This is the simplest setting but is not recommended on modern cars or any 4-wheel drive.

2. Pull in One Direction

Another giveaway sign of misalignment is the fact that you get pulled in a single direction while driving. 

It means that either your tires are over/under-inflated or there is a problem with the suspension. 

Check out the air in your tires. If they are properly inflated, then it means that you have to schedule a visit to the workshop very soon.

3. Excessive vibrations

This is another common sign of misaligned or unbalanced tires. 

Potholes, debris, uneven road, or anything other than a normally smooth surface induces a lot of vibrations in the car and may lead to problems including unbalanced wheel and misalignment.

 Since both issues are significant, you should visit the workshop where it is standard practice to rule out misalignment before proceeding with correcting the balancing issues.  

4. Loose Steering Wheel

Even noticed that turning your wheel requires a lot of extra effort or a play in the steering wheel. 

Both cases are another tell-tale sign of alignment issues. 

In this case, you should go to your mechanic immediately because it’s crucial for the steering wheel to maintain full control over the movement of the vehicle. 

Otherwise, you’ll be opening yourself up to other significant risks.  

5. Uneven Tire Wear

Finally, uneven tire wear on your tires is another common sign that your tires need to be aligned. 

If you continue driving with alignment issues, the car would put an uneven load on your tires. 

For the best operations, it’s important that the tire wear is even so there are no additional loads and strains on the vehicle while driving.

If you notice uneven wear, there are high chances that you are either dealing with balancing issues or misalignment.

The Wheel Alignment Process. How Long Does It Take?

The actual time required for wheel alignment depends on several factors including the type of car, the type of alignment needed, and the severity of the issue. 

However, the general time span for getting it done from the shop is 2 hours.

In any case, the first step for any alignment job is to ensure that your suspension is up to the mark. 

The suspension needs to be perfect if you want to ensure an excellent job. That means tightening any loose components or repairing any damaged parts. 

Naturally, the time you’ll need will increase from 2 hours if you have any suspension issues as well.

FAQs

If you are not an experienced driver, you’ll obviously have some questions regarding the process of wheel alignment. Here are a few commonly asked questions that any beginner might have.  

What is the cost of wheel alignment?

The overall cost of alignment depends on your car and the location. 

However, the average price of the entire process is $75 per alignment if you don’t go for an extended warranty. 

However, it’s always recommended to do so as many businesses offer lifetime warranties at a premium rate. If you regularly drive on rough roads, then paying a premium for the extended warranty is the smarter play.     

Should I get all my tires aligned or the front ones only?

It depends on the kind of issue and the vehicle you have. 

If you drive a modern car or an all-wheel drive, then the question becomes moot. 

Going for only the front axle setting is only valid when you have a crooked steering wheel on an older car that isn’t all-wheel drive.  

Do I need an alignment after replacing my tires?

Yes. It’s always recommended to get an alignment after you purchase new tires

This way you’ll get better performance, mileage, and overall, the best performance from your vehicle. 

Not doing so can subject your tires to early damage and even affect your warranty, which can hurt you financially.

Is tire alignment the same as tire balancing?

No, tire alignment and balancing are two entirely different things.

The alignment ensures that all tires are in the same direction and the contact forces don’t negatively impact each other. 

On the other hand, balancing ensures that your wheel rotates properly and doesn’t wobble. 

The confusion between the two concepts is because of overlap in the signs that indicate the need for alignment and balancing. Some of them are the same.

Can I perform my wheel alignment by myself?

No. Wheel alignment can’t be performed at home because you’ll need special machines and equipment that are only available at workshops. 

You can’t do anything without them. Fortunately, the alignment process doesn’t cost a lot and some shops even give you a warranty. 

So, you can get it done without breaking the bank.   

Key Takeaways

All cars need regular maintenance to ensure excellent operations. 

Wheel alignment is among the common maintenance tasks that you can’t avoid and must do regularly. 

The process can be around 2 hours but the actual time depends on the condition of your suspension and some other factors.  

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dean Alvarez, TireForge Head Author

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