The term is a bit misleading. Wheel alignment actually refers to a vehicle’s suspension, which involves a complex system of springs and other parts that keep your tires in their correct position. Properly aligned wheels sit at the right angles so that they can move in a straight line efficiently with even tire wear. Potholes, curbs, and other features of rough roads can easily throw off a vehicle’s suspension, which means improper wheel alignment too.
During wheel alignment service your mechanic will check how each wheel is sitting to make sure the camber, caster, and toe angles are ideal for your driving purposes, fuel efficiency, and tires. Camber, caster, and toe refer to the angles at which the tires contact the road surface and, as you can imagine, these angles can have a big impact on how your car handles, performs, and lasts.
For example, if you were to walk around on the outside edges of your foot all day, such that your pinky toe is contacting the ground more than your big toe, the soles of your shoes would wear out a lot faster on the outer edges of your foot than by your inner arch. The same thing is true with your tires. If your wheels are misaligned, your tires may be contacting the road more on one side than the other, causing an array of problems.
As always, you should check your owner’s manual for the manufacturer’s recommended alignment schedule. Keep in mind that if you often drive on rough roads, you’ll need alignment more often. You can also watch for common signs of misalignment, such as uneven tire tread wear, difficulty keeping the steering wheel straight, and a car that tends to drift in one direction.
If you like saving money on gas, getting the most out of your tires, and driving safely, you should be all for maintaining your vehicle’s wheel alignment. The suspension is a crucial component in your car, connecting steering and tires just right to make sure everything is moving smoothly for a comfortable, safe, and reliable ride.