What is a Wheel Alignment and Why Do You Need One?

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Wheel alignment is how straight the wheels on your vehicle are in comparison to one another. You want your vehicle wheels to be parallel and balanced, so you have the smoothest, safest driving experience possible. Without maintaining your wheels alignment, you are more prone to damages, accidents, and other pricey and dangerous problems.

Essentially, your vehicle’s wheel alignment depends on two factors: camber and caster. Working with a “lean with it, rock with it,” metaphor—the camber is the lean while the caster is the rock. For those of you born after 2001 let me break that down for you: first off, camber is how much your car wheels lean towards or away from your car. You want your wheels to be balanced in the middle, but if their camber is off they might slant inwards towards your car with a negative camber or away from your car with a positive camber.

Caster is how much your tires slant forwards towards the hood of your car or backwards towards the trunk. If your wheels jet forwards, they can begin to shred due to the disproportioned weight while driving. If your wheels lag backwards, you will have less control in maneuvering your car, which is never a position you want to be in as a driver.

You Need a Wheel Alignment Because It Could be Life Saving

Just like your car runs better when it has had a fresh oil change, your car will drive smoother when your wheels are aligned. Not only does maintaining wheel alignment make for a more pleasant driving experience, it could save your life as well. When your wheels are not properly aligned, your car is more vulnerable to severe weather conditions such as snow, ice, and rain. If your wheels have an overly negative camber, your car will react more sharply to slippery snow, ice, or rain on the road. What could have been a little slide on the road can lead to your car spiraling-out—threatening your life and those around you.

Uneven terrains such as mountains, bumpy or graveled roads could also affect your car if the wheels are not properly aligned. When you are driving up the side of a mountain, you definitely want to make sure that you have full control of your vehicle, unaligned tires are not your friend in this (or any) situation.

Getting your wheels aligned could also prevent your car from flipping over if you are ever in an accident or even just taking a turn too sharply. If your tires lean more on one side, it might not take too much more force to tip it all the way over. Get your wheels regularly aligned and skip the potential disaster.

While wheel alignment can help save your life, it can save your wallet too. When your wheels are not properly aligned, you will use up more fuel every time you drive. Your life is definitely more important, but it doesn’t hurt to help out your wallet as well.

Red Flag Signs That You Need to Check Your Wheel Alignment

Keeping your tires rotated is a good way to make sure they are aligned. When you get your wheels professionally rotated, your mechanic will obviously make sure they are aligned. While some say you should rotate your tires every 5,000 miles, there are some surefire signs you might need to do so sooner.

  • Potholes

The bane of every driver’s existence—potholes. One minute you’re driving along the road, and everything is perfectly fine and the next thing you know you hear that awful *DA-KLUNK* that means you just ran over a massive pothole in the road. You pull over hoping for the best but preparing for the worst, only to find out that the worst has happened, and a pothole has claimed your tire. This is bound to happen to you often if your wheels are not aligned. Be safe and check the alignment if your tires whenever you drive over a nasty pothole just to make sure everything stayed put.

  • Curbs

Sometimes when we take a turn too sharply we may clip the side of the curb with our wheels. It happens to us all. But what doesn’t have to happen to us all is the major damage that can happen to your car if you hit a curb when your wheels are unaligned. If you have wheels with an overly positive camber you might even catch curbs more easily as you drive past them, no thanks! Save yourself the hassle and get your wheels aligned regularly, also give them a check when you happen to bump a curb.

  • Driving Quickly Over Speed Bumps

If bumping into curbs is bad for your wheel alignment, zooming over speed bumps is catastrophic. Speed bumps are made of hard concrete, which is made for your car to drive on top of, not in to. The force from driving over a speed bump quickly can be enough to knock your wheels out of alignment, or cause you to swerve if they are already out of line. Do yourself a favor and just drive slowly over speed bumps, but be sure to give your wheels a check if one happens to sneak up on you.

  • Getting in an Accident

Whenever your car is in ANY kind of accident, you should get the wheel alignment, as well as everything else, checked out by your mechanic. When a car is hit with any kind of force, have it be a small fender-bender or a full-out collision, there is a chance that the vehicle was internally damaged. While your car may look fine after a small accident, you should always get it approved by a mechanic just to make sure everything inside is straightened out too.