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DIY Corner: Maintaining Proper Wheel Alignment

by Jim Smart on

Not enough of us take chassis alignment and integrity seriously — yet it is a serious business, because it affects safe handling and tire life. Here's our guide to checking your alignment.

A bad alignment or excessively worn chassis components can eat up new tires in a few thousand miles. When four-corner alignment is out of specification, you’re not always sure what your vehicle is going to do in a quick correct situation. As abnormal tire wear becomes excessive, it adversely affects contact patch. And given bald or partially bald tires, forget adhesion. You’re going to be all over the road and dangerous to both yourself and others. 

Diagnosing Front-End Alignment Problems

  • Examine tire wear prior to chassis inspection.  Pay special attention to look for unevenness in tire wear patterns (One tire or area where there is a discernable difference in tire wear).
  • Properly maintain and perform safety checks your tires on a periodic basis. Make sure the wheels are balanced and the tires are inflated properly.
  • Look under the vehicle and perform a visual chassis inspection while paying special attention to looking for part failure or excessive wear before you have an alignment performed.  If there is excessive wear/play in the structural parts have them replaced BEFORE having an alignment done.
  • Listen for sounds from the front end of the car while driving at a slow rate of speed. Scraping, whining, or grinding sounds indicate excessive friction as the tire tread rubs against the road, or other structural problems.
  • Let your grip on the steering wheel loosen enough to let the car proceed on its own while driving down a fairly straight road. Make sure weather and driving conditions are ideal before performing this test. If your vehicle pulls to the right or left in a drastic fashion you may need a front-end alignment.
  • Because good alignment shops are hard to find, check references. Just because a chassis/tire shop has the latest technology does not mean they have ASE Certified Mechanics.
  • Chassis alignment should be performed any time you rotate and balance tires because tire rotation changes alignment. The first place you notice a difference is steering wheel position after tire rotation. Tire rotation changes your steering wheel’s normal 12 o’clock position. Whenever you have tires rotated, never cris-cross. Always keep radial tires on the same side fore and aft. If you have vibration after rotation and balance, have it checked and corrected immediately.
  • When you have a chassis alignment performed, have a specialist check chassis components like ball joints, control arm bushings, shocks/struts, tie-rod ends, and steering rack/gear for excessive wear. Inspection should include steering shaft, rag joint or coupling, and steering wheel positioning.

For a more detailed look at tire alignment and diagnosis for the DIY mechanic, go to: Align It Yourself


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