Death. Taxes. Your car going out of alignment. These are some of the few certainties in life. A car being out of alignment does more than just annoy the driver or prevent them from steering with their knees (tsk tsk!), it can pose a serious safety hazard and put serious strain on a number of your car’s components. Here’s a quick guide on how to recognize your car needing an alignment.
1. Your handling is feeling loose
When your car is new its handing should feel “tight” and responsive. If it goes out of alignment, you may notice that it “wanders” around the road a little bit. It may be a little sloppy when taking turns. In general you might find that the car doesn’t respond as directly or immediately to the directions you give it via the steering wheel. If you are experiencing any of this, take your car into the shop to have the alignment checked.
2. Your steering wheel sticks to one side
This one is a little more obvious. When all’s well, your steering wheel will be perfectly centered. When the alignment is really off, it will tilt to one side. Note that while your wheel should be centered on a flat road, depending on the crown of the road it may be off center by a few degrees. A general rule of thumb is if the misalignment is immediately noticeable and obvious, it’s probably time to get that alignment checked.
3. Your tires are wearing out unevenly
Next time you take your vehicle into the shop for a balance and rotation, ask the mechanic to take a look at how the tires are wearing in addition to how much. While it’s fairly simple to do this at home, these guys see a lot of tires every day and are a great judge of what’s “normal” wear and tear versus what’s irregular. If it appears that your tires are wearing out unevenly, get that alignment checked out immediately. This is symptomatic of an alignment problem that’s not just affecting your tires, but also your entire suspension system and wheels.
4. Your steering wheel fails to re-center itself
Your car is designed so that your steering wheel will right itself after it’s been turned. This is a pretty important safety feature and it acts to assist drivers. While it is important to always right the wheel yourself for safety reasons, it’s still a great way to see if all’s square under the hood. If you find a long, straight road with light traffic, see if your wheel aligns itself naturally after you’ve turned it a bit. Make sure to be ready to steer if needed. If the wheel doesn’t return to its centered position right away, you’ve got a problem.
5. Your car starts to “pull”
If you’ve somehow ignored all the other warning signs, this one is the final straw. A car that is severely out of alignment will “pull” itself to one side or another in its natural position, rather than stay centered. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to tell you why this is dangerous. If your car is pulling, you are a serious danger to yourself and everyone else on the road. Take care of that problem as soon as possible.
At Strutmasters, we are huge fans of DIYers. That’s why our suspension conversion kits are designed specifically to be easy to install at home. However, an alignment is something that requires specialized equipment and some serious know-how to do. This is not a problem that will correct itself, it will only get worse. Take care of yourself and be considerate of others on the road and correct your alignment today. For more car care tips, check out the Strutmasters blog.