No matter how carefully you drive your vehicle, you’re likely to hit a pothole, curb or a big bump. From outside it may appear like nothing has got affected but wheels may lose proper alignment.
The misaligned wheels can make your drive unsafe and uncomfortable too. And if it is not fixed well in time, it can add to the cost in multiple ways such as misaligned wheels can cause unexpected tire wear, so you may have to replace your tires earlier than usual. And misaligned tires are also less fuel efficient.
But the actual question is how you would identify that your vehicle’s wheels are misaligned. Before we move ahead, it is essential to understand the importance of right wheel alignment.
Importance of Car Wheel Alignment
Accurate wheel alignment is directly connected to the life of tire, steering, suspension, and fuel efficiency. A bad wheel alignment can cause unexpected rapid tire wear, and because tire gets more pressure due to misalignment, they start consuming more fuel. If you still continue driving your vehicle, it can cause some serious damage in the suspension parts also which can amount to a heavy repair cost.
Perfectly aligned wheels make our drive safe and comfortable as well as increase the overall life of the vehicle.
How to Identify Wheel Alignment Problem
- It is not necessary that if your wheels are drifting to left or right, there is a problem with the alignment; it could be due to inappropriate air pressure in the tires. Therefore, before you reach to any decision, it is essential you check the air pressure in all four tires and make sure they are inflated as per the manufacturer’s recommended air pressure level.
- You should also check the pattern on the tires. See if there are any abnormal wear on the tires. See if they look symmetrical or the one side is unusually more damaged than the other. If you see abnormal damage, it means there is an alignment problem either in the suspension system or the wheel assembly.
- You can also check the alignment of your car’s wheels using a tape measure or level. The tires are usually aligned slightly toe in but if they are aligned too much towards the center, use the tape and measure the distance between the front and rear centerlines of the tires. This will give you an idea about how serious the alignment issue is. However, the alignment needs to be tested by a professional mechanic.
- After the inspection, you can take the vehicle on the road for a test drive. Drive the vehicle with a loose grip on the steering and see if it is drifting to left or right instead of going straight. While driving, listen carefully and see if any grinding or scraping sound is coming out of the vehicle. This sound can be an indication to some serious problems with alignment.
- Finally, ask someone to follow your vehicle to see if the front and back wheels are tracking in the same groove, if not, it means there is some problem with the frame of the vehicle.
Symptoms of Bad Wheel Alignment
Steering Wheel Vibrates
When there is even a minor issue with the wheel alignment, the steering wheel can start vibrating. Therefore, you can take it as an early warning sign which may become a serious problem over time. However, there are a number of issues that can cause the steering to vibrate, so it is best you take your vehicle to a mechanic who will diagnose the problem accurately.
Drifting to the Left or Right
Find a flat straight road with no traffic at all, take a test drive keeping your hands loose on the steering and while driving sees if the vehicle continues to drive to the straight. If it drifts to the left or right, it means there is an alignment issue with wheels.
Your Vehicle Doesn’t Take a Smooth Turn
A vehicle with bad wheel alignment can also make taking turn little tricky as you may not be able to take an immediate turn. If you turn the steering, it may take a few seconds to come in the position of taking a turn. This can be a serious bad wheel alignment issue that should be addressed on an immediate basis else it can become a cause of an accident.
The misaligned wheels cause uneven tire wear and as the tire wears out, it starts to squeal especially when you accelerate. The worse the tire wears would be the louder the squealing you will hear. If you hear such sound, you should get the vehicle inspected without any fail.
Can You Drive a Car with Bad Wheel Alignment
You can surely drive your car with a bad wheel alignment but your negligence and delay will only cause more damage to the tires and vehicle. If you keep postponing the wheel alignment, you may end up getting the tires blown out. The misalignment can put more pressure on the tires that can cause the tires to blow out if you drive the vehicle at a higher speed.
Misaligned wheels also affect the fuel mileage as the vehicle has to work harder than normal. So they tend to consume more fuel. And as you can’t turn the vehicle in either direction properly, driving the vehicle means putting your life on stake.
How Long Can You Drive with Bad Wheel Alignment
It completely depends on the severity of the wheel alignment. If you feel little vibration even on the higher speed, it means it’s a minor wheel alignment issue, with that you can still continue driving for the next couple of months. But if you feel the steering is much loose and you can’t control the vehicle properly, you should not attempt to drive the vehicle until it is fixed. However, it is recommended that whenever you change the tires, you should get the wheels realigned for better steering control.
Types of Wheel Alignment
As if now you know why the wheel alignment is required but which type of alignment you need to consider. Here, you will know about 3 different types of wheel alignment and how they work.
Toe angle helps to determine the exact direction of the tires in reference to the centerline of the vehicle. When the tires point in towards the centerline, this is called Toe-in alignment. And when the tires point outwards the centerline, this is the Toe-out alignment. Generally, the Toe angle is aligned close to zero which is neither too much in nor too much out, so that the tires can make even contact with the road. The right toe setting helps to increase the life of tires as well as lets you enjoy a smooth drive.
In caster alignment, the front suspension is aligned keeping the vertical position in account. If the top of the steering axis tilts towards the rear of the vehicle, this is called Positive Caster. And when the top of the steering axis tilts towards the front of the vehicle, this is called Negative Caster. Generally, it is set as Positive Caster which gives you better vehicle stability as well as helps in steering return and wheels self-center that allow the wheels to run straight. While on the other hand, the Negative Caster decreases vehicle control and gives the poor steering performance.
Camber alignment is much visible from the outside while looking at a vehicle. When the top of the tire tilts inwards the vehicle is referred as Negative Camber. And when the top of the tire tilts outwards the vehicle is known as Positive Camber. However, it is always recommended to set the vehicle either at neutral or slightly negative camber to allow for even contact with the road. It helps to wear the tires evenly and provides them better contact with the road.
So when you notice even a minor wheel misalignment or an imbalance with your tires, ensure that you take your vehicle to a mechanic who can address the issue as it will not only result in an increase in excessive tire wear but also put your safety at risk.