Don't get out ‘align'
September 22, 2006 - Most vehicle owners are aware of the importance of vehicle maintenance.
Getting an oil change every 3,000 miles is probably the easiest, since there usually is a sticker placed on the windshield or a light on the dashboard indicating it is time to take the car in to be serviced.
But few car owners take the time to look at the only piece of their car that actually touches the pavement - the tires.
“You should get your vehicle aligned every time you get new tires,” said Larry McGuire, a technician at the Sears Auto Center in Yuba City for the past 23 years. “And if they get their tires rotated every 5,000 miles and check their air pressure often, it would help out a lot.”
Wheel alignments are not just to fix a car that may pull one way or another, they are also important in maintaining the life of a tire. It really isn't good to spend $600 for a new set of tires, just to have them wear out in a couple of months due to an alignment that is out of adjustment.
Spending an extra $60 to get the vehicle aligned could save a lot of money down the road.
Wheel alignments are not to be confused with wheel balancing, although both can affect the ride of your car. Balancing usually is done any time a person buys a new tire. This is done by hammering or sticking weights to the wheel or rim. Balancing reduces the amount of vibration drivers can feel in the steering wheel or floorboard.
An easy way to tell if a vehicle is out of alignment is to look at the tires and see if one side of the tire has less tread than the other.
“If you wait too long, doing an alignment won't fix the wear problem,” McGuire said, noting that once a tire begins to wear unevenly there is nothing you can do to fix it. “Doing an alignment won't put the rubber back on the tires.”
An easy way to remember when to have the tires rotated and balanced: Get it done at the same time as the oil change.
A vehicle that is out of adjustment isn't the only reason a car may pull one way or another.
“Most of the time, it's a tire that causes the pull,” McGuire said. “A lot of the time customers will come back and say that their pull is still there.”
Called a radial tire pull, a car or truck can drift to the right or left depending on which tire is bad. An easy way to tell if a bad tire is causing the pull is to cross rotate the front tires by swapping the right front with the left front tire.
Alignment technicians work with three angles - camber, caster and toe - and each make and model has different specifications for where the angles should be set. What could be perfect for a Chevy Tahoe, may be out of specifications for a Ford Explorer.
Although some manufacturers don't have camber or caster adjustments for newer vehicles, the adjustments can be made by purchasing an after-market kit, McGuire said.
And since roads aren't flat, alignment technicians must compensate for the crown of the road, which tends to slope to the right to channel water off the driving surface.
Advances in computer technology have decreased the time it takes to do alignments. Instead of using a mechanical level, a piece of string and a tape measure, technicians put sensors on each of the tires and see where the angles are.
“It doesn't take (much) to look down and see the tire is under-inflated or if it isn't wearing properly,” McGuire said.