Beware the free wheel alignment check

2020 Accord Hybrid

Locally owned tire shop was offering free alignment checks – never had an alignment check done on this Honda, so why not? Watched from the customer waiting area and can see someone behind the car while the tech was at the computer. Lo and behold the right rear tire toe was in the red and the tech strongly recommended to proceed with the $99 alignment package. Did not feel comfortable with the high pressure.

Took the car to another shop who also used the Hunter alignment equipment. All green. What was remarkable was how consistent the numbers were (within 0.02 degrees) except for the right rear.

Is it possible that a second person can lean on a tire and affect the toe reading? Did seem really suspicious.

Like in the days when AAMCO offered free linkage and band adjustments, I wonder how many unnecessary transmission replacements were done with that scheme.

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Just for reference, the first shop showed the right rear toe at 0.29 degrees (out of spec) while the second shop measured at 0.09 deg (within spec). All other measurements were within 0.02.

IMHO, scam, how they produced an out of spec reading, I don’t know.

Anything that is free is not worth having. That’s true in general, not just in the automotive world. But it’s especially true in the automotive world, for a long list of reasons. Too often it’s a “loss leader” meant to drum up business. Also $99 is awfully cheap for a quality alignment. It’s not just about whether the shop uses name brand equipment. It’s also about how often it’s calibrated and how good the mechanic is.

That’s very easily done, and you don’t need someone leaning on the car.


I figured is could be as simple as changing the value on the printout to show the customer. In my field, instruments would provide a value that was beyond their linear range, we would then correct the report by reporting less than or greater than whatever the linear value limit.

When I was young and dumb(er), I fell into one of those schemes. A certain chain was running a “free” alignment check. What do you know, my car needed ball joint replacement and alignment! Plus they arranged a payment plan through the chain’s credit department.

Yes, anything free is a marketing promotion intended to identify candidates for expensive services, but that does not necessarily mean that anything nefarious is going on.

Depending on the type of tool used, dirt or wheel damage or carelessness can result in the tool attaching to the car improperly, resulting in an erroneous reading.

Careful, thorough, wheel alignment is hard to find. Even the most reputable shops generally “Set the toe and let 'er go” if there was no specific complaint that brings caster and camber into question.

What ticks me off is when the report they give you shows different before and after numbers for caster and camber, but a careful inspection of the bolts reveals that caster and camber were not touched. This happened to me at one of the most well-known shops in Sacramento.

Those with experience with the Hunter alignment machines – is the tech able to manually change the values after the measurement is complete? Seems like this can open up a can of worms.

Rather than giving a blanket condemnation of those gratis alignment checks, I think it would be more appropriate to advise the OP to avoid that particular dealership in the future. (Probably not a necessary recommendation under the circumstances, but…)

I will note that the Toyota dealership–to which I used to take my friend’s Rav-4 for servicing–began checking alignment in the vehicle check-in area about 5 years ago, and they NEVER told him that he needed an alignment. After an ownership change at my Subaru dealer, they also installed alignment-check equipment at the vehicle check-in area, and after bringing my car there for maintenance 5 or 6 times, they finally recommended an alignment on the 4th or 5th visit.

A blanket condemnation of all establishments that provide a gratis alignment check is no more valid than a blanket condemnation of all members of a minority group.


Some factors to consider. Who knows when or even if either of those alignment racks have been calibrated?
Who knows if the car suffered a hit while unloading it from a transport truck at the dealer when new?

Maybe the one showing out of spec is accurate and the other showing in spec is not. Maybe the truth is somewhere in the middle.

We had an alignment rack that showed every car placed on it as having approx. 1 degree positive camber when a blind man could see negative.
Along the same lines, a brand new Snap-On computer wheel balancer that was for lack of a better phrase; a boat anchor. It was pathetic enough that to a man every tech refused to balance wheels with it because it was a guaranteed comeback.

SO rep, service manager; all said the balancer was fine but could not explain why it would show a spare tire from a brand new car as being anywhere from 11 to 17 ounces out of balance.

Wheel balancers, like alignment racks and torque wrenches, can sometimes use a bit of outside help but in the case of the balancer there was no helping it. SO rep (not route man) threw in the towel after changing the circuit board and getting the same results.

When I took my 2006 Toyota Matrix in for an airbag recall years ago I had to make two visits.
I saw they were checking alignment of all vehicles going into the service bay.
First visit they gave me the readout with front toe slightly out of spec.
At home I adjusted each tie rod 1/4 turn.
Second visit it was in spec.

I generally have a habit of refusing free stuff so as not to be beholding to the givers (hotly criticized here for it though). At any rate my transmission went out and AAMCO offered free towing and diagnostics. So I called them and they came and got my car and towed it 10 miles closer to home. Naturally they said the thing needed to be overhauled and I responded it was just done a few months back at my dealer, so they would come and tow me the rest of the 30 miles home under warranty.

Boy was that guy mad. No more free coffee for me or mens room use. Wait outside. Ha ha ha. That was before I really knew about them but was smart enough to smell the scam.

Turned out I did need a different part not normally included in an OH but a whole lot cheaper than the scammers.

You need to clarify the bit about someone behind the car. Behind the car is not saying that they were at the right rear and/or that they were pushing down on the car.

The car should not be pushed down upon while going through an alignment check.
However (and something I’ve always done) is once the car is on the alignment rack I shove all 4 corners down firmly to settle the suspension before an alignment check.

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I lost a good battery due to the “free battery check” from Interstate Batteries. I’d like to buy a battery from them and put a 3 year old date sticker on it with a little dirt and then have it tested the same day during a different shift and see if it tests bad.

The reverse of this happened at the shop I used to work at.

A guy brought in a lowered VW Scirocco for an alignment. Front camber was out of spec by half a degree but even both sides, caster was OK, my alignment guy set the toe and noted “front camber out of spec, no further adjustment possible.”

He came back later that day asking for the manager (me). He complained that the camber hadn’t even been touched, there were no marks on the bolts, and asked that we re-do the alignment. I explained to him that no further adjustment was possible (which the service writer did as well) but he argued that since we didn’t even try we couldn’t be sure. “You’re paid to try, right?” Then he took out his phone and showed me the pic of dirty strut bolts that showed we didn’t try.

I then showed him in the same pic that the eccentric was “maxed out”. He still argued that we didn’t try, so I agreed to have the car realigned while he watched from the waiting room. After the second alignment I walked in said “Well, you were partially correct. Now that we tried to adjust the camber it went from -1.7* to -1.6*. So yes, that is a little closer to the spec of -.5* (+/-5*). But still out by over half a degree.”

I think I need to clarify.

The customer waiting area is along side the shop bays with the alignment bay the furthest from the window. What I saw was the tech at the computer at the front of the car while this person (in street clothes) was directly alongside the right rear (“behind the car” from my perspective). Then the person left and about a minute later the tech met me at the waiting area.

Just odd – not accusing anyone of wrong doing, but wondering if a person could affect the toe measurement if they were to push on that tire. All other wheel measurements matched what the second shop found, except for the right rear – that the person just happened to be standing there.

Always be leery of these “tire” shops doing anything like that . They are notorius telling you stuff like this . When i go to a tire shop , I specifically tell them I dont want anyone under the hood , you are there to rotate the tires and or balance them .

I keep thinking there is an issue of some sort going on with this car.
First shop shows .29 and second shop shows .09 with everything else .02.
They both show a discrepancy on the RR with the only difference being the amount.

Actual info was not readily found on the net but there were a few references to which model, which wheel/tire size, and so on. Unknowns along with mileage. Several specs (accuracy unknown) referenced .20, .22, and .28.
There’s also the possibility that .29 could be total toe and confused with the RR only. Just wonderin’…

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