Need for alignment?


I am the buyer of the 2007 Buick Lucerne “little old lady car” with 4,700 miles on it. I am replacing the tires due to their age and flat spotting. Do I have to have a 4-wheel alignment done even though it shows no sign of needed it? The car currently tracks straight as an arrow.

Thanks for your insight!

needing not needed…

With so little mileage on the odometer, it probably doesn’t need alignment, but–then again–with so few miles on those tires, they probably wouldn’t yet have shown the wear patterns characteristic of bad alignment even if the alignment was w-a-a-a-a-y off. When you consider how much those new tires cost, don’t you think that it would be prudent to at least have the alignment checked?

However, what would concern me much more than a possible alignment issue is the issue of the car’s overall maintenance. If the previous owner maintained the car on the basis of odometer mileage, rather than on the basis of elapsed time, it is entirely possible that the oil was never changed, or that it was only changed once or twice.

Based on the car’s age and its odometer mileage, it appears that the previous owner drove the car less than 600 miles per year, and–more than likely–that was in low-speed, short-trip local driving, which is the worst thing that you can do to an engine. Change the oil right away, and then do another oil change in a few weeks before reverting to the “normal” oil change schedule.

Additionally, the brake fluid needs to be flushed, and the coolant is due for changing.

VDC driver… I took care of all those other things you suggested. The reason for the alignment question is the tire dealer said because it has been sitting the alignment is needed. It has nothing to due with wear on the tires…they wore fine, they just are flat spotted badly!

I understand what you are saying.
While simply sitting for an extended period of time has no effect on alignment, the little old lady could have hit curbs multiple times, or could have driven into huge potholes that she couldn’t see. Because it takes a few thousand miles for unusual wear patterns to show up on tires, damage that took place…let’s say…only ~ 1,000 miles ago will not reveal itself through wear patterns.

It’s your money, but if I was in your place I would at least spend the money for an alignment check in order to help protect the investment in those new tires.

“flat spotted” means what to you? To me that means uneven wear, which means balancing and alignment is needed. Specially if the old tires only lasted 4700 miles.


@BillRussell–The OP already told us that he is replacing the tires–hence no need to balance the old ones. The issue is alignment.

Additionally, the “flat spotting” that the OP is referring to is almost surely the result of the car sitting without moving for a very long time. That is not really a “wear issue”, and is strictly an age-related issue.

The OP is doing the right thing by replacing those old, flat-spotted, dried-out, and hardened tires. Now I hope he spends a few more bucks for at least an alignment check.

My vote is pro-alignment for 2 reasons.
One as mentioned by VDCdriver; the possibility that the old lady hit a curb or cut a corner short.

Two is because odds are that car was not in perfect alignment when it rolled out of the factory. On an assembly line it’s only going to be so close based on assembly methods and out the door she goes.

I vote against alignment at this time. Alignment machines need to be calibrated and it is very likely that if you get it aligned, your alignment will be worse than it is now. Factory alignments are very accurate, far more accurate than can be done on an alignment rack.

Only get an alignment if you see abnormal tire wear. The guy at the tire store is a salesman and he is looking for the additional commission.

You seriously think that cars on the assembly line all go onto an alignment rack?

Yes they do, but its not an alignment rack like you see in a local garage. The suspension is assembled using jigs that locate everything pretty accurately. As the car goes down the assembly line, it goes up on rollers where the final alignment is done dynamically. The rollers sense any tracking errors and the lineman makes adjustments and locks it down. It takes about 90 seconds per car.


I think it’s great I sparked a debate. I’m going the “conservative route” and having the alignment checked. I trust they will give me an honest answer. Around my parts a 4-wheel alignment is $65.00. To have it checked will be minimal cost for piece of mind.

As to “flat spotted”, I do indeed mean from sitting so long that the tires have literal flat spots in them that you can feel and hear. It is best to replace. Now if I could only decide on tires…way too many choices!

John (aka jr4488)

I understand how the “alignment” is done during production but that does not equate to accuracy once the car rolls out the door. During Pre-Delivery Inspections of higher end cars alignment checks are part of the PDI and it’s common to find inaccuracies.

The same goes for headlights. In theory all headlights are aimed correctly when the car leaves the assembly line. In practice that is seldom the case.
Several dealers I worked for included a headlight aiming check as part of the PDI even though the PDI did not specify that it be done.
I never ran across one car that did not need an adjustment to some degree. Those car lines included SAAB, VW, Fiat, Subaru, Honda, and Nissan. Maybe some other makes are dead on but those were not.

As to alignment racks not being calibrated I agree with that to a point. The dealers I’ve worked calibrated the racks now and then. There was one dealer who balked about doing this and it reached the point where every mechanic, including me, refused to even pull a car up on the rack to check the alignment. Eventually they caved and had the procedure done.

As to tire choices, those can be all over the map. Personally, I’ve had the best luck with Bridgestones and Coopers. Goodyears have not been particularly good to me… :frowning:

The Bridgestones on my Lincoln are about 4.5 years old and have about 60k miles on them. They still have 3/4 of their tread and no dry rot.

I’m with @keith on this one. I’d just replace the tires but skip the alignment at this time.

I seem to recall a Consumer Reports article wherein they compiled the results of their pre-testing alignment checks on new cars, and well over half of them needed adjustment. I don’t recall the actual percentages, as it was some years back.

My preferred brand of tires was always BF Goodrich, but I couldn’t get them to fit my car when I bought it, so I tried a few other brands. I’ve been happy with my Hankooks. I’m on my third set fo9 Hankooks right now.

In the way of explaining, until I retired I commuted long distances. My car uses a size that was only available in Ultra high performance ratings (it came with “Z” rated tires) and they only last about 40,000 miles at best. Since I was driving about 30K to 35K a year, and I don’t consider a tire worn 70% or more to be safe when the winter hits, I used to get new rubber every year. I considered it cheap insurance against an accident. If a set costs $500 and I’m only throwing away 20% of the legally usable rubber, I consider the true cost of the legally usable rubber thrown away to only be $100… It’s a heck of a lot cheaper than an accident.

Note that I used the term “legally usable rubber”. Just because a tire worn down 80% is legal doesn’t mean it’s safe.

We have bought at least 15 brand new vehicles, all were cars but one, a Ford chassis motorhome, since 1978 and have never had an alignment issue. If the dealers did an alignment check and adjustment before we took delivery, we did not hear about it. All but a few were GM cars. If the OP’s car tracks well as was said, I would forget the alignment check. A prematurely worn out tire or two is not the end of the world in the unlikely event that would happen. If there is concern, it could be advisable to watch, with a tread depth gauge, for uneven wear before it gets excessive.

Get tires and drive it for a little bit. Does it pull? Does it wander in its lane? If it doesn’t, likely the little old lady didn’t hit a curb. If it does, take it back and get the alignment.

@keith, spot on describing dynamic alignment at car plants. The guy under the car has a bit of a scary job making the adjustments while the wheels are spinning. The guy IN the car has the better job!

Just because some percentage of cars checked are claimed to be out of alignment, does not mean they are. You are assuming that the alignment rack is correct and that the operator knows what they are doing. My Saturn came off the truck, did not get an alignment check and it held alignment for 275k miles that I owned it. At 275k miles, it was on its third set of tires (second replacement set) and they still had over half their tread. And I am hard on tires.

But the OP can do what ever he thinks is best for him, he has to live with the decision. I;m just saying I wouldn’t get an alignment unless I found an odd wear pattern or it did not track correctly.

An interesting bit on TV about a year ago. A program showed the building of new Camaros in a GM state of the art plant so I settled in to watch it.

At one point in the process as the completed body shell/floor pan comes down the line it is instantly checked in many places by lasers.
It was stated that if the shell/flood pan out of alignment by more than.030 of an inch the unit was returned for corrections.

To me, that begs the question of how accurate is an alignment going to be if .030 is considered allowable?
Tilt the space shuttle .030 of an inch the wrong way on re-entry and that may translate to bad news at the other end.
One would think that .003 would be a better option instead of a measurement that could be detected with a ruler.

0.030" isn’t much on something that size.