Tire Alignment Confusion


I recently took my 2003 VW Beetle for an oil change and was told that the tires are out of alignment. The guy gave me this sheet with boxes marked for 32nds with numbers and seemed insulted that I didn’t understand what he was talking about. Since he wasn’t able to explain the chart to me, I left. I wasn’t interesting in spending $90 for alignment plus $50 for rotate + balance when the guy couldn’t explain why I needed the service.

Can someone explain this to me? I know that it is good maintainence to have the tires routinely rotated, but how do I truly know that I need the $90 alignment?

There’s no way he’d be able to give you EXACT numbers on how much the alignment was off unless he actually hooked the equipement to it to check. I’m assuming that you took it to a Fast-Lube place??

You car may be out of alignment. Is it pulling to either side (right or left)?? Are you seeing uneven wear on the tires (usually on one side or the other)???

I suspect the numbers were uneven thread depth measurements.

Maybe you do need front alignment, maybe you don’t. I suspect that mechanic makes the same pitch to every customer who walks through the door. If your car drives straight and true, if front tire wear seems even all around, pass up any offers of wheel alignment.

If you decide you want this service anyway, check newspaper ads for special offers. In my region wheel alignment usually goes for about $59.

Wouldn’t that be somewhat expected on a car with 45,000 miles?
Should I be especially concerned?

You did the right thing to walk away from that place. It may be a new twist to gin up work, to measure tread depths in order to decide whether you need a wheel alignment. If the shop did not have alignment equipment, he might have been trying to help but does not have his act together yet; consequently got irritated. This happens with the untrained once in a while. If they do have alignment equipment, I’d be wary for the following reasons.

Tire tread depth measured at various points from one side to another along the width of the tire is not always a reliable indicator of wheel alignment. Fast, or even fairly normal speed cornering will wear the front outer tread row more. Tire wear patterns from a prior wheel location or locations will mask or confuse the wear pattern. Tire pressure, too much or too little, out of specification, will affect tire wear patterns.

Determining if your wheels need alignment can be made from tire tread depths but it would be too easy to use this to sell an alignment where none is needed. I’d want an alignment professional at a busy shop that may not need the work to make that judgement, not an oil change person. Wheel pull or other steering problem as well as tire wear patterns are indicators to look into alignment.

For $90, I would hope that the rear wheels on your front drive VW would be included.

In addition, preventative balancing is a waste of your money if your car has no wheel vibration problem.

I bought the lifetime alignment from one of the national auto repair chains for $149.99 less 10% for AAA members. Even just do 2 alignment is worth the price paid. You have peace of mind & can go back anytime for alignment FREE. I can’t mention the name as it might construed I am advertising for them. Just ask the shop if they offer it. Mine don’t advertise it. I saw it on their wall when I had my brake change. For tire rotation & balancing, you get that everytime you buy tires. It’s a one-time charge & good as long as you own your car with those tires on.

I think he is trying to relate the tread depth in an effort to let you know what is happening with the car. Maybe the problem is not the not being to explain the service as your inability to understand what he is trying to say.
Any way of posting a copy of this chart or listing the 32nds specs as they were given to you?

The car is 5 years old and it’s entirely possible that it needs to go on the alignment rack. One good pothole is all it takes to skew things.

Don’t worry about understanding everything if you have the alignment done once every two years. I prefer to have my alignment done at a tire shop or a repair shop and not a lube place. If your tire wear is uneven across the tire, it could mean that they aren’t standing up straight or they are pointing too far toward or away from their counterpart on the other side of the car. You want to maintain the alignment so the car will drive straight and save the engine and transmission from unnecessary strain. They will check for worn parts to keep your wheels from folding up when a ball joint breaks.

Uneven tread depth in a pattern showing regression from one side to the other or showing “feathering”, which is an indication or sideway forces on the treadblocks, is an indication that the alignment should be checked. Any shop that didn’t mention it would be remiss.

However, that does not require a fancy matrix with measurements and can easily be shown and explained to a customer. It ain’t rocket science. A shop with a matrix that takes readings to convince you to have work done and cannot explain the need to you is definitely one to run away from. You did the right thing.

You should always be suspect when you bring your car in for one thing and they discover something not related. You should be very suspect if it is not someplace you have good reason to trust and very very suspect if it was a quick oil change place or Sears.

That said it may well be true. You need a second opinion. I would suggest asking around of friends and neighbors to find out who they trust. In this game brand names are usually the worse. Don’t tell the new place what the other one said, just ask them that you would like the tyres and suspension checked. A suspension or tyre shop might be a good choice. If they sound like they are saying the same thing, then chances are you do need some service.

I found a moderately decent tread wear guide at www.procarcare.com/includes/content/resourcecenter/encyclopedia/ch25/25readtirewear.html

You can use this to check your tires’ wear patterns yourself for a need for service.

That’s a possibility I didn’t think of.

A couple questions: 1. We still don’t know what type of place sunnybug was at- fast lube , dealer, ind. shop, chain? 2. Since we can’t eyeball his tires from this website we don’t really know that he doesn’t need an alignment. If there is inside tire wear [inboard edge of tread(s) worn]; or feathering wear on either side of tread(s) (per tsmb); it’s an indication of misalignment- usually hard to

show proof of misalignment. Maybe the 32nd" readings are a away of quantifying uneven tire wear, or maybe they do just amount to a sales gimmick. So, call around to tire stores and find one that’ll give a free tire inspection- most do- no obligation. Just ask for a tire inspection. See what they say and make your decision. If you get 2 places in a row saying you need alignment, probably you do;

or; you could go w/the “three’s the charm” school of thought. As per Mr. Meehan, don’t skew their judgement by telling them what the previous place said. Good luck.

You’re going to need either a set of new tires or alignment(dummy) wheels to get it done correctly. Also, the alignment/balance of your car is not stable and easily get affected by weight of passenger/luggage or, even a slight change in gas level can become the factor. I do alignment myself when i got a set of new tires but that’s it.

$90 for alignment is waste of money unless you have a handling issue with your Beetle.

Thank you everyone for your insights and helpful comments. I found a couple of local tire shops that AAA recommends and will go to them for second opinions.
Thanks again!

Hotdog, sunnybug. I’m glad when someone has been helped by our posts but often we never find out 'cause OP never posts back. Thanks for responding back.

The only way a mechanic could give you any numbers is by hooking the car up to the alignment machine and that usually takes some time and care. He could have noticed also that the tires may have been a little rounded on the edges but that doesn’t necessarily mean your car is out of alignment. You could have something wearing in the front end like tie-rod ends, or something similar. These guys are probably trying to get you to pay for something with false numbers. I highly doubt they actually took the time to hook it up to an alignment machine for no reason.