Wheel Alignment Schedule

How often should wheels be aligned absent obvious signs (pulling, tire wear, etc)? Seems like every time one of my cars is in the shop for something, they recommend an alignment. None of my cars’ owners manuals show alignment as a recommended maintenance.

It does tend to depend partly on the car. Sometimes there are some less obvious reasons like some not too obvious tyre wear.

I would suggest asking why they think it should have the alignment checked. I would also question why you are taking your care where ever you are taking it. If it is the dealer, I would suggest trying to find a trusted local independent mechanic. Not that they are better then dealers, but they are just as good and almost always cheaper.

So the shops are recommending unnecessary services?? When did they start this new practice?!

My own schedule for alignment is never. As long as the tires wear evenly, the car tracks true, and I avoid driving down staircases, there should be no need for wheel alignment for the life of the car.

Some folks might disagree and advise alignment whenever you get new tires, just as a precaution. I still believe in “don’t fix what isn’t broken.” A new alignment can sometimes be a bit off while the existing alignment had formerly been perfect.

I normally have my alignment check when I replace tires (about once per year in my case), but by a good alignment shop (not the tire places). It’s also a good time to evaluate the suspension components and determine if anything needs to be replaced.

My opinion is that it should be inspected about every 40=50k miles or at the time of a new tire purchase if it has been quite a while since it’s been done.

Potholes, railroad tracks, curb or curb marker strikes, or suspension wear can alter things even if there are no apparent symptoms.

While it is not common, even new cars have been known to roll out of the factory now and then with the alignment off. Something else that can come between the factory and the car owner is a lead-footed car salesman driving a demonstrator or a transport truck driver who is in a hurry and bangs them off the truck hard. The latter is rare, the former is not.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. If you are getting good even tire wear and the car tracks accurately, don’t let any touch it or “inspect it”. I have one car with over 160k miles and has never been aligned. I got 84k miles out of the first set of tire and the current set (second set) still shows almost half the tread left. It will also track for a mile or more on a straight road without touching the steering wheel. I would never let anyone tough this one.

On the other hand, I have another car with about the same mileage on it but its in need of an alignment for the third time.

I have wheel alignments done only under the following conditions:

  • I replace a suspension component that affects alignment
  • I notice uneven tire wear
  • I notice pulling in the steerng or some other indication of an alignment problem

Agreed, there is no need to check alignment unless it is needed. How do you know if it is needed? You often don’t unless you occasionally look at your tires and can read the tread condition. A tire tread depth gauge can help but know that fast cornering can wear front tire outside edges. Overinflation will cause the center of the tread to wear more, underinflation will cause the outer edges (consider the fast cornering wear with this) to wear more than the center.

If you hit a large pothole with the brakes applied firmly, that can affect alignment as can rubbing against or hitting a curb too hard.

Some car repair manuals will provide pictures of abnormal tire wear due to an alignment problem.

Of course there are bad driving symptoms, mainly steering pull that may or may not be an alignment problem but will eventually reveal themselves if a tire wears unevenly. Rear wheel misalignment in a front driver can cause steering pull too as can uneven tire inflation or brake drag.

The short answer is to educate yourself, have a mechanic friend evaluate your steering by driving the vehicle or just pay the man and have your alignment checked or guts it and just drive.

I have a 125,000 mile car; alignment has never been checked; no problem.
We traded a 72,000 mile 1999 car five years ago; alignment was never checked; no problem.

Suspensions are tougher now. I had a 1963 car that would go out of alignment just by driving it normally; very weak suspension. It would develop steering pull for no apparent reason. An aligment would fix it.

There’s another consideration as to having an alignment check now and then.
A good alignment tech will inspect suspension components and notify the car owner of any potential, and deadly, problems.

Many times a badly worn component will cause abnormal tire wear and many times it will not; at least over a comparatively short term.
A gentleman brought a Subaru in to the shop once with no abnormal tire wear and both lower ball joints were gone. The car was a death trap but on the initial test drive to check the complaint the car drove straight as an arrow and handled well.

Five year old and older; every two years. My most authoritastical recommendation.

I suggest doing it every time you replace a set of tires. A good quality shop will charge you around $40 for the simple check if that with the purchase of tires. It is very cheap insurance to preventing destruction of your tires. I live in New England and roads are ridden with frost heaves that bang your suspension to teeth grinding.