Wheel alignment v. changing tyres?

We have a 2005 Toyota Highlander, which we bought in Dec 2004. It is mostly used for short distances driving around town and has only ~8,000 miles on it. We recently had an oil change on our car and the shop said there was uneven tire wear on all 4 tires (around 9/32 of tread on the middle; 7/32 on the edge). They said that a wheel alignment might be needed (although that was based on the evidence of the tires, not checking the actual alignment).

I am trying to figure out whether the alignment is actually needed. My understanding is that if the wheels are out of alignment then normally 1 or 2 tires would be unevenly worn – not all 4. Can anyone give any advice please?

The results that you describe – greater wear at the edges than at the center – are the normal wear patterns of tires that are underinflated. Your vehicle may have perfect alignment. How often do you check tire pressure?

Yep, sounds like low tire pressure

I agree that underinflation seems to be the most likely cause of the problem.

Yup! It sounds like the OP has a mechanic who is a sleazy con- artist (or at least not knowledgeable about his own field), coupled with a vehicle owner who chronically runs his vehicle with low air pressure in the tires. What was described is definitely an indication of chronic low pressure in those tires.


1)Buy a good quality tire gauge and use it regularly, in conjuction with the manufacturer’s recommendations regarding inflation pressures.

2)Find a new mechanic.

I’d like to post one other possibility:

The short trips around town are the problem.

Most tire wear occurs on cornering. Short trips with lots of turns compared to the distance driven will generate more rapid wear than long trips between cities where there are hardly any turns at all.

As a result of short trips, the front tires will have more wear on the shoulder than in the center - just as described. I’ll bet the rear tires don’t have as much wear on the shoulders and the oil change guy just assumed this to be true.

I suggest you just drive it. It is quite likely that your tires will need to be replaced because they are old before they are worn out. The rubber in tires loses its properties over time - and it is recommended that tires be replaced when they are between 6 and 10 years old depending on the temperature where you live. Underinflation would shorten this figure considerably.

Excellent point Capriracer.

I’d like to add that it’s very possible that the mechanic saw an additional condition, such a a bit of feathering, that suggested an alignment would be prudent. He may even have seen some cupping.

IMHO, I think some are making assumptions about the mechanic that may be leading the OP away from what might be a good mechanic. He suggested an alignment, reoutine maintenance, not a total chassis rebuild.

I agree, recommending an alignment isn’t an indication that he’s trying to rip you off. I routinely have my alignment checked every few years. Alignments are fairly inexpensive compared to the cost of tires.

Yes, it is possible that the mechanic noted a valid indication of bad alignment, such as feathering, but in the absence of that information, we are all left to speculate. As we all know, those posting for the first time on this site frequently do not mention everything that might be relevant.

And, it is possible that the OP drives only in the type of situation (lower speed, urban) that adds to wear on the shoulders. Again, lacking that information from the OP, we are left to speculate.

Also, the OP has not logged back in to tell us whether he/she has checked the inflation pressure in the tires, and whether they were low on air.

So–OP–is there any other information that you wish to add?

Whether you add additional information or not, I would suggest having the alignment checked at a shop that specializes in this type of work. As others have said, this is something that should be done periodically anyway, so you might want to consider this to be routine maintenance.

And, if the alignment check yields no clues, then you should consider using a different mechanic in the future.