When Is An Alignment Needed? Asking Mechanics and those with similar skills

Hi folks,
I’m looking for input for a story that will help vehicle owners know when they NEED to perform an alignment. Here is what I am really asking: If one owns a vehicle in which the wheel is centered, the car does not pull to a side when on a flat roadway, and the tires are not showing any signs of uneven or improper wear, and no suspension repairs have been made, is an alignment indicated? If so, how is it indicated? Why do it? If you can answer with those qualifications, I’d appreciate it. I’m aware that many tire shops suggest it when new tires are purchased, and that some owners’ manuals may suggest an alignment or alignment check periodically. If you provide a good answer, please tell us if you are a mechanic, or have similar skills and experience. Thanks very much!

I’m not a mechanic, but I read a lot on this forum.

First, it’s your car. You do whatever you want (or don’t want) to do. Just be prepared to deal with any resulting consequences later.

Having said that… the only time I’m aware of when an alignment is “required” is after getting new shocks/struts installed. I’d assume that an alignment would also be a good idea when doing any front end/suspension work in general.

That’s my two cents.



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I am not a pro. and just a story of when you might have a suspension part or a alignment starting to go bad. my friend came over one day with his sister’s car. he told me she got new tires a couple months before and she feels a very slight vibration. he said the car tracks fine. the tires were wearing evenly. first, I thought maybe a wheel weight might have come off. but I ran my hand over the tire. one way it was smooth, the other way it was a little ruff. it was the start of tire chop.

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Mustangman is the pro when it comes to suspension.
Me, as a consumer, would not get an alignment done if no suspension work had been performed, vehicle drives straight, no abnormal tire wear.


No need for an alignment if this is the case. If an alignment check is included in the install of new tires, it is not a bad idea to let them check it just to make sure it is in spec, especially if you or your other drivers tend to smack curbs (admit it to yourself if you do…you don’t have to tell me :wink:) There should be no need for adjustment.

I am not a mechanic but I do nearly all my own wrenching, I am a suspension engineer and former racer. I do my own alignments at home. Neither I nor my wife hit curbs and my long time owned cars rarely, if ever, need alignment.

Many cars these days have little to no adjustment for alignment beyond toe-in (or out). If they are out of spec, it usually means something got bent and special parts will be needed to correct the alignment (so no more $129 alignment specials!)

Mid-priced cars are net-build… bolt it together and the alignment is in spec except for toe. If you replace factory struts with factory struts, you don’t even need an alignment. A Quick Strut replacement (springs and all) should have a toe setting check since the ride height will vary a little bit and that will affect toe-in. Shock replacement? No alignment needed at all. Spring replacement, yes, same reason as Quick Struts


Good answer ? Does that mean that the 2 resident guessers can’t reply ?

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My 1999 Honda needed some alignment work in its early months, but nothing since then except when it needed a new right knuckle after it got hit at an intersection. Good even tire wear, so why meddle with a good thing?

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Please do. I’m hoping a mechanic or two will so I can use the Car Talk link in the story.

Super helpful, Mustangman. Thanks. I’m going to include a lot of that nad your short bio in the story.

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Shade tree mechanic here, I usually spring for an alignment when I get new tires even though no obvious tread wear issues. Tires seem to be lasting 70k or or so. That turns into 6 to 7 years. My thought is if there is an issue that has not surfaced yet, it will help the longevity of the new tires.

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Here is the resulting story. Feel free to comment further. Thanks to all who took time to offer an opinion or their experience. Your Vehicle Probably Doesn’t Need An Alignment - Here’s Why | Torque News


One winter and early spring driving season here in the North East is enough to put you vehicle out of alignment. But it depends on how much driving you do and how bad the winter and pothole season is. 4 years ago my town finally decided to regrade and add more crushed stone to the dirt road I live in. Before the regrading there were potholes that could eat small pets and children. Every June all our vehicles needed an alignment.

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My opinion is likely at odds with many but I believe it should be done at least on a somewhat regular basis; say every 30 to 50k miles or more often depending upon road surfaces, curb strikes, and so on. There is a Sonic drive in here with a poor exit. It seems that roughly 20% of the cars that exit clip the curb. Nothing but tire marks and busted concrete and I’m sure most of those motorists never consider an alignment problem even after being bounced a foot or two in the air.

My reasons are this. You can’t assume because current tires show normal wear there is no alignment issue. What is that curb strike a few months before has not shown up yet but after new tires are installed the car owner (most of whom do not check tire wear patterns or even know what is what) gets upset because those new tires are wearing oddly?

Suspension settles in and in high end cars an alignment may be part of a PDI inspection and part of a major service; often at 30k miles. SAAB required an aligment at PDI and major service intervals. I’ve found them to be out of whack a bit now and then.
The service manager asked me to bring his SAAB demonstrator in and figure out what was going on with it. He had just gotten the demo the day prior (new dealer transfer car) and said it was a deathtrap. On the alignment rack I found the toe was approx. 3/8" out; and that car had 60 something total miles on it. I drove it pre-alignment and it was a greasy pig to drive.

Properly done, an alignment tech should also check wheel bearings and front end components. Looseness anywhere makes an alignment a moot point and downright dangerous if a ball joint snaps and kills someone a few days after an alignment.

I’ve also wondered about alignment after watching a TV show regarding manufacture of the current generation Camaros. It was stated the chassis is checked with lasers and that if they are off by .030 of an inch then it is considered fine. More than that; back they go for tweaking.
That amount may not sound like much but .030 could make a significant difference depending upon what is .030 off. Much like one fine spline on a steering wheel can throw the outer rim off by 5 or more degrees.
I would think with lasers they could cut it closer than that but…


Basically and alignment is needed when there is a problem. If the vehicle is not driving true, pulling to one side or is very difficult to keep straight, wanders about etc or if the tires develop an unusual wear pattern or if they just don’t seem to last as long as you expected.

Sometimes rotating the tires too frequently masks the need for an alignment. The tire wasn’t left in one corner lang enough to see a wear pattern emerge, but all the tires wear out much sooner than expected. If they should last 60k but only last 30k, you probably need an alignment.

Other than that, if it ain’t broke…

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What is PDI? Google no help with that abbreviation.

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Pre delivery inspection, maybe? That’s what I found.


That makes sense.

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Mustangman, in your comment (thank you) you use the term “net-build.” I am not familiar with that term. Can you explain it?

“Net-build” means the assembly line workers bolted the suspension parts together as they were presented. There were no caster or camber alignments done afterwards, just setting toe-in (or out) later in the assembly process. Generally no way TO adjust it. No slots, shims or eccentric bolts. Typical of McPherson strut suspensions. The bolt holes are held to a tight enough tolerance that alignment is in spec at the end of the assembly line.

Cars with fancier suspensions - Corvettes, Most Audis A4 and above, BMW rears ect, that have double A-arm or multi-link suspensions can’t be net-built without some special techniques… like built on a sub-frame and aligned off-line so it is aligned when assembled as a large module. Or plastic break-away tabs that hold everything in mid-position so is can be net-built but aligned later (GM truck double A-arm fronts).