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A basic guide to tire alignment

You’re cruising down the highway and, suddenly, you feel your car drifting to the left ... but you didn’t move the wheel. Wondering what this could be? There’s a chance your tires are misaligned. Fortunately, this condition can be fixed with a tire alignment by a trusted mechanic. 

What is a tire alignment?

Tire alignment refers to how your tires line up, or align, beneath the vehicle. Tires — and wheels — become misaligned when you hit a pothole, for example. When tires are misaligned, they will wear unevenly and put more stress on the suspension. By adjusting the suspension, mechanics can get the wheels and tires to better align so they spin in harmony with each other as the car moves forward. 

Tire alignment vs. rotating your tires

The difference between a tire alignment service and rotating your tires boils down to one main difference: Tire alignment repairs your suspension whereas rotating your tires means switching the tires around on a car in an orderly pattern, from front to back or side to side. Tire alignment helps improve how your car handles and helps your tires perform properly. Rotating your tires simply helps lengthen their lifespan and even-out wear.

How often should I get a tire alignment?

Some mechanics recommend a tire alignment every 6,000 miles, or about twice per year. However, how often you get a tire alignment can vary based driving habits and conditions. It’s probably a smart idea to check with your mechanic when you notice any of the following signs of misalignment:

  • Crooked steering: If you’re on a straight highway and your car starts to veer, or pull to one side, this can be a sign to align your tires.
  • New vibrations or sounds: A new or worsening humming noise, vibration or anything out of the ordinary could mean the suspension needs maintenance.
  • Expedited or uneven tire wear: When one of your tires has more treadwear than the others, this might indicate it’s time for an alignment.
  • You hit a curb or rough debris: Though bumping a curb or driving through some rough terrain may seem like nothing at first, the impact may throw-off your alignment.

How much does a tire alignment cost?

For an estimate, contact your local dealership or a trusted mechanic. Tire alignment prices vary per car and can range from about $65 to $100, but it can depend on the location, mechanic, make and model, among other factors.

How long does tire alignment take?

Depending on your mechanic, a tire alignment may take an hour or more. Should you need to replace any components, this may lengthen the time of your repair.

A tire alignment is just one of the many repairs your vehicle may need in its lifetime. A visit to a trusted mechanic can help remedy any issues and help get you safely back on the road to your next destination.

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