The way your wheels fit onto your car have a significant impact on how easy and comfortable it is to drive, as well as how long your tires last and whether or not you get the best gas mileage. Wheel alignment changes over time as parts wear down, as well as during accidents or bouts of especially rough driving. It’s important to have your wheels checked when noticing signs of potential misalignment and at reasonable intervals to test whether suspension or steering components on your vehicle are starting to go.
Signs of Trouble
Irregular tread wear on your tires, particularly wear on just one edge of your tire, is a regular sign of an alignment problem. Other issues, like pulling or erratic wear patterns on a tire could be caused by several factors. They’re all serious and need to be checked out, but may be as easy to fix as adjusting your tire pressure.
Road vibrations or excessive noise may boil down to alignment issues. Wobbling or conflicting tires can create dangerous road conditions, including blowouts. It’s important to have your car checked out by a qualified technician whenever handling issues come up.
Eyeballing your alignment can’t tell you much on its own. The right alignment for your vehicle may be slightly toe-in or with a positive camber. The ways your tires work together, the directions they lean and other variations regarding their placement on your car impact handling, safety, tread wear and fuel efficiency. It often takes a technician to adjust them appropriately for your make, model and intended use.
Sears Auto Center recommends alignment inspections at 12,000 miles, following certain repairs and any time a handling issue arises. There’s a reasonable risk that your car will need an adjustment at some point in its operating life. In fact, over 60% of vehicles tested at Sears Auto Center are misaligned.
Effects on Fuel Efficiency
According to a study on misalignment and rolling resistance, a 1 percent change in toe angle can increase rolling resistance by up to 25 percent. Over 2 percent can increase resistance up to 100 percent.
This can have a tremendous impact on how hard your car has to work to get you from point A to point B, as well as how hard your brake components work to stop or the steering works to point your car in new directions. Further, the EPA determined a change of 10% in rolling resistance related to a loss of 1 to 2 percent of fuel efficiency. In other words, a car with proper alignment will get 7 percent more miles to the gallon than a car that is out of alignment.
Proper Tire Pressure Saves Lives
Nearly 80,000 crashes a year occur because of flats and blowouts, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In 2003, those crashes caused more than 10,000 injuries and 400 deaths. They were also largely preventable. Though irregular tire pressure is the number one cause of flats and blowouts, misalignment can seriously impact tire integrity and increase wear at a dangerous rate.
Alarmingly, the NHTSA also found that existing tire problems were a warning of serious risks during a blowout, especially for SUVs. Forty-five percent of SUVs with existing issues suffered rollovers once a tire failed. That’s in comparison to fewer than 25 percent for all other body styles.
The health of your tires has serious implications for handling, fuel efficiency and safety rates. Regular use can cause alignment issues over time, though accidents and certain repairs can increase your chances of needing adjustments. Getting inspections at the first sign of a problem or at reasonably intervals, such as every 12000 miles, help you maximize your enjoyment while protecting yourself and your family and the investment you have in your car.