When it’s time to install a new set of tires on your vehicle, should you get an alignment first or before the installation? This article has the answers.
You can get an alignment before buying new tires. At the end of the day, the only thing that worn tires will change on your vehicle’s alignment is the ride height. And with the sophisticated steering and suspension designs of modern vehicles, the change will be negligible.
In this article, we will take a closer look at the relationship between a vehicle’s alignment and tires. We will walk you through the importance of taking your vehicle for re-alignment as well as the process is done. We will also take a closer look at whether you should undertake alignment before or installing a new set of tires.
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About Vehicle Alignment
What exactly is vehicle alignment? Your vehicle’s suspension and steering system comprise several parts. And all these parts must be in great condition and well-aligned, to ensure your vehicle’s handling response is decent, the steering is accurate and the tires are wearing out uniformly. The parts that form the steering and suspension system include:
- Ball joints
- Shock absorbers and struts
- Wheel and tires
- Steering gear, pinion, steering linkages and steering rack
- Control arms
When your vehicle leaves the factory, all these parts are in great condition and perfectly aligned. They are usually aligned using a laser-guided, computerized vehicle alignment machine.
Unfortunately, collisions, road imperfections, mileage and other issues will cause misalignment of these parts. And when that happens, your entire vehicle will be out of alignment. Consequently, if your vehicle is out of alignment, it will not only affect handling and steering response but the tires will also wear out uniformly or prematurely. And this is where vehicle re-alignment comes in.
Importance of Taking Your Vehicle for Alignment
If your vehicle is drifting to one side when you are driving straight or your steering wheel is vibrating even at normal speeds, then it’s a sign that your vehicle needs a re-alignment. Also, if your steering wheel is not centered when you are driving straight, then it’s another sign that your vehicle may need a re-alignment.
Even if your vehicle is not exhibiting any of these signs, it will be highly advisable to take it for alignment, depending on its manufacturer’s manual. Taking your vehicle for alignment comes with the following benefits.
First, it will help to minimize tire wear. Under normal circumstances, your vehicle’s tires should wear out uniformly, if the vehicle’s suspension system is properly aligned. And as you may probably know, tires don’t come cheap. Replacing an entire set will cost you around $500.
On the other hand, a re-alignment will only cost you approximately $50 to $100. Therefore, taking your vehicle for re-alignment should be part of your vehicle’s regular maintenance.
Another benefit of regular vehicle alignment is that it will ensure your vehicle will drive straight. It will also improve the steering response and handling, thus making your driving safer. Besides, a well-aligned vehicle delivers better fuel mileage, thus saving you money at the gas pump.
How the Alignment is Done
An alignment entails squaring a vehicle’s axles and wheels with each other, to ensure they move in the same direction. An experienced auto technician will use a re-alignment machine to adjust the various angles of the vehicle’s suspension. These angles are the thrust, toe, caster and camber.
Each vehicle comes with its designated standard alignment angles, usually specified in degrees. The type of alignment to be done will depend on a vehicle’s suspension system.
For instance, if you drive a four-wheel vehicle, the mechanic will undertake a four-wheel alignment. A four-wheel alignment is also done on front-wheel cars, with adjustable or independent rear suspensions. On the other hand, if you drive an all-wheel vehicle, then it’s highly likely the mechanic will perform a front-end alignment. Such an alignment will entail adjusting the front-axle components. This alignment is also known as thrust-angle alignment.
The mechanic will also use this time to check out whether the different components of your vehicle’s suspension and steering systems are in good shape. And worn out part should be replaced at this time.
As for the alignment frequency, this will depend on the road conditions that you drive on as well as how much you drive. And as much as your vehicle may present alignment issues when the situation is severe, they are not always obvious. Hence, it will be advisable to take your vehicle for regular checkups, at least twice per year.
And as mentioned earlier, your vehicle also comes with a manufacturer’s manual, which will tell you how frequently you should take your vehicle for realignment. So, you should follow that. But, in case you notice any issues with your vehicle’s steering, it will be highly advisable to visit a mechanic as soon as possible.
Alignment or New Tires: Which Should Come First
So, between alignment and installation of new tires, which one should come first? Can you get an alignment before new tires? Yes, there’s nothing wrong with getting an alignment before installing new tires.
Simply put, it doesn’t really matter whether you install a new set of tires before an alignment or not. The only thing that worn tires will change is the vehicle’s ride height. And considering the suspension and steering design of modern vehicles, the ride height a new set of tires may increase is almost unnoticeable.
Wrapping It Up
Your driving habits, driving conditions, as well as worn steering and suspension parts can all shorten your tires’ life. And hence, your mechanic may sometimes recommend getting an alignment before installing new tires. But it’s not a requirement.
About THE AUTHOR
I've spent many years selling cars, working with auto detailers, mechanics, dealership service teams, quoting and researching car insurance, modding my own cars, and much more.Read More About Charles Redding