When you get new tires do you need an alignment? You’re getting new tires for your vehicle. (Yay!) You did your homework—checked tread depth and spotted sidewall cracks—and you know now is the right time.
What you don’t know is whether you need an alignment for those new tires, how long your car can go between alignments, and answers to other important questions.
What is wheel alignment?
At its core, wheel alignment is adjusting a vehicle’s suspension so that all wheels point in the same direction and are in contact with the road the right way. That may sound simple, but it is critical for driving safety, prolonging tire life, and ensuring that your car runs as smoothly and efficiently as possible.
The alignment of a car’s suspension can be affected by several factors, including driving over potholes or speed bumps, hitting a curb, or wear and tear over time. When the alignment is off, it can cause your car to pull to one side, which can be dangerous and annoying. It can also lead to uneven tire wear, which can shorten the life of your tires.
Is an alignment needed with new tires?
A wheel alignment isn’t necessary when you have new tires installed, but it’s a really (like, really) good idea. An alignment helps ensure that all four tires are correctly angled with each other and the road.
If you don’t get an alignment with new tires, you may experience a rough ride and experience uneven tire wear earlier than normal—which can shorten your tires’ lifespan. While there are plenty of affordable tires out there, you don’t want to spend money more often than necessary. A wheel alignment can help you get more miles out of a new set of tires.
When you get new tires do you need an alignment?
The general rule of thumb is to get an alignment about every year. However, you should check your owner’s manual to know what’s best for your vehicle.
If you often drive in harsh conditions or on pothole-riddled streets, you may need an alignment more frequently—especially if you experience one of the following:
- Your vehicle veers from side to side.
- You hear a flopping (“womp womp”) noise when driving, which could signal underinflated tires, alignment issues, or both.
- You hit a pothole that jars your vehicle.
Why do you need an alignment with new tires?
Putting on new tires doesn’t cause your tires to lose their alignment. However, getting an alignment with your tire installation will extend the life of your new tires and ensure you get an impressive experience on your new ride.
If you’re trying to save money and you don’t think your tires are out of alignment because you’ve recently had them done, you can contact your technician for expert advice.
Tires can lose their alignment over time through normal wear and tear. Getting a tire alignment is considered a normal part of car maintenance, just like getting an oil change or getting new filters.
However, some incidents and factors can cause tires to come out of alignment faster than normal. Your tires might need an alignment more frequently if you:
- Off-road or drive on dirt roads
- Live in a pothole-heavy area
- Hit a curb
- Drive over speed bumps too fast
- Were in a minor accident
What happens if your tires are out of alignment?
Unaligned tires can do a number of things to your car and how it drives. Most noticeably, poorly aligned tires can cause your car to pull to one side. You may also notice odd vibrations, poor handling, or odd sounds coming from your car.
Getting a tire alignment can help you save money in the long run. Poorly aligned tires cause uneven wear on your tires, meaning you’ll have to get new tires sooner. Misalignments can also increase your rolling resistance (the measure of your tire’s friction against the road), decreasing fuel economy.
Why your alignment is important?
Regular alignments should be done twice a year as part of your basic auto maintenance. Why? Because misaligned tire and wheel assemblies will impact your gas mileage, cause tires to wear out faster, and reduce drivability.
When your vehicle is in alignment, all four wheels will be pointed the same direction and lined up from front to rear and contacting the road at the proper angle.
Dirt roads, bumpy highways, potholes, as well as hitting curbs and speed bumps can throw your vehicle out of alignment. Additionally, alignment issues will happen slowly over time due to normal wear and tear.
To quickly analyze your car’s alignment, ask yourself these questions during your next drive:
- Does your car or truck pull to one side when driving?
- Is your steering wheel turned slightly to one side when driving straight?
- When you come out of a turn, does your steering wheel return to center easily? In other words, does it go back to center (or nearly center) without a lot of work from you.
- Are you constantly making small steering corrections on the highway or freeway?
- Do you have excessive wear on the inside or outside of one or more of your tires?
Answering yes to any of the above could mean your car or truck needs an alignment. However, because alignment issues can be tough to spot, it’s a good idea to have yours checked twice per year even if you don’t notice any issues.
What is your technician looking for during an alignment service?
When you get your alignment done at Les Schwab, you’ll get our Best Alignment and Suspension Value Promise along with a job done right the first time. You’ll also get the full attention of one of our professional, certified technicians using best-in-class laser technology.
When they’re done, they’ll have your vehicle back in alignment, including the camber, caster, and toe.
Camber Affects Tire Wear
The inward and outward tilt of the tire and wheel assembly (viewed from the front of the vehicle) is called camber. When the top of the tire is leaning inward, it is a negative camber. Positive camber has the top of the tire tilting outward.
Each manufacturer sets a specific camber alignment for every vehicle it produces, which might be either positive, negative or zero (0º). When the camber is at the correct angle, the tire and wheel will roll straight.
Generally, camber plays a key role in cornering performance. If the camber is out of the manufacturer’s range, it can cause handling issues and excessive tire wear, which costs you money. If a vehicle has rear-camber adjustments, adjusting the rear camber, in addition to the front, plays a big role in straight-line stability and cornering.
Caster Affects Steering and Handling
Ever tried to ride a bicycle without using your hands? The fact you could meant that your bicycle had a positive caster. If the caster had been zero (0º) or negative, riding that way would be nearly impossible. The same can be said for your vehicle.
Modern vehicles run a certain amount of positive caster with the steering axis tilted rearward toward the driver. While caster doesn’t affect tire wear like camber, it does have a big impact on steering and handling.
The higher the caster, the more stability a vehicle will have at higher speeds. Lower caster equals more responsive handling.
Toe Is the Most Important Angle for Tire Life
Of all the angles, the toe can fall out of alignment the easiest. A toe that is properly calibrated to manufacturer specifications (which can be either slightly positive or negative) will be at zero (0º) when on the road. This means all of the tire and wheel assemblies (front and rear) are pointing in the same direction.
What does it mean when the toe is out of alignment? It means your tires are wearing out faster than they should and you’re burning more fuel than is necessary. When the toe is at the correct angle, there’s less friction on the tires as they roll.
When they are facing away from each other (toe-out) or toward each other (toe-in), they’re essentially scrubbing on the road ever so slightly with every passing mile.
Do You Have to Align All Your Tires at Once?
Some cars have solid rear axles, in which case only the front wheels can be aligned. However, most modern vehicles have independent rear suspension systems, in which case it’s best to have all of your tires aligned at once.
How Long Does a Tire Alignment Take?
While times can vary, most tire alignments only take about 30 minutes to an hour. If your vehicle has four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, your alignment will likely take a little longer. Additionally, older vehicles can be more unruly to work with due to rust or wear and tear and may take longer than new vehicles.
Should I get an alignment before new tires?
It doesn’t matter whether you get your alignment before or after having your new tires put on. Most experts agree that the only effect worn tires have on your alignment is a change to the vehicle’s ride height which, given today’s steering and suspension design, should be negligible.
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