When a car rolls off the assembly line at a manufacturer’s factory, the wheels are angled very specifically. The exact angles which are used depend entirely on the type of automobile itself, and needless to say, help it to run the way it’s supposed to.
Over time, however, the wheels on a car can become misaligned and throw off the delicate balance crafted at the factory. When this happens, the car will need to undergo a maintenance procedure known as wheel alignment.
It can improve handling and can help you drive straight or turn corners with ease. In addition to making your vehicle work more smoothly and making it safer, an alignment could potentially improve your fuel consumption.
What’s the Total Cost of a Wheel Alignment Procedure?
The cost to get your car wheels re-aligned will depend on these three factors: location, vehicle type, and the number of wheels being adjusted. Here’s a little more information on why these factors play a role in influencing the price.
The auto shop that conducts the procedure enlists mechanics that work at a certain hourly rate. A mechanic’s hourly rate varies depending on the location of their shop (city, state), their tenure or even the reputation of the shop (reputable ones charge a premium for services).
Wheel alignment is pretty much the same process no matter what type of vehicle is being worked on. “Then why does it affect the price?” you might ask. The answer is that different car types have a different type of wheel mechanism.
Although the alignment process itself boils down to the same thing on each different type, some cars might take longer to work on than others. More time that’s spent on a repair translates into longer working hours for the mechanic, and thus, a higher labor charge.
The same reasoning may be used for the number of wheels being adjusted. A two-wheel alignment will obviously take less time than a four-wheel alignment, so keep that in mind when considering potential costs.
Based on our research and computations and taking all factors mentioned above into account, front-end or two-wheel alignments range in cost from $40 to $110.
But most mechanics, though more expensive, will always recommend getting all four of your wheels aligned. And a basic four-wheel alignment service is between $75 and $200.
All of the well-known and popular auto repair shops including Pep Boys, Firestone, AAA, Goodyear, Jiffy Lube, Les Schwab, Walmart Auto, Sears Auto, Merchant’s Tire and Auto, Tires Plus, NTB, AAMCO, Meineke, and Midas have front end tire alignment and 4 wheel alignment costs that fall within this price range.
- Firestone Complete Auto Care charges around $80 to $190 for tire alignment.
- Sears Auto Center offers $90 for a standard alignment which includes a 6-month or 6,000-mile warranty. They also offer a 1-year alignment service for $115, included with a free realignment for a year with no mileage restrictions.
- Kauffman Tire has a standard alignment cost of $90 for a 12-month or 12,000-mile warranty and $140 for 36-month or 36,000-mile warranty.
- Pep Boys offers a 3-month or 3,000-mile warranty wheel alignment for $90, 1-year or 12,000-mile warranty for $110, 3-year or 36,000-mile warranty for $140 and a lifetime warranty alignment of your tires for $180.
Many auto shops like to include alignment in packages along with other maintenance items. For example, Kauffman Tire who offers a standard alignment for $90 to $140 is also providing their customers the choice to add $30 more for a Steering Angle CodeLink Reset. And this additional step is to ensure that the Electronic Stability Control (ESC) of your vehicle is functioning properly.
Some car models may also require additional parts, special equipment and more attention to return the steering and suspension systems to its factory specifications – which means, additional cost for you. As an example, Pep Boys offers packages for front cam or wedge adjustment for $50, rear shim adjustment for $50, and 4WD or AWD shim adjustment for $70.
Along with the alignment, your car may also need wheel balancing. This procedure is necessary if you are experiencing an abnormal shake in your steering wheel when you’re driving at normal speed. As for the costs, you may need to add an additional $10.
The entire auto alignment procedure will take about 1 hour on average. The procedure includes:
- Utilizing sensors of which results are measured by a computer (the specifications are compared to that of your specific model)
- Inspecting the tire and rim assemblies to make sure that the weight is evenly distributed across the tire
- Considering the suspension system
- Using of specialized tools to finely tune the alignment
This automobile procedure can also be done at home if you have the right tools to aid you, and you’ll save a little bit of cash by doing so.
N.B – If you’re looking for tire balancing, it’s something different and the costs are different too.
Why Is A Tire Alignment Necessary?
The wheels need to be straight in order for the car to drive smoothly. Wobbly wheels on your automobile won’t get you anywhere in a hurry, and worse, might cause an accident. How does it happen?
Well, for one, constantly driving on poor roads can do the trick. If there are potholes or bumps on a certain part of the road which your car frequents day in and day out, the stress on your vehicle can add up and eventually cause the wheels to misalign.
Even the smallest misalignment will need to be corrected. If left unchecked, it will soon cause a tire to wear out unnecessarily, which eventually could cost you more to repair or replace them.
To give you an idea, a tire replacement costs from $400 to $1,800 or more for four tires. That’s $50 to $200 each for a standard car, or from $50 to $350 for pickup trucks and SUVs.
A few of the most obvious indicators of an alignment issue are uneven tread wear, the sudden occasional lurching of the vehicle from side to side, an off-center steering wheel when driving straight or a vibrating steering wheel. It’s recommended to have your vehicle inspected once you see any one of these symptoms.
Okay, now you know why a tire alignment needs to be done. Next, you’ll need to know a bit of information about what the actual angles are that constitute a “wobbly” or “misaligned” wheel. There are three things that a mechanic usually checks when they inspect a car’s wheels prior to re-alignment.
The first angle that is checked for misalignment is what’s called the “camber” angle. This angle is seen by standing in front of the car and looking at the wheel head-on. If the wheel is tilted inward or outwardly while you’re viewing it from that angle, it’s said to have a negative or positive camber. Wheels with both negative and positive camber are, well, negative, and will need to be re-aligned.
The second angle is the “toe”. Funny name for an angle, but here’s how it got the name. This angle is viewed from above, like what a hawk would see while flying through the air. It’s called “toe” because you only need to look down at your toes to understand how it works.
Stand up straight and look at your toes. Move your toes inwardly, then outwardly. Then imagine that your toes are the car wheels. Inward facing car wheels are called toe-in alignment, and outward facing wheels are called toe-out alignment. Both types of alignment are incorrect and indicate the need for an adjustment.
The third and final angle is the “caster”. This angle is seen when viewing the steering axis of the wheel from the side.
Stand at the side of the car and look at the center line of the wheel. The axis of the wheel may point either towards the front of the vehicle or towards the driver. These are called a positive and negative caster, and once again, both indicate a misalignment as the centerline should be pointing straight up.
You may wonder why a mechanic needs to check these angles out when we’ve just taught you how to spot the discrepancies so easily. Well, it’s really not that easy. Remember that a misalignment can be very minute – only a millimeter or two, and that’s enough to create problems with the wheel.
It would be virtually impossible to detect the misalignment in some cases by using the naked eye, which is why mechanics at auto shops have special equipment which works to measure the wheels.
How Often is A Wheel Alignment Needed?
Obviously, if a problem has already become apparent, that’s one situation in which alignment will be needed. But does the car need to be of a certain age or have driven a certain number of miles before an alignment becomes mandatory?
The answer is no. Most cars don’t have any specific timeline or requirements when it comes to auto alignments. That being said, a good mechanic will normally recommend for you to have it done every two to three years, just to stay on the safe side.
Wheel alignment is also usually recommended when the tires are being replaced or when they’re being rotated. Many auto shops guarantee good wheel alignment for up to one year, so it’s a good idea to visit before the guarantee period ends.
Keeping in mind that wheel misalignment is actually a thing that can happen overnight, meaning that since one bad bump on the road could knock one of the wheels out of sync, it’s probably also a good idea to have the car inspected if you’ve recently been in any sort of fender bender or small collision.
How to Save Money By Aligning Your Car’s Wheels Yourselves?
First of all, let’s get one thing straight: wheel alignment is probably a job best left to professionals unless you really need to save some cash or have a busy working schedule and can’t get away for a few hours.
Yes, the job can take up to four hours depending on your level of skill – much longer than the time it would take for a professional mechanic at an auto shop. Although specialized tools are needed to get accurate measurements of the tire alignment, there are a few things you can check yourself.
Toe-in and camber alignment are the easiest to check and this guide will focus on those two. If you need to check for caster or all three, it’s recommended to just bring your vehicle in to avoid the hassle. Continue following the steps below:
- To check the toe, start with your vehicle parked on level ground. The steering wheel should be centered and the tires pointing straight ahead. Jack up the first tire that you’re going to work on and secure it in place with jack stands.
- Get a can of spray paint – white works best – and use a soluble type so that you can wash it off easily afterward. Spin the tire with your hand and spray a stripe over the length of the thread while it’s still spinning. You should be left with a white stripe going all the way around the tire.
- Next, you’ll need to scribe a concentric line into the paint, all the way around. The easiest way to do this is to put a small nail in a mini vise and press it lightly against the tread. Spin the tire around and let the nail leave a straight mark.
- Repeat this process for the adjacent tire (the one on the opposite end of the axle).
- Using a measuring tape, check the distance from tire to tire (line to line) level with the floor. Do this on the front side of the tires (the side facing the front of the vehicle). Once you’ve got the measurements, do the same on the back side of the tires (the side facing the rear). Make sure that the tape measure is level and at the same distance from the ground as it was when you took the readings on the front side.
- Compare the two measurements to reveal the toe. Check to see if you’ve got toe-in or toe-out alignment. Whichever of the two problems are showing, you’ll need to do some adjustments based on the discrepancy that you can see.
- Loosen the tie-rod adjuster sleeves under the car near the inner side of the wheel. You can use some penetrating lubricant to help get the nuts loose. Since you already centered the steering wheel, adjust the tie-rods on each wheel to match the measurement discrepancy you found earlier. Roll the vehicle back and forth a few times and then re-measure. Keep doing this until the toe is within alignment specifications.
- Re-tighten the adjuster sleeve nuts to factory specifications. You can also check the camber alignment by placing a straight edge across the wheel and using an angle finder to reveal the camber. Camber isn’t adjustable on many FWD cars, and if you find any discrepancies this usually means that the vehicle has a bent or worn-out part.
- You’ve now successfully completed the repair. Jack down the wheels and remove the stands. Give the car a test drive and check to see if any previous debilitating symptoms are still manifesting. Remember that wheels can get knocked out of alignment at any time, so take care not to drive through potholes or on rocky ground in the near future!