For many people, poor wheel alignment is one of those vexing issues that come with owning a car.
Wondering why a car keeps losing alignment? Well, the most common causes are heavy impact, vibrating steering wheel, vehicle alterations, uneven tire pressure, worn parts, and poor shocks. More on this below:
Why Is Wheel Alignment Important?
A good number of car owners ignore wheel alignment issues. In fact, most drivers only worry when their tires have a puncture, are under-inflated, or over-inflated.
The rest of the time, they rarely remember to check other issues like proper alignment.
What they fail to realize is that bad wheel alignment can lead to a wide range of issues and even endangers one’s safety. Specifically, it causes:
- Uneven tire wear
- Fuel inefficiency
- An uneven or loose steering
- Damage to different car components
Major Causes for Poor Car Alignment
1. Vibrating steering wheel
Have you noticed the steering wheel shakes excessively when you drive? If so, this is a vivid sign of a wheel alignment problem.
As such, getting a proper wheel alignment should be enough to stop the steering wheel from vibrating.
2. Vehicle modifications
If you’re a car enthusiast, you’ve probably thought of modifying your vehicle in various ways. While some of these mods have no impact on the car’s performance, others have severe effects.
One modification that alters a car’s alignment is lifting.
From the get-go, the car’s suspension is designed to sit at a particular height. When you lift your car, you interfere with the camber, toe, and caster angles – all of which are crucial for proper alignment.
Just to recap, camber is a measure of the inward and outward inclination of the tire and wheel assembly. Meanwhile, a properly aligned toe ensures that all four wheels are pointing in the same forward direction.
Lastly, the caster is the angle of the suspension components and steering axis as they intersect the wheel. The caster angle is measured from top to bottom.
If you plan to lift your car, then you should have the alignment checked after the fact. If the inspection reveals misaligned wheels, consider getting them realigned to avoid problems down the road.
3. Sloppy steering wheel and squealing tires
Another prime culprit for misalignment is sloppy steering.
If you suspect that the steering isn’t fastened properly, observe your car’s performance when driving. If you experience difficulty when making sharp turns, there’s probably something wrong with the steering.
Worn tires can also cause your car to drift as you drive.
So how do you know when your tires are too worn out? Oftentimes, such tires produce a squealing sound, especially when you accelerate or negotiate tight turns.
If you encounter either of these problems, check the fastening on the steering and tire wear.
4. Irregular wear on tires
If one or more tires start to wear out faster than the rest, this can also lead to alignment problems.
An easy way to gauge uneven wear is to check tread depth. In most states, the minimum tread depth allowed is 1.6mm (2/32 inches).
If the depth is below this threshold, consider getting replacement tires to prevent irregular wear.
5. Worn parts
A lesser-known cause of misalignment is a worn suspension system.
More specifically, springs that don’t have adequate reinforcement can cause an incorrect camber. The role of suspension springs is to absorb impact any time the wheels strike uneven road surfaces.
Similarly, worn ball joints – the parts responsible for connecting the steering knuckles to the control arms – also increase the risk of misalignment.
6. Low tire pressure
If you notice that your car has a tire alignment problem, one of the first things you should check is tire pressure. This is because a lower tire pressure alters the height of the affected tire, and subsequently, interferes with alignment.
To avoid this, you should check tire pressure regularly using a pressure gauge.
If a particular tire is under or over-inflated, add or let some air out until you reach the recommended PSI.
8. Effects from suspension gears
The suspension system consists of a wide range of parts, including struts and shocks. The strut bar is responsible for holding the lower arm in position. This then allows the front tires to function properly.
Shocks are also a vital part of the suspension as they help to dampen oscillations from the springs. These oscillations stem from the action of the springs absorbing various vibrations from the road surface. If either the strut bars or shock absorbers get damaged or worn, this can easily affect your car’s alignment.
9. Heavy impact
Sometimes, a car alignment issue arises after your vehicle experiences heavy impact. Like most car owners, you’ve probably driven over a speed bump or pothole too fast.
Anytime this happens, it throws your vehicle’s alignment off by a small margin. Over time, these effects can lead to more severe problems, such as premature wear.
Why Does Your Car Keep Losing Alignment?
As highlighted above, there are several issues that can lead to a loss of tire alignment. From vehicle modifications to uneven tire pressure, and worn parts.
But, if you notice your car drifting after fixing all these problems, it’s likely that your vehicle is due for a realignment. This brings us to our next point.
How Long Should an Alignment Last?
It’s estimated that a tire alignment can last anywhere between 2 and 3 years. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you should wait that long to get your wheels aligned.
Depending on your driving habits, road conditions, climate, and other factors, you may have to schedule a wheel alignment much sooner.
For instance, if you tend to drive on rough roads, your car may lose alignment faster. So to prevent it from pulling on one side, get the wheels realigned as soon as you can.
On the same point, it’s wise to get the wheels aligned any time you get new tires. Installing those brand-new tires can throw off the alignment.
Do you find it difficult to keep track of your car’s realignment schedule? Well, one thing that can help is to have your mechanic inspect it any time you go for your routine car maintenance.
Whether you’re going for an oil change or an air filter replacement, request your mechanic to check the alignment as well.
This only takes an extra 30 minutes to an hour. If your mechanic doesn’t offer this service, then consider taking your car to an alignment shop.
What Suspension Parts Affect Alignment?
Wondering about the specific parts of the suspension system that cause misalignment?
The most common ones have worn bushings, loose wheel bearings, worn tie rods, and ball joints.
If any of these issues crop up, you’ll notice your car drifts more to one side instead of going in a straight line. To avoid this, have a mechanic inspect this system regularly.
This way, they can nip any problems in the bud.
How Can You Correct and Prevent Wheel Alignment Issues?
Correcting poor wheel alignment is simply a matter of adjusting the caster, toe, and camber.
Front-wheel drive cars call for a front-end alignment.
This should be enough to stop the pulling sensation or unevenness you experience when you steer. Conversely, vehicles with an all-wheel drive mechanism require an alignment of the front and rear tires.
Whether you own a front-wheel or all-wheel drive vehicle, it’s best to enlist the help of a professional to fix this.
These experts have the right equipment and expertise needed to adjust the caster, camber, and toe angles.
Fixing misaligned wheels typically follows this process:
- Elevating both front wheels on jack stands
- Partially switching on the car’s electrical system. This should allow movement of the steering wheel without engaging the engine.
- Examining each tire at a time, paying special attention to the direction they’re facing. If any of the wheels are pointing inwards towards the middle section of the car, the mechanic will tighten the outer tire rod. And if it’s pointing outward, he/she will loosen the rod.
- Achieving this requires the mechanic to loosen the nut joining the inner and outer tire rods. This makes it easier to tighten or fasten the tire rod as desired.
- If the goal is to turn the tire more inward, the car expert will have to loosen the outer rod and vice versa to turn it outward.
- The final step is to turn the wheel straight following the adjustment. You can then check to confirm if the wheel is still inclined wrongly. If there’s any other wheel that’s tilted wrongly, simply repeat this procedure.
Inspect the suspension system regularly
As mentioned earlier, worn suspension components can lead to misalignment.
So you’ll want to have this system inspected every once in a while.
If you encounter a worn shock absorber or bent strut bar, consider immediate replacement to prevent your car from losing alignment.
If you don’t want to spend money realigning your wheels every other minute, change your driving habits. In particular, slow down any time you have to drive over potholes and speed bumps.
Maintain the correct tire pressure
If you don’t have one already, consider investing in a tire pressure gauge.
Alternatively, you can use the pressure gauges readily available in auto parts shops and gas stations. What’s important is that all your tires are inflated to the PSI recommended by the tire manufacturer.
There are several reasons why cars keep losing alignment. The most common culprits are uneven tire pressure, shaky or sloppy steering wheel, rapid impact, worn elements, and vehicle modifications.
If you notice your car drifting to one side of the road, it’s important that you get your car’s alignment inspected immediately.
Neglecting it only exacerbates the problem, leading to more serious issues like uneven tire wear and increased fuel consumption.