Ensuring your wheels are accurately aligned is a crucial component of your vehicle's health and safe driving. Maintaining proper wheel alignment prevents unnecessary wear on your tires, steering, suspension, and brakes. According to reports published by the United States Department of Transportation, there were over 35,000 motor fatal vehicle crashes in 2019 alone. Of these numbers, the top two most common critical causes are wheel or tire-related issues and brake issues. As such, keeping your vehicle's wheels aligned is essential in ensuring that you can drive safely without critical issues that can compromise your safety. In addition to this, having properly aligned wheels also improves your tires' performance and longevity. It is estimated that Americans spend about $20 billion annually replacing the tires on their vehicles. By retaining the services of a good wheel alignment technician near you, you can potentially save yourself thousands of dollars in tire replacement costs.
Considering the importance of proper wheel alignment to your vehicle's overall health and roadworthiness, it is crucial to ensure that your wheel alignment is conducted by a trusted professional with experience in your vehicle's brand and make. You should consider making the following inquiries before choosing to work with a wheel alignment technician or auto repair shop near you.
Are You Licensed, Registered, or Certified?
Like other auto repair businesses, wheel alignment facilities often require state-issued licenses to operate. The method and conditions for obtaining these licenses differ by location. For example, Michigan has distinct certification and registration requirements for auto repair mechanics and auto repair facilities. In comparison, individuals participating in substantial auto repairs in Florida are required to obtain a general license. As a result, before selecting a wheel alignment service near you, verify that the individual or business possesses the appropriate license under your local law. You can do so by contacting your state's consumer protection agency.
Additionally, you should also hire a wheel alignment technician that has been certified by a recognized automobile repair organization, such as the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence. While accreditation from these organizations does not ensure a technician's skill, it does suggest that the technician has had further training and has presumably more experience than non-certified professionals.
How Much Does It Cost to Hire a Wheel Alignment Technician?
Wheel alignment costs depend on several factors, including the type of alignment, the make and model of the vehicle, and your geographical location. A front-end alignment that involves only the car's front two wheels typically costs $35 to $85, while a four-wheel alignment costs an average of $45 to $105 and a thrust-angle alignment will cost you between $49 and $79. Note that a repair shop cannot tell what type of alignment your vehicle needs until they hook it up to the wheel alignment machine and check it out. As a result, you should always double-check if you will be charged for any inspections and whether the price of this inspection will be included in your bill or paid separately.
Also, keep in mind that technicians usually charge more for a truck alignment since they are larger and harder to work with. Likewise, some cars require specialized equipment or have a design that makes alignment more difficult and time-consuming. Mechanics may charge a premium to cover the cost of the specialized equipment or the extra time required to complete the alignment.
Nonetheless, you can make your wheel alignment more economical by
- Purchasing an extended contract: Making an upfront payment that covers your alignment service for a specified period or amount of miles traveled usually costs less than paying for each individual wheel alignment you undertake.
- Contacting your insurance company: Although wheel alignment is usually considered a maintenance procedure and so is not typically covered under insurance, you can get your insurance company to fund your wheel alignment if your vehicle's misalignment was caused by an accident.
What Are the Common Wheel Alignment Expenses?
Wheel alignment is usually a straightforward process that does not attract additional expenses most times. However, in some cases, in addition to wheel alignment, your vehicle might also require wheel balancing to correct the weight imbalance on tires and wheel assemblies. You would usually incur an extra cost between $10 to $15 per wheel in such cases.
Who Will Do the Work?
Wheel alignment is usually performed by an experienced technician who uses an alignment machine. You can find a professional wheel alignment technician at car dealerships, tire shops, or independent mechanics near you.
No matter which option you choose, it is a good idea to look out for a wheel alignment technician with credible experiences related to the brand or make of your vehicle. make sure that the technician that works on your vehicle meets all the aforementioned requirements. A technician specializing in your vehicle brand will usually spend less time and save you from extra costs, such as the cost of getting special tools for your brand of vehicle. Likewise, specialized expertise and a track record of effective repair assure you that the technician would not make any errors during the wheel alignment that can potentially put you in danger.
What Qualifications Should a Wheel Alignment Technician Have?
Entry-level wheel alignment technicians are usually required to have a high school diploma and a postsecondary nondegree award. In addition to this, labor unions, car dealerships, and respected organizations like the American Institute of Innovative Apprenticeship also offer apprenticeship programs and other opportunities for wheel alignment technicians to strengthen their fundamental skills.
According to statistics provided by the United States Bureau of Investigation, the auto repair sector currently employs over 600,000 people. Some of the technicians within this category advance their skills by undertaking specialized training and earning certifications from reputable auto organizations such as the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence or credible automobile manufacturers. However, while professional certification is not a mandatory requirement to practice wheel alignment, certified technicians are generally considered to have attained a higher skill and professionalism than their uncertified colleagues.
Will You Provide References?
Before choosing a wheel alignment service near you, it is essential to make sure the technician or auto shop has a good track record of performance and standard business practice. For starters, you can begin by asking friends and family with a similar vehicle model or make as yours for recommendations on technicians they may have worked with. Likewise, automotive-related associations such as the Automotive Service Excellence and the Automotive Service Association provide valuable suggestions about competent wheel alignment service centers near you. Depending on your area of residence, you can also get referral services from available local auto repair associations like the New York State Association of Service Stations and the Illinois Automotive Service Association.
After selecting a wheel alignment technician, you should also ask them to provide references from their previous customers, especially those with a similar vehicle make and model as yours. Technicians with a record of good customer service would usually be willing to provide you with references. On the other hand, reluctance to give references might indicate that the technician did not offer satisfactory services to past customers.
In addition to referrals and references, you can also utilize websites like the Better Business Bureau and Yelp to check out reviews about your technician of interest. Reviews and information provided by these sites can help you make a well-informed and considered decision about your choice of a technician.
Quick Facts about the Wheel Alignment Industry
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies wheel alignment technicians under the Automotive Service Technicians and Mechanics industry. Here are quick facts about the industry:
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Expert Answers to Frequently Asked Questions about Wheel Alignment
What Is a Wheel Alignment? Why Is an Alignment Necessary?
Also known as tire alignment, wheel alignment is a routine automobile maintenance that involves adjusting the angles of a car's wheels to the manufacturer's specifications. The purpose of these adjustments is to ensure that your car wheels sit at the proper angle relative to each other and the road.
A wheel alignment is crucial to keeping your car in good health and ensuring that you can drive safely. In particular, a proper wheel alignment reduces the rate at which internal components of your vehicle wear out, helping them last longer. It also prevents your tires from wearing faster and unevenly, thus saving you tire replacement costs. Finally, misaligned wheels can cause an increase in your vehicle's fuel consumption. As such, a proper alignment saves you some fuel costs over time by improving your vehicle's fuel efficiency.
What Are the Signs of Bad Alignment?
Unlike many other automotive systems, there is no warning light to tell you that your vehicle is out of alignment. But any of the following signs might be an indication that your car requires the service of an alignment technician.
- When your tires wear unevenly or rapidly
- If your steering wheel is crooked when you are driving straight
- If your begin to notice noises from your steering
- If your vehicle pulls to one side while you are going straight
- If your tires squeal
Note that sometimes these symptoms are not conclusive, and they might occur due to some other reasons. You cannot know for sure whether your vehicle requires a wheel alignment until it is examined by a mechanic or alignment technician. Most auto repair businesses do an initial inspection for free or at a minimal charge.
How Often Do Cars Need Alignments?
The interval for wheel alignment varies depending on several factors, including the type of vehicle and your driving habits. Many mechanics recommend getting a wheel alignment at least once every two years or after every 6,000 miles. However, some specific circumstances may cause your vehicle to require tire alignment more frequently. For example, vehicles with wider tires or performance-oriented cars usually need to have their wheels aligned more often. Similarly, frequenting rough roads might put your car out of alignment faster.
Nevertheless, following the interval recommended by your owner's manual is the best thing to do when it comes to how often you should align your car's wheels. If your owner's manual does not specify how often you should have your wheels realigned, you should have your car checked at least once a year at a service center or auto repair shop. After one or two years of driving, a vehicle's wheel alignment is usually slightly off. Note that having your car's wheels realigned every year is unnecessary if it holds the road well, does not drift to one side, and has evenly worn tires.
Do I Need an Alignment with New Tires?
Wheel alignment is not compulsory when installing new tires, but it is a good idea to do this regardless. An alignment ensures that all four tires are properly angled in relation to one another and the road. If you do not align with new tires, you risk wearing the tires out unevenly”which can shorten their lifespan. While there are many affordable tires out there, you do not want to spend more money than is absolutely necessary. With a wheel alignment, you can get more miles out of your new tires.
What Are the Types of Alignment?
After examining a vehicle exhibiting symptoms of misalignment, a technician may recommend any of the following types of wheel alignment based on the peculiarities of the situation:
- Front-end alignment: This is the process of adjusting the front axle of a vehicle in order to align its wheels. This is the most fundamental alignment.
- Thrust alignment: In thrust alignments, the front wheels are aligned with the back axle to ensure that all four wheels of the vehicle are squared with one another. This type of alignment is usually suggested for vehicles that have a solid rear axle.
- Four wheels alignment: This comprehensive alignment combines elements of the front-end and thrust-angle alignments and also positions the rear axle angles. A four-wheel alignment is typically done on four-wheel, all-wheel-drive vehicles and front-wheel drive cars with adjustable or independent rear suspensions.
Is Tire Alignment the Same as Tire Balancing?
The simple answer is no. Tire balancing is a process of attaching small weights, which are usually barely fractions of an ounce, to a vehicle's wheel so that the weight is even. The purpose of a tire balance is to correct the weight imbalance on tires and wheel assemblies.
On the other hand, tire or wheel alignment involves adjusting the angles of a car's wheels to the manufacturer's specifications. The purpose of a wheel alignment is to ensure that your car wheels sit at the proper angle relative to each other and the road.
What Parts Affect Alignment?
Fatigue of a vehicle's springs and bushings as well as general wear and tear of its suspension system will usually affect its alignment over time. These parts can be pushed out of alignment by impacts like hitting a pothole, going over big bumps, rubbing up against a curb, or rolling over debris. Also, aggressive driving and carrying heavy loads can cause misalignment of your vehicle's wheel.