How to diagnose an alignment problem

How to Diagnose Car Alignment Issues: Tips for Drivers from Technicians

How to diagnose an alignment problemThink your car may have an issue with its alignment? Automotive Training Center’s (ATC) technicians and students put together a list of telltale signs that your vehicle is out of alignment. Get a closer look at what to watch out for below.

Road Test Symptoms

If you think your car may have an alignment issue, it’s likely because you noticed its drive feel and overall handling have changed. Driving on a flat surface when the road is dry with an alignment problem, you may notice:

  • The car pull to one side or the other
  • A squealing noise when making slow turns
  • A steering wheel that’s set off-center
  • Vibrating in the car or steering wheel

Uneven Tire Wear

How to diagnose an alignment problemBecause your car’s alignment dictates the specific angles at which its wheels meet the road, uneven tire tread patterns are often seen in a vehicle with an alignment issue. For example, worn or loose wheel bearings can cause a tire to lean in or out, evident in more wear to the inside or outside of the affected tires.

Keeping tires filled to their proper cold pressure levels and ensuring that the correct tire size and type is used for your vehicle will help your steer clear of alignment problems later on.

Know When to Get Your Alignment Checked

Although different manufacturers may call for alignment checks more or less often, it’s important that owners have their car alignment checked by a trained technician at least once a year.

Many service centers evaluate the suspension and alignment when tires are rotated. Make sure that you have your alignment checked when you buy new tires so they don’t wear unevenly from the start.

How Auto Technicians Assess Vehicle Alignment

A trained auto technician listens carefully to the customer’s report of what they’ve seen and heard while in the driver’s seat and from there uses a piece of machinery called a four-wheel alignment system to test the vehicle’s current performance.

A four-wheel alignment system is made up of a large platform rack and corresponding diagnostic equipment. To test the vehicle’s alignment, the vehicle is driven onto the alignment rack and secured to the platform. After conducting a visual inspection of the vehicle’s tires, suspension, and steering components, it’s time to “drive” the vehicle on the testing platform.

During its test run, the four-wheel alignment system records exact measurements of the angles of the wheels and tires and places them side by side with the manufacturer’s recommendations for proper alignment. Based on this information, the technician moves forward by making adjustments one by one to realign the vehicle.

Learn More About How Auto Shops Operate

The inspections and replacements that auto technicians make during routine service visits ensure that your vehicle performs its best. If you’re interested in learning more about how auto technicians handle routine maintenance procedures such as oil changes, tire rotations, and more, check out ATC’s free technician’s guide to routine maintenance for an inside look!
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An easy guide to understanding wheel alignment.

  • What is Wheel Alignment?
  • Signs and Symptoms of Bad Alignment
  • How to Check Alignment
  • Where to Get Your Alignment Done
  • The Real Cost to Fix Alignment on a Car
  • FAQs

What is Wheel Alignment?

Our cars are complex pieces of machinery that can be surprisingly fragile at times, which is why even minor alignment issues in a car can cause significant problems. But, there is more to good alignment than just getting your wheels straight, as it can also involve adjusting the suspension setup.

Misaligned wheels can cause your car to drift on the road, even when you think the steering is straight. Also, when not correctly aligned, a much larger surface area of the tire comes into contact with the road. This causes unnecessary friction that, in turn, leads to excessive wear, loss of traction, and overall reduced control, performance – it can eve impact fuel economy negatively.

Signs and Symptoms of Bad Alignment

Luckily, there are a number of warning signs you can look out for that will let you know if you have any alignment issues. Some are pretty minor and may go unnoticed until they get worse, while others are obvious the moment they crop up.

In the event that you have a serious mishap on the road, such as slamming into the pavement with your Kia Seltos, or taking a dive into a particularly huge pothole with your pickup truck, you may want to keep a close eye on how your car behaves. Here are the symptoms and signs of bad wheel alignment that you should be on the lookout for:

  • Restless steering – the steering wheel is off-center, even when driving straight
  • Pulling in one direction – your car drifts or pulls to the side without the road surface prompting this
  • Noisy steering – the steering wheel vibrates in your hands
  • Uneven tire wear – the inner or outer areas of your tires are wearing faster

How to diagnose an alignment problem

How to diagnose an alignment problem

How to Check Alignment

Sometimes, car wheel alignment issues can arise simply from day-to-day driving. This happens when the suspension components wear down, or when the springs, tires, and shocks get displaced by heavy torque and friction from driving.

There are three types of misalignment that you may have to deal with:

  • Camber – When viewed from the front or rear of the car, the inclinations of the wheels relative to the ground is referred to as camber. If the top of the wheel is leaning towards the body of the car, it is called negative camber, while positive camber refers to the wheel tops lying outwards.
  • Toe – Also known as tracking, ‘toe’ refers to the angular position of the wheel when viewed from the top. If you were to picture the wheels of your car as feet, looking down, toe-in would be when the front part of your foot (your toes) are pointed inwards while the heel juts out. Toe-out would be the opposite – heels tucked in towards the body, with toes pointed outward. Neutral toe is when the wheels are pointing straight ahead. Most cars should be set somewhere between neutral and a slight toe-in position, which improves stability on road.
  • Caster – This is harder to spot with the naked eye, since it measures the angle of the steering axis relative to vertical. Positive caster refers to when the steering axis tilts back towards the driver, while negative caster is the opposite. Caster has an effect on steering feedback, stability, and cornering. When the caster is not aligned correctly, the steering can feel overly heavy or light, depending on whether caster is positive or negative.

Where to Get Your Alignment Done

Improperly aligned wheels can quickly get worse to the point where they become quite dangerous. This is why you should never waste time getting the problem fixed. Although there are a few things you can do to avoid causing bad wheel alignment, it is something a professional should address. A few tips to avoid misalignment include:

  • Always check on your tire pressure to ensure correct inflation
  • Keep to maintenance schedules and tire checks to make sure struts, shocks, and tires are in top condition – bad tires affect alignment, too
  • Driving with care to avoid sudden impacts from potholes, curbs, or going too fast over speeds bumps

However, once you’ve diagnosed bad alignment, seek help from someone with experience. There is no shortage of auto shops around the USA that can repair suspension mechanics, if required, and address the alignment issue for you. Most tire centers offer these services.

Even if you don’t notice any of the warning signs, it is important to take your vehicle in for regular checkups for the sake of safety. It is certainly better to pick up a problem early before it can turn into something more serious while you drive around. Be sure to read more on this in our Maintenance and Common Car Problems posts.

How to diagnose an alignment problem

September 14, 2020

What are common wheel alignment problems?

  1. Uneven Steering
  2. Loose Steering Wheel
  3. Noisy Handling
  4. Squealing Tires

One dilemma that most car owners don’t easily recognize has something to do with the wheel alignment. The problem here is that for the inexperienced drivers, it’s not easy to notice. When your car is experiencing these wheel alignment problems, you have to fix them quickly to prevent anything bad from happening.

In this article, we talk about 4 common signs that you have wheel alignment problems and what you can do to fix them.

Uneven Steering

Vehicles are designed to default to the surface where it is driven. When the road is completely flat and straight, the steering while should remain straight and centered. When the road is bumpy or leaning towards one side, the steering wheel will adjust the same.

When there’s a problem with wheel alignment, drivers should be able to notice a slight difference and difficulty in keeping the car in line.

One of the easiest ways to check if the wheel alignment is off, is by driving somewhere with a flat surface. Look at the brand emblem of the steering wheel. If it is leaning to one side, then the steering wheel is uneven. When you see this, you must have your wheels realigned right away!

Loose Steering Wheel

How to diagnose an alignment problem

Often an uneven steering wheel can lead to it being loose, as well. This is dangerous because it usually means there will be a decrease in response time when turning. A loose steering wheel means something is wrong with the parts that connect it to the wheels.

The steering wheel is connected to the tires through what are known as tie rods. Tie rods are found in the recirculating and rack and pinion systems. Steering wheels tend to get loose when the tie rod gets too worn out.

To spot whether or not your steering wheel is loose safely, drive on a road that is less traveled by. Be it somewhere near your house, or at a relatively open parking lot. There, perform left and right turns slowly. If you have been driving the car before, then you should notice a delay in how the car turns!

For the lesser experienced, the most noticeable thing would be the steering wheel being either too easy or too difficult to turn. Anything that is out of the normal range would be a sign of a loose steering wheel!

Vibrating Steering Wheel

Two of the most common reasons why steering wheels vibrate are warped brake rotors or unbalanced tires. Warped brake motors cause the steering wheel to shake whenever you step on the brakes; while unbalanced tires cause the steering wheel to shake while traveling at high speed.

Misaligned tires do not allow for an evenly distributed weight across the car. Some tires have heavier parts and lighter parts that should match each other once installed in one car.

It’s recommended that you have your car tires rebalanced every 5,000 to 10,000 kilometers. It helps ensure that your car won’t’ have any wheel balancing problems and it also occurs at the same time as other maintenance checkups for your car!

Noisy Handling

How to diagnose an alignment problem

When your vehicle starts squealing, it can be a sign of a multitude of problems. One of them is the misalignment of the wheels. There are times when tires get worn out unevenly due to pre-existing misalignment issues. Often, this happens to barely noticeable wheel misalignments or to people who are oblivious to the fact that this can happen. Squealing sounds are one of the best identifiers that your car has a problem, though it doesn’t always mean it’s about the wheels.

Sometimes it can mean that you have worn brake pads. Other times it’s because part of the steering and suspension system has lost lubrication. Whatever the cause may be, it is still something that you should keep in mind.

Bear in mind that a noisy car means there might be some problems be it just a whistling sound out of nowhere, or a rough screeching sound from below the chassis. Whatever the sound may be, it would be best for you to have it checked right away!

Key Takeaway

Wheel alignment problems can be a chore. To most people, they’re not very noticeable, and to the more experienced drivers, they are very irritating to experience. Though there are many telltale signs of having these, there’s not a lot of things that you can do by yourself to fix them.

Most problems regarding wheel alignment need a professional to look them up because it mostly deals with something in the suspension system, chassis, the tie rods, and so much more.

Whenever you hear your car make squealing noises, begin to feel like the steering wheel is heavier than usual, or suddenly feel that the steering wheel is vibrating, be ready to have your car get fixed. Contact a trusted mechanic so that you can have the whole thing checked for any problems!

You can attempt to fix them by yourself, as long as you have the right knowledge about cars and a guide or two to help you out. Whenever you face problems with your cars, do not panic and think of a solution with a calm mind.

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Help With Shimmy, Shakes, Wheel Knocks, and Bad Shocks

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How to diagnose an alignment problem

Your car’s suspension system is an intricate network of cooperating (usually, anyway) components designed to give you a smooth, even, stable ride. Since the suspension is ground zero when it comes to road abuse, the parts wear out and even break. If your car doesn’t seem to ride like it used to, you may have a problem down below.

It may seem daunting to try to diagnose steering or suspension problems, but if you attack it systematically, you have a fighting chance. Just find the symptom that sounds like you and see what the probable causes are.

Money Saver

Before you start replacing parts, it’s a good idea to check all of the mounting nuts and bolts to be sure the problem isn’t being caused by simple looseness.

Symptom: Pulling to One Side While Driving

  • Low or uneven tire pressure: Check tire inflation.
  • Uneven tire wear: Check front tires for even wear and replace both front tires.
  • Alignment bad: Check and adjust wheel alignment.
  • Steering components bad: Inspect tie rods and steering rack.
  • Sticking brake caliper: Inspect brakes for uneven wear or excessive heat. Repair as needed.

Symptom: Flip-Flop Wheel Shimmy

Wheels seem to wander and wiggle rapidly back and forth.

  • Low or uneven tire pressure: Check tire inflation.
  • One or more wheels out of balance: Have wheels balanced.
  • Uneven or excessive tire wear:Inspect tires and replace in pairs.
  • Vehicle out of alignment: Check and adjust wheel alignment.
  • Worn steering components: Inspect tie rods and steering rack for excessive play and repair if needed.

Symptom: Porpoising Over Bumps or Uneven Roads

Porpoising, aka bouncing, dipping, diving. Car keeps going up and down after you go over a bump.

  • Worn shocks or struts: Replace shocks and/or struts.
  • Broken or slipped leaf spring: Inspect leaf springs and repair or replace as needed.

Symptom: Steering Seems to Be Slipping

As you turn the wheel or hold it in a turned position, it feels like its slipping slightly back and forth.

  • Low power steering fluid:Add fluid as needed.
  • Loose or worn power steering belt: Tighten or replace belt.
  • Bad power steering pump: Have checked for pressure and replace if needed.
  • Leaking power steering rack: Inspect steering rack for leaks and replace rack if needed.
  • Broken steering rack mounts: Inspect mounts for excessive play and repair as needed

Symptom: Hard to Steer

Wheel is hard to turn, especially while moving at slow speed.

  • Low power steering fluid: Add fluid as needed.
  • Loose or worn power steering belt: Tighten or replace belt.
  • Bad power steering pump: Have checked for pressure and replace if needed.
  • Leaking power steering rack: Inspect steering rack for leaks and replace rack if needed.

Symptom: Steering Wheel Vibrates at Speed

Excessive vibration while traveling at a constant speed, especially at highway speeds.

  • Wheels out of balance: Have wheels re-balanced.
  • Tires worn unevenly or excessively: Replace tires.
  • Loose wheel bolts:Check wheel lugs for correct tightness.
  • Warped brake rotor:Inspect brake discs (rotors) andreplace if needed.

Symptom: Loose or Sloppy Steering

Steering has excessive play and wanders from side to side.

  • Power steering fluid low: Check power steering fluid and add if needed.
  • Worn strut bearings: Inspect strut bearings for play and replace in pairs.
  • Worn or broken tie rods or steering rack: Inspect steering components and replace as necessary.
  • Worn ball joints: Inspect ball joints and replace if needed.
  • Broken steering rack mounts: Inspect steering rack mounts and repair or replace (some cars can be fixed, others require replacement of the entire steering rack.)

Symptom: Clunking Over Bumps

Feeling clunks and knocks through the steering wheel when you go over bumps or even cracks in the road.

  • Worn shocks or struts: Replace shocks and/or struts as indicated.
  • Worn strut bearings: Inspect strut bearings and replace both if needed.
  • Worn ball joints: Inspect ball joints for play and replace if needed.

Symptom: Screeching and Screaming

Steering emits loud screeching when steering at low speeds, such as parking.

  • Low power steering fluid: Add power steering fluid as needed.
  • Loose power steering belt: Adjust power steering belt.
  • Worn power steering belt: Replace and adjust power steering belt.

Keep in mind, this is a guide to help you diagnose steering or suspension problems. Sometimes more than one issue needs to be addressed to fix the symptoms.

Wheel alignment on a car is important for the life expectancy of the tires. Poor alignment is one of the leading causes of uneven and premature wear of tires. Although other factors such as the lack of tire rotations and tire balancing can lead to premature wear of tires, most often adjustments can be made to the alignment of a car to assist in the longevity of the tires. Normal driving conditions, after time, can easily cause the necessity of wheel alignments. Abnormal driving conditions, such as driving on dirt or potholed roads, can intensify the problem and necessitate the need for frequent alignment checks and adjustments.

Function

The function of wheel alignment is to keep the thrust angle of the vehicle straight. This includes the steering wheel. There are three basic angles of the tire to consider. Toe adjustment is the most common because it creates the wear of a tire more rapidly. The toe is the parallelism of the tire between the wheels; in other words, how the tire points directly forward in conjunction to the angle of the vehicle. Toe-in would point the tire inward and create uneven wear on one edge of the tire. Toe-out would point outward, which would create edge wear of the tire. Camber is the angle of the tire as it is positioned to the knuckle or the strut of the suspension. A positive camber would angle the top of the tire outward and the bottom of the tire inward. Negative camber would position the angle of the top of the tire inward and the bottom outward. Zero camber would place the tire as it should, straight up and down. The last adjustment of an alignment function is the caster of the tire. Because caster deals only with steering stability, the effort of steering and the return of steering and does not compromise the wear of the tire, it is often overlooked. Viewing the tire from the side, caster is the forward or rearward tilt of the tire and applies only to the front tires in most cars.

Identification

To identify whether your car needs an alignment, there are a few easy tests. Making sure all of your tires have the proper air pressure is the easiest. Inspecting the tread wear of each tire is also important. Once driving the vehicle, check to see whether the steering wheel is centered. An off-center steering wheel is a good indication that the toe is out. A vehicle that pulls to one side when you let go of the steering wheel or always has to be corrected is another telltale sign of the need for an alignment. Air pressure between two tires on the same axle can create a wander or pull, so it’s important to check tire pressure before determining whether your car needs an alignment. Something else to consider is road crown. Most roads are designed to be higher in the middle and angled downward to the right. This is so rain and melting snow will follow the angle of the road and not create large puddles that can cause hydroplaning. Because of this, most vehicles always have the effect of a right wander. To check this, drive on a two-lane highway in the left lane–your car should create a slight wander to the left. Uneven tire wear and vibration when driving are also symptoms of a necessary alignment. Depending on the severity of the tire wear, new tires might be recommended before pursuing an alignment.

Geography

Where you live and the kind of roads you drive on greatly affect the alignment of your vehicle. More bumps and wear and tear on the suspension of your vehicle can increase the odds of needing an alignment more often than driving on smooth, paved roads. However, after a certain amount of time, because of the stress on the suspension and steering components of a vehicle, an alignment will be needed even under ideal driving conditions.

Types

There are two-wheel and four-wheel alignments that can be made on vehicles. Many cars allow four-wheel alignment. However some older cars might need full contact shims applied to the rear axles to make adjustments for rear camber and toe if there are no alignment options and either the rear camber or toe are out. Front-wheel alignments are the most common because the tie-rod ends and angle of the caster are performed to prevent pulling or tire wear. In newer vehicles with rear adjustments available, toe and camber are also checked and adjusted if needed. If only a front-wheel alignment is performed, it is called a two-wheel alignment. If a front- and rear-wheel alignment is performed, it is called a four-wheel alignment.

Misconceptions

Tire wear is not the only symptom to determine whether you need an alignment. Worn or malfunctioning front-end components might also be a cause. Ball joints, tie-rod ends (inner or outer), idler arms and bad struts or shocks also contribute to premature tire wear. Not rotating tires per maintenance schedules is another common cause for premature tire wear because the front tires will wear out more quickly because of the stress of steering. Improper tire inflation is yet another leading cause of premature wear. An overinflated tire will wear across the center of the tread, and an underinflated tire will wear on both outer edges. The condition of the tires and front end should always be checked and replaced if necessary before performing an alignment.

Prevention/Solution

Have the alignment checked on your vehicle at least once a year, more often if you drive on bad roads or have high annual mileage. Follow the recommended maintenance schedules for tire rotations and balances. Check your tire pressure at least once a month. Replace any faulty front-end components every three months. Check the shocks and struts every three months.

Jody L. Campbell spent over 15 years as both a manager and an under-car specialist in the automotive repair industry. Prior to that, he managed two different restaurants for over 15 years. Campbell began his professional writing career in 2004 with the publication of his first book.

The first and most important step in training a conveyor is to check and align the structure. The best way to begin this process is to make a detailed survey of existing conditions and the original design criteria. This allows measured corrections to be made returning the system to original specifications , rather than adopting an unplanned “let’s ‘tweak’ the idlers a little more today” approach.

The traditional method of checking alignment has been to stretch a piano wire from one end of the conveyor to the other and use this wire as a baseline to take the measurements to evaluate alignment. However, this method has a number of potential problems. For example, the wire is vulnerable to shifts in its line. Changes in ambient temperature from the warmth of the sun, or even the actual weight of the wire itself, can stretch the wire, changing the line. Another problem is that there is no accurate way to measure a 90-degree angle from the wire. If the wire moves when touched when laying a ruler square against it, the accuracy of subsequent measurements is destroyed.

How to diagnose an alignment problemThe beam of light from a laser transit provides an unobstructed and repeatable reference for the alignment of the conveyor-structure components.

Now, high technology, in the form of beams of light from a laser transit set in parallel to the conveyor structure, provides an unobstructed and repeatable reference for the alignment of the conveyor-structure components.

This laser-surveying technology avoids the problems encountered with the old “piano wire” technique. The laser generates a perfectly straight beam with an effective range of 150 meters (500 feet), with multiple set-ups allowing unlimited distance. To check objects set at angles to the baseline, prisms can be used to bend the beam. With a laser transit, the survey crew is no longer trying to measure a perpendicular line; they have created one. Since a laser beam cannot be touched, it cannot be moved accidentally when taking readings from it.

Most operations do not have the equipment and expertise to properly conduct a laser survey. Therefore, it is in the best interest of the operation to hire a specialty contractor or service with the hardware and experience to conduct this survey. A specialty contractor will laser survey the belt, inscribe a permanent series of benchmarks or alignment points, create a detailed report, and offer recommendations as to how to correct the major tracking problems .

The report should tell which components are out of alignment and by how much, so the plant maintenance crew or the specialty contractor can adjust these components to improve the belt’s tracking. By doing repeat surveys of the same conveyor at regular intervals – annually, for example – plant management can provide a regular check of the condition of the conveyor structure. The survey will tell if the structure is deteriorating or if other circumstances – such as subsidence of the ground under the conveyor or change in the counterweight mass – are occurring. This information can be used to prevent unexpected shutdowns and subsequent loss of production by alerting the plant’s engineering and maintenance staff to problems as they develop.

Many car owners become aware that it is time to investigate their vehicle’s suspension components when their car starts to behave abnormally. This can include such times when strange sounds are heard, like clanking or knocking when driving over bumps. Constantly correcting the steering wheel to assist the vehicle going straight is another abnormal experience. These are just two symptoms that lead to a need for a suspension system inspection.

It is routine to have your tires and suspension visually checked by a mechanic when your vehicle has its regular oil change. Performing a suspension inspection may be a bit of a challenge for the beginner so knowing a lot of information about all of the components and the many ways they can fail is helpful when diagnosing a suspension issue. If you take your time to get to know your vehicle very well, then you may be able to identify the source of your concerns yourself.

There are a variety of components that make up the suspension system. Struts, mounts and springs, control arms and ball joints, just to name a few. Along with suspension parts, many other pieces of the car affect the suspension system, such as the tires. They all work together in harmony to cushion both the car and the driver from the rough terrain being driven on. If one part fails, the other components will fail to do their job properly as well, leading to further damage and needed repairs.

Part 1 of 1: Inspecting the suspension system

Materials Required

  • Flash light
  • Floor jack
  • Gloves
  • Jack stand
  • Safety glasses
  • Wheel chock

Step 1: Take your car for a test drive. Drive your vehicle by yourself. Do your best to remove all possible distractions and noises for this drive.

Roll down your car’s windows and try to take note of any noises you hear coming from your vehicle as you drive. If you do happen to hear a noise, pay attention to where the sound is coming from, such as from the front or rear of the vehicle.

Notice if the noises are consistent or if the noises are dependent on what you are doing at the time, such as going over speed bumps or while turning the wheel.

Some common noises that are associated with suspension concerns include:

Step 2: Inspect the outside of the vehicle. Once information has been gathered on the test drive, put the vehicle into Park and set the parking brake.

Be sure to let the car cool down for at least 30 minutes before beginning. This will ensure that you do not get burned during the inspection. Put on a pair of gloves and grab the flashlight

Step 3: Bounce the car. Carefully place your hands firmly on the car, at the seam where the hood and fender meet. Push down hard on the vehicle’s suspension, let go and allow for it to raise back up on its own.

If you observe the car bounce back up and stop, it is a good indication the shock or strut is still good.

If the car continues to bounce up and down, then it is a good indication of a blown-out strut. Attempt this method at all four corners of the vehicle to check each individual strut.

Step 4: Jack up the car. Next is the shakedown test. Use a floor jack to raise the corner of the vehicle. Lift the vehicle high enough to get the tire off the ground and secure the vehicle with a safety jack stand.

Step 5: Shimmy the tire. Hold the tire with both hands firmly at 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock and shimmy the tire back and forth.

Place your hands at 12 o’clock and 6 o’clock and do the same action again. If you feel any excessive movement then it is very likely you have a worn out component present.

If you feel play at nine and three, then it is in the inner or outer tie rods. Any play at the twelve and six may indicate a bad ball joint.

Note: Excessive movement is not limited to just these components as culprits. Other parts can allow excessive movement of the wheel in these directions.

Tip: It may be best to have a friend perform the shakedown test with you. With a flashlight in hand, look behind the wheel to see if you can view the failing component. While it may be difficult to spot it visually, placing your gloved hand on each suspension component may assist with feeling the excessive play. Be on the lookout for broken bushings or for oil leaking from a shock or strut.

  • Tip: You should also carefully inspect the condition of your vehicle’s tires. Abnormal tire wear can cause rotational noises and allow the vehicle to not track straight. This can be helped with an alignment check.

If you believe you have located your concern to be with one or more of the suspension components, have a certified mechanic assist you in confirming the problem so he or she can help you make the repairs necessary. A professional mechanic, such as one from YourMechanic, can inspect your vehicle’s suspension components and steering wheel to help get your vehicle going straight – and safe – again.

We’ve all been there: driving down a long stretch of road when you notice your car is pulling to either the left or right. Despite there being no change in the direction you’re traveling, you find yourself having to correct the steering wheel just to continue driving straight. This is just one of the classic signs of problems with your wheel alignment and tire alignment—and it’s not something that should be ignored.

Wheel and tire alignment is the process of adjusting a vehicle’s suspension components to set the wheels and tires at specific angles, creating optimal handling, performance, and tire wear. 1 . A vehicle that is out of alignment will drift, the steering wheel will shake, and over time its tires will wear unevenly. 1 . But what causes a vehicle to go out of alignment? Here are the four most common reasons:

Check Out the Tires

The first thing you should do when you feel your car drifting is check the tire pressure. Invest in a quality tire pressure gauge and check your tire pressure regularly. If a tire is low, chances are your vehicle is pulling in that direction; this is because the low tire’s rolling diameter is lower than the properly inflated tire on the other side, increasing its drag. 2

Learn how to fill your tires with air here .

Get the tire re-inflated to the proper PSI and see if that fixes the drift you’ve been experiencing. If the tire keeps losing air, you might have a leak and should visit a tire shop soon to diagnose the problem. Your mechanic will also be able to spot uneven tread wear and determine if it may be time for a wheel and tire alignment. It’s also possible a tire repair or patch will solve your problem.

Have a Mechanic Inspect Your Brakes

If your car drifts more suddenly, then it may be due to issues with your brakes. Certain parts of the brake assembly are notorious for sticking, causing part of the brake to stay in contact with the wheel on one side of the car. 3 . This friction creates drag, resulting in the car pulling in that direction. If you’re experiencing these sudden pulls while driving, get to a mechanic right away.

Do you know what to do with squealing brakes? Check it out here .

Examine Your Suspension Parts and Hardware

Certain parts of your car’s suspension system and hardware can cause a car to go out of alignment. Worn or loose wheel bearings can cause tires to tilt, meaning the tire is no longer set at the optimal angle. 4 Other parts, such as worn out tie-rod ends and ball joints or a damaged steering gearbox can also cause a car to pull to the left or right. 4 You should consult your mechanic to determine whether a repair or wheel alignment and tire alignment is needed.

Your Car is Due for a Re-Alignment

If you haven’t encountered any of these issues but are still experiencing drift, then your car may simply be due for a fresh wheel and tire alignment. It’s recommended that you have re-alignment performed once or twice a year, but this can vary depending on where you live and the road conditions you encounter. 1 If you regularly travel on rough roads or hit the occasional curb or speed bump, more frequent tire alignments may benefit your vehicle performance and tread wear.

Here’s a list of five ways to avoid a flat tire.

While not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when you think of regular car maintenance, a tire alignment may be what saves you from a time-consuming and costly tire repair or replacement—or even a more expensive repair. The average cost for a wheel and tire alignment at a local tire shop is around $70 to $100, but can get more expensive if you go to a dealership or have a luxury vehicle. 1 The alignment itself takes about an hour, and since most shops have only one alignment system, it’s best to schedule ahead of time. Need help finding a tire shop to get a wheel and tire alignment? Find a location using the Synchrony Car Care™ network locator .

Don’t let car trouble hold you back— apply for the Synchrony Car Care credit card today. With no annual fee* and 24/7 secure online account access, you can easily manage all your routine car maintenance, as well as be prepared for the unexpected when it happens.

*Subject to credit approval. Purchase APR is 29.99%; minimum interest charge is $2.