The average wheel alignment can cost $75, or as much as $200. This is contingent on what kind of alignment you need. For instance, a single alignment should cost you on the lower end of this range, while an unlimited number of alignments covered under an extended warranty can reach the higher end.
While it isn’t the most expensive car maintenance issue, neglecting to align your tires can have severe consequences for your car, your safety, and the safety of others around you on the road. Ignoring alignment issues could cause your car to eat up gas, make it hard to steer, destroy your tires, and hinder your car’s ability to stop instantly.
A wheel alignment can be a murky area for car owners, as they might not know exactly what the work entails. To understand how much an alignment will cost you and why, it’s important to know exactly what an alignment is, what affects the cost, how often you should get one, and signs that you need an alignment.
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What Is an Alignment?
In essence, a wheel alignment is needed to make sure all the tires of your car are angled correctly according to its manufacturer. This creates a smooth ride for your car.
With so many parts that go into the modern car’s suspension, braking, and steering systems, an alignment has become a fairly complicated operation. Generally, a technician will look at three aspects of your car and adjust them to make sure they are in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendation for peak efficiency.
- Caster angle: In a front-end alignment, this angle affects the steering of your car. The angle of the caster (between the steering mechanism’s upper and lower ball joints) can make the steering feel too heavy or light, depending on a negative or positive caster angle.
- Camber angle: This concerns the vertical tilt of your tires, and how much they come in contact with the road. Wheels can either lean inward (with the top of the wheel pointing toward your car) or outward. The camber angle of your car can have an impact on the wear and tear of your tires.
- Toe angle: This corresponds to the angle between your tires. Think of this angle as being pigeon-toed (toe-in), and being splayfooted (toe-out). This angle can have an impact on tire wear and turning stability.
A professional will analyze these angles. If they are off, they will place your car on an alignment rack and reset these angles back to an advisable range according to the car’s manufacturer.
Signs You Need an Alignment
You may very well feel the warning signs that you need an alignment, but not know that it is an alignment you need. If you feel any of these indicators while you are driving straight (and the steering wheel is pointing straight ahead), it may be time for an alignment:
- Your car drifts to the left or right.
- Your steering wheel is offset and crooked.
- You hear noises from your tires.
- You discover your tires are unevenly worn.
What Affects the Cost of an Alignment?
Aside from varying labor costs from auto shops, there’ll be several aspects of an alignment job that will determine the overall price. Again, the average alignment will cost $75 to $200. What you’ll pay on this scale will depend on:
- Two- or four-wheel alignment: Naturally, it will take more labor to work on four wheels instead of two, and a four-wheel alignment will cost more. With modern wheel alignment, your rear wheels should always be aligned with your front, and most alignments are done to all four wheels.
- Warranty: The manufacturer or dealership warranty on your car may cover an alignment over a particular period of time and/or if you haven’t exceeded the mileage limitations. If it’s a manufacturer’s warranty, you’ll be able to save money. If it’s a dealership warranty on a used car, your savings will depend on whether you end up needing an alignment. This will be important when you’re considering purchasing a used car. If the used car’s mileage is good, you may not need to spring for the dealership warranty, but if there are a lot of miles on it, a warranty is a good idea.
- Make and model: Some cars require specialized tools to perform an alignment. This can make it a much tougher job for mechanics and they will charge you for the extra equipment and labor.
How Often Should You Get an Alignment?
Some professionals recommend a tire alignment once or twice a year, while others say every three years. Since many cars and driving conditions are different, this range will vary. An alignment may also depend on how often you drive your car and how rough you are on it.
If you are noticing the warning signs, you should get your car checked for alignment right away. Additionally, if you get new tires put on your car, you should get an alignment at the same time. For proper maintenance on your car, ask your mechanic what they think, and always keep an eye out for unevenly worn tires, noises from your tires while you’re driving, and steering problems.
Financing Your Alignment
A wheel alignment by itself will likely not break your bank, but associated costs such as excessive fuel consumption and worn tires may add up. For an alignment, consider the following financing options if you don’t want to pay the cost upfront:
- Use a credit card;
- Check to see if your car insurance will cover the expense;
- Use money from an emergency fund in your savings account.
An alignment may often be ignored because a car owner may not even know that it is what their car needs. However, if you put off an alignment you may be causing further damage to your car and may bring harm to yourself or others. A wheel alignment is a fairly affordable fix that should be on your car maintenance list.
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