This is a question that you should ask yourself about every fourth oil change or two to three times a year. Driving a car without the wheels aligned properly can dramatically reduce the life of your tires as well as invalidate any mileage warranty associated with them.
So what exactly is a wheel alignment? The long answer to this question is quite complex and deals with fancy terminology like steering angle of inclination, scrub radius, toe and camber. I will spare you the details and get right down to it. The simple answer is that it a wheel alignment adjusts your wheel/tire angles so that they rotate in the direction that the manufacturer intended them to. This doesn’t always mean that your wheels/tires are set perfectly straight. Depending on whether or not the vehicle is front or rear wheel drive and what type of suspension its has, the tire/wheel will be set at slight angles (most often not even noticeable to the human eye).
How do I know if I need a wheel alignment? To be perfectly honest, many times you can’t be sure without putting the vehicle on an alignment rack. However, there are some signs that can warn you that your vehicle’s alignment needs attention. The most noticeable condition is a drift or pull when you take your hands off the steering wheel (don’t do this while driving fast or when other cars are around). Although other things can cause a vehicle to drift or pull, a mis-aligned wheels/tires are typically the primary offender. The second sign is a visual sign that shows up in the way of tire wear. If you notice the inner or outer edge of your tires becoming excessively worn then your alignment needs to be looked at. Unfortunately, once this wear pattern is noticed it’s often too late to save your tires from wearing out prematurely.
One thing to remember is that a shaking steering wheel IS NOT a typical sign that your vehicle’s alignment needs to be checked. This is most often a sign of poorly balanced tires. That is not to say that your vehicle couldn’t have poorly balanced tires and need an alignment.
To wrap things up it is always a good idea to have your alignment checked 2-3 times per year to ensure that you get the most life out of your tires and that your driving experience is a pleasant one. I hope you learned something. Thanks for reading.