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Wheel Alignment - Who Knew?
Old 12-10-2011, 11:13 AM   #1
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Wheel Alignment - Who Knew?

Exec summary: If you rotate your tires and keep them properly inflated, though less likely, they can still wear out prematurely due to alignment issues. Have alignment checked (free!) every time you replace tires, or more often if possible. Might save yourself some expense.

Long version: I can't remember when I've ever checked or had an alignment issue on a car we've owned and Yahoo!Autos suggests (below) we shouldn't have to unless we hit something. Recently, our Toyota Camry wore out some Michelin tires at under 40K miles, they were warrantied for 60K. They were rotated every 5K miles and kept properly inflated so I could not figure it out. Tire shop checked tread wear and it seemed pretty even, 5/32"1/32" all around. Talked to Michelin and they suggested my tread wear was uneven, one tire was 4/32", two at 5/32" and one at 6/32". Bought new tires and the dealer said we're going to check alignment for free, up to you if you want to pay for re-alignment. Alignment wasn't way out, but it was outside Toyota tolerances. Maybe we've been scammed, but it would explain why a reputable tire wore out on us prematurely since we thought we'd maintained them properly. I didn't pursue the warranty, it was clear talking to Michelin they were going to claim it was our fault due to uneven wear (and it is possible). So now we'll check alignment (for free) every time we get new tires, just to be sure. FWIW...

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If the wheels on your vehicle are correctly aligned when the vehicle is manufactured at the factory, they should not change alignment until something in the suspension wears out or is damaged. Alignment doesn't change. The only thing that changes it is wear or damage. Hitting a pot hole or a thousand pot holes won't knock your suspension out of alignment unless you hit something hard enough to actually bend metal. That really doesn't happen very often, so having the wheels aligned periodically is a waste of money.

It only takes a 1/8 inch of toe misalignment to drag the front tires sideways the equivalent of 28 feet for every mile traveled!
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Old 12-10-2011, 12:59 PM   #2
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I just replaced a set of Firestones that had a 50k mile warranty but were close to worn out at 36k. They were down to 4/32" but the insides and outsides were a bit different by 1/32". Firestone offered me a new set with a nice discount but insisted that we have an alignment done as part of the deal.

Their offer, even with the alignment was lower than buying a new set on tirerack + shipping + installation + disposal so we took it.
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Old 12-10-2011, 01:26 PM   #3
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I'm pretty shocked to hear your dealer offers free alignment checks on the car. All the other repair shops, Midas, Car-X, Meineke, stopped offering this years ago since customers would have it checked but not pay for the corrections. Now they all charge for it. What's the name of the dealer you go to?
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Old 12-10-2011, 01:45 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by Dimsumkid View Post
I'm pretty shocked to hear your dealer offers free alignment checks on the car. All the other repair shops, Midas, Car-X, Meineke, stopped offering this years ago since customers would have it checked but not pay for the corrections. Now they all charge for it. What's the name of the dealer you go to?
They automatically check alignment whether you ask them to or not when you buy tires, I didn't mean to suggest they'd do a free alignment check to someone off the street if that's what you thought. Can't be too difficult with the car already on the rack. And I assume most customers choose to pay for alignment if it is out of tolerance. It was at a Mr. Tire, Tread Quarters and Autotire | 800 Locations for your Tire and Auto Service needs
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Old 12-10-2011, 02:07 PM   #5
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Here in Canada there is no free alignment check. A alignment wether it be thrust angle or not can be off when you hit a pot hole, you don't need to hit a curb or any other obstacle. As suspension components wear, even though they are still within factory service manual specs they can still change caster and or camber on a front or rear end, in the case of independent rear suspension. Even as the springs wear and get weak, changing the height of the car can change alignment.
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Old 12-10-2011, 02:30 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by Midpack View Post
They automatically check alignment whether you ask them to or not when you buy tires, I didn't mean to suggest they'd do a free alignment check to someone off the street if that's what you thought. Can't be too difficult with the car already on the rack. And I assume most customers choose to pay for alignment if it is out of tolerance. It was at a Mr. Tire, Tread Quarters and Autotire | 800 Locations for your Tire and Auto Service needs
This is a great bonus for shops that have the facilities to offer it. I know there's a great percentage of people that buy tires from Costco/Sam's Club and they just do wheel balancing, stems and install, that's it. A few years ago, I had to do the State Emissions test for IL and they refused to test my car because my front tires had an alignment issue and they told me my tires could have a blow out. At the time, I thought they were crazy, so I brought it in for a 2nd opinion, it wasn't as dire as they claimed, but it was good to know the State was actually looking out for my safety on top of emissions testing the vehicle. This is back when they'd drive your car up to 30 mph on rollers and they had a few cars jump off the racks and cause body damamge. I ended up getting my front end alignment corrected, new tires and passed the emissions testing.
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Old 12-10-2011, 11:34 PM   #7
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FWIW I drove a Honda Civic over 200k miles that I bought used with just over 100k miles and never did a wheel alignment and my tires wore fine w/o any problems. About 20k miles before I got rid of the car the front end was in such good shape the guy that works on my car who has been a Honda mechanic for almost 30 years said he never saw a Honda with so many miles whose front end components were in such good shape, virtually like a new car! I live on a dirt road and drove that car on many dirt roads and sometimes through the woods!
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Old 12-10-2011, 11:58 PM   #8
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I think it partly depends on the kind of soil where you live. If you have the soil that expands and contracts due to moisture content, you will hit chuckholes, there is no way around it. If you hit chuckholes your alignment will go out. In Houston where I used to live you would hit big chuckholes as swerving meant a collision instead due to traffic.
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Old 12-11-2011, 05:03 AM   #9
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My dad taught me from the time I was knee high to a grasshopper that you always have the wheels aligned when you get new tires, otherwise you risk ruining a new set of tires. Except for once, I've always done that. Guess which set of tires wore out prematurely? Sometimes father really does know best...

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Old 12-11-2011, 06:49 AM   #10
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And that will be my MO now too. There's no downside since it's free with a tire purchase...live and learn.
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Old 12-11-2011, 07:58 AM   #11
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tires can go out of alignment for any number of reasons. potholes mostly where we live but something as simple as bumping into a curb while parking can do it. I have an alignment everytime I put tires on and whenever I do a rotation and notice uneven tread wear. a lot of people buy tires and expect them to wear to the warranty numbers, but driving conditions and road conditions diminsh the mileage. example if you drive in 100 degree temps the tires are softer and wear faster.
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Old 12-11-2011, 08:39 AM   #12
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I have the wheels aligned every time I buy new tires. I rarely rotate the tires and still get warranty mileage out of them. I pay for the alignment each time. I get lifetime rotation and balancing and road hazard warranty with the tires. When the tires become unbalanced I have them re-balanced and rotated.

I have done this for decades since an unfortunate event like yours where the tires wore out prematurely due to misalignment.

YMMV! Literally.
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Old 12-11-2011, 08:41 AM   #13
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Originally Posted by gsparks2 View Post
YMMV! Literally.
Good one.
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Old 12-11-2011, 01:18 PM   #14
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Maybe next time when tire rotation is due, try to make some inconspicuous marks on tires to find out if they are indeed rotated as claimed and in what pattern if so. Or better yet ask how much torque was used to put on those lug nuts. A good technician will be able to answer these questions because (s)he will only use torque wrench on lug nuts instead of the brutal force from impact gun. I found a pattern of FL-RL/FR-RR followed by FL-RR/FR-RL (except for uni-direction ones) every 5k miles should keep tire wear very even, as long as the wheel alignment is not way too far off which is rare. Yes, YMMV.
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