The whole process of aligning your wheels may take anywhere between 15-90 minutes or a bit more.
The time depends on factors like the type and accessibility of your car, how much alignment is needed, and how experienced the mechanics are.
Additionally, it will take more time to align your wheels if you want to fix your alignment after an impact.
Let’s get to the details!
What Is a Wheel Alignment?
Wheel alignment is the process of adjusting all of the wheels of your vehicle into harmony so that you can get the most out of your suspension system. For your car to perform the best, all the wheels need to act in harmony, and wheel alignment is the way to ensure that.
If wheel alignment isn’t done regularly, not only it can make your driving difficult, but it also may lead you into dangerous car crashes. We strongly recommend you align your car regularly.
Benefits of Wheel Alignment
In the worst-case scenario, misalignment causes cars to get out of control and veer from side to side. That can turn dangerous very quickly. The more misaligned your car is, the harder it will be for you to steer. Perfectly aligned wheels will work in harmony, giving you better control.
With proper alignment, you’ll no longer need to steer your wheel at a weird angle just to go straight or side-to-side. This will give you superior control and comfort riding your car.
According to the United States Department of Energy, misalignment can eat up to 10% of your gas money. You can increase the mileage and save up to 31 cents per gallon by aligning your wheels.
Wheel/tire alignment is a great way to improve fuel economy. A misaligned car will create unnecessary drag and stop the wheels from moving freely. As a result, tires will wear out quickly and the engine will require more power to keep them working.
If you want to reduce the number of your gas station visits, we recommend you align your car wheels to find the best possible combination for your car.
If your car is misaligned, that can damage other parts of your car too. Normal situations like hitting a pothole can do way more damage if your car is out of alignment.
Some parts will take the hit stronger than the other and eventually, the whole suspension system will collapse. On an unaligned/misaligned car, this will happen sooner than you think.
Additionally, car repairs can be expensive. We recommend you spend a few bucks to align your car now to avoid spending more money on expensive suspension repairs down the road.
If your car tends to move to the left or right automatically instead of going straight ahead, that may be because your wheels are misaligned. Constantly adjusting the steering wheel is tiring, inefficient, and dangerous.
Wheel alignment can help you enjoy a hassle-free riding experience. It will smoothen out the bumpy and vibrating sensation so that you can get a better “behind-the-wheel” experience.
Misaligned wheels can cause fatal accidents and this reason alone should be enough to get your car checked every once in a while. Steering a misaligned vehicle is downright dangerous.
You can’t control your misaligned car the way you should, especially if they’re big and heavy. Many things can happen on the road and just a moment of delay is enough to mess it up badly.
A well-aligned car will give you better control and safe braking distance/time.
How Often Should You Get a Wheel Alignment?
Usually, aligning your car wheels once every 2-3 years should be enough to keep you safe on the road. If you install a new tire or go to your mechanic for regular inspection, you can align your wheels alongside other services.
Here are a few examples of when you should think about getting your car wheels checked and aligned:
- After you’ve driven through a bumpy road or been in a car crash.
- Once a year checking might be necessary for cars that run on rough terrains.
- When you notice your car moving a way it isn’t supposed to. Like when your car goes from side to side automatically even if you try to steer the vehicle straight ahead.
- The steering wheel is supposed to go back to its previous position (center) after you’ve turned it. If that doesn’t happen or you need to steer your wheels at a weird angle, it’s time to check your vehicle for misalignments.
- If you notice uneven tread wear or excessive tread wear in your tires.
- When you hear a screeching sound as you take a turn or simply steer the car.
- If you feel vibrations and bumps on a seemingly flat and smooth road.
- When you feel the steering wheel vibrating too much in your hands, or it feels loose.
You can also align your car wheels by yourself in the garage. We’ll talk about that in detail shortly. We recommend you check for wheel alignment once a year or roughly after every 6000 miles just to be safe.
How Long Does an Alignment Take?
This is the quickest fix. This process only takes 15-20 minutes and only works on toe adjustments on the front of your vehicle. People use this solution because a misaligned toe angle can chew up your tire tread like crazy.
If your alignment takes less than 15-20 minutes, consult with the mechanic about their work process.
This solution offers to align only one pair of tires, mostly the front wheels. This process will cost you around 30 minutes or more of your time. Setting up the system alone will take 15-20 minutes.
The main reason people go for two-wheel alignment is to save a bit of money and time.
This is the most time-consuming and costly alignment process. A four-wheel alignment is thorough and comprehensive. All of your wheels will get checked and aligned neatly. This process may take 30-60 minutes or even longer than that.
If you have enough time on your hand, we strongly recommend going for a four-wheel alignment. That way, you’ll get the most out of the system.
How Do You Know You Need an Alignment?
Uneven tire wear
There may be many reasons behind uneven tire wires, but the most prominent issue is misalignment. Wheels alignment is much more about just rearranging the wheels since it is directly related to the suspension system of your car.
Check all your tires and try to find any uneven wear patterns. Ask a mechanic about different tread wear patterns and how to identify them. On misaligned vehicles, uneven tire wear is a fairly common scenario.
Off-center steering wheel
It’s hard to notice a crooked steering wheel because we subconsciously make adjustments correcting the effect while we drive. The easiest way to check for this is to turn your steering wheel completely on a side and then let it balance itself in the center position.
If the steering wheel is crooked, it won’t return to the center like it is supposed to. We recommend you keep an eye open for off-center steering wheels while you drive. They are a good indication your car needs alignment.
Pulling in one direction
In extreme cases of tire misalignment, your car will move on its own. This can also happen if your tires are low on air pressure, so check your air pressure first. If the pressure is fine, this might be an alignment issue.
Sudden sharp turns can be very dangerous. If the misalignment is minute, you will feel a soft pulling in one direction while you drive. We strongly recommend checking for soft pulls on an empty space (Ex, parking lot). Sharp pulls on the road can become a disaster real quick.
Steering wheel vibration
Usually, when you feel bumpy on a smooth road, it’s because your tires are pulling in opposite directions from each other.
Whether it is because of misalignment or an unbalanced tire, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Check your wheels thoroughly if you feel your steering wheel is vibrating too much while driving.
Various Alignment Equipment Options
Lifts allow better access while the mechanic adjusts the front toe and the rear axle. Better access to the suspension components provide better efficiency. They are also known as “alignment racks”.
Even so, alignment lifts are costly. If your technician has one, the alignment process will become much smoother and faster.
Floor alignment is one of the most cost-effective systems since it doesn’t require any prior investment. The length of the vehicle is also no problem. Even if you have a trailer, it can be measured while attached to the tractor.
On the contrary, You get less access to adjust the alignment. As a result, it’ll take much more time and effort to measure your vehicle. If you want to reduce your wheel alignment cost, this might be a great way.
This is the most basic alignment option you can get. Mechanical equipment is pretty good for aligning your car wheels. They are also cheap and provide decent quality alignment.
However, getting repetitive results is pretty tough on this system since the mechanic makes multiple adjustments to the system regularly. Additionally, front wheels are not referenced to the rear wheels in most mechanical systems.
This system consists of a set of 4-6 sensors. All the wheels are measured digitally so you’ll get a more precise alignment. The operation is efficient and the setup is easier. Fully digital systems are perfect for quick alignment checks and fixes.
The operator of a fully digital system needs to be an expert. The process may be quicker for the professionals, but many things can go south if an inexperienced person tries it out. The system is also costly.
This is a hybrid system that measures your front wheels digitally and the rear wheels mechanically. This way, the technician will get better measurements and align your wheels more accurately.
This mechanical/digital system also doesn’t reference your front wheels to the rear wheels and the mechanic still needs to make a bunch of decisions on the equipment setup, especially for the rear wheels.
Quick check commercial
These systems are perfect for checking your vehicles for alignment issues. The process is fully automated and doesn’t require a technician to operate it. This mighty system can measure a 3-axle truck and 2-axle trailer within 15 seconds.
The commercial setup requires a larger space and is specially built for checking large vehicles.
A lift will take the car higher whereas a pit rack will leave the car as is but allow you to go under the car and align the wheels. Like alignment lifts, they also provide better access. As a result, the wheel alignment service will be completed much quicker.
Even so, not all shops can install a pit alignment system. The pit requires a special environment and they don’t come cheap.
Angles That Should Be Fully Adjusted
This is the easiest angle to understand. Toe alignment is checked from above the car. If the front sides of the tires are closer than the rear, you have a toe-in alignment. The opposite alignment is called toe-out and the amount is measured in degrees of an angle.
Both toe-in and toe-out alignments should be optimized regularly. This will reduce your uneven tire wear, increasing the tire’s lifespan. Toe-out makes your car wanna turn more.
Camber is the angle a wheel seems to be attached at from the front of the car. Usually, the tire is compared to a perfectly vertical imaginary line to find the camber angle.
If the top side of the tire is leaning outside the car, you have positive camber. If the top of the tire leans towards the car, that’ll be considered as negative camber.
If the camber alignment gets messed, that can create uneven wear on the tread and cause pulling problems. Worn bearings and ball joints are the main reason behind camber misalignment.
Caster alignment has to be checked on the front tires from the side of the car. Every front wheel turns through a pivot attached to the suspension system. Caster angle is determined by measuring the pivot angle.
If the top of the pivot is leaning to the car’s rear side, that is called positive camber and if the pivot is leaning to the car’s front side, that is a negative camber angle.
If the caster angle gets misaligned, you’ll be having a tough time steering your car in a straight line or might feel kicks from the steering wheel.
What Happens During a Typical Wheel Alignment?
Step 1: Primary checkup
Once you take your car to the mechanic, they will most likely test the car for any possible adjustment issues. They will even have a test drive if it seems necessary. The experts will also check for air pressure, tire wire, cracks, and any other damages.
Once the inspection is over, the mechanics will give you an estimation of what needs to be done. Once you agree with all the terms, they’ll lift the vehicle up and start the process.
Step 2: Wheel alignment machine
Nowadays, most car maintenance shops have automated wheel alignment machines. The experts at your local shop will connect your vehicle to the machine once the primary inspection is done.
They’ll place sensors over your wheels, lock the steering wheel, brake pedals, and tires with special tools. Once your car is secured in its place, The mechanics will take initial readings of your caster, camber, and toe alignment.
Step 3: Fix toe, camber, and caster angles
Once the technicians have all the data of your car, they’ll start aligning your car wheel the way they’re supposed to be. The digital monitor of the machine will showcase the improvement and the expectations.
Step 4: Check thrust
The fixing/aligning of your car wheels is done, but the process isn’t complete yet. The mechanics will now check if the “thrust angle” is compatible with your suspension system or not. They’ll make sure that the rear axle direction and the car’s centerline are parallel to each other.
Step 5: Final test
The alignment process is complete. Now the technicians will make sure that your steering wheel is centered after all those alignments. When they are satisfied with the result, they’ll do a final test drive before delivering the car to you.
What Can Make a Wheel Alignment Take Longer?
Condition of car components
Time exploits everything and the components of your car are no exception. An older car will most probably have components that are rusty, sensitive, and difficult to access.
That is why an older vehicle may take much more time to align than a brand new one. The more old and worn out your components are, the more time it may take to align your car.
Different types of vehicles
The type of your vehicle also plays a vital role in deciding how much time the alignment process will take. A tiny sedan will take much less time than a heavy-weight diesel pickup truck.
It all depends on how easy it is to access different components of the suspension system. If the components of your car are easily accessible, the process will become quicker.
Experience of the technician
An expert will be able to help you with your alignment issue much quicker and more efficiently than a novice. A novice will take around 30-90 minutes or more to complete the process whereas the pro will probably complete the job within 30 minutes.
If you have time, you can surely rely on the novice technician. If you have a rush, depending on a pro will be a much more logical decision.
How Can You Self-Align Your Car?
Collect all the tools you’ll need and keep them close in your garage. The first step to align the wheels of your car is to create a perimeter around the car with the PVC pipes and fishing lines.
First, create 2 parallel bars in the front and behind the car. Then measure the track width of the car and add around 10 inches (5 on each side) to that measurement. Note the numbers down.
This will help create a space between the perimeter and the car. Take the new readings and cut the two PVC pipes adding a buffer zone (4-6 inches) with our previous measurement.
You can also use any kind of bars. PVCs are cheaper but will provide the same accuracy. Check the air pressure of the tires and adjust if needed.
2: Start with the caster
Caster is the angle of the steering axis compared to the vertical axis. It is measured by looking at the wheel from the side. A positive caster gives more stability in speed.
Repair shops have turntables with degreed scales. You don’t need an expensive one. All you’ll need is tape and a protractor. Make a homemade turntable and that’ll do just fine.
First, take a small wooden plank and place it on the ground evenly alongside the wheel. Place a tape just beside the plank to mark the ground zero. Now use a protractor and more tape for creating 20 degrees in and outward angled lines.
Camber and caster are related. The way to measure the caster is to measure the change in camber from when the wheel is steered from 20 degrees out to 20 degrees in.
On the contrary, you can also use an inexpensive bubble alignment gauge to find the caster and camber. Don’t forget to note your findings.
Many cars have non-adjustable casters and camber setups. You are free to use any aftermarket parts to get the control you want. Many modern cars have dedicated bolts.
Typically, moving the upper control arm in or out controls the caster and camber alignment. Keep moving the arm and checking till you get your desired results. We recommend using positive casters because that’ll give you more control while turning.
3: Lock the steering
Take the ratchet straps and loop them around the steering wheel. Then, tie them down securely to make sure the steering wheel stays at the center position the whole time. This will make your job much easier.
Put some tension on the ratchets so the steering wheel doesn’t move with slight movements while you align the wheels on your car.
4: Find the camber
Take a spirit level or straight edge and run it across the wheels. Make sure that the spirit level doesn’t touch anything but the surface of the tire or the wheel. Using the wheel will give you a more accurate reading but the tire will do as well.
Place the level against the wheel and press in the middle. Try to put even pressure across the level. Now, take the angle finder and push that against the level. This will give you accurate camber measurements.
The negative camber means the top of the wheel is leaned toward the center of the car and the positive camber indicates that the top of the wheel is leaned toward the outside.
Use the camber plate or control arm to adjust the camber. Many can allow very little camber adjustments (0.1-1 degrees) do make sure to check your car’s manual beforehand. If you use aftermarket parts, you can adjust up to 5 degrees.
5: Create a box around
It’s time to assemble the perimeter. Place the PVC pipes parallel to each other. One on the front of the car and the other on the back. Now mark the pipes according to the measurement we’ve taken earlier.
For example, If your track width is 80 millimeters, we’ll have to add 5 inches on each side and 2-4 inches as a buffer zone. Suppose, we added 4 inches as a buffer zone (2 on each side).
So that makes the total length to: 80 + ( 5 * 2 ) + 4 = 94 inches.
Now cut out a small bit over the marked pipes to create a notch. This will make placing the fishing line much easier. Cut through both sides of the pipes and try to place them parallel to each other.
Use the jack stands to lift the pipes up to the approximate center point of the wheel nearby. After that, take the fishing line and run it through the notches you’ve just cut. Run a fishing line from a notch on one pipe to another notch at the other pipe that is on the same side.
This will form a rectangular-shaped box along with the pipes, surrounding the car and making the measurement process much easier. Tie some weights at the end of the fishing lines so it doesn’t get distorted. The lines and the pipes should stay parallel to each other.
6: Find the toe
Here, having a helper will help you out. Ask a friend to help you out and make sure the lines are parallel. Take one of the rulers and measure the distance between the fishing line and the baseplate of the tire. Tell your friend to do the same and communicate.
Adjust the pipes so that both of you get the same reading on the ruler. Do this for all four tires and you are ready to take other measurements. Make sure you both take measurements the same way.
Now use the same method to measure the front and back tip of a wheel from the line. If the distance is shorter on the front tip, the tire is toed-out and if you have a shorter distance on the back tip of your tire, it’s toed-in.
Keep track of the measurements you’ve been taking.
7: Calculation time
To find the top angle, you have to subtract the shorter distance from the longer one. That will give you the toe measurement for one tire. Measure and compare both wheels on one side to determine the necessary adjustment.
For example, let’s say you got 85 and 88 mm on one tire. Now, subtract the shorter number from the larger one. Here, we get 88-85 = 3, so the toe amount is 3mm. If the front side is longer, then it’s toed-in and it’s toed-out for the opposite case.
The other wheel will also give similar results. Toe-out is considered positive and toe-in is negative. So we have +3 on one of our wheels. Now if the other wheel is also toed out, it’ll give a positive reading and a negative reading for toe-in. You just gotta add them up.
If your wheel has +3 mm on one side and -2 mm on the other, the total toe alignment would be by adding the numbers together. In our case, that would be = +3 + (-2) = +1mm toed out.
Take your time and check all the tires and then write down the adjustment needed for each tire.
8: Let’s align the toe
It’s time to align all the tires in harmony. We recommend checking out the factory specs of your car model to get a clear idea about what to look for. You can use the angle-to-millimeter conversion chart to get a better idea, especially if you leave outside the US.
The alignment process will begin with lifting your car using a ramp/leveling scale. Once the car is at a comfortable height, start aligning the wheel by adjusting the tie rod. Loosen up the lock and then adjust the tie rod according to your calculations.
The whole measurement process is based on trial and error. It might take a couple of tries before you get the hang of it. Lower the car and roll it back and forth a little bit. Once you are happy with the results, secure the tie rod and you are good to go.
DIY Wheel Alignment Tips
Center the steering wheel
Centering the steering wheel beforehand will give you accurate measurements. Make sure your steering wheel doesn’t move from its position since it can affect the readings. Use straps, weights, or dedicated tools to lock the steering wheel in position while you work.
Check the air pressure and weight
Uneven tire pressures can also give you false measurements. Use a pressure gauge to check all the tires for any inconsistency in air pressure before you start working. Inflate/deflate the tires if necessary.
You also need to take the weight of your car into consideration. Remember that weight jacking can’t shift weights around. Add or remove weights physically to get a better result.
Read the owner’s manual
Every car comes with a set of instructions and information printed on a manual. Check your specific owner’s manual to figure out the optimum value of different suspension components.
Many cars don’t allow direct adjustments on caster and camber. Check your owner’s manual to find the best possible combination that works the best for you.
Work on a level surface
An Uneven surface will affect your measurements. Use a spirit level to make sure you are on an even surface. If you face issues getting your floor getting leveled, use ramps or wheel pads to level the wheels perfectly.
Work on a Trial and Error basis
Each time you adjust something on the suspension system, give the car a few rolls front and back to let the suspension system get used to the new settings.
The first try will take the longest but once you are comfortable, trial and error is the best way to fix the alignment issue. Work your way through till you find the right adjustment for you.
Is it ok to drive with bad alignment?
Driving a car with a bad alignment issue can become very dangerous on the road, especially on the highways. Not only a crooked steering wheel will make you annoyed and anxious. If the issue is severe the car can crash or get out of your control completely.
Loose suspension system
Even the suspension system of your car is subject to wear and tear. A bad alignment can spoil your suspension system almost twice as fast. The system will weaken eventually and your ride will become a punishment instead of convenience.
Bad alignments cause uneven wear across your tire treads. As a result, you won’t get as much grip on your tires as you should and that will make your turns more difficult. This will also reduce the lifespan of your tires.
Puts stress on vehicle parts
Bad alignment not only affects the suspension system of the car, but it also damages other components. A misaligned car can put heavy pressure and stress on its components. Aligning your wheels can reduce stress and make your car parts last longer.
Poor control on steering
Crooked steering wheel may sound like nothing serious. But let me assure you, it isn’t just the off-center steering wheel you need to worry about. The overall control you have over your car will reduce a lot and your car may even start pulling itself in one direction automatically.
Poor control over the steering and the suspension system can turn fatal quickly on the road. We strongly recommend aligning your car properly to be safe on the road.
1. Do all cars have the same alignment?
Ans: No. Each car has a different set of instructions and specifications you need to follow. Most of the cars may use a particular alignment style but the choice is really up to you.
2. How do I know when my alignment is done?
Ans: You’ll feel the difference when you use the car. The steering wheel will center itself after you turn and you’ll enjoy much smoother riding. You can also collect the before and after measurements of your car’s alignment process to be sure.
3. Are car alignment services necessary for modern cars?
Ans: Yes. Even modern cars need wheel alignment services to make sure you and your car are safe as long as possible. Regular car alignment can increase road safety and save you money.
4. How long does an alignment last?
Ans: Usually, if you align your regular streetcar after 2-3 years, that is fine. Heavy and race cars need more frequent alignment.
However, we recommend you check and fix your car alignment a bit more frequently. Like you can check your alignment every time you change the oil or replace a tire.