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Wheel alignment is one of the easiest car maintenance items to ignore, but it can also have the biggest consequences. While it may not be as devastating as never changing your oil, driving with a poor wheel alignment can cause unsafe driving conditions and rapid tire wear, among other issues. Use these tips to see if your car needs an alignment before you make a call to your local mechanic.

Worn tires, like these, can be from a car that needs an alignment
Discarded tires | Photo by Michael Swensen/Getty Images

Check tires for uneven wear if you think your car needs an alignment

The easiest way to determine if your car needs an alignment is to check the tires. In general, tire wear should be even both across the tread and around the entire diameter. If you see that any part of your tire has uneven wear, it is highly likely that your alignment needs attention.

Excessive inside or outside wear means that your toe is out of alignment. Wavy wear patterns in the tire tread can point to a number of suspension issues. These include worn shocks, damaged bushings, or worn ball joints. However, if your tire is worn on both edges or only in the center, those are symptoms of incorrect tire pressures.

Feel for vibrations while driving

Noticeable vibrations can be another clear indication that something is wrong with your steering or suspension. If you can feel where the vibration is coming from, you can diagnose your car’s alignment problems.

If the steering wheel is the main source of vibration the alignment issue is likely in the front suspension. However, if the steering wheel is mostly steady and the vibration comes from the seat, it is your rear alignment that needs attention.

Is your car pulling to left or right for no reason?

Tire wear and vibrations are typically the easiest way to understand when your car needs an alignment. However, there is an even earlier sign you can look for.

If your car is pulling to the left or right for no real reason, that is a good sign that your car’s alignment isn’t quite right, according to the suspension experts at Moog. The steering wheel should be straight as your car goes down the road. If your car requires steering input to continue going in a straight line, there are problems with your front-end alignment that need to be dealt with.

More difficult is diagnosing rear-end alignment problems. But, if your car feels jittery over bumps, that could be a sign that your suspension needs attention. Furthermore, uneven handling in corners could also be a sign that something isn’t quite right.

In some cases, catching alignment problems early enough can help avoid wearing through a set of tires prematurely. However, most alignment problems will cause excessive tire wear in a short span of time.

How often should you take your car for an alignment?

Depending on how much you drive, you may need to have your car alignment checked multiple times per year. And if you begin to experience any of the above issues, those are sure signs that your car needs to be checked out.

How much does an alignment cost?

Depending on the shop, an alignment can cost anywhere from $75 to $200. The type of vehicle and the quality of the shop will greatly affect how much an alignment may cost.

Related What Does a Wheel Alignment Do Exactly?

What Does a Wheel Alignment Do Exactly?