Alignment issues

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Look at the tires that have been on the front of your car. Are they wearing evenly across the tread? Is the wear pattern the same on both front tires? On some vehicles especially vans, the outer edge of the front tire may wear more than the rest of the tread. This is because of the manufacturer's suggested caster setting causes the tire to lay over on it's edge when you make a turn. Here are some other signs of trouble:

Middle of the tire wearing - caused by overinflation

Both the outside edge & inside edge wearing more than the middle - caused by under inflation

One tire wearing very differently than the other - alignment needed

Cupping or scalloping of the tread, rough uneven wear, tread looks like it is corrugated, tire is very lumpy and bumpy - generally caused by the tire itself. Look to see if the words "All Season" are on the sidewall of the tire. If the tire is an all season and you have a front wheel drive car and the rear tires look like someone took a hot knife and scooped out small pieces of rubber and the shocks are not leaking oil and there is no other symptoms of bad shocks, then the tire is probably at fault. This symptom is one that sells more shocks when, in my opinion, 90% of all cupping or scalloping is caused by the tire itself.

Car pulls to one side or the other - Proper procedure is to first check the tire inflation. If that doesn't correct it then the two front tires should be swapped side to side. Then one of three things will occur:

  1. If car continues to pull to the same side,  it probably needs an alignment.
  2. If the car quits pulling and there is no unusual tire wear then all is OK. Spending more money at this point is useless.
  3. If the car pulls to the other side, it has to be a tire related pull created by a defective tire.

Expect to pay around $50 to $150 for an alignment, depending on whether the rear wheels are used as references to set the car up (called a thrustline alignment) or a full 4 wheel alignment where all four wheels are checked and adjusted. This is one job on your car that will always have symptoms. So, if there is no pulling problem, no abnormal tire wear, then there is no need for an alignment. And the time to be looking at the tire wear pattern is during the oil change inspection.

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