If you drive a vehicle, wear and tear on your tires is a fact of life. In addition to being a safe driver, having your car aligned regularly can help extend the life of your vehicle. It can also extend the life of your tires and keep you driving safely and smoothly.
As long as your car does not have any particular issues or unusual designs, a car alignment is not expensive, considering most auto repairs. After comparing prices at national auto shops across the nation, the average cost of a wheel alignment runs between $75 for a single alignment and up to $200 for an extended warranty, depending on the type of vehicle and where you live.
Often, an alignment is covered under your warranty or extended warranty, so make sure to check the terms of any warranty coverage you have to see whether you qualify for a free alignment
You may require additional services or have issues with your car’s suspension or tire balance. If that is the case, the mechanic might need to repair the issues to properly align your tires, driving up the cost of alignment. Likewise, a specialized or peculiar car design may be trickier to repair and thus cost you more.
Some companies that perform alignments offer limited or even lifetime warranties on their work. If you often drive through rough roads and plan on keeping your car for a long time, this can be a good idea.
What Is a Car Alignment?
As you might imagine, a car alignment requires aligning components of your vehicle to meet certain specifications.
There are three parts the mechanic will inspect:
- The caster (located between the steering mechanism ball joints—this impacts steering)
- The camber (the angle at which your tires hit the road—this impacts how quickly your tires will wear down)
- The toe (the angle between the tires—this impacts the safety of your turns)
The mechanic may also analyze how well the vehicle drives on the road to check for any issues before starting work, looking for issues like a vibrating steering wheel or veering to one direction, both of which signal alignment issues. The mechanic may also make sure your suspension parts are in good working order, which is essential to safely driving your vehicle.
Using their eyes and an alignment machine, he or she will ensure that the casters, cambers, and toes align at the proper angles recommended by the manufacturer. After completing repairs, the mechanic will test the alignment on an alignment rack and will typically take it for a test drive to make sure everything is in working order.
A standard car alignment should only take an hour or so to complete.
Why Do I Need a Car Alignment?
Properly aligned vehicles steer more precisely and safely, giving your tires a longer lifespan and saving you money down the road. Misaligned tires do not hit the road at the proper angle. They wear down faster and have less of a chance of safely getting through tough situations like mud, snow, quick turns, and inclement weather. Poorly aligned tires do not absorb shock as well as aligned ones.
Bad shock absorption could cause your gas mileage to go down, and your ride could be a lot bumpier.
Experts such as the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certified repair shops recommend that you try and get an alignment every 6,000 miles or every other oil change, because issues are not always obvious. It is also recommended to rotate your tires every 5,000 miles.
Signs You Need an Alignment Regardless of Mileage
- Issues with steering the vehicle
- Unusual amounts of road noise
- Uneven wear on your tires
How Do I Choose the Best Place for a Car Alignment?
Any established mechanic should be able to offer you a car alignment service. Many even give a free alignment check to let you know how badly you need one.
To make sure your mechanic is qualified to safely complete a car alignment, verify that they are ASE certified. If a mechanic suggests that you need expensive suspension work beyond the basic alignment, consider getting a second opinion from a different auto shop.
Will Insurance Cover Car Alignment?
If another driver hits you, the other car insurance company will almost always be required to cover the cost of your car alignment. They might try and dispute it, saying that there is no way the small accident caused alignment issues, but you can, and should, always push back.
However, your insurance probably won’t cover a routine car alignment. Some major cities—riddled with potholes—offer a way for those who drive on their roads to be reimbursed. However, they do not make it easy. Most require you to prove how long the pothole has gone unrepaired, and it is most likely not worth your time.
If you have collision coverage and hit a large pothole, you might be able to get your alignment covered as well. But since your deductible would apply, you’d probably have to cover the cost yourself unless your damage were more than a misalignment or your deductible were very low. If you are planning a trip through an area filled with rough roads or live in such a neighborhood, ask your insurance agent about pothole coverage.
The Bottom Line
It’s fairly affordable: A car alignment is a necessary part of owning a car. It can be relatively affordable, costing anywhere between $75-$200 on average for a standard vehicle, but your insurance probably won’t cover it.
It’s necessary: If you plan on getting as many years out of your car as you can, it’s important to get an alignment every 6,000 miles, visiting an ASE certified mechanic when you do.
It keeps your car in good shape: Getting a regular alignment is one of the steps in making sure your vehicle is a well maintained. With regular maintenance and some TLC, you’ll be able to maximize your car’s lifespan.