Line It Up
by Pat Goss
A lot of people think that they need alignments a lot more frequently than they really do. Now there’s some pretty amazing things going on as far as alignment equipment these days. It’s sophisticated, it’s computer controlled and all the rest of it. But the average driver doesn’t seem to understand when they really need an alignment.
See, there’s hardly a day that goes by in the repair shop that somebody comes in and says, “you know, I get up to 55 or 60 miles an hour and the steering wheel shakes, and I want you to do an alignment to get rid of it.” Well, you see that rarely has anything to do with alignment. Shakes and shimmies are usually the result of improper tire balance or a bad belt in a tire, something like that.
But the other thing we get is the person who has read a self-help book about automobiles, and that book has told them if you take your hand off the wheel, the car should go straight down the road, and if it doesn’t, if it pulls to one side or the other, well, that you need an alignment. Well, number one, driving a car without your hands on the wheel can be incredibly dangerous. Number two, if the car pulls one way or the other when your hands aren’t on the wheel, then all it means is it pulls one way or the other. It doesn’t necessarily have anything at all to do with alignments. It could be a bad tire, it could be a brake problem, it could be a suspension problem, just about anything. And it could be an alignment, but certainly that is not the prime cause.
Now what does suggest that you need an alignment? Tire wear. When you have one, and only one edge, of a tire that wears more than the other edge, you probably need an alignment. But then that brings up another problem. You go to the repair center, and they have all these different types of alignments available to you.
They’ve got two-wheel alignment, they’ve got thrust angle, and they have four-wheel alignment. Well, number one, remember that two-wheel alignment is, by and large, obsolete these days. It isn’t even a consideration.
Thrust angle alignment, well, that means that the machine is going to take a measurement on the rear wheels, and if the rear wheels are properly aligned, those wheels will be used as a guide to align the front wheels. That’s thrust angle. But then four-wheel alignment, what’s that mean?
Well, four-wheel alignment is simply when the rear wheels are not properly aligned and yes, on most vehicles they can be aligned, the rear wheels have to be aligned so they can be used as a reference for the front wheels. Now that means we’re going to align two rear wheels and two front wheels, and that’s a four-wheel alignment. It’s just that simple.
But look out for the shop that tries to sell you four-wheel alignment right up front. There’s no way that they know that you need it until it has been put on the alignment machine. So, ask the questions, get the right answers, and you’ll save a lot of money on alignments.