Whether your car has a petrol or diesel engine, it’s hybrid or a full electric vehicle, it still has wheels, tyres and suspension and all these need to be functioning correctly and working in coordination for it to drive as it should and provide the level of comfort you expect. To do so however, the vehicle’s steering geometry and its wheel alignment need to be set to the manufacturer’s original design, but what does that mean?
Wheel alignment is a mechanical adjustment of your vehicle’s suspension system (the parts that connect the wheels to your car) to ensure that its wheels are in the correct position - it can also be called tracking.
Wheel alignment is important because wheels that are out of alignment can cause issues, such as excessive and/or uneven tyre wear, as well as steering problems like the vehicle wanting to pull to the left or right, the steering wheel being off-centre, or the car just doesn’t want to follow the road as it should do.
Wheel alignment is something only a professional can check and adjust because it’s not just simply having the wheels parallel and pointing straight ahead, it also includes the camber (how much the top of the wheels tilt towards or away from the car) and the toe (the amount that the front of the wheels either point in or out). As a result, sophisticated and highly accurate equipment has to be used, to be sure any adjustment is right.
If you’re replacing tyres, it’s usually because you have had a puncture or some other kind of immediate problem, or you have been proactive and checked your tread depth and seen that it’s low.
Although changing tyres doesn’t necessarily mean you need to have the wheel alignment checked, if their replacement is due to tyre wear, the way the tyre has worn can give you a clue, because if the inner or outer edge is much more worn than its opposite edge, the tracking could be set incorrectly.
As tyre replacement is not necessarily an annual event and unless your owner’s manual states a specific distance interval, the general rule should be to get the alignment checked annually, or whenever your vehicle is serviced.
However, if you often drive on rough roads or on pothole-riddled streets, you may need an alignment more frequently, especially if you experience one of the issues mentioned earlier.
Ideally yes, because the majority of today’s vehicles have what’s referred to as independent suspension, which means that all of the wheels have a degree of adjustment. So, if all four wheels can be aligned, they should all really be aligned correctly. However, if for some reason they can’t, have your front wheels aligned and the rear axle checked.