While you have a general idea of what to expect when you take your vehicle in for an oil change, a tire rotation, or even new tires altogether, you likely don’t take your vehicle in for an alignment quite as often. Because of this, it’s a little harder to know what to expect.
But when it’s time to take your vehicle in for an alignment, how long should it take, how much can you expect to spend, and how do you know you need one in the first place? We’ll answer all those questions and more for you here.
How Long Does an Alignment Take?
If you take your vehicle to a professional repair shop, it shouldn’t take them long to complete a wheel alignment for most vehicles. Most repair shops can complete the entire alignment process in 30 to 60 minutes.
However, this is contingent on a few factors. First, everything in your vehicle should be in working order. This isn’t something you’d notice, but if there’s a problem with the components your vehicle uses to complete the alignment, it will take the tire shop a bit longer to complete the job.
Second, the 30-to-60-minute estimate is from when the mechanic starts working on your vehicle. While this time should coincide with your appointment time, it could take a bit longer if you try going in without an appointment.
Not only that, but if you take your vehicle in for other work like an oil change or any other kind of work, you should add this time to how long you can expect it in the shop. While the shop might be able to complete the work at the same time, they typically only have one mechanic working on your vehicle at a time.
Finally, keep in mind that a 30-to-60-minute timeframe is just an estimate. Some mechanics are slower or faster, which doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t doing a good job.
How Much Does an Alignment Cost?
The first thing you need to factor in when you’re trying to figure out how much you can expect to spend on an alignment on your vehicle is whether you need a front-end or a four-wheel alignment. Front-end alignments simply align the front wheels, so they don’t require as much work as four-wheel alignment.
Because of this, front-end alignments tend to be a bit cheaper. For a front-end alignment, you can typically expect to spend anywhere between $50 to $100, depending on where you take your vehicle and what you drive.
However, if you’re getting a four-wheel alignment, you can expect to spend between $100 and $175. Once again, it comes down to where you take your vehicle and what you drive.
But keep in mind that these estimates assume everything on your vehicle is in good working order. If there’s a problem with any of the adjustment components or they find they need to replace anything, then you can expect to spend a bit more on the alignment.
Why Does Your Vehicle Need an Alignment
Now that you know a little more about how long an alignment should take and how much you can expect to spend to get one, it’s time to dive into why you should keep up with alignments for your vehicle.
Because while it can seem like just another maintenance interval, the truth is that alignments go a long way in keeping your vehicle working the way it should and actually saving you money in the long run.
One of the most important and notable reasons you should ensure your vehicle’s alignment stays on track is that it keeps the handling in tip-top shape. Not only will your vehicle respond better when you turn the steering wheel, but it’s easier to keep the steering wheel straight when the alignment is correct.
Keeping your vehicle’s handling ability in tip-top shape is a big deal, and it all starts with getting the alignment correct.
Longer Lasting Tires
Did we mention that keeping the alignment on your vehicle right can lead to long-term savings? Those savings all come down to the extra tire life you get if the alignment is correct.
An incorrect alignment will drag one or more tires across the pavement more than it should, and this will cause the tread to wear down faster. While the severity of the alignment issue will affect how much faster the tires wear out, you could lose anywhere between 10,000 and 20,000 miles.
These exact results depend on the type of tires on your vehicle and the severity of the alignment problems with your vehicle.
If the alignment on your vehicle is off, there’s a good chance the steering wheel will try to pull one way or the other when you’re driving. This means you’ll have to physically hold the steering wheel in place at all times, and often it won’t return back to center after a turn.
Not only is this a handling problem, but it’s going to require a bit more effort from you to actually steer your vehicle and get where you want to go.
While this is the last reason on our list, it might just be the most important. It all depends on how the alignment is off on your vehicle, but some alignment problems can lead a portion of the tire to come off the pavement.
When this happens, you’re not getting as much traction as you should when you’re driving. Not only does this affect your ability to accelerate, but it also affects how effective the brakes are. Without maximum traction, you’re more likely to skid, and you won’t be able to stop your vehicle as quickly as you should be able to.
How To Tell if Your Vehicle Needs an Alignment
Keeping up with your vehicle’s alignment is important, but to really keep up with it you need to know how to recognize that your vehicle needs one in the first place.
We understand, and that’s why we wanted to highlight five of the most telling signs that it’s time to take your vehicle in for an alignment.
Uncentered Steering Wheel
When you center the steering wheel on your vehicle the tires should be straight. If they’re not, it’s time for an alignment.
While this doesn’t necessarily lead to big problems all on its own, it’s also highly unlikely that both wheels got out of alignment the exact same way. That means if the steering wheel isn’t centered, you’re likely pulling a tire along the road and causing excessive tire wear too.
Your Vehicle Pulls
When you’re driving and the steering wheel is straight your vehicle should keep going straight, even if your hands aren’t on the steering wheel. Of course, the road conditions can play into this too, but if you find your vehicle always pulls to one side or the other, it’s a telltale sign that the alignment is off.
Your vehicle should hold a straight trajectory for a little while even if you aren’t holding onto the steering wheel. If you’re testing this out on your own, ensure there’s plenty of space around you on the road so you don’t get into an accident.
Abnormal Tire Wear
While this often isn’t the first thing you notice if your vehicle’s alignment is off, it’s often the most expensive. If the alignment is off, you’re likely pulling at least one tire along the pavement, which wears down the tread on that tire faster.
Other alignment issues can cause only a portion of a tire to wear out. If you’re noticing any of these problems, it can be a sign of an alignment problem you need to address.
The Steering Wheel Doesn’t Return to Center
When you let go of the steering wheel after a turn, it should center itself back out. If the steering wheel doesn’t do this, then there’s a good chance the alignment is off.
If you’re experiencing this problem, there’s also a really good chance the steering wheel is pulling in one direction or the other when you’re going straight.
When you turn the steering wheel your vehicle should turn, and it should turn right away. If you turn the steering wheel and something feels off, there’s a good chance something is.
Don’t ignore the feeling and take your vehicle to a repair shop. Your vehicle might just need an alignment to solve the problem, or there might be a more serious problem going on.
How Often Should You Get an Alignment?
This is an area where estimates vary wildly, with some shops telling you that you should get an alignment every 6,000 miles while others tell you that an alignment should last about three years.
This is an area where we tend to agree with the longer service intervals. Every 6,000 miles is far too often, and for most vehicles, there’s no reason you need an alignment any more often than once every three years.
However, the caveat to that is if you feel or notice any of the conditions we highlighted above, then you should take your vehicle in for an alignment sooner. It’s also possible to hit or scuff the tires while you’re driving and throw off the vehicle’s alignment sooner.
Furthermore, this is for a front-end alignment. Unless you put an excessive amount of pressure on the rear wheels by hitting them against something or complete some kind of work to the rear axle, you shouldn’t need to complete a four-wheel alignment on your vehicle.
Can You Complete an Alignment Yourself?
While you can try to complete an alignment yourself, unless you have both the technical know-how and the necessary alignment tools, it’s better to take it to a professional repair shop.
Because while you’ll likely be able to get your alignment close, there’s a big difference between close and perfect. You don’t want to get it close and end up wearing out your tires far quicker than you should, and when it comes to getting the best possible handling, you don’t want to leave anything to chance.
Now that you know a little more about what to expect when you get a vehicle alignment, all that’s left for you is to call your local tire repair shop and schedule your alignment.
It shouldn’t be an all-day experience, and as long as you go with a top-notch repair shop, there’s no reason they can’t have you in and out within an hour! That makes it a quick and easy maintenance action to help you get the most out of your vehicle.
Moreover, it’s not as expensive as many people think, so there’s really no reason not to keep up with this routine maintenance action.