Comprehensive Guide to Car Wheel Alignment

wheel alignment guide from TO Haas in Lincoln Nebraska

Even if you’re a responsible driver in the Lincoln, Nebraska area, it can be all too easy to neglect tire maintenance—especially in the form of wheel alignment. This service is meant to adjust the angle of your tires, which might not sound all that significant in the grand scheme of things.

However, your tire alignment can have a much bigger impact on your vehicle’s overall well-being than you’d think. When your wheels drift out of alignment, you could find yourself dealing with a bumpy driving experience, uneven tire wear, and many other problems. 

If you’re interested in learning more about wheel alignment, you’re in luck. Here, you’ll find T.O. Haas Tire & Auto’s complete guide to this essential (but often overlooked) tire service.

Wheel Alignment 101

The basic concept of wheel alignment is easy enough to understand—this task simply involves changing the angles of your tires to make sure they meet the road correctly. But while you might assume mechanics directly adjust your wheels as part of this process, that isn’t actually the case. Instead, they’ll work on your car’s suspension, which connects its tires to its body.

Technicians handling wheel alignment make suspension adjustments with the goal of altering three different tire angles:

Camber

Camber is the vertical-axis tilt of a tire—that is, its inward or outward tilt. This angle has a direct effect on your tires’ tread wear and your car’s ability to deal with turns and corners.

Depending on how your tires are tilted, they may have:

  • Positive camber. This term describes tires that are tilted away from your car’s center, improving your vehicle’s overall stability.
  • Negative camber. Wheels with negative camber tilt toward the center of your car, enhancing driver control. This form of camber is commonly used on high-performance vehicles.

Your vehicle came with a predetermined camber range set by its manufacturer. If your camber alignment falls outside this range, you’ll need to visit a reliable shop in Lincoln for wheel alignment service.

Caster

Meanwhile, caster is the angle of a tire’s steering axis (the imaginary line running vertically through its center from the ground up). If your tires have a negative caster, this line tilts toward the front of your car; if they have a positive caster, it leans toward the driver.

Though it shouldn’t have an impact on your tire wear, caster can affect your car’s handling and steering. When this angle no longer matches your manufacturer’s recommendations, it’s time to schedule an appointment for alignment work.

Toe

Finally, your vehicle’s “toe” expresses the angle and direction of its tires. A toe-out angle occurs when these tires point away from your vehicle’s center, while a toe-in angle occurs when they point toward its center. 

Toe may sound similar to camber, but the former angle describes your tires’ angles while viewed from above and the latter describes their angles when viewed from the front of your car. Ideally, most vehicles should have a zero toe—that is, neither a toe-out or a toe-in angle.

What Makes Wheel Alignment Important?

No matter how carefully you drive in and around Lincoln, your tires might start to drift out of alignment over time. While you may be tempted to ignore this situation, doing so could expose you to the potential consequences of improper wheel alignment.

If you don’t prioritize wheel alignment, your tires could eventually develop uneven tread wear. That, in turn, could lead to issues like:

  • Poor gas mileage. When your wheels don’t wear evenly, your car will have to work harder to move them—reducing your overall fuel efficiency.
  • An uncomfortable driving experience. Unevenly-worn tires can create vibrations in your car’s steering wheel and unpleasant noises while you drive.
  • A reduced tire lifespan. Tires suffering from uneven wear may need to be replaced ahead of schedule, forcing you to deal with unexpected auto maintenance costs.

To avoid these problems and others, you’ll need to protect your tires’ well-being. Fortunately, taking wheel alignment seriously is an excellent way to promote even tread wear.

How to Tell When You Need Alignment Service

Have you been involved in a collision recently? If so, there’s a good chance that you’ll need to visit a local tire shop for alignment service. Whether you were in a major car crash or you simply hit a curb, the forces your car experienced during this event could easily affect the alignment of its wheels.

Even if you haven’t been in a collision lately, there’s still a chance that your tires have fallen out of alignment. With that in mind, keep an eye out for these red flags while driving around Lincoln:

Pulling to One Side

Normally, you shouldn’t have to make an effort to drive your vehicle in a straight line. If you’re “fighting” your steering wheel in order to keep moving forward, your tire alignment may be to blame.

However, it’s important to note that alignment issues aren’t the only factor that can contribute to this situation—anything from brake wear to incorrect tire pressure can cause this issue. The mechanics at any trustworthy auto shop will be able to determine what your issue is and resolve this situation as soon as possible.

A Bumpy Ride

Your car’s various systems and components are closely interconnected, meaning an issue with one part can easily cause trouble elsewhere. For example, misaligned wheels could affect your suspension system’s ability to do its own job.

Your car’s suspension is designed to give you a smooth driving experience, especially while you’re traveling on bumpy roads. As a result, problems with this system can make it all but impossible for you to feel comfortable while driving your vehicle.

An Off-Center Steering Wheel

What does your steering wheel look like when your vehicle is parked with its wheels straightened out? Under normal conditions, it should be straight in this situation. If that’s not the case, you may be dealing with poorly aligned wheels.

Reduced Tire Lifespan

Typically, drivers in Nebraska and Kansas should be able to get three to five years of use out of their tires before they need to invest in new wheels. If your tires are wearing out much earlier than you’d expect, or if you’re noticing uneven bald patches on your tires, poor tire alignment could be the cause of this situation.

Waiting Too Long Between Appointments

By looking out for the warning signs associated with alignment issues and taking care of this service after collisions, you’ll take a big step toward protecting your tires’ alignment. Still, this approach to wheel alignment isn’t enough on its own. Instead, you’ll also want to make routine wheel alignment part of your tire shop maintenance schedule.

For the majority of Lincoln drivers, scheduling wheel alignment appointments every 6,000 miles or six months is optimal. Since tire alignment issues don’t always come with obvious symptoms, routine alignment work is the only way to ensure your wheels are meeting the road at the right angle.

What to Expect During Your Wheel Alignment

If you haven’t taken care of wheel alignment recently (or ever), you may be wondering what to expect during this service. Typically, the mechanic handling this task will start by taking your vehicle for a quick test drive to get a better understanding of the problems it’s dealing with. After that, they’ll put your car on a hoist, visually inspect its tires and suspension components, and replace any broken or worn parts.

Next, your mechanic will double-check your tire pressure levels, making adjustments as needed. Then, they will connect your vehicle to an alignment machine—a piece of specialized equipment designed to help them adjust your suspension while following your manufacturer’s recommendations. Finally, your mechanic will make sure your steering wheel is centered correctly and perform a second test drive to guarantee that your vehicle’s issues have been fully addressed.

Unlike some auto maintenance tasks, tire alignment is far from a time-consuming process. Typically, skilled mechanics should be able to finish this work in 30 to 60 minutes or so.

How Much Does Tire Alignment Cost?

You may also want to know what to expect from your tire alignment in terms of its cost. Depending on the type of alignment service you need and other factors, you could expect to pay $50, $150+, or anything in between for this service. To get a more specific estimate of how much this work will cost you, you’ll need to find a local tire shop that offers quotes to its customers.

While you’ll have to spend some money while visiting a shop for tire alignment, this isn’t the type of maintenance service most drivers can take care of by themselves. Wheel alignment relies heavily on equipment designed specifically for this task. Even ignoring that factor, the complete precision this job calls for means it should only be attempted by skilled professionals.

Finding Lincoln’s Best Wheel Alignment Shops

Lincoln residents in need of vehicular service have countless auto and tire shops to choose from, but not all of these shops are created equal. When you’re looking for the right wheel alignment shops in Nebraska and Kansas, prioritize factors such as:

Highly Skilled Mechanics

If you’re planning to schedule any type of auto repair or maintenance service soon, you’ll have to entrust your vehicle’s well-being to the mechanics working at your shop of choice. That means you should be confident that these people are up to the task at hand—especially if you need a service like tire alignment.

Fortunately, the process of vetting a shop’s mechanics isn’t as complicated as you might think. During your auto shop search, look for businesses employing ASE-certified technicians. Since these are the most highly qualified mechanics in this field, you can trust them to handle your next wheel alignment.

A Wide Service Selection

Even if you only need wheel alignment work right now, that won’t be the case forever—after all, vehicles need all kinds of maintenance and repair work to continue functioning as they should. Because of that, you should make sure the shop you choose for tire alignment is prepared to handle other jobs. Ideally, your go-to shop should offer tire services such as:

  • Tire rotation. Wheel alignment can certainly reduce your risk of uneven tread wear, but you’ll also need to take care of tire rotation in order to prevent this problem. This task, which involves taking the tires off your vehicle and moving them to new spots, should be done every 5,000-6,000 miles.
  • Wheel balancing. Tires are designed to work together, and because of that, they need to be nearly identical. Wheel balancing can help in this regard—this task is all about installing small weights on your underweight tires, ensuring that all four of your tires weigh the same amount.
  • Tire repair. Damage to your wheels doesn’t automatically mean they need to be replaced. In many cases, skilled mechanics can repair your tires, making them as good as new.
  • Tire replacement. Not even the best tires on the market last forever. When your tires are approaching the end of their service life, a good tire shop will be able to help you find the right set of replacement tires for your vehicle’s needs.

Additionally, you should be able to trust your shop to handle auto maintenance and repair tasks like:

Locations Near You

No one wants to go out of their way for auto service, and that’s certainly the case for Lincoln residents. With that in mind, you shouldn’t choose an auto shop that only has one location in the area. Your shop should be able to provide multiple locations within Lincoln’s city limits while maintaining a presence in these nearby communities and others:

Chances to Save

Unfortunately, most Nebraska drivers understand what it feels like to overpay for the auto repair and maintenance services they need. However, not every business in this category charges excessive fees for their services. When you find a genuinely reputable auto shop, you’ll be surprised by how reasonable their rates are for even the most complicated services.

Along with that, some shops go the extra mile by helping their customers save in other ways. If your shop offers coupons and financing options, you’ll be able to cut costs on wheel alignment and other services (without skimping on quality, of course).

Exceptional Customer Service

If you’ve ever done business with a large auto shop chain, you know why these companies don’t have a reputation for personal service. The fact is, businesses that operate throughout the country won’t be connected to the communities they serve in the same way regional tire shops are.

Thus, you’ll want to look for a local shop when you need services like wheel alignment. The people working for these businesses aren’t just anyone—they’re your friends and neighbors. As a result, they’ll be more than willing to treat you like a person instead of a number.

Let Us Handle Your Tire Alignment

Are you looking for a shop that can deliver every one of the perks listed above? If so, you’re in the right place: T.O. Haas Tire & Auto is Nebraska’s most trusted auto shop, and we’re ready to handle the wheel alignment services you’re looking for.

At T.O. Haas, we haven’t just been a part of the community for a year or two—we’ve been Lincoln’s tire shop of choice since 1947. If you’re ready to get a tire alignment backed up by decades of experience, schedule your appointment today!

Frequently Asked Questions

How long can you go without a wheel alignment?

There's no denying the fact that visiting an auto shop for any service can be inconvenient. That said, Lincoln drivers shouldn't think of their tires' maintenance needs in terms of waiting as long as possible between one wheel alignment and the next. This mentality can encourage you to put this task off for too long, increasing your risk of uneven tread wear and other dangers caused by alignment issues.

Instead, you should make a point of getting wheel alignment service:

  • After a collision
  • Whenever you notice potential signs of misalignment
  • Once every six months/6,000 miles

Of course, this advice is something of a “rule of thumb” for local drivers. For more specific guidance on when to schedule tire alignment and other services, refer to your car's manual.

What's the difference between front-end alignment and four-wheel alignment?

While some elements of wheel alignment can be complicated, it isn't hard to understand what separates front-end and four-wheel alignment. The former service focuses on your car's two front wheels, while the latter involves work on all four of its tires. As you might expect, four-wheel alignment typically costs more than front-end alignment due to the greater amount of work required to complete this task.

The type of alignment service your vehicle needs will depend on the drivetrain it uses. Four-wheel alignment is ideal for cars with four-wheel drive, while front-end alignment is meant for vehicles with front-wheel drive.

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