Car Care: Wheel Alignment and Tire Rotation
Now’s the time
Your vehicle’s wheels and tires work hard and take a lot of abuse, especially during winter months. Spring is when everyone cleans away the signs of winter, and it’s a good time to give your tires and alignment some attention, too.
If you use dedicated winter tires, the changeover to your regular tires offers a perfect opportunity to give your wheels and tires a good once-over. If not, the safety and fuel economy benefits of keeping your vehicle in proper working order are good motivation. All it takes is one pothole to bend a rim or throw your alignment out of whack.
Most people don’t give a whole lot of thought to their tires. Tires are, however, what keep you stuck to the road. As part of a thorough springtime inspection, you should carefully examine your tires for physical damage and signs of uneven wear. Danger signs include bubbles or nicks in the sidewalls of the tire, both of which should be immediately addressed. Bubbles are indicators of internal damage, and nicks are areas of weakness. Both can cause tire failure, often at the worst possible time, and could lead to loss of vehicle control. Tire failure can also lead to you being stuck someplace having to change a tire.
Also check for even tread wear. You shouldn’t see one side or area of the tread more worn down than the other areas of the same tire, or more than the other tires. For example, if your two front tires show significantly different wear, that’s something that should be investigated. There should also be adequate tread depth, otherwise the tires won’t be able to clear away water and you could lose traction. Your tires are also due for replacement if you can see the “wear bars” across the tread. These show up when the tire has been worn down to the minimum safe tread depth.
A tip for getting the most out of your new tires is to periodically rotate them. That doesn’t mean spinning them around and around as you drive, either. Rotating the tires means changing their location on the vehicle. So the left front, say, moves to the left rear. Your dealer’s service technicians know the factory-specified rotation pattern for your particular vehicle, and many dealers offer tire rotation as a free or minimal-cost service when you’re having other maintenance performed, like an oil change. Rotating the tires, and rebalancing them if necessary, will help them wear evenly, lengthen tire life and help keep vehicle traction and handling predictable.
Uneven tread wear can mean that vehicle wheel alignment is not right. Before your tires even start to show uneven wear, you may notice yourtire car pulls in one direction or the other, or the steering is reluctant to self-center while cornering. Both could be signs of misalignment, and it
means your wheels aren’t pointed straight. In addition to affecting your driving pleasure, bad alignment wears tires quickly and can reduce your fuel economy, so it’s expensive, and it can also reduce the amount of control you have over the vehicle while driving.
There can be many causes of misalignment, and some are as simple as normal wear. Suspension parts are moving, and eventually they can get out of adjustment. Because it can happen gradually, you as a driver adapt to it. Many people are shocked to find out how misaligned their wheels are after skipping an alignment check for a while, because it happened so gradually. Parts that can impact alignment are items like ball joints, control arms and suspension bushings. When some suspension parts are really bad, they can lead to dangerous and/or unpredictable behavior, especially during emergency maneuvers. The arms that connect the steering system to the wheels, known as the tie rods and tie rod ends, also sustain wear.
Because of the critical nature of these systems, they need to be checked at least a couple times a year. Even something as simple as an out-of-balance tire can act as a hammer and beat up everything it’s bolted to. You may think of that one big pothole as merely a bump in the road, but the damage can be much more significant, and be a lot more expensive, than that.
To get the maximum value out of the expensive wheels and tires on your vehicle, it’s worth it to have these things checked after the brutal winter driving season. Not only that, you’ll set yourself up for a safer summer. Stop by today to learn more and to make sure your vehicle is ready for whatever travels are ahead this season.